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Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section J - Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass - East

Imagine not crossing a road for 75 miles! Backpackers who complete the Snoqualmie - Stevens segment of the Pacific Crest Trail will hike through some of the most remote and diverse mountain country along the entire 2650-mile trail.

The route traverses the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and the trail passes by a least a dozen lakes along the way, many of them swimmable in late-summer. But the lakes aren't the only attraction - you will encounter meadows, old growth and views of towering mountains.

This trail is not for the beginning backpacker. There is considerable elevation gain (and loss) - 16,000 feet! Some places are impassable until well into August when the snow melts out. And the distance requires hikers to carry six or seven days of food and arrange for a car shuttle or pick-up at Stevens Pass.

It is best for hikers of this segment to pick up a map from the Pacific Crest Trail Association ( and buy the Pacific Crest Trail Oregon & Washington guidebook by Jeffrey Schaffer and Andy Selters published by Wilderness Press. The details this book provides cannot possibly be matched in a short online hiking guide description.
Driving Directions:

From Seattle drive I-90 to exit 52 (signed for Snoqualmie Pass west). At the bottom of the exit ramp, turn left (north) and cross under the freeway. In about 100 yards, turn right onto a dirt road leading into the PCT trailhead. At Stevens Pass, the PCT exits at the crest near the ski area.

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There are 83 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Kendall Katwalk, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section J - Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass - East — Nov 24, 2013 — icenine
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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It was an amazing sunny day and 39F. Conditions could not have been better. There was snow and ice...
It was an amazing sunny day and 39F. Conditions could not have been better. There was snow and ice on the trail all the way and microspikes or the like were required. I brought my snowshoes but never even thought of using them. I met only 4 people on the trail past the Commonwealth Basin (1.3 miles) all day and on the way out may 12 people from the split to the lot. Where was!? Scout and I were basically alone. Unfortunately, we just turned the corner of Kendall Peak about .2 miles from the Katwalk and the trail was pretty much a drop (see picture). I recklessly started across the slope and got about halfway. There were zero tracks and nothing to arrest me if I fell. Realizing I was roped to a dog and not another climber, I decided I did not want to be a casualty. I dug my heels in below the rocks, ate my sandwich, and gazed at the ominous Red Mountain in front of me. I would have taken the side slope on had I been on skis with sharp edges or had full crampons and my ice axe (both left at home...doh!) Beautiful day anyway on my absolute favorite hike with views as far as the Olympics west and Mt. Stuart east. I will try the winter route in a few weeks because I don't think the PCT will be easy to find after another big snow.
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Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section J - Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass - East, Spectacle Lake, Waptus Lake — Oct 20, 2013 — travisjburke
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
Issues: Blowdowns | Bridge out | Snow on trail
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A wonderful weekend at Pete Lake. Not a single soul beyond ourselves camped at Pete Lake, so we enj...
A wonderful weekend at Pete Lake. Not a single soul beyond ourselves camped at Pete Lake, so we enjoyed the perfectly still lake by the full moonlight to ourselves. Pete Lake trail was muddy, but only typically so for the PNW. Amazing colors right now, great play of green moss against yellow leaves. A few creeks have overtaken the trail, but easy crossings to left or right.
Second day we left base at Pete to cross over for a long loop to Waptus via the PCT to return on Waptus Pass. Signs say the bridge to Spectacle Lake is out, and impassable for stock. PCT was wonderful--amazing views of Summit Chief, Chimney Rock, that great ridge line. Colors are simply breathtaking. A few small creeks require a little more care, but easily passable. However, at likely 5000 feet (no altimeter, sorry! It's right where you are supposed to make the big turn around Escondido Lake) too much snow. Very, very soft snow. Lot's of work without snowshoes. We turned around, happy with the wonderful views of the sharp Cascades. Returned to Pete Lake, about 18 full miles of hiking and we never saw another soul. Beauteous!
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Cathedral Rock, Trail Creek, Spade Lake, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section J - Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass - East — Sep 27, 2013 — Jeb
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
Issues: Blowdowns | Overgrown | Water on trail
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The plan was to hike in towards Spade Lake on Thursday night and set up camp somewhere between the t...
The plan was to hike in towards Spade Lake on Thursday night and set up camp somewhere between the trailhead and Waptus Lake, then move camp to Spade Lake and explore the area on Friday, allowing for an alpine start on Mount Hinman on Saturday, and then a leisurely return past Deep Lake and Cathedral Rock on Sunday and Monday. I usually avoid scheduling summit bids more than a week in advance whenever possible, but 4 days would help relieve some of the pressure from our 13+ mile approach, so we each took a long weekend from work.

