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Commonwealth Basin - Red Mountain Pass

Our Hiking Time: 5h 30m
Total Ascent: 2700ft
Highest Point: 5300ft
Total Distance: 7.2 miles
Location: N 47° 27.6300, W 121° 23.8560
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Difficulty: Hard

Nathan's PhotoWe continued our race against the weather this week, hoping to complete a few more hikes in the Pass before the snows settle in. After a few weeks of hiking to lakes, we decided to head for Red Mountain and the Commonwealth Basin, intent on finding a scramble route to the top.

The Commonwealth Basin Trail has its origins in the mining claims common in this area. The trail was originally built by prospectors around 1890 to access claims within the valley. In 1928 Fred Cleator was put in charge of the US Forest region encompassing Oregon and Washington and immediately set about piecing together a contiguous trail through the region that would become eventually become the Cascade Crest Trail (CCT). red mountain commonwealth basin hikingwithmybrotherThe old Commonwealth Basin route served as part of the CCT until the late 1970s when, as part of the changes made during the construction of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), it was abandoned for the more efficient Kendall Katwalk route.

Most guidebooks suggest you follow the PCT to the Commonwealth Basin Trail (#1033) to get to Red Mountain, but we had already explored that portion of the Pacific Crest Trail on our way to Kendall Peak. Instead, we jumped at the chance take an alternative approach to our destination; a small, unmarked, but well-trodden trail branches off to your left just after you leave the trailhead. This is the old CCT route that is now officially “abandoned,” though it is clearly still well loved. There are some things to consider if you’re thinking of taking this route. On the plus side, the CCT route shaves off a mile or more of hiking; on the down side, the trail is on the rough side and while there is again a log bridge across Commonwealth Creek, it occasionally washes out.

Either way, you will be taken through mature stands of Silver Fir and hemlock, over red mountain red pond commonwealth basin hikingwithmybrotherstreamlets and talus fields and past alluring waterfalls. The old Basin route saves much of its elevation gain for Red Mountain itself, while the PCT trail gains more elevation that you need, requiring you to relinquish what you’ve so recently gained. Whichever way you choose to go, you’ll eventually find yourself on the Commonwealth Basin Trail (#1033). This will bring you to the end of the basin and up the base of Red Mountain to Red Pass. After quite a number of switchbacks you’ll reach a level shoulder where short spur trails lead to Red Pond and up the crown of Red Mountain.

Snows had already made the exposed rock very slick, so we chose to forgo the scramble up to Red’s summit, and instead pushed on to Red Pass. The views here are spectacular. The mountain simply drops away, creating the feeling of being at the top of a massive amphitheater. The horn of Mt. Thompson steals the show, a fitting counterpoint to Mt. Rainier to the south. Commonwealth Basin spreads out to Alpental in the distance. From here Snoqualmie Mountain and Guye Peak seem less intimidating than they usually do, and rocky top of Lundin Peak is just ahead on the trail.

Red Mountain suddenly looks much more craggy and intimidating from this side, so we opted to continue on to East Lundin Peak. For years Lundin peak was called lundin peak red mountain commonwealth basin hikingwithmybrother“Little Sister” a reference to it sharing a ridgeline with Snoqualmie Mountain. At some point it was renamed in honor of J.W. Lundin, who evidently did a great deal of good work for the US Forest Service. We were ill-equipped to get to the actual summit, so the steep but easily accessible East Peak was a perfect destination. Simply follow the trail along the ridge, ignoring the signs that tell you the trail is abandoned. Take the left fork heading upwards and stick to the rough trail to the top. The views don’t change much with the extra effort of pushing past the common stopping point of Red Pass, but it’s a cozy little spot to settle down and refuel.

Though probably better known as a snowshoe route, a trip through Commonwealth Basis is a great hike. The heights of Red Pass are attainable for just about anyone and are more than worth the exertion. We recommend going off the beaten path and using the older CCT route if you are up for the extra challenge. It gives you a much better feel for the Basin as a whole.

To get there, take I-90 to exit #52. Turn left under the freeway and take the first right. Follow the road to two large parking areas. The first is reserved for stock; -hikers should continue to the further parking lot and the trailhead. - Nathan

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Anniversary Post: Worst Hikes of the First Year

Jer's PhotoToday marks one year since two brothers decided it would be a good idea to start a blog about hiking every weekend in the Pacific Northwest. If you have been following our blog for a while, you may have noticed the tone of our trip reports has become more frank. Back in the earlier days of the blog, we were trying to find something positive to write about on all of our hikes because we didn’t want to discourage people from exploring new places and making up their own minds. Now that we have a lot more experience, we have been working hard to provide guidance that hopefully helps others to avoid a poor hiking trip. In that same spirit of guidance, we have decided to mark the website’s one-year anniversary by recalling some of our worst experiences on the trail.

