Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kendall Katwalk, October 15, 2011


What can I say about the Kendall Katwalk that hasn’t been said before? It’s a fairly long hike (12 miles round trip with about 2,700 feet elevation gain via the PCT at Snoqualmie Pass). The scenery is spectacular from beginning to end.

The first stretch is mostly forested but with occasional flashes of colorful vine maple here and there. Devil’s club has turned yellow, its big leaves reminiscent of maple leaves but with treacherous needle-like stickers. It was no surprise there are few flowers now along the trail – in the forest remnants of Canadian dogwood, aged Solomons seal and vanilla leaf. At the Katwalk there were a few harebells and a bit of yarrow.

We always looked forward to that first view of Guye Peak as the PCT leaves the forest to contour below a boulder field. There are also growing views of Red Mountain and Snoqualmie Mountain (Snoqualmie Mountain was dusted with fresh snow that melted away by afternoon).

Shortly past a slightly tricky stream crossing there’s a junction for the Commonwealth Basin trail (it’s signed). The trail to Commonwealth Basin can be used as a shortcut back to the PCT trailhead but stream crossings in the basin can be dicey, especially after recent rain and some snow-melt. The “old” Commonwealth Basin trail is a stretch of the original PCT before the trail was rerouted – it was called the Cascade Crest Trail then.

Past the junction to Commonwealth Basin the trail climbs through dense vegetation - blueberry shrubs, bracken, fading hellebore and mountain ash. After a while the dense vegetation gives way to old-growth forest and another stream crossing, this one easier than the first though at first glance it looks worse than it is.

The next stretch climbs through old-growth forest and you’ll see where trail crews cleared a large blowdown earlier this year. You’ll begin to see bits of sky through the forest canopy and about the time you think the forest will never end the trail breaks out below Kendall Ridge. In October the views are mesmerizing. Colorful fall foliage extends to the base of the ridge (right) and you will unconsciously slow your pace to take in the colorful displays. There are also views of the Snoqualmie peaks.

I’ve only been on the true summit of Kendall Peak once and that was a few years ago. It was the last Mountaineer scramble that the late Paul Wiseman led for the Seattle Mountaineers. The scramble to the true summit is trickier than it looks (at least I thought it was so) and from the trail it is hard to tell which of the high points is the summit.

The PCT its way around Kendall Ridge and here we found a thin layer of snow and occasional ice in the shade; not enough yet to warrant Yak Trax or traction devices but that can change any day now. There was a definite winter chill in the air despite the sun and blue skies.

If you have time notice the boulders beside the trail – they are splashed with lichen in just about every color you can imagine and in places sparkled with a glaze of ice. After some minor ups and downs the trail reaches a viewpoint – this is not the Kendall Katwalk but the views are impressive.

The PCT continues, making a long curve as it contours above a talus slope then comes to the Kendall Katwalk. Just before you get to the Katwalk the trail is narrow and a sign encourages horseback riders to dismount. It’s no place for a fall. Just before you get to the Katwalk peer through a window in the big boulders that border the trail for an interesting frame and view of Red Mountain, Lundine and more.

The Katwalk is snow-free and was the ideal place to stop on this chilly, sunny day. Here we enjoyed views of the Four Brothers, Chikamin Peak and other peaks we weren’t sure we could properly identify. Since we’ve hiked this trail often we didn’t bring the map – that’s a mistake if you want to identify the surrounding peaks.

Since it was a sunny Saturday there were many other hikers on the trail but who can blame them? Most of the hikers we met were younger and probably work full-time – who can begrudge their desire for a golden hike on a Saturday? I used to be one of those weekend-warriors after all. In my 30s, 40s and 50s I mostly worked full-time positions and hiked, scrambled, snowshoed or skied both days of the weekend.

Bob and I dawdled both coming and going – you can blame that on the somewhat futile attempt to immortalize these splendid scenes with our cameras.

Don’t forget your Northwest Forest Pass as we did in our eagerness to get outside on a sunny day. I didn’t realize it was sitting at home until we were half-way to Snoqualmie Pass. We ended up having to use my debit card to purchase a day-hiking permit at one of the grocery stores at the pass. I don’t remember the name of the store but it’s the first one grocery/gas station you come to as you approach Travelers Rest from the west (Exit 52). You will need a permit to park at the trailhead and parking is not allowed near the freeway interchange. You’re likely to get towed if you attempt to park there. Buck up, admit you’re getting old and forgetful and purchase a pass if you need to (to be completely honest …. I often forgot important items in my 30’s too, like the time I forgot my blue foam sleeping pad on a wintry, snowy backpack but that’s another long story…..).

I guess that’s called being human.

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