“Your off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way.”  — Dr. Seuss

This is part three of a four-part series on hikes near Interstate 90. These three hikes all begin at the same trailhead near Snoqualmie Pass.

Commonwealth Basin

There’s nothing common about Commonwealth Basin. This deep canyon nestled in the shadows of Red Mountain and Lundin Peak offers a great opportunity to explore the wild heart of the Cascades. The Pacific Crest Trail at Snoqualmie Pass begins in the lush and cool old growth forest. You will enjoy forest wildflowers and huckleberries.

After entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, at 2.5 miles, you will come to a fork in the trail. Take the left tine. Trail No. 1033 takes you off the Pacific Crest Trail to the left and into Commonwealth Basin. Once you leave the PCT you will most likely find quiet solitude. The trail descends into the basin, then briefly follows a winding stream. The path climbs out of the basin, steeply at times, staying in the forest and pulling yourself up the spine of a steep rocky ridge. Through the trees, there are snippets of views of surrounding peaks. The trail levels out and goes past the alluring, shallow, Red Pond before heading up again. You will earn the ridge at Red Pass after crossing a rocky slope at the base of Red Mountain and negotiating a number of switchbacks through steeply sloped heather meadows.

The trail stops at the ridge because it leads to viewpoints at a precipitous shear cliff. You will want to pause for a time perched on a rock enjoying lunch and impressive views. You look down into the deep middle fork of the Snoqualmie River Valley, across at sharply pointed Mount Thompson, the rugged chimney rocks group and far horizons. Mount Rainier will be visible to the south.

I consider this hike moderately strenuous because it is 10 miles out and back, gains 2,700 feet in elevation and parts of the trail are a bit of a puff. You may see lots of people on the Pacific Crest Trail, but once you take the Commonwealth Basin Trail the crowds all but disappear. This is a great fall hike to experience changing colors, fewer people and ripe berries. It is also an excellent summer hike.

To Get There: From Ellensburg, drive west on I-90 to Snoqualmie Pass. Take the east summit exit. Go left under the freeway. Take the first right and continue as the road eventually turns to the right and goes beneath the freeway. Take the first right. A sign will direct you to the Pacific Crest Trail parking lot. Proceed to the main parking lot, large enough for over 50 vehicles. A Northwest Forest Pass is required. All three hikes begin this same trailhead.

Kendall Katwalk

The hike from Snoqualmie Pass to the “Katwalk” is 5 1/2 miles. For me the name Kendall Katwalk conjures up an image of a narrow pathway blasted out of a steeply sloped rock face. It is an interesting and unique section of trail. But that is just part of it. You will also experience the sights and sounds of an old-growth forest, enjoy gorgeous wildflowers, stunning views into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness with the possible added benefit of huckleberries.

You switch back upward and suddenly emerge from the forest and across a rocky slope. A new group of flowers and pyramidal shaped alpine firs make you realize that you are elevating into the sub-alpine zone. There is nothing that smells like high elevation meadows. Your olfactory will say: “you have arrived.”

After entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, at 2.5 miles, you will come to a fork in the trail. Stay on the Pacific Crest Trail to the right. Three quarters of the hike is in the forest but eventually you burst out into open talus at about 5,000 feet. The slopes feature a dazzling display of wildflowers, including lupine, paintbrush, phlox, penstemon and columbine. This area is affectionately known as Kendall Gardens. The slope is steep, rocky, and a bit exposed, offering unobstructed views of Lundin Peak and Red Mountain ahead and Mount Rainier behind. You will want to take your time along this stretch to enjoy the scenic vistas. In normal snow years this section can be treacherous with snowfields across the trail into July.

You will cross the pass below Kendall Peak and welcome new views into gold creek basin and catch a glimpse of Mount Stuart and other peaks too numerous to mention. To complete this walk you must traverse the narrowest portion of the Katwalk (150 yards) and soak up the views.

I rate this hike moderately strenuous because it is 11 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of 2,700 feet. But the trail is not steep. It is an easy upward grade.

Take a hike to Kendall Katwalk on the Pacific Crest Trail and experience old-growth forest, gorgeous wildflowers and views to make you gulp. No amount of words or photos can prepare you for that airy feeling that hits you as you traverse the Katwalk.

Pacific Crest Trail North

Visualize jagged peaks, water cascading from snowfields, mountain lakes, fields of huckleberries, meadows brimming with wildflowers of every hue, marmots whistling, through hikers, the hiss of the camp-stove and alpine glow.

You will not find a more spectacular section of the Pacific Crest Trail from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. You can shorten the trip like we did by going out through Hyas Lake. You can arrange for a pickup or spot a vehicle at hikes terminus.

If time permits and you are able and willing, I recommend a side trip to Peggy’s Pond and a climb to the top of Mount Daniel. There are some great campsites at Peggy’s Pond and beyond and the next morning you can follow the ridge to the top of Mount Daniels. You will not be disappointed with the stunning views. It is not a technical climb but a long ways up.

To hike the high cascades is to witness creation with its storm, avalanche, wild gardens, glaciers, waterfalls and wildfires-and a primordial forest, clothing the base of the rocky crags like a verdant skirt. Wilderness areas belong to us all and we must endeavor to make sure that our children and grandchildren will also have them to enjoy.

Happy trails!


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