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Rachel Lake & Alta Mountain

Our Hiking Time: 6h 40m
Total Ascent: 3800ft
Highest Point: 6151ft
Total Distance: 10 miles
Location: N 47° 26.4655, W 121° 19.8981
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Difficulty: Hard

Nathan's PhotoThere’s always time for a scramble up the side of a mountain. So when we discovered that Alta Mountain wasn’t too far beyond our planned hike to Rachel Lake our interest was piqued. At 6,240’ Alta not only promised some long views into the Central Cascades, but all of our trail maps ended near the base of the mountain. Excited to do some exploring off the trail, we geared up and headed out beyond Snoqualmie Pass to the trailhead.

rachel lake alta mountain hikingwithmybrotherAlthough the trail is challenging, making this hike feel more difficult than the elevation gains would suggest, the beauty and the view more than make up for effort. Rachel Lake and Rampart Ridge hold more than can be seen in a day, making this hike perfect for a short backpacking excursion.

There's a lot more to Rachel Lake and Alta Mountain, 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!

From Seattle, take I-90 to Exit 62. Turn north and drive five miles to the Lake Kachess campground. Take a left onto left Box Canyon Road #4930. Continue for four miles and turn left into the Rachel Lake Trailhead parking area. - Nathan

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Rachel Lake & Alta Mountain

Snow Lake & Source Lake Overlook

Our Hiking Time: 4h
Total Ascent: 1600ft
Highest Point: 4400ft
Total Distance: 8.5 miles
Location: N 47° 27.8580, W 121° 26.7945
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's PhotoWe try to follow one simple rule when choosing a hike: avoid climbing a peak on a cloudy day. So, when sunshine did not seem to be in our future as we prepared ourselves for our hike this week, we headed toward Alpental and the hike to Snow Lake we had been hearing friends rave about for years.

Tucked on the slopes of recent resident to this area of Snoqualmie pass, having operated there since 1967. Various landlords have held fleeting ownership long before, including the mountain’s namesake, Authur Denny, who staked mining claims in the area while prospecting for iron ore back in 1869. Denny Mountain, Alpental is only the most snow lake source lake hikingwithmybrotherFollowing in Denny’s wake, mining claims proliferated throughout the valley including parts of Snow Lake. As the years passed, these claims were sold or abandoned, slowly becoming either part of Alpental or what would become the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The popular Snow Lake Trail #1013 begins mildly, cutting a long swath through fields of bracken fern and salmonberry before entering a forest of hemlock and fir. As you slowly gain elevation, navigate your way across talus fields and cascading streams. Enjoy the well-trod path, beaten down by tens of thousands of boots every year keeping it clear of debris and encroaching brush. At two miles, the trail meets up with the signed Snow Lake Trail #1013.2, the Source Lake Overlook trail, which served as the primary route to Snow Lake before washouts prompted the building of a more direct route over the cliffs. Follow the new route to the right, switchbacking steeply up the rocky ridge, entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at the top.

snow lake source lake hikingwithmybrotherFrom the ridgeline, the trail descends to shores of Snow Lake. At a mile long, Snow Lake is large for its breed; placid waters wrap around Chair Peak obscuring its western reaches. Remnants of a cabin – chunks of low stone walls and the remains of a fireplace – crumble on the lakeshore, as they have since at least the 1960s, though sadly no one seems to know the story behind it. The vegetation around the lake is riddled with footpaths, lingering evidence of the multitudes struggling to find their own private slice of solace near the water.

On the hike back out, we decided to spend the extra time exploring the Source Lake Overlook and were well rewarded. Largely abandoned since the new route opened, the trail is rough and unmaintained, making it difficult to navigate at times. However, the path takes your through small alpine meadows, past tiny lakelets, and under a small waterfall, and it is far less crowded that the main trail. By the time Source Lake is in view, the trail improves greatly, mostly by virtue of the adventurous clambering up the scramble route to The Tooth and Chair Peak located here.

snow lake source lake hikingwithmybrotherSnow Lake is not only beautiful, its very accessible – just three miles to the lake and most of that distance is relatively flat – which is likely what attracts so many hikers year after year. It should be noted that if solitude is your goal, this hike should be avoided. We hit the trail quite early on a weekend, and although we enjoyed some relative peace and quiet on the way up, we had to fight our way back down the trail, stopping every few minute to dance around groups heading up to the lake. If you do decide to brave the crowds, we highly recommend exploring the Source Lake Overlook for a respite from the throngs.

