Thursday, September 24, 2009

Red Pass, Commonwealth Basin, September 20, 2009

Red Pass via Commonwealth Basin (September 20, 2009)

This was a solo hike to Red Pass via the PCT and Commonwealth Basin. It was another warm September day, ideal for hiking. I got an early start and was pleased the PCT trailhead/parking lot had plenty of room to park. I filled out my Wilderness Permit and set out on the PCT, saving the “old” Commonwealth Basin trail for my return.

Big mistake; the PCT is longer and with additional elevation gain before the turn-off into Commonwealth Basin. It’s also much busier and I needed solitude. From the PCT I dropped down into Commonwealth Basin and picked up the trail toward Red Pass. The Commonwealth Basin trail is not in great shape; it isn’t maintained (except by occasional volunteers) and social trails wind throughout the basin. Of course, the plus side is that there are fewer hikers.

The trail climbs – steeply through the forest and with no breeze the heat was oppressive. It appears the trail has been damaged; it is much rockier than it used to be and many of the rocks are loose.

I broke out of the forest near Red Pond, saving Red Pond for another day. The trail contours below Red Mountain, climbing above Red Pond with growing views. This was a colorful stretch; the mountain ash is changing color and the sky a vivid blue. After contouring below Red Mountain the trail dips into the forest and follows a narrow ridge with views out to Mount Thompson and other peaks (bring the map to ID them).

The official trail “ends” at Red Pass where the old PCT once switchbacked down into the valley of the Middle Fork before the PCT was rerouted. Volunteers have made great progress in re-establishing this old trail (the Cascade Crest Trail); experienced hikers with route-finding abilities can explore beyond Red Pass if so inclined though the terrain looks steep.

Instead I continued on the climbers trail to Lundine Peak; here I met two young women picking huckleberry and blueberries (this is a good spot to pick them). The rough but discernible path leads to airy views of the Snoqualmie Peaks (my eye was continually drawn to Mount Thompson). I was a little too early for fall color; it should be at its best by mid-October.

After a lazy lunch and a peek at Lundine, I retraced my route and was soon back to Commonwealth Basin. I opted to hike the old Commonwealth Basin trail out, rather than the PCT (the “old” Commonwealth Basin trail is a remnant of the Cascade Crest Trail). The trail through the basin had a tough winter too – fortunately the crossings of Commonwealth Creek were manageable but the trail is overgrown in spots and social trails may confuse hikers who haven’t hiked this trail before.

The “old” trail reverts to an alder-lined road that grows narrower year by year. The “road” ends near the beginning of the PCT near the parking lot.

Stats: It’s about 7 miles round trip with 2,600 feet elevation gain via the “old” Commonwealth Basin trail to Red Pass. Add a bit more elevation if you go beyond Red Pass and onto the climbers trail.

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