Given our love for the outdoors, there really has to be a grand culmination of factors to take a hike from mediocre to plain awful. Yet we’ve had a handful of notorious hiking trips that could truly be branded as “bad” since the inception of hikingwithmybrother.com. For me, Squak Mountain – East Ridge to Phil's Creek was literally a perfect storm of misery. Stricken with the flu and bullheaded pride, I decided a short and easy hike was perfectly within reason to complete. Undeterred by freezing April rain, I set out with Nathan on an unplanned route through the network of trails that make up Squak Mountain State Park.

Since we didn’t plan, we started the hike without a final destination. Desperate for something significant to write about, Nathan played on my competitive bravado by using phrases such as “Come on, don’t be a quitter!”, and “We’re almost there, only a quarter mile left!” (liar) to push my soaked, flu-fatigued body well beyond the short hike I anticipated. I’m actually glad he motivate me because now I can taunt him (which is priceless) about the time we hiked 8 miles along a trail closed by mudslides only to find a labyrinth of hoof-paths filled with ankle-deep mud and horse manure.

While Phil's Creek is an example where things just went wrong, Taylor Mountain Forest is an example of where hiking is just wrong. The only thing this place might be good for is taking your ATV or horsey out for a spin - unless of course you are a serial killer. In researching information for the original trip report, we found that Taylor Mountain Forest has the unfortunate history as being one of Ted Bundy’s favorite disposal sites.

The mountain itself is private land, so if you have any aspirations about getting to the actual summit of Taylor, forget about it. And though the elaborate trail map we procured in preparation for the hike shows finely groomed and well marked trails, we quickly discovered that some trails were only proposed, while others were still under construction - making it very easy to get lost. If you go, when you do get lost, don’t be surprised if you happen upon an irate private land owner who tells where you shouldn’t go, but is completely unable to give you directions on how to get un-lost. -Jer


Nathan's Photo
Phil’s Creek was a sodden trudge. Taylor Mountain was a very, very long day that ended up not only being disappointing, but a little bit creepy by the end. Still, these are picnics when compared to what is easily our worst hike: Mt. Gardener.

Before I get into the details, I think it’s important to note that we put this post together to poke a little fun at ourselves and share some of our misadventures after a year of tromping through the woods. However lighthearted the rest of the post is, I’m very serious when I say that you should never go to Mt. Gardener. Ever.

We avoided Mt. Gardener for months. The few descriptions of the trail we could find clearly struggled to find anything positive to say about the hike. We were resigned to a boring stroll down forest roads to an oversized hillock, the principal attraction being a lovely overview of the very close and very loud I-90. In retrospect, this would have been perfect.

The first inkling that we were in for a terrible hike was finding the access road blocked almost four miles from the outlined starting point. While inconvenient, we decided to go ahead with the hike anyway, because, after all, it was all reasonably graded logging roads, right? Resolved, we started down the trail.

Then is started raining. But we were prepared; we just broke out the rain gear and continued on as the road quickly narrowed. Before we knew it we were sliding past alders and vine maples heavy with rain while navigating some large blowdowns blocking the path. When we arrived at Harris Creek, a few hundred yards of the road were just gone. “Washed out” does not begin to describe the lack of road or the amount of effort it took to navigate the gap.

It only got worse. At times the former logging road was so completely grown over that we found ourselves duck-walking for extended periods of time. Landslides blocked the trail, necessitating our use of some creative bushwhacking skills to continue. Talus fields would tauntingly give some relief from the briar patches before plunging us back into the fray. Never have we so fervently wished for a machete.

It eventually wore us down. After hours of struggle we turned back and picked our way down a large talus field to the Iron Horse Trail rather than brave the “trail.” Testing every rock with every step to determine whether or not it is loose was far preferable to the vegetative torture we’d already endured. The trip down was not fun, but at least the trail wasn’t actively fighting to impede our progress.

It was a miserable hike for us. We’ll not be back. If you are feeling adventurous, we do hope you’ll go armed with an axe or a saw. Heck. Take both. -Nathan

Margaret Lake Trail #1332.1

Our Hiking Time: 3h 40m
Total Ascent: 1900ft (1600ft in; 300ft out)
Highest Point: 5100ft
Total Distance: 5.5 miles
Location: N 47° 22.8240, W 121° 20.1720
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's PhotoThe rain has come. Soon it will turn to snow and begin to impede our access to trails. This week we wanted to push out beyond the Pass to take advantage of one of the last snow-free weekends. Margaret Lake had been our list for quite some time, and with it raining heavily in Seattle, we decided to take our chances in the mountains.

