Snoqualmie to Stampede Pass Patrol Race Route
By Lowell Skoog
is a modern version of the Patrol Race route established by The
Mountaineers in the 1930s. This description is valid as of
January 2014. USGS 7.5-minute maps are mostly accurate with
respect to the roads along the way. All elevations are in feet.
Approximate waypoint times are provided for an eight-hour tour.
For time and equipment notes, click
This description is based on the following maps:
Snoqualmie Pass to Windy Pass (north map, 1.8MB)
Modern Route: This is the simplest and most enjoyable start to the Patrol Race route. It avoids the trail-breaking and sometimes rugged travel of the Historic Route (see below). The modern route follows groomed Alpine and Nordic ski runs through the Snoqualmie Summit ski area to Rockdale Lake.
From Snoqualmie Summit, ascend toward the top of the Easy Rider chairlift. (This is the second-to-last chairlift encountered as you traverse south across the Summit West ski area.) At the top of the lift, follow a road that ascends southward (toward the Summit Central ski area). This road makes a short switchback, then continues south to the ridgeline between Summit West and Summit Central. When you encounter a fork, keep right to stay on the crest.
After entering the Summit Central ski area, pass the top of the Triple-60 chairlift and continue on the west (uphill) side of the ski runs to the top of the Central Express chairlift. Descend slightly to the saddle just north of the Silver Fir chairlift. Here find the entry to the Snoqualmie Summit Nordic Trail system ("Silver Streak" trail). Take the first right fork of the nordic trail and descend to "Grand Junction," the road intersection at the pass between Rockdale and Hyak Lakes. Take the most northerly of the roads that leaves the west side of the pass ("Ripsaw" trail). This is part of the Mount Catherine Loop cross-country ski trail. Descend the road (usually groomed for XC skiing), bearing right at any junctions.
Historic Route: From Snoqualmie Summit West climb the ski area slopes to Beaver Lake (3440ft+). Ski around the left side of the lake and locate the Crest Trail in the woods beyond. The trail begins a gradual descent to the south. The trail doesn't go quite to Lodge Lake (3125ft) but you can see the lake through the trees. The old Mountaineer Lodge (the original start of the race) was located about 1/4 mile SW of the lake (30-45 minute waypoint). (The "new" Mountaineer Lodge, built in 1944 after the old lodge burned down, was located between today's Summit West and Summit Central ski areas. That lodge burned in 2006.)
From the level of the lake, the historic route followed the Crest Trail southward. The level trail traverses steep woods and can be hard to follow when the snowpack is deep. When there is a good snowpack, it is best to stay a little above the trail at the base of open slopes.
The trail eventually meets a narrow road beneath power lines above the old Snoqualmie Tunnel. The Crest Trail maintains a level contour (leaving the road) while the road ascends several hundred feet along the slope north of Rockdale Creek. For speed, it is most efficient to leave the road and follow the trail route. The trail crosses Rockdale Creek and ascends gently to meet the low point of the Mount Catherine Loop below Rockdale Lake.
(An early map suggests that there may have been an alternative to the Crest Trail route south of Lodge Lake. This alternative route ascends from near the lake through forest to the Cascade crest near Divide Lake, then descends to Rockdale Creek, where the Mount Catherine Loop cross-country trail now goes. I think this line was drawn in error. This route doesn't make any sense.)
Regardless of how you got to the Mount Catherine Loop trail, either via the Snoqualmie Summit ski area or Lodge Lake, ski the road west then south (uphill) to the Ollalie Meadow ("Windy Pass") area (2-1/4 hr via Lodge Lake, faster via the ski areas).
Windy Pass to Mirror Lake
From the Windy Pass vicinity, angle gently upward (SSW) and enter the woods east of Silver Peak. It is best not to climb very much until you've crossed the creek that drains the NE side of Silver Peak. About 1/4 mile beyond this creek, you'll encounter a clearing a few hundred feet high. Cross this clearing around mid-height (4000ft). That's where the Crest Trail goes. This is a critical point, because if you miss the trail, the traverse of Silver Peak is steep and unpleasant. The trail climbs gradually through the woods to about 4300ft on the southeast flank of Silver Peak. The way is occasionally marked by orange tin shingles placed high on trees, relics of the original Mountaineers route in the 1930s. Around Tinkham Peak, when in doubt, stay high and follow benches. Reach Tinkham Pass northeast of Tinkham Peak (est. 4500ft, 3-1/2 hr). This is the high point of the route and nearly half-way in terms of time. (My waypoint times assume a 15 minute break here or at Mirror Lake.) From the pass, descend slightly and work hard right (south) toward Mirror Lake (4195ft).
Bailout option: Between Windy Pass and Mirror Lake, the easiest bailout is to ski back to Windy Pass then follow the groomed cross-country ski trail (Cold Creek Road) south of Mt Catherine to Hyak. Most of the way is downhill, but the last 1-1/2 mile is gently uphill (can be skated).
Mirror Lake to Stirrup Creek (south map, 2.8MB)
Ski across Mirror Lake to its outlet and follow the west side of the outlet stream. As you emerge from the old forest, look for the Crest Trail angling to the right. Descend the trail a short distance to the southwest until it switches back to the southeast. Descend the trail about 1/5 mile to where it crosses a road. With a shallow snowpack, you may see a "Twilight Lake Trail" sign on the other side of the road. Pass the sign and follow the trail southward, crossing the creek that drains Mirror Lake. Continue descending the trail to Yakima Pass just west of Twilight Lake.
From the west side of Twilight Lake, continue following the trail southward. The trail climbs steadily along the boundary of the Cedar River Watershed (many No Trespassing signs). When the trail levels out, look for a sign on a tree marking the National Forest boundary. Enter the forest south of this sign a short distance, then turn east (left) and ascend open woods to the main