We pulled up to Tuquala Meadows Trailhead just after 10 pm Thursday and chose to sleep in the truck to avoid breaking down camp in the rain the next morning. We awoke at 3 and started up the trail later than planned at 4:45 under clear starry skies.

From the Cathedral Rock Trail 1345 we took the first left onto Trail Creek Trail, losing 1500' over 5.5 miles down to Waptus River. The footbridge is currently out, and we briefly considered going off trail to avoid fording the river just to cross right back over a mile later. In the end we choose to grin and bear it, after all both bridges couldn't be out could they? Of course they were, and to top it off light rain began to fall as we started our second crossing.

A huge, flat campground sits to the East of Waptus Lake. We rested on the shore and imagined what Bears Breast Mountain might look like through the clouds across the lake. The rain steadily increased as we continued on toward Spade Lake. I realized that I had dropped my beanie shortly after crossing the PCT, and when I returned to grab it I met two backpackers who had started in Mexico. They were also in a hurry to make camp and get out of the rain, and we said goodbye after a short chat.

I expected the trail to Spade Lake to be overgrown and poorly maintained, but nothing could have prepared us for the slog we were in store for. We climbed over and under dozens of downed trees while getting rained on by surrounding vegetation as well as the clouds above. 2000' and what felt like a lot more than 3.4 miles later we were looking at Spade Lake. FYI, the Green Trails Maps shows the trail climbing directly up the mountainside, and then staying mostly level for the last 2 miles - this is not accurate.

We passed several decent campsites, but settled on the last one where the trail stopped on a rock outcropping on the SW shore. We chose the dryest of three tent pads and set up a tarp for more coverage so we could hang up some soaking wet gear. After a hot meal we hit the hay well before 8 o'clock, hoping for better weather to accommodate an alpine start on Mount Hinman.
I awoke several times to the sound of pounding rain. Stars were visible in the sky and some of the rocky ground was dry when I stepped out around 1 a.m. And then an hour later snow was piling up on our tarp. I awoke at 5 with my head in a puddle and woke Colin up to assess the situation. The tent spot we chose the night before had become a pond. We played triage with all of the gear in the tent and got some hot breakfast going while scouting for a better spot. It turned out what we had was as good as it would get, so we discussed our options while rain continued to pour around us. Snow was sticking to some of the rock a few hundred feet above us near Venus Lake, and it was looking like the weather we had hoped for would not be coming.

We decided to pack up and start back, leaving open the possibility of camping at Deep Lake a little over half way back to the truck. Our packs had each gained more water weight than they had lost in food and although it was disappointing to abandon the summit goal so early on, by the time we were through with the soaking wet bushwhackdown to the PCT, a dry bed and some heat sounded too good to ignore.

We returned via the PCT to the Cathedral Rock Trail, adding 2 miles but saving about 1500 feet of elevation gain. About a mile before Deep Lake we took a long break under a rock overhang 6 feet wide and 2 feet deep. We changed into dry socks and hung out our rain gear for about an hour before bidding farewell to our temporary sanctuary from the rain.

Above Deep Lake the sun was nearly set when we passed through an open meadow from which we could see the silhouettes of Cathedral Rock, Mount Daniels, and The Citadel. Once over the ridge the final 5 miles downhill flew by. We drove away from the still empty trailhead on Saturday night at 9:30 and the rain was all but gone when we made it back to I-90. We consoled ourselves by assuming that it was still pouring in the mountains, and that we had made the right choice by abandoning the trip when we did. I guess we will never know for sure.

