Our Northwest

Add this leg to 'Best of the Pacific Crest Trail'

Tuesday, July 19, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

Alpine Lakes Wilderness on Pacific Crest Trail With mountain snow dwindling, now is the time to start hiking those high-elevation trails you yearn for all winter.

Perhaps you saw the recent Seattle Times article profiling the most-scenic Washington sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. I'd like to add a PCT highlight found in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness between Snoqualmie and Stevens passes.

The Times story noted the appeal of the Kendall Katwalk (which, incidentally, is closer than reported – it's just 5.5 miles from the Snoqualmie Pass trailhead, not 6). Blasted out of a granite cliff, the Katwalk is a spectacular site. Or an alarming one, if you fear heights and precipitous dropoffs.

But you reap the rewards for your 2,600 feet of elevation gain before you even reach the Katwalk. For me they begin where the PCT traverses a mountainside at Kendall Gardens, a treeless stretch of wildflowers and whistling marmots facing Red Mountain.

My favorite vistas lie beyond the Katwalk. Continue a short half-mile to Ridge Lake, an ideal spot to pitch your tent. Do so in early August and, if you can endure the mosquitos, stay up after dark to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower.

Gold Creek basin on Pacific Crest Trail The next morning, embark on an 8.5-mile (round-trip) dayhike. Walk northeast on the PCT as it begins a horseshoe-ish route high above the Gold Creek basin, with views down to Alaska Lake. The trail traverses the flanks of Alaska Mountain, which you can scramble to its 5,734-foot summit for views of Mt. Stuart.

Continue on the PCT a short distance to a sharp bend with a spectacular panorama – Joe Lake nestled below Huckleberry Mountain, with adjoining Chikamin Peak (exactly 7,000 feet) and Chikamin Ridge stretching beyond. Here the trail dips before arcing across Huckleberry's flanks in a sea of wildflowers.

Bending up and to the left, the trail approaches what revered outdoors author Harvey Manning called "a precinct of Heaven," the 5,520-foot Huckleberry-Chikamin saddle, at 4.25 miles. Nose around for views northward of towering Chimney Rock, and perhaps you'll even find a shaded snow patch where you can bury your water bottle for a spell to cool it.

More spectacular views lie farther up the trail – Park Lakes, Spectacle Point, Spectacle Lake – but since we're treating this as a dayhike, the saddle is where you backtrack.

As you again round the mountainside above Joe Lake, bell-shaped Mount Thompson comes into view to the west, a 6,554-foot rock climber's delight.

hand drawing about PCT trail
My son and I first did this trip when he was 10, and it helped cement his love for the mountains. I kept a sketch he drew afterwards, proof that Manning's "precinct of Heaven" makes an impression.

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