Posted on August 3, 2012 by Beth Yost
In preparation for our Enchantments trip next week, we thought it’d be nice to squeeze in a last-minute practice run with all of our gear, so we did an overnight at Ridge Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail, enjoying the views from Kendall Katwalk. I definitely didn’t expect this hike to have such insane views. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
A hike to the Kendall Katwalk can be a great day hike for someone looking for a 10 – 12 mile round trip with a nice reward at the end. And for those wanting to put in a night or two, there’s plenty to see just beyond the Katwalk.
The trail begins relatively easy, winding through the forest. About a mile in, you’ll start gaining elevation. It’s a moderate climb for about 2.5 miles. As you approach the tree line at about 3.5 miles, you’ll enter beautiful meadows of wildflowers where the view really starts to open up. Depending on the season, you may run into small patches of snow here and there. Ahead, you’ll see Red Mountain, appropriately named because, yes, it’s red. Don’t forget to look behind you. On a clear day, Mt. Rainier sits regally in the distance overlooking the ski resort, Summit at Snoqualmie.
Stop to enjoy the views and then carry on, my friend. The views to come are even more spectacular! You’ll reach an open boulder field with no shade, so don’t forget your sunblock. At this point, you’re at the ridge so there isn’t much of an climb anymore. The trail continues north, and at approximately 5.5 miles, you’ll reach the Kendall Katwalk: a short section of the trail that was blasted into the side of the cliff face by dynamite crews who were suspended by ropes. The section sounds scary, but as long as there’s no snow on it, it’s perfectly safe. (pictured above…Can you find the trail?)
The open area just before the Katwalk is a nice spot to take off your pack, get some photos, have a snack, and just hang out and enjoy the view. Many turn back at this point, or chose to cross and then head back. It’s a short strip and only takes a minute to walk across.
We carried on to Gravel Lake (also called Ridge Lake). The trail quickly turned to snow after the Katwalk, which can be common. It’s always a safe bet to check conditions before you head up. We traversed snow for just over a mile before reaching the lake, and it can be tough to see the actual trail. We followed the tracks but actually ended up off the trail up to the left (west) of Gravel Lake. The PCT actually goes to the east of the lake, between Gravel Lake and the basin ridge of Alaska Lake. Keep your gaze to the right and you’ll see it down there if you get off track.
There were patches of trees with no snow underneath, so we found a nice spot on the southern tip of Gravel Lake and set up camp. The lake was still pretty frozen but a small stream ran alongside our camp where we could get water to filter.
One of the bizarre things about camping in the Pacific Northwest is the large temperature variation between day and night. Once the sun goes down, it gets cold up there. 40s-in-late-July cold. Pack warm. I hiked up in a tank top and quickly added layers and was grateful for my 25˚ bag, hat, and gloves at dusk.
We made enough time in the morning to enjoy some breakfast and then mosey over to the upper basin of Alaska Lake. It’s too steep to climb down there, but it’s a beautiful view.
Overall, excellent hike. Was it a good practice run just before the Enchantments? The terrain didn’t exactly prepare me for Aasgard pass, but I didn’t expect it to. I did decide to invest in a pair of trekking poles for lighter descents and snow traversing. I’ve also decided to pack warmer clothes and try to keep my pack weight at 25lbs, which will prove to be difficult (especially since I refuse to leave the DSLR camera at home).
Directions: From Seattle take I-90E to exit 52. Turn left. Drive a couple hundred feet, take the road to the right (there’s a sign) and you’ll see the first parking lot. There are two lots, so parking isn’t an issue.
Make sure you have your Northwest Forest Pass otherwise you’ll get a $55 ticket (We’ve learned this the hard way). You’ll also need to fill out a permit to enter the alpine lakes wilderness area. Those are in a wooden box at the trailhead. If you pass a ranger (and especially if you’re all geared up for an overnighter) they’ll probably ask to see it.
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