Mileage: 5.5 miles RT
Elevation Gain/Highest: 2046ft/5027ft
Map: Green Trails Snoqualmie Pass No. 207, my GAIA
5/6/2017 Let’s me start by saying this was part of a Mountaineers field trip, all in the name of practicing our scramble and snow travel skills. I think we nailed it, even though we didn’t reach the summit.
The road to the trailhead at Snoqualmie pass is still deep in snow, so we parked just up the road towards Alpental on a wide shoulder next to the snow berm and the walked back up the road to the parking lot to start on the Pacific Crest Trail and Commonwealth Trail, neither of which we were on for our entire trip up. That is to say, we pretty much headed straight up the slope with our eye on Kendall Peak. Originally, our goal had been to cut a path in between the PCT and Commonwealth aiming for their junction roughly on the other side of main creek that flows down from the Kendall Ridge. We headed up at about 8:21am.
The trail was forested and we were mostly kicking steps in the hard icy snow. Thankfully we had 9 students to take turns, it was hard work and slowed us down quite a bit. We were doing pretty well but somewhere around 3400ft and the tip of the second switchback we just started heading basically straight up. WAY before the creek. I think we just got excited when we came out to a tree free slope and opted to ascend rather than traverse.
Well, this was okay until we hit a rock band at about 3600ft and had to navigate around that. This led to an even more vertical climb trying to stay to the side of an avalanche chute. The risk today was not high but definitely still a probability. We decided to go to the right a bit, what we could see suggested a break in the rock above. Let me just say that our trek involved moving over talus and those lovely bridges and moats created when spring melts the snow away from the rock. I have to say this is my LEAST favorite part of hiking in the spring.
We finally broke out onto the nose of the ridge and ran roughly 150ft above the PCT and were happy to see somewhat level ground. We were still breaking trail but could store our ice axes at least, helmets went back onto packs. It was almost 11am at this point and we had a turn around time of 1pm, our summiting was now in question. It was here that we ran into a couple of gals heading to above the basin on skiis. I can’t imagine the icy snow lent itself to ideal ski conditions but they were sure getting in a good workout by the looks of the tracks they did make.
About an hour later, we were standing on the ridge just below the southern peak and the decision was made that we would not be summiting today but that we would drop down to the PCT and get as far as we could until it was time to turn around (with time for lunch, as well.) Mind you, you can’t see any of the trail but this is when apps like GAIA and Halfmile come in handy.
This stretch was riddled with avalanche debris and we were careful to not linger long, finding refuge in a crop of pines for our lunch break at 12:30pm. The weather had been a mix today; sun, wind, clouds, and even snow. The peaks of Kendall rose up above us and we ate in the defeat of not making our goal but celebration at the challenging scramble course we had carved out for ourselves. There would be bragging rights for sure, making it to 5000ft was most definitely an accomplishment in these conditions.
Our descent began about 1pm and we had NO intention of retracing our steps. In fact, our goal was to go down the way we had originally planned to come up. We plunge stepped straight down from our lunch post, keeping just to the right of the creek.
Glissading was a fail, the slope was a mix of hard ice and soft snow at this point. We gave it our best effort, though. Our course was possible to about 4300ft, but then it made sense geographically to cross the creek on a snow bridge to be on the left hand side in order to continue.
This worked until we came to 4000 and our path dropped off the side of the slope in front of us with the creek in a waterfall to our right. Well, that wasn’t going to work. Our map didn’t show a rock band but it was clearly there. We opted to head back up and re-cross the creek on another snow bridge to realign once again with our original plan. There was definitely a reason that previous routes start up from the PCT and Commonwealth on the north side of the creek.
Once below we basically followed the level Commonwealth Trail back to the trailhead on the left hand side, avoiding thawing snow over running water. Looking up to the east, we could see the rock band and cascading water that we had ran out of trail at. The snow had begun to soften in the sun and we were doing that alternating postholing thing when one foot goes in to the calf or knee and one foot is arrested on top with hard ice. There was a tiny ridge of compact snow in the middle of the trail to balance on, a few inches to the side and you were down on your knees. (At least I was, anyway). Our day ended back at the road around 2:49, our descent being less than half of our ascent time. If you plan to make the same trip, I suggest using our descent route for the ascent unless you, too, like a good challenge. And give yourself a lot more time if you want to reach the summit!
Directions: Take I-90 east from Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass, exiting for the West Summit. Turn left under the overpass and then take the next right hand turn where you see the Pacific Crest Trail sign. Follow the road up to the TH parking lot, staying to the right as it Y’s. There is a privy, Northwest Forest Pass is required. (At the time of this trip report, the road is blocked with snow. There were several pullouts on the main road close by for a few cars.