At some point last year I became interested in the Kettle Crest trail. Mainly because it was so close to home. The maps and stats for this trail are harder to find, and I was on a mission. The only interactive map we found that worked was on the All Trails app. This is one of those Satellite maps. They are extremely handy at mileage and altitude whereabouts. When they are updated, again the Kettle crest has not been caught up to speed for a few years. You can also find some maps in “100 hikes in the inland northwest” and other guide books. The Ranger station usually carry some topo-maps. This trail is probably best known by the back-country horseman association. I really wanted to pre-scout and plan to do the entirety of the 70 miles, however the unknown statistics were a variable.
A group of us girls decided to try to tackle a 20 mile loop this early spring. We set out June 19th at 0600 in the morning. Our route planner had us starting by the top of Sherman peak on the north Kettle crest trail 13. We packed in through some snow, most of it ankle-deep. From the Kc 13 at the Columbia mountain intersection we switched to-day packs for the loop. The snow became knee-deep here. However we summited and found a gorgeous view. The loop was inaccessible because of deep snow, so we dropped elevation back down to Kc 13.
We swapped our packs and recommenced our adventure. After a mile or so of a gentle climb the trail headed east. On the north facing side of the mountain. We struggled on for a mile or 2, but the snow became waist deep. Walking in deep snow and “punching” through is exhausting. Not to mention dangerous with 25 to 30 lbs extra weight on your back. You never know when the snow is going to give way and what angle your leg will make contact. After a while us girls realized we were being bull-headed and stupid. No one wanted to give up! However we decided to head back and make a camp. I was so exhausted I kept falling over in the snow. We made camp close to the junction from earlier. There just was not a good spot, so we actually dug camp sites into the side of the mountain. It was so cold, the wind carried the chill down off the snow-capped mountains.The next morning after the sun made its way over the mountain we broke camp and hiked out the remaining 2 miles. I had a blast with the girls despite our set back.
However the nagging feeling of failure ate away at me. Which prompted a spontaneous back pack trip with Floyd. I just needed to beat the trail, I couldn’t let it win. Floyd and I had more luck as the temperature had been warm, there was very little snow. We went up friday evening and climbed to Columbia peak for sunset. It was beautiful and not so cold. The next day we headed to sheep camp. It had been a first night destination for us girls, had we been able to make it. It would have been covered in snow the two weeks prior. I really should have had a better map, but I did understand the route….. Or so I thought. From sheep camp we traversed around and then down. Still on the Kc 13 we came to an intersection. It didn’t make much sense to me. There was no option to go back to the road. The road was a couple of miles south down the valley. The options were to head up climbing east, or descend north. Well we weren’t supposed to go north. So reluctantly we ascended a couple thousand more feet. At the crest is when Floyd and I started consulting maps. The N Kc 13 trail is 30 miles long so we didn’t want to be to of course.
Here’s where stuff got weird. Floyd had drooped a pin about where the girls and I had stopped, on the all trails app. We had literally walked 12 more miles from the pin. The loop not counting Columbia mountain, should be about 18 miles. We should be past the jungle hill intersecting trail. So we consulted google maps. Google maps said we were on pack rat ridge. Now bear in mind I can see where we are, and were, and the peak Sherman. We could walk down through the forest and we will eventually reach the high way. It’s 4 pm. Eventually meeting the highway might be tomorrow. After taking the time to really get our heads in the game, we decided to keep on Kc 13. The mileage was off, the trail apps were wrong, we were going the wrong direction. About a mile later we came to a camp. By pure luck or chance I stumbled onto the jungle hill junction.
One BIG difference between the Kettle crest and the Pacific crest is people. On the Pct you see someone almost every mile and get a short report. We saw no one on the Kc loop. Which really messes with your mind, especially when you’re questioning the trail. Happy that we now knew we were going the right way we descended a couple thousand feet. Adding in 4 to five miles to the day. After a gnarly stream crossing we ended up at the road. I had meant to end up at jungle hill camp ground. However we ding-dong ditched and camped at the lower trail head so exhausted from our 16-17 mile trek. The camp was about a mile or more up from where we stayed. The ranger stopped by and I asked her about the trail looping back. Despite being really nice she wasn’t very informative. She actually really misinformed us about the trail, and if I wasn’t so seasoned we may have bought it. For reference to the trail, it’s about a mile and 500 feet in elevation. That’s my new motto!
The next morning Floyd and I dug into this mile. Which ended up being over 4 miles. We than roughly gained 2000 feet in elevation during the first 2 and half miles. Despite our frustration I remained in a fair mood until the last mile and 1000 feet climb. Finally we completed the loop! The trail was hard, not well-marked, not well mapped, and not well maintained. I really feel the mileage was spotty and the elevation gain/loss is off. If any one asks me I’ll be sure to tell them “it’s about a mile, with 500 feet in elevation gain”. God bless our Rangers as they are the one’s who come save us out here! Would I do it again? In a heart beat! Lets just find some better camping spots!
Gps trail coordinates, Kettle crest 13, Columbia mountain 24 loop trail, Jungle hill.
A big thanks to Jessica Cox, for turning me onto this trail. Also for attempting it and planning our trip. Love her!