13 miles, 5300' elevation in
15 miles, 4200' elevation back

more pictures and route map @[…]/2013-9-27-spade-lake-mount-hinman.html
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Trail Creek, Scatter Creek, Fortune Creek-Van Epps, Lake Ingalls, Jack Creek, Trout Lake, Windy Pass, Enchantment Lakes, Icicle Ridge, Chain Lakes, Icicle Creek, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section J - Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass - East, Commonwealth Basin, Red Pass, Middle Fork Snoqualmie River: Upstream, Dutch Miller Gap — Sep 08, 2013 — Sir-Hikes-A-Lot
Multi-night backpack
Issues: Blowdowns | Overgrown
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One thing I love to do is create longer hikes in Washington’s wilderness areas and national parks....
One thing I love to do is create longer hikes in Washington’s wilderness areas and national parks. This year I chose to create a route through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The criteria for this hike was that it would start at a very accessible trailhead, would be a loop hike, would use established trail only, and have very few overlapping miles, if any. By not overlapping miles I did have to leave out some areas, but I think this route covers an awful lot of beauty and has good flow.

I also set it up so that Leavenworth is essentially half way through this route, which makes it great for resupply or a day off.

Starting at the PCT trailhead at Snoqualmie Pass, the exact route is as follows:

Hiking to Commonwealth Basin, up to Red Pass, down to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, up to Dutch Miller Gap, down to Waptus Lake, to Trail Creek, to the Deep Lake TH, walking Forest Service Road 4330 to the Scatter Creek TH, up to Van Epps Pass, past Lake Ann and down the Esmeralda Basin trail, up to Ingalls Lake and Stuart Pass, down Jack Creek, up to Trout Lake, up to Windy Pass, down past the Caroline Lakes to the Eightmile TH, up through the Enchantments to the Snow Lakes TH, to the Icicle Ridge TH, hiking the length of the Icicle Ridge Trail to Frosty Pass, to Doelle and Chain Lakes, down to Icicle Creek, up to Lake Josephine, then connecting with and hiking south along the PCT, back to Snoqualmie Pass.

I call this loop the “Alpine Lakes Wilderness Grand Traverse” and it comes in at roughly 204 miles, plus it only overlaps for roughly 1 mile (at the north end of Waptus Lake), if using the alternate entrance to Commonwealth Basin.

9/1 - PCT TH to ~ 1.5 miles before the Cathedral Pass Trail junction (on Trail Creek)

From the PCT TH to Red Pass there are ~ 7 downed trees, a couple are large. Some slight brush issues on the first part of the Commonwealth Basin Trail (alternate), but overall this stretch to Red Pass is in good shape.

The route from Red Pass that heads down to the Middle Fork and Goldmyer starts off as a very steep descent that is very narrow and eroded, with some looseness. After a couple hundred feet the trail mellows and becomes more gradual. There are ~ 18 downed trees to the Middle Fork/Goldmyer, with a couple that are large. Once reaching tree-line it’s off and on brushy to the Middle Fork/Goldmeyer, with some occasional steep and eroded trail. No navigation issues and there is some amazing old-growth on the way down.

From Goldmyer to the Dutch Miller TH, except for 1 downed tree, the trail is immaculate.

From the Dutch Miller TH to Lake Ivanhoe the trail is in perfect shape. A big thanks to the recent trail crew!

From Ivanhoe to the Waptus River trail junction the trail is in pretty good shape with ~ 3 downed trees. Some slight brush issues with the occasional rocky section.

From the Waptus River trail junction to the Trail Cr ford the trail is perfect. The Waptus River ford was only 12” deep and quite warm when I went through and the Waptus ford at the Trail Cr trail junction was only 18” and still nice & toasty.

The Trail Cr Trail was actually in much better shape than I expected…there are ~ 8 downed trees to the Cathedral Pass trail junction and is only occasionally brushy. Thanks to whoever has done the recent work!

9/2 - ~ 1.5 miles before the Cathedral Pass Trail junction to the Meadow Cr Trail junction (on Jack Cr)

There are no issues on the Cathedral Pass Trail and FSR 4330 is always a pleasant early morning walk.

The Scatter Cr Trail is in pretty good shape with a few downed trees to the County Line trail junction (trail 1226.2). Once on the County Line Trail there are ~ 25 downed trees to Van-Epps Pass. The County Line Trail is the first time there are navigation issues on this trip. The worst spot is when you drop down into a meadow at N Fork Fortune Cr, but there are at least three or four other spots where route finding will be difficult…route finding skills are advised. There are plenty of overgrown spots on this section with some steep trail.

At Van-Epps Pass you hit a road and the route continues on the road to the right. You’ll quickly come to a road split and you want to take the left fork, followed by a right fork, followed by a final split, where you’ll go left back onto trail.

