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Silver Peak, Snoqualmie Pass — September 2002

Our last month to venture, with well-placed hope for clear skies and warming sun, into the mountains. The choices are more expansive than the menu in a Chinese restaurant. I choose Silver Peak because it is an easy drive from Seattle and an easy enough hike to be called a walk. The route offers magnificent views and huckleberries along the trail both at the start and on high. It also has varied habitats: wetlands, tiny alpine tarns, meadows, talus slopes, and rock falls.

Begin on a huckberry-lined trail (Vaccinium membranaceum and V. ovalifolium), followed by a lightly wooded trail with good examples of rosy twisted stalk (Streptopus roseus), mountain arnica (Arnica latifolia), subalpine spiraea (Spiraea densiflora) and mountain ash (Sorbus sitchensis) in bright orange fruit. Continue on this trail (the Pacific Crest Trail), passing by small wetlands and ponds. These are sedgey places (Carex lenticularis, C. nigra, and other species), but they can also be floriferous, with such species as sticky asphodel (Tofieldia glutinosa), and grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata). In the trailside streams, one or more rein orchids grow?Platanthera saccata [=stricta] or P. dilatata are the most likely - while Cascade frogs can be found in the pools.

At 1.5 miles, just past a large rock slide area, keep an eye out to the right for the unmaintained, but well used, Gardiner Ridge Trail (see below for route details). Ascend the Gardiner Ridge Trail, a steep slope at first and then a ridge walk through meadows. For beauty, you will find scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) and for interest, look closely for the moss look-alike, yet vascular, Wallace's selaginella (Selaginella wallacea).

Eventually the ridge steepens and the vegation becomes sparse as you ascend scree slopes and the rocky summit massif to a nice peak at a little over 5600 feet above sea level. Now is the time for a botany break, but if you can?t resist, look for Carex pyrenaica in the highest, driest, rockiest area to admire the views—of Mt. Rainier and much more—and eat lunch! Botanical and grazing interest while hiking up the airy peak is maintained by broad-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) and Cascade huckleberry (Vaccinium deliciosum), respectively.

How to get there: Drive to Snoqualmie Pass, continue to the Hyak Exit 2 miles past the summit (exit 54), and enter the big dirt-surfaced Hyak Ski Area parking lot. Partway across the lot, turn left on a blacktop road vaguely marked as Hyak Estates division 3 and 4. Follow this road to its end, turning right and then left past the sewage treatment ponds. At road?s end will be the beginning of Forest Service Road 9070. Continue for 5.3 miles to the point where the road is crossed by the Pacific Crest Trail at Windy Pass and Olallie Meadow.

The route: Walk the Pacific Crest Trail south 1.5 miles to the Gardiner Ridge Trail. Follow the Gardiner Ridge Trail, steep for the first 600 feet, then a ridge walk, then a steep ascent through scree and rocks to the summit. Round trip 6.5 miles (some books say 5.5, but it seems like 6.5 to me). The starting elevation is 4100 feet, and the summit is at 5660 feet. Green Trails Snoqualmie Pass map 207. See the 100 Hikes series for the south Cascades and Olympics for further information. A Forest Service parking pass is required. For a plant list, contact me by e-mail at fredwcrx@aol.com.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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