Lake Margaret is one of a several lakes in the area bestowed with female names; Lake Lillian, Lake Yvonne, and Lake Laura are all fairly close together. We assume there was some theme involved or some story behind the names, but a few hours of margaret lake hikingwithmybrothersearching didn’t give us any hints. Perhaps when we visit Lake Lillian we’ll have better luck with our research.

Like so many trails we’ve been on lately, the Lake Lillian Trail #1332 begins on a decommissioned logging road winding through vast acres of recovering clear-cut. This quickly gives way to an actual trail, albeit one that continues to through the aftereffects of logging. Overall, the trail is fairly tame and most of the elevation gain comes at the beginning. The clear-cuts are bursting with blue huckleberries during the season, although now there’s not much left beyond a few forlorn berries clinging to bushes that have already lost most of their leaves. Switchback up the slope toward the shelter of mature Douglas fir and pine while noting the landscape as you ascend. If you’re lucky, Mt. Rainier will be out headlining the horizon. Mt. Catherine is the large isolated mound at the end of Keechelus Lake. In the middle distance you can make out the sharp point of Silver Peak.

margaret lake hikingwithmybrotherUnder the protection of the trees you’ll continue to gain elevation until you attain the ridge. At this plateau the trail diverges. One may continue on to Lillian Lake or take the short spur down to Margaret Lake along the Margaret Lake Trail #1332.1. We’d already decided to reserve Lake Lillian for another day, so we veered off down the spur to the lake. You almost immediately begin a decent into the bowl below Mount Margaret. As you cross over into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, occasional openings in the trees reveal glimpses of what is to come. For us, the reddened fall foliage on Mount Margaret made it all the more impressive.

The trail opens up into meadows as you near the lakes and the trails become much muddier. If it’s rained recently, you’ll want to make sure to take your time and watch your step, as we found the trails pretty slick. You’ll first come upon the very small Lake Yvonne – so tiny that it’s not much more than a pond, further leading us to believe that there’s something to the names of these lakes. It’s as if they had an extra name and needed a lake to go alongmargaret lake hikingwithmybrother with it. Lake Margaret lies just beyond.

This is a great little hike. Lake Lillian is fairly popular and most hikers head that direction. Lake Margaret is a little bit less traveled, and if you have some time, there are a number of other lakes right nearby – Stonesthrow Lake, Rock Rabbit Lake, and Swan Lake. Many guide books suggest that the trails to these lakes have been lost to neglect, but we’re pretty sure there are some semi-secret routes to them. If you have sometime, take a look around and let us know if you find anything!

To get there, take I-90 to the Hyak Exit 54 and take a left. As you pass under the freeway take a right on the frontage road. Follow the road for about two and half miles before it becomes the graveled Forest Service Road No. 4832. Follow FR 4832 for a mile or so to an intersection. Head left. Ignore an unmarked and slightly overgrown side road that leads out to the Lake Lillian Shortcut. Instead, continue past for a few tenths of a mile to a parking lot labeled Lake Margaret and Lake Lillian. Gear up and find the trail a few hundred feet further along the Forest Road. -Nathan

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Kendall Peak Lakes

Our Hiking Time: 3h 50m
Total Ascent: 2100ft
Highest Point: 4750ft
Total Distance: 8.5 miles
Location: N 47° 25.9197, W 121° 22.8277
Required Permit: None
Difficulty: Easy

Nathan's PhotoThis week found us just over Snoqualmie Pass exploring some of the shorter jaunts around Hyak. After a few weeks of longer forays to various summits along the I-90 corridor, we were looking forward to a leisurely hike. A mountain lake seemed the ideal destination on a brisk October day, so we pointed the car in the direction of Kendall Peak Lakes and hit the road.

Kendall Peak Lakes have always been lakes that were seen more than they were visited. Couched in a cul-de-sac of mountain ridges, kendall peak lakes hikingwithmybrotherthe three lakes were so often observed from the surrounding lofty heights that we today we continue to refer to them as just that: lakes seen and accessed via Kendall Peak. Nowadays, extensive logging and the roads that go along with it have hewn a much easier route to Kendall Peak Lakes, though it was a high price to pay for ease of access, as the vast fields of clear-cut forest are still struggling to recover.