From Van-Epps Pass to the Lake Ingalls trail junction the route is in good shape. It is a bit steep and rocky at times coming down from Lake Ann and a bit rocky on the Esmeralda Trail.

The Ingalls Lake Trail is in good shape. The final .25 miles to the pass is a bit steep and rocky and continuing on to the lake is absolutely worth it, but a bit rough in places. Definitely steep, rocky, and it almost feels like a baby scramble.

I actually found the route from Lake Ingalls to Stuart Pass to be very straight forward…it was well defined trail for most of the way. The best approach is to make your way around the west side of the lake and then take the first trail on the left. Once on the trail I found it well marked enough to follow to the pass. Worst case, you can see where the trail cuts up to the pass from Lake Ingalls, so if you get off course it’s easy to see where you should be. The trail does have some steepness to it.

From Stuart Pass (down Jack Cr) to the Meadow Cr trail junction there are ~ 20 downed trees. Some brush issues off and on the whole way down. Overall in pretty good shape…someone’s been through recently and has done a lot of work…thanks!

9/3 - Meadow Cr Trail junction to the Snow Lakes TH

From the Jack Ridge trail junction to Trout Lake the route is severely overgrown, with ~ 95 downed trees. Many trees are large and expect to exude some energy on these 3.5 miles. Some trail erosion issues as well.

From Trout Lake to Windy Pass there are ~ 15 downed trees. It’s very steep at times and quite overgrown below tree-line.
From Windy Pass to the Eightmile Lake TH there are no real issues. The only negative is you are in a burn from Lake Caroline almost all the way to the TH…I was thankful to be going down.

There’s not much to say about the route through the Enchantments…it’s in prime shape for what it is…steep, rocky, grueling, long, but worth every ounce of energy used to experience this magical place. There are no issues with snow at this point.

9/4 - Zero day in Leavenworth/re-supply

Copious food consumption was enjoyed.

9/5 - Leavenworth to just west of Frosty Pass

Walking the ~ 1.5 miles to the Icicle Ridge TH is quite pleasant if done early.

From the Icicle Ridge TH to the old lookout site (just beyond Fourth of July Cr) the trail is in pretty good shape. No blow-downs and there are some brush issues, but it’s not horrible.

The next ~ 7.5 miles to the Hatchery Cr trail junction the route becomes difficult and route finding skills are advised. There are a lot of overgrown sections on this stretch with some steep, eroded, and rough trail. Plenty of spots where you’ll think game trails are the route. When approaching Cabin Cr you enter a burn to help the confusion and there are plenty of down trees. I will say that once across Cabin Cr and back on the ridge the way becomes much easier.

From the Hatchery Cr trail junction to the Chatter Cr trail junction the route is in decent shape. There is definitely some steep trail with occasional erosion issues. Any time you drop elevation and are in the trees the route is quite brushy. No real navigation issues.

From the Chatter Cr trail junction to Frosty Pass the trail is in great shape.

9/6 - Just west of Frosty Pass to ~ 2 miles north of Cathedral Pass

The trail to Doelle and Chain Lakes used to be a rougher go, but it’s becoming so popular it’s now nice trail for a lot of the way. Navigation should be fine for most and the only real issues are it’s occasionally overgrown, steep in places, and rocky in places. It might take some a second look to figure out how to get around the lakes, but it’s not a big deal.

The trail up to the pass that drops you to Chain Lakes is in good shape and the trail down to Chain Lakes is a bit rocky but good.

Heading down to the Icicle Cr Trail, the route is in good shape…brushy in spots, but not bad.

The Icicle Cr Trail has been cleared up to the PCT and is in real good shape.

Once on the PCT, the trail is in great shape to Deception Pass.

From Deception Pass to Cathedral Pass there are ~ 15 downed trees. There is one spot of rough trail but it’s not too bad. The three creek crossings below Mt Daniel can all be crossed on rocks and logs, but most were fording the middle crossing which is always the worst of the three…the ford didn’t seem too difficult if you aren’t comfortable using the rocks and logs, but a couple of heavy thunder storms could change that.

