Sunday, July 12, 2015

Into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness: Kendall Katwalk

I've been doing  a lot of hiking this year; here's another classic Northwest hike. Enjoy!

Barely an hour east of Seattle via Interstate 90, the Pacific Crest Trail switchbacks into the stunning, craggy Alpine Lakes Wilderness, which is full of many (surprise!) lovely alpine lakes. 

Just north of I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass, the PCT meanders upward through old growth forest and then traverses rocky scree slopes beneath jagged peaks. About 5.5 miles northward from the trail access is the dramatic Kendall Katwalk.

Years ago when I first hiked this section of the PCT, I thought we made it to the Katwalk.  So that narrow section of trail with the steep drop-off that leveled out just below the ridge wasn't it? 

Nope. (...a big Homer Simpson "D'OH!")

A few weeks ago I decided to take the challenge again and actually get to the Katwalk. Around 6:30 a.m. we hit the trail, which deceptively starts out wide and flat.

And so the trail goes for a short distance before starting up fairly mellow switchbacks through forest. Lots of forest with lush undergrowth.

About 2 miles on, we reach an opening in the forest and cross into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness along a good stretch of talus, and then back into forest.  (This is a good point to stop and apply insect repellent and shed any excess layers.)

After 4+ miles and gaining over 2,000 feet in elevation (but none too steep), we break out into open, scree/talus slope, with more expansive views of nearby peaks.

Up here scattered among the scree and occasional bits of alpine forest, we pass lots of wildflower gorgeousness. By now in this dry summer of 2015, I expect they're mostly spent.

 As we angle upward, occasionally passing through patches of subalpine forest, the drop-off beside the trail gets increasingly steeper.

Suddenly the trail levels and makes a distinct right turn to the east. This is what I thought was the Katwalk many years ago. KEEP GOING! (Although the multitude of other hikers on this popular trail will likely steer you along if you aren't sure.)


We're up near the top of ridged peaks now over 5,000 feet in elevation, so the next half mile or so to the Katwalk is pretty level, with mild ups and downs. When we come to a big gap that seems a good stopping point, voila!  Katwalk ahead, with gulp-it-all-in awesome views of the surrounding ragged peaks,  steep rocky cliffs, and sweet alpine meadows.

From this failed rock climber (because of my fear of exposure), I say the Katwalk isn't scary at all. Just stay clear of the trail's edge.

In the late 1970s it was blasted out of the steeply sloped granite rock face as a reroute of the PCT. The Katwalk is about 150 yards long, and is much wider than earlier sections of trail with steep drop-offs.

After crossing the Katwalk, the trail ahead pulls us along because it's just so darn alpine meadowy beautiful. We trot along for another quarter mile or so before turning back.

On our way back down, many more hikers are ascending. With tons of people moving to the Northwest and lots more hikers now, we go e-a-r-l-y, especially on a weekend.

A bonus on the return is the view of Rainier and, far below, a glimpse of I-90, which will take us back to Seattle and city traffic (which BTW is far worse than trail traffic).

This big guy doesn't need a caption.
With the extra we walked beyond the Katwalk, we estimated about 11.5 - 12 miles hiking today. We're back at the trailhead about 1:30 or 2 p.m. Not bad for a good Sunday's exercise. 

And the views: worth every drop of sweat.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

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When You Go
The hike up to Kendall Katwalk gains about 2,600 feet in elevation and covers 11 miles roundtrip. Some of the rocky portions of the trail require stepping carefully if you're prone to twisting your ankles like me. The PCT trailhead access is just off Exit 52 (eastbound) on I-90, and then proceed like you're headed to Alpental ski area but take a quick right just after 0.1 mile. You need a Northwest Forest Pass to park here.