I'm writing this report on a very clear and very beautiful Sunday - perfect hiking weather. Unfortunately, I hiked yesterday. I'd heard more snow fell in the mountains this week so I knew on Saturday morning that I wanted to stay at lower elevations. I decided to hike up West Tiger Mountain, and, knowing how popular it is, I got up early. I started from the Highpoint Trailhead just off I-90 at exit 20 and intended to climb up to the very popular West Tiger #3 Summit before moving on to the less popular #2 and finally #1.
I could see as I approached the mountain from the west that the clouds were very low over it. The weather forecast was partly cloudy and I hoped the sun would burn off the clouds by the time I got up there, but it was very early and not very warm when I arrived. I didn't get my hopes up. I got on the trail at about 6:45 AM. The West Tiger #3 trail is about 3.1 miles from trailhead to the summit and climbs about 2000 ft over that distance. Looking for some solitude and a little more challenge I followed the signs to the Bus Trail and then the Nook Trail.
Getting to the Nook trail is easy - very easy. From there things get a little tougher. I really liked the Nook because it felt much more natural than the wide gentle grade of the West Tiger #3 trail. Also I was the only person on it, which is always a bonus. It is a pretty good warm-up climb as well. By the time I got to the end of the Nook Trail I'd hiked 1.2 miles and climb about 600 feet.
At the top of the Nook Trail was a sign pointing to the right for the Section Line Trail. The trail to the left was unmarked and I later learned unmaintained. It's also a total killer. It's steep. Very steep. I took this unmarked trail and climbed it all the way up to where it rejoins the the West Tiger #3 trail just before the summit. It's a heavily forested trail with a lot of downed trees, some serious terrain, and some serious solitude. I always try to stay quiet on my videos, but you'll hear my breath on the one below. This trail is a tough climb that gains 1400 feet in just 1.2 miles. I'm glad I did it so that I can say I did but my legs were on fire and I had to take a lot of breaks. The cruelest point on this trail is where it levels off for just a moment to cross a railroad grade. I thought I had made it at that point but unfortunately still had about 500 feet of upward climbing to go. I was also able to find a level downed tree where I could balance my camera for a miserable self portrait.
Unfortunately, because of the weather, getting up this very steep trail was the highlight of my hike. I reached summit #3 and found a few people and a lot of clouds. I'd read that the views were fantastic from that point, so I'll probably have to go back on a sunny day.
I didn't stay very long before pushing on to summit #2. I was happily surprised to find that most all of the people I saw up at summit #3 turned back at that point. I was alone all the way to summit #2. I was slightly annoyed to find that the first part of the trail consisted of a series of switchbacks that led me somewhat down the mountain. My legs were already tired and I wasn't excited about the prospect of later climbing back up. The half mile trail to summit #2 was dark, cold, muddy, snowy, and cloudy. After a period of relatively level hiking I again found myself climbing up another slope, this one not so steep but muddy enough to cause me some issues. Total elevation gain between summit #3 and summit #2 was about 250 feet. At the summit I found no marker but I did find a cell phone tower and other equipment. It was ugly but on the bright side my phone indicated I had 4G coverage up there!
Again I stayed a very short time before pushing on to the next summit. To get to summit #1 required nothing more than following a dirt/gravel maintenance road. The good part was that it sloped down at the beginning. The bad part is after the drop was another steep climb. Over the next 0.4 miles I dropped 200 feet in elevation and then climbed back up 400 feet in elevation, bringing me up to somewhere around 2950 feet near summit. The climb between the low point and the high point is pretty tough and by the time I got up there I was very worn out. It may be as steep as the unmarked trail I'd taken earlier. At the low point of the trail is a gate that says "No Trespassing". Of course, I guess I was already trespassing by the time I saw the sign. Oops! It was probably more of a guideline anyway. So what did I see up at the top? Clouds, clouds, and more clouds. There is also a Hiker Hut and some very clear signs warning hikers to keep away from the actual top, which is home to some type of radio tower. So be totally honest I was close enough (about 1000 feet laterally) but not at the true summit. I found a small bench to sit on while I ate breakfast and pondered the views that could have been if not for the clouds. I was up there probably about 10 minutes before I was joined by a couple of more hikers. Total distance to that point was 3.3 miles. Total elevation gain was over 2800 feet while the net gain was just over 2400 feet (accounting for the 200 feet twice lost between summits #2 and #1.
After a snack and a short chat with the other hikers I headed back down. My thighs were on fire climbing back up the road to summit #2. On the way down from summit #3 I opted not to go the way I'd come and I took the wider and gentler West Tiger #3 trail. It was very crowded, especially the closer I got to the bottom. I counted that I passed about 150 people in a single half mile stretch. I was actually very surprised at (and found it pretty cool) the number of older people I saw hiking up the trail. I did get a little confused just underneath summit #3 as there appeared to be two trails. Only after getting down did I realize that one was the actual trail and the other was the location of buried cables. Unfortunately, I had been on the cable trail which is exactly where hikers don't need to be. Lesson learned. Also, in the same area there were a couple breaks in the trees where I was able to snap a few (admittedly not very good) photos of hills in the distance (in the first photo you can just make out the cell phone tower on summit #2). Total hike distance was 7.3 miles. Total time was about 3 hours 20 minutes.