The trail is mostly decommissioned logging road, making for a leisurely stroll through alders and vine maples. The shrubbery quickly gives way to long views of stump-strewn clear cuts complete with young saplings struggling against low underbrush. The carefully carved slopes of the Snoqualmie Ski Resort contrast with the clear-cuts and dominate the view. The road is short - just a few switchbacks and one slightly confusing kendall peak lakes hikingwithmybrotherintersection are between you and a clear path toward the craggy mountaintops of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

As the logging road begins to thin and taper out, keep watch for a cairn indicating a boot-path to the lakes. The roughly cut trail will bring you to the first meadow-bound lake. More accurately a pond, the reed-lined waters are surrounded by marsh, so watch your step. Upon reaching the lake, the trail becomes more intermittent, branching off in dozens of directions. There is more than one viable route up to the next lake, accessed on either side of the pond.

The middle child of the Kendall Peak Lakes makes for something more of a destination, but it pales in comparison to the last lake. We highly recommend that you press onward and upward. The trick is to find the trail to access it. Simply work your way around to the far side of the second lake to the talus field and start climbing your way up. kendall peak lakes hikingwithmybrotherHopefully you’ll be able to find the shadows of a path up the very steep mountainside. Ascend roughly 200’ to the last and largest of the Kendall Peak Lakes. Surrounded by steep cliffs and talus, the lake somehow feels remote and private. Unpack your lunch and enjoy.

This is great hike for those looking for a quick escape – a taste of the wilderness just a few miles away from I-90. In the winter this is an extremely popular snowshoe route, since the grade and distance are perfect for a romp through fresh powder. Keep this one on the list for the first snowshoe trip this year.

To get there, take I-90 to the Hyak Exit #54 and head right to the Gold Creek parking area. Depending on snow conditions, you can either park here or continue the half-mile on Forest Road #9090 to the road block before piling out and heading up. - Nathan

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Talus Falls - Photosynth

Jer's PhotoOne of the great joys we derive from hiking is exploring and finding the unexpected. Such an opportunity presented itself on our recent hike up Bessemer Mountain. As we approached the end of a switchback, the nearby rumbling of falling water piqued our curiosity. We bushwhacked our way down a steep embankment to what we later learned was Big Blowout Creek. After hopping across the creek we scrambled further downstream to discover a stunning sight.

The slow shutter speed pictures of this Photosynth capture an unnamed falls which we have christened Talus Falls.

South Bessemer Mountain

Our Hiking Time: 5h 40m
Total Ascent: 4100ft
Highest Point: 5000ft
Total Distance: 13 miles
Location: N 47° 32.9880, W 121° 36.8460
Required Permit: Discover Pass
Difficulty: Hard

Nathan's PhotoOccasionally, when planning our hikes, we bite off a little more than we can chew. That happened to us this week when we decided on a hike along what we understood to be the newly re-opened Forest Road 56, which provides the only vehicle access to most of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie valley. Heavy rains closed the road last year, and since that time we’ve been keeping an eye on progress of repair work, waiting for the opportunity to return. Unfortunately, although some of the repairs have been completed, a new gate has been installed around the five mile mark. This bars access to a number of great hikes that begin around where the Pratt River joins the Middle Fork Snoqualmie. Our plans dashed, we turned to the next available fallback - Bessemer Mountain.

There are two things to know about a hike up South Bessemer Mountain. First,bessemer mountain talus falls hikingwithmybrother it’s all logging roads, the majority of which are still active. Second, despite being entirely made up of roads that presumably some form of vehicle was able to navigate, it is not an easy hike. The combination of these two factors pushes a trip to the summit a bit beyond the category of a causal day hike. We recommend allowing a lot of extra time if you’re a hiker. Alternatively, this would be a great place for some true mountain biking, as there is a great deal to explore.

The gated logging road begins peaceably, with remnants of pavements peeking through recently applied patches of gravel. Encroaching forest has been kept well at bay along what is clearly an active road. The road eventually merges with the CCC Trail as it crosses Big Blowout Creek. A map may give the impression that you’ve arrived at an intersection, however, because the CCC Trail is unsigned and it is not entirely obvious that you’ve left one road for another. Simply continue to switchback through the young, healthy looking forest, to what we assume is the base of operations for the talus mining operations that currently going on. Scattered piles of boulders that seem destined for front yards and office parks surround a small trailer which must be the “office” the signage referrers to. Ignore all this and continue onward and upward.

