Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail’s Kendall Katwalk
It’s a funny thing, but fall seems to be a time of celebration in the PNW. What do I mean? Well, even as the weather starts to nip and thoughts of the dark, dead season whip into the thoughts with each gust of wind, Nature erupts on full display—the foliage becomes her own spectacular plume of vibrancy over the hills and valleys, and even out along the coast. With elegance, she postures and curtsies and we’re drawn in, jetting to her wonderlands to catch her brief but riveting symphony of colors.
For those excited to join the festivities this time of year via hikes, the Washington Trails Association has a wonderful website (here) that allows you to pick a trail with specific qualities: waterfalls, old growth, meadows, etc. Last weekend, Alison and I wanted “fall foliage” and close to Seattle. We found the Kendall Katwalk hike.
About 45 minutes outside of Seattle off I90, at the Alpental/Summit West 52 exit of Snoqualmie Pass, the Kendall Katwalk is a particularly lush section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trailhead is tucked away just off the hwy, and from there the “moderately difficult” hike begins in old-growth forest and climbs gently up along creeks and passed moss-laden logs. Once you leave behind the dense, sun-sliced trees, you’re ushered out along a boulder-cluttered promenade that provides peek-a-boo glimpses of the surrounding majestic peaks.
I’ve said before that nature is the preeminent artist and the Cascade Range is a live gallery of such brilliance through which to stroll. It had rained the night before we came and steam rose from the moist rocks and downed logs where the thin autumn sun could reach them. Huckleberry bushes line the path.
To be out in the freshness of the mountains is truly liberating. The stunning scenery injects a sense of peace and newness into the spirit. We weren’t the only ones in search of such rejuvenation. The trail is popular and hiking etiquette should be observed.
After about 2.5 miles along the side of Kendall Peak, the trail forks. To the left is Commonwealth Basin. You’ll want to continue on to the right up the the PCT. The climb becomes slightly steeper with switchbacks, but every direction, every bend delivers a new sightline to a different surrounding peak—Guye Peak, Red Mountain—with its unique aspect and color palette. Waterproof shoes are recommended for tiptoeing across the waterfall shelves.
At about 3.5 miles the forest gives way to high alpine meadows and soon the path is crossing Kendall Ridge at 4,700 feet where the valley views take over in jaw-dropping dominance. Serenity seems to echo from peak to peak. When winter comes, these mountains will be caked in snow, but for now, blue ridges, deep evergreens and spurts of electrifying leaves decorate the mountain corridors.
Continue on and suddenly… Mt. Rainer’s mighty presence rises up behind you, and a dry avalanche field is ahead. The path becomes littered with debris from winter slides and a haunting feeling wells up ever so slightly as you cross the foot of the slopes known as the Kendall Gardens. These are where the alpine flowers are in full bloom in early October. Just beyond here, at 5.5 miles, is the Katwalk, a section of trail blasted into the side of the granite slope by crews. They say it’s intimidating given its sheer slope on one side. We didn’t venture up to find out. These views, for now, were enough. We rested the feet and took in what we could of Nature’s decadence. A kind host, she was.
We’ll be back soon for winter—and the very different party scene.