Day 124 – August 5, 2022
Mile 2394.1 (Snoqualmie Pass) to 2420.9
26.8 trail miles | 26.4 tracked miles | 7,477 ft elevation gain | 73.4 F / 23 °C
Section J of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass, holds a special place in my heart. It was here that I fell in love with the Pacific Crest Trail a few years ago.
This enchanting stretch, nestled within the breathtaking Alpine Lakes Wilderness, is not only exceptionally scenic but also very remote. There isn’t a single road crossing the entire 74-mile segment.
I rose at the crack of dawn, made coffee in my hotel room, called my parents while hastily devouring a pastry, and bid farewell to the Summit Inn and Snoqualmie Pass. By 7 am, I was back on the trail, treading on familiar ground.
I’m almost painfully familiar with the long ascent north of Snoqualmie Pass. I resisted the temptation to take my usual shortcut: the old PCT route, dubbed the Commonwealth trail, shaves off a couple miles, and feels more direct and rewarding. It was abandoned as it is prone to flooding, though, and I wasn’t sure of the conditions ahead.
Guye Peak, Snoqualmie Mountain, Red Mountain, and Kendall Peak soon appeared across the valley. I’ve climbed them all, and their sight always evokes memories of thrilling hiking and scrambling adventures.
Emerging from the woods and traversing the first avalanche field, I paused briefly to take in one last view of Snoqualmie Pass and the first glimpse of Mount Rainier.
Soon, the distant hum of I-90 finally faded away, and I was fully immersed in the wilderness.
Six miles north of Snoqualmie Pass, I arrived at the Kendall Katwalk, a 150-yard long narrow pathway blasted out of the north ridge of Kendall Peak. Constructed in 1979, this slender strip of dirt suspended from a granite cliff was created to straighten the PCT route. The Katwalk offers spectacular views and has become one of the highlights of Section J and a popular day hiking destination.
Snow sometimes lingers north of the Katwalk late in the summer. I was thrilled to find a completely dry trail, which bodes well for the rest of my adventure.
Two miles further, I reached Ridge and Gravel Lakes, a popular overnight camping destination. I took a break by Ridge Lake to refill my water bottle, munch on an energy bar, and count my blessings for the opportunity to hike this section once again.
I have an emotional connection with Ridge Lake, and I’ve always wanted to camp overnight there, although I’m concerned that the crowds might detract from the experience.
North of Ridge Lake, the trail takes on a more remote and rugged feel. Far fewer hikers venture this far, as most day hikers turn back at the Kendall Katwalk, and overnighters often stop at Ridge Lake. The terrain becomes considerably more challenging, with the trail crossing several expansive and exposed avalanche fields.
The magnificent Alaska and Joe Lakes soon came into view, and I arrived at the exact spot where I made the pivotal decision to transition from day hiking to backpacking a few years ago. It was a perfect day, and I recall feeling overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and magic of the moment. A surge of adrenaline coursed through my veins, and the call of the trail was irresistible. I had no desire to turn back and head home. I longed to hike as far as my feet would carry me. A few years later, my thru-hike has become a dream come true.
Between Alaska Lake and Joe Lake, a bend in the trail offered a panoramic 360-degree view of the Pacific Northwest’s most pristine landscapes. Mount Rainier stood majestically in the distance, against a perfectly clear sky.
As the trail meandered through rocky and exposed avalanche fields, I realized that Section J is, in fact, quite challenging. However, the mesmerizing scenery has a way of numbing the pain.
Two years ago, during my first hike of Section J heading southbound, I suffered considerably on this stretch. I felt dehydrated, briefly lost my way, and the weight of my pack bore down on my shoulders. Today, I strolled along with an overwhelming sense of bliss and confidence.
Emerging from a series of avalanche fields, the deep blue Spectacle Lake came into view. I considered taking the side trail to the lake but decided to press on and cover as many miles as possible.
North of Spectacle Lake, I traversed a burn area where the trail had been obliterated. I came to the aid of two SoBos who had completely lost sight of the trail amidst a maze of fallen trees.
I collected water at Lemah Creek, where a footbridge once soon. It washed out years ago and was never rebuilt. A bypass trail is available for stock (and hikers when water levels are high.) Crossing was a simple, uneventful rock hop.
I opted to hike an additional four miles and tackle the grueling, mind-numbing 2,000-foot ascent to Escondido Ridge. It was a challenge after an already substantial 23-mile hike with 5,500 feet of elevation gain. Time seemed to stretch on as I counted down the switchbacks.
The trail rewarded my efforts with a magnificent, pristine, and mirror-like glacial alpine lake.
At first glance, all campsites appeared to be occupied, but I stumbled upon a weekender who was abandoning a site because it was too challenging for him to drive his stakes into the ground. I smiled. Armed with four months of experience, it took me just five minutes to set up my tent at this supposedly unsuitable spot with a front-row view of the lake!
Before dinner, I took a quick swim. It was a magical moment that capped off a day filled with memories and blessings.