Ranking:4/5 A great hike especially if you want to turn it into a 3 night, 4 day, that encompasses several different lakes to stay at. Pretty little Ridge Lake, from my perspective, was warm enough to swim in without freezing to death, actually very pleasant after all day trudging in the sun. You get to walk along the Kendall Katwalk and see many beautiful peaks in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, as the PCT cuts through some really scenic areas on this hike. Some of the lakes were Joe Lake, Alaska Lake, Ridge Lake, Gravel Lake, and at the end, Park Lake. You will also pass below the spires of the 4 Brothers, as well as Chikamun Peak. Take the short side trek, and you’ll be able to gaze down on the incredible blue of Spectacle lake as well. As this trail spends most of the time alongside rocky ridges, most of your time will be spent out in the open, perfect for viewing all of the surrounding peaks and valleys. A great hike! There are several places to camp at Ridge and Park Lake, but get there early to Ridge, as it’s close in and very popular.
Difficulty:7/10 If you make this a 4 day, then the difficulty rating goes down, but as it stands now as a 3 day, wellll….That second day can be a buttkicker for mileage, over 17 miles in all! Otherwise, the trail is easy to follow on moderate incline. There are a few small portions that might be considered steep, but not that bad. Since a lot of the trail is along rock strewn ridges, the only material for the trail bed is rock. Therefore, a majority of the trail is built on loose, but compacted rock of varying scale, so be mindful of your tread! The beginning portion of the trail is in the trees, on well maintained dirt, so that part is in good shape. The rest, especially beyond Ridge Lake, is mostly out in the open. There isn’t much water between Ridge and Park lake, so make sure you have enough. We found small tarns, (more like huge depressions filled with snow melt and rain) that were tenable for drinking water, so bring a filter or some other remedy for it in case you make the long trek out and back in the direct sun.
Drive I-90E to Snoqualmie summit, take exit 52 towards W summit, then turn left at bottom of ramp, onto Alpental Road, and go under the freeway. Go about .2 miles and turn right, slight up to the parking lot. Parking lot turn left for stock, right for cars and TH for PCT north.
Maps: Green Trails #207, or create a MyTopo map of the area.
Permits: NW Forest Pass, or equivalent for parking, and self-register at the TH.
Kendall Katwalk, Ridge Lake, Park Lake Added 8-08-17
Perfect weather for a weekend trip! 70’s to low 80’s with a breeze. Brian and I make the journey to the PCT trailhead, just off the West Summit road of Snoqualmie Pass, and find a spot to park around 9:45am. The parking lot is nice and paved, with a maintained outhouse, a welcome relief after being in a car for awhile…
7.2 miles, 2762ft gain/1213ft loss. Fitbit data: 20,700 steps, 315 floors.
After donning packs, we’re on the trail by 10:15am, and the trail at the beginning is wide and flat, easy tread to hike on, but, this will be short lived….For now, the trail gradually leans upwards on a medium incline, as it cuts through old growth, mostly fir, on lazy switchbacks. The sun cuts through the canopy on occasion, providing filtered sunlight, but for most of the next two hours, you’re in the shade. You continue on ever upwards, for about 2.4 miles until you reach a “Y” intersection in the trail. Take the right fork, which continues uphill on the PCT. The lower track is signed “Commonwealth Basin”, on a weathered sign nailed to a tree.
“…other than the conversation you might want to bring with you…”
Your nice forest walk continues upward, and other than the conversation you might want to bring with you, there is little to distract you from the monotony, other than a few roots and rocky sections to negotiate. There is also the hum of vehicle traffic coming from the I-90 corridor below, and for the first hour on the trail, you’ll have this as accompaniment. At mile 2.8, you will begin to descend and lose about 630ft of elevation, and some .9 miles as the trail takes a sharp bend back on itself south. After this, the upward ascent continues towards the Katwalk. The first two hours, as I mentioned before, will be spent in the forest, until you reach the 4.6 mile mark, and you’ll break out on a rock strewn ridge. The trees relent, and give way to large talus or boulder fields, as the ridge tops above crumble into large run-outs of jumbled rock.
