Total Ascent: 3000ft
Highest Point: 5784ft
Total Distance: 12.2 miles
Location: N 47° 27.1200, W 121° 22.7160
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Most hikers familiar with Snoqualmie Pass seem to have heard of Kendall Katwalk. Guidebooks unfailingly include this popular section of the Pacific Crest Trail, usually conjuring images of a vertigo-inducing shimmy across an exposed cliff-face hundreds of feet in the air. It sounded fantastic. This week we finally took the opportunity to hike up to the Katwalk and experience it for ourselves.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) spent the better part of sixty years under construction. A coalition of hiking and youth groups conceived an approximate route in the 1930s as a Pacific coast counterpart to the Appalachian Trail. From the 1930s until 1968, the route was blazed and explored, receiving federal recognition as a scenic trail under the 1968 National Trail Systems Act. Various trail organizations, land management agencies, and an army of volunteers then worked to link regional trails from Mexico to Canada to form the PCT. By the early 1970’s, one of those regional trails – the Cascade Crest Trail – was rerouted to meet the PCT trail standards. Finding the current route less than ideal, and finding no reasonable alternative, the choice was made to blaze the trail with dynamite, blasting a path from the sheer granite wall. And so Kendall Katwalk was born.
Something about the obvious intrusion of man onto an almost fairy-tale landscape has attracted hikers and backpackers for decades. The trail to the Katwalk begins in the mixed fir and hemlock that quickly yield to thick patches of huckleberry and salmonberry flanking the path. The grade is fairly mild through long, lazy switchbacks, although the trail soon becomes rocky and root-riddled. The path becomes slightly steeper before crossing long stretches of talus and sub-alpine meadow, with accompanying open views of the Pass and surrounding landscape.
As you continue beneath the shadow of Kendall Peak, keep an eye out for a tight set of switchbacks at just over the 4.5 mile mark. Here, take the unmarked boot path straight up the mountainside. Though a bit of a scramble beset with loose rock, the path is fairly well defined and easy to follow. You’ll quickly gain the narrow ridgeline and cautiously follow it to the top. Keep one eye on the rubble at the bottom of the cliffs hundreds of feet below.
The view is tremendous. The weather-worn spires and crags of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness fill the horizon like a sea of crumbling sandcastles. Red Mountain commandeers the landscape to the north, with Mt Thompson just beyond. In the distance to the south, Mt. Rainier provides the backdrop for Mt. Catherine and the Snoqualmie ski slopes. Look down on Guye Peak and the Pass to the west and the shores of Keechelus Lake to the east.
At the top we found a cast-iron tube containing a Mountaineers registry. We dutifully filled out our names while idly wondering how many of these we’d missed on previous hikes. A quick scramble back down and we continued on to the Katwalk, which ended up being a bit further than we anticipated. We met a lot of folks equally confused and wondering if they’d somehow missed the infamous Katwalk. Our advice: just keep following the trail – you will know when you reach the Katwalk. The views are great, though we highly recommend taking the time to scramble up Kendall Peak, where the panorama dwarfs what you can see from the Katwalk.
To get there, take Exit 52 off I-90 and take a left toward Alpental Road. Take a right onto a small spur road marked Pacific Crest Trail and follow to the parking lot. - Nathan
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