To get there, take I-90 to exit 52. From the exit, take a left onto Alpental Road for about two miles to a large gravel parking lot. The trailhead is across the road to the right. - Nathan

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Snow Lake & Source Lake Overlook

Pacific Northwest Wildflowers

Nathan's Photo
There's a narrow window of time in which wildflowers flourish: sometime between the receding snows and the scorching sun of high summer. At their height, wildflowers add a welcome wash of color to the familiar gray-green-brown palette found on the west side of the Cascades. Over the last few months we've managed to capture dozens of wildflowers on our hikes. Here's a few of the best.

We're not experts, so special thanks to www.pnwflowers.com for all the details.

yellow glacier lilly erythronium grandiflorum mcclellan butte hikingwithmybrother

Yellow Glacier Lilly (erythronium grandiflorum)

We found these lining the trail on our way to the top of McClellan Butte. A bit on the delicate side, they appear shortly after snowmelt and are quickly gone. They're usually found en masse, adding a bright swath of yellow to the trailside.

red columbine aquilegia formosa mason lake mt defiance hikingwithmybrother

Red Columbine (aquilegia formosa)

We found this guy in the middle Mason Creek, just a few feet shy of the shore of Mason Lake, while on our way up to the summit of Mt. Defiance. The red-yellow combination is eye-catching as is the complex structure of the flower itself, seemingly all towers and crenelation.

cliff paintbrush castilleja rupicola hall point change creek trail hikingwithmybrother
Cliff Paintbrush (castilleja rupicola)

These sharp looking flowers were located in the crags along the Iron Horse trail. Snowmelt and rainwater were running down the mossy rock and the Cliff Paintbrush was having a fine time soaking it all up. We'd noticed them on the way up when we were hiking the Hall Point - Change Creek Trail, and made sure to get a couple of good shots on the way back down.

fireweed chamerion angustifolium kendall peak hikingwithmybrother

Fireweed (chamerion angustifolium)

Fireweed is fairly common. Most hikers have run across it at some point. It is often some of the first plantlife to recolonize a burn area after a forest fire, which is likely where it got its moniker. We find these on the eastern slope of Kendall Peak, and couldn't resist a shot with Mt. Rainier and Mt. Catherine in the background.

columbia lily tiger lily lilium columbianum mt defiance hikingwithmybrother

Columbia Lily a.k.a Tiger Lily (lilium columbianum)

This Tiger Lily was just off the trail in one of the vast alpine meadows that blanket the upper reaches of Mt. Defiance. Tiger Lilies are on the solitary side, a dollop of speckled orange floating on a sea of green.

Kendall Katwalk & Kendall Peak

Our Hiking Time: 6h
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
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's PhotoMost 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.

kendall peak hikingwithmybrotherSomething 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 Katwalk ended up being a bit further than we anticipated and 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.

There's a lot more to Kendall Katwalk, 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 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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Kendall Katwalk & Peak

Mt. Catherine Trail #1348

Our Hiking Time: 2h
Total Ascent: 1320ft
Highest Point: 5052ft
Total Distance: 3 miles
Location: N 47° 22.3380, W 121° 25.6080
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
Difficulty: Moderate

Nathan's PhotoShort on time, we pored through our resources to find a hike that would give us some new and interesting views in the time we had available. Mt. Catherine was an easy choice: just over Snoqualmie Pass with good views to the north and south without too much trail distance. Without much research, we packed up and headed out.

mt catherine hikingwithmybrotherAccording to Manning, back in the early days of aviation in 1920s and 30s, a beacon sat atop Mt. Catherine, one in a long series that included Rattlesnake Mountain and McClellan Butte, meant to guide planes through the low point in the Cascades. Today the beacon is long gone, though remnants remain in the form of rusted cables and bolts driven into Catherine's rocky peak.

The trail begins off Forest Road 9070, briefly following a logging spur before connecting with a rocky trail heading up the side of the mountain. The trail spares little in the way of switchbacks or other concessions for the casual hiker. Instead, the trail aims to deliver you to the summit with a mischievous efficiency. False summits abound, and each time you feel you've gained the prominence, you're quickly faced with even more mountain to ascend.

While the trail is short, Mt. Catherine makes up for it in grade. Mostly steep and rocky, the path is easy to follow and the rewards at the top are well worth the sweat. Look down on Keechelus mt catherine hikingwithmybrotherLake with I-90 hugging its shore. To the south, Rainer quietly lurks behind Silver and Tinkham Peaks. Humpback Mountain is immediately to the west and Red Mountain stands boldly to the north.

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. Keep to the left and follow the meandering forest road for just over four miles to a widening in the road at 3700ft. Park and find the trail nearby. - Nathan

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Mt. Catherine
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