Not too far beyond this point, you’ll reach the end of a switchback and hear the crashing of a waterfall. If time permits and you are feeling adventurous, we highly recommend you take a few minutes to explore. A quick glance into the brush reveals a pretty, but fairly placid portion of Big Blowout Creek. Only scrambling down into the creek bed reveals that the creek disappears a few dozen feet downstream. Carefully cross the shallow creek and follow the creek downstream to find a stunning waterfall. The creek drops about 50ft into a large pool nestled beneath high walls of rock. The setting is about as sylvan as it comes, so we encourage you to take a few minutes to pick your way down to the bottom and enjoy it. As far as we can tell, there’s no name for these falls, so in our hubris we’re christening them Talus Falls.

Tear yourself away from your private viewing of Talus Falls and get back on the logging road. bessemer mountain hikingwithmybrotherThe roads can get confusing, even with a map, as spurs set off in unexpected directions. The trick is to simply keep an eye out for intersections and always chose the route that will continue to convey you upward. You will soon push beyond the trees and enter the vast swath of forest still struggling to recover from the crew-cut it received back in the 1970’s. Stumps aside, the trim has the benefit of carving out some tantalizing views of Russian Butte and the Pratt River Valley that hint at what the summit will reveal.

After the falls, the roads become increasingly steep and difficult to navigate, the gravel growing ever larger and less compact. Aside from the occasional view, the route isn’t very exciting, and the rougher portions require a steady eye on the ground. Just beyond six miles, the trail levels off on a ridgeline that provides great views down the other side of the mountain as well as a vast panorama of the valleys below. Many chose to turn back here. We chose to bite off more than we could really chew.

The last mile gives no quarter: the road has all but disintegrated, becoming a steeply-graded collection of rocks and boulders. After struggling up the last portions, just beneath our goal, we saw something strange, and it took a moment to realize that what we were seeing was a bear cub standing in the road ahead. Momma was not far behind. Thankfully things sorted themselves out rather quickly, with the cub running back to mom before any misunderstandings took place, and we took an alternative route to the summit. The fact that bears are wandering around Bessemer hints at the typical amount of foot traffic on the slopes. We only encountered a couple of other hikers, so expect to have the mountain pretty much to yourself.

At 5028’ South Bessemer is almost a thousand feet higher than nearby Mt. Si, and this affords some unique views. You can clearly see the skyscrapers of Seattle and Bellevue to the west. Green Mountain sits at the end of the ridgeline to the south, with Rattlesnake, bessemer mountain hikingwithmybrotherCedar Butte, Mt. Washington and Mailbox all in attendance. The nearby Quartz Mountain is almost directly to the north. As you swing east, the dramatic walls of Mt. Garfield can be seen next to the diminutive Stegosaurus Butte. In the far distance, the snow-covered peaks of the Cascades stretch out in all directions. And, as always, Rainer lords over the procession. It’s a hard-earned reward; be sure to enjoy it.

To get there, take I-90 to exit 34 and take a left onto 468th Ave. Follow the road past the truck stop for about a half-mile until you reach SE Middle Fork Road, also known as Forest Road 56. The road has a few twists and turns, but continue on until the asphalt ends at Mailbox Peak Trailhead. Press on for about four miles to a blue-gated road labeled "905" on the left, 7.4 miles from I-90. -Nathan

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Silver Peak Loop

Our Hiking Time: 4h 45m
Total Ascent: 3000ft
Highest Point: 5605ft
Total Distance: 8.6 miles
Location: N 47° 21.6900, W 121° 27.6900
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Difficulty: Hard

Nathan's PhotoSilver Peak has long enjoyed popularity amongst hikers, spanning back to the first recorded ascent by the US Geological Survey in 1899. Since that time thousands of snowshoers, mountaineers and backpackers have enjoyed the relative ease of access to one of the tallest peaks in the Snoqualmie region as well as the expansive views from the top. A visit to Silver Peak was long overdue, so we geared up and headed out the Pass.

silver peak twin lake hikingwithmybrother

There's a lot more to Silver Peak, and you can learn all about it in our book, Hiking Through History Washington.  You'll find a trail map, route descriptions, history, and more for this and many more hikes throughout the State. Help support hikingwithmybrother.com and the work we do by picking up a copy!

To get there take I-90 to Hyak Exit 54 and head right. Take a left into the ski area parking lot and head toward the houses at the far end. Pass a small water treatment plant on your way to FR 9070. Follow to a T, and turn left. Find the Cold Creek trailhead roughly 2.5 miles from the beginning of the road on the left. -Nathan

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