“Face meet ground, ground face!” Introductions I’d just as soon avoid…
The trail does a good job of cutting diagonally across, but still, you’ll need to pay attention to where your feet fall and resist the temptation to gawk while walking…Otherwise, you’re liable to end up with a close-up view of the rocky footpath. “Face meet ground, ground face!” Introductions I’d just as soon avoid…Get used to this kind of travel, as this will be the norm for most of the remainder of this 3 day. The good thing now, is you’re out in the open, and have great sight lines to the surrounding peaks. Red Mountain is now distinctive, a triangle shaped red mound, its base deeply striated leading to long narrow ridges that run out into the trees below. Shortly before reaching the Katwalk, looking back behind you, you can see the ski resort at Snoqualmie pass, and towering above it all behind the resort, is Mt. Rainier, it’s a cloudless sunny day, so the mountain is out in all its splendor.
Finally, at mile 5.97 miles, the high point for the day at 4917ft, we reach the fabled Kendall Katwalk section, and…Quite frankly after hearing and reading all the hype, its left us feeling a little underwhelmed…No doubt, it is an awesome feat of engineering, blasted as it is in the side of sheer rock, but…At only a couple hundred yards long, it is quickly negotiated and leaves us feeling a little disappointed. We’d heard so much about how narrow it was, but, as we passed others on it with ease, I was beginning to wonder just exactly passed as narrow. I have seen far narrower sections of trail elsewhere; with just as dire of consequences if you failed to stay on the straight and dare I say, narrow…Don’t get me wrong, it is a sharp drop-off, for sure, not something you’d want to tumble off. I think it’s over 100ft to the bottom, easy…
Lots of people day hike here to see the Katwalk, and today was no exception, for there must have been at least 15 to 20 people here this morning. It does have good views across to the jagged pinnacles between the two Kendall Peaks, like a line of towers, but I still think a trail section of the PCT more deserving of its mystique is the Knife’s edge in the Goat Rocks. More impressive views and it sets atop a ridgeline. Also, you have the opportunity to summit nearby Old Snowy.
We decide to take more pictures on our way out, for two reasons. One, there are just too many people here right now, and two; we’re hoping to get to the lake ahead of the crowds that will surely come. From the Katwalk, the trail cuts along the ridge over more rocky ground, now going downhill for the next 1.15 miles, all the way to Ridge Lake, at 4620ft elevation. Finally here, we take a quick look around, and it appears all that are here are a few dayhikers, and trailrunners. Did I forget to mention, that on the way up, we were passed by several of the runners, surprising as it is a moderately steep incline over some pretty rocky terrain in places, the kind that could surely end up being ankle busters. Yet, here they were, and over the next couple of days, we would see a good amount of them on the trail, hats off to them!
So, we had the pick of the good spots around the lake, and chose a spot on the east side of the lake. Thankfully, a stiff breeze was blowing all day, helping to keep the bugs and heat at bay. After camp was set up, within 20 minutes of our arrival, other backpackers started showing up, making us thankful we got here when we did. There are several spots to camp here at the lake, 3 good spots along the east shore here, enough for a large 3 man tent, or 2 one man tents. And, there is a large area off the lakes edge; I believe which is considered the main camping area, with at least 4 sites that are more or less connected in a large level spot. There is also one on the west bank, and then over by the PCT where we wandered in from, there are several spots to pitch a tent, in open meadows on a relatively flat bench above Gravel Lake, an adjoining lake set down maybe 80 feet below the trail, ringed on two sides by steep, gray colored talus fields, no doubt owing to its name, for it does look as if its banks are gravel from a distance.
Now that everything is set up, it’s time for a swim, and, it is refreshing! Afterwards, we crawl up onto the rocks and sun ourselves mostly dry, feeling much better after cleaning off trail grime and sweat…The lake is a small sub alpine lake setting in a small bowl, with the northern end meeting a boulder field, and the remaining sides bounded by trees and small grassy areas. The east side has more flat area, and there is a trail leading off the PCT to the campsite area just north of the lake. The water is a pretty blue green and clear, with lots of spots here at the north end to get water from, as well as good places to sun and dry off after a dip.
“… accompanied by the perpetually surprised “Eeks!” from the large population of Pika’s …”
After dinner, we’re both tired after a long day with little sleep, so it takes little persuasion to nod off to the constant breeze whistling through the tree tops, accompanied by the perpetually surprised “Eeks!” from the large population of Pika’s whose homes are in the boulder field. “Eek! A hiker!” “Eeek! Did that blade of grass just move?!” “Eeek! My shadow!” Ok, well at least that’s what it reminds me of. They never stop their loud exclamations all night, still heard them at 2 and 4am when I woke up…