9/7 - ~ 2 miles north of Cathedral Pass to the PCT TH

I ran into a WTA trail crew that had just finished their stint at Deep Lake…thanks for the excellent job! Thanks to the woman in the back who when I asked “how are you today,” replied, “I was okay until I put this pack on.” Something about how you said that made me chuckle and put a smile on my face for the next hour…thanks!

From Deep Lake to Waptus Lake there are some slight brush issues, but overall the trail’s in good shape.

From Waptus Lake to the Lemah Cr there are 15-20 downed trees. There are quite a few brushy spots, especially coming up to Escondido Ridge. The south Lemah Cr Bridge is out…there is a log downstream, but otherwise it’s a ford.

From Lemah Cr to the PCT TH, the route is in great shape. There are some baby brush issues before Spectacle Lake and it’s very rocky from Chikamin Pass to Ridge Lake.

This was a magical trip despite the weather and it’s nice to know that large pockets of solitude still exist in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

If interested, I’ve created a YouTube video and it can be seen at:

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Mount Daniel, Cathedral Rock, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section J - Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass - East — Sep 08, 2013 — Jeb
Day hike
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Colin and I pulled into the Tucquala Meadows Trailhead around 8:30 Saturday night with just enough l...
Colin and I pulled into the Tucquala Meadows Trailhead around 8:30 Saturday night with just enough light left to see a gaggle of geese in the marshy lake. A clear starry sky looked promising until light rain began to fall. After dinner and a gear check we crashed out with four hours left before the planned 2 am wakeup call, hopeful for better weather to come.

We were climbing up the Cathedral Trail by 2:45 and to Peggys Pond before sunrise. After leaving the PCT there are two short cliffy sections where the trail fades into the rock. We topped off on water while the morning light crept over Cathedral Rock.

We had our first glimpse of Daniels East Peak and Hyas Glacier as we began up the SE Ridge. A few steps later Spade Mountain and Circle Lake came into view, and the the true summit of the highest point in King or Kittatas Counties.

After passing by the top of Hyas Glacier we crossed below the East Peak and the "Middle Summit" or false summit on a narrowing boot path through crumbling gravel. We paused to admire the massive Lynch Glacier before we continued up the gentle rocky summit slope to the base of a small pinnacle.

A decent bootpath leads up to the top, but we elected to take advantage of a couple fun class 3 moves on climbers right. From the summit Mount Daniel seems to tower above Hinman though it's obvious that it doesn't have much height over the rest of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Strong gusts of cold wind broke through the still morning air as we neared the large snow fields covering Mount Daniels glaciers. At 10 am we had the top to ourselves and the sun was just beginning to warm up. We ducked behind the summit block and relaxed in the sunshine for about 2 hours.

Before scrambling up the middle Summit Colin convinced me to follow him down the South Ridge for a closer look at Venus and Spade Lakes. They both look prime for camping and as a mid point to climb Mount Hinman.

The steep spire on the North end of the Middle Summit looked like it may be a few inches higher than the southern bump we topped out on, so I eliminated any doubt. 3 skiers/splitboarders who's camp we passed that morning reached the East Peak while I was taking pictures, and as we headed down they launched into the Hyas Glacier and out of sight with a "whooo!"

The East Peak also offered some optional scrambling, and we jumped on the opportunity. A USGS plaque marks the summit, I believe it is the only one on the mountain. Low clouds poured over the true summit with the increasing wind while we plotted our decent route.

We decided to descend via the East ridge, visiting 2 more small peaks along the way. This provided a great perspective on Cathedral Rock in the afternoon light, as well as an unobstructed view of Granite Mountain and upper and lower Hyas Lakes.

We made it back to the trailhead just before dark.We were lucky to have such perfect weather and a heavy melt out this season, or we may have had difficulty reaching the summit even with such an early start time.

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Cathedral Rock PCT J Steve Podleski.JPG
Cathedral Rock. Photo by Steve Podleski.
WTA worked here!
2010, 2011, 2012
Pacific Crest Trail (#2000)
Snoqualmie Pass -- Snoqualmie Pass
Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
Roundtrip 74.7 miles
Elevation Gain 16000 ft
Old growth
Fall foliage
Mountain views
Established campsites
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Pacific Crest Trail Oregon & Washington (Jeffrey Schaffer and Andy Selters) - Wilderness Press
Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, Cascade Series - Northern Washington

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Red MarkerPacific Crest Trail (PCT) Section J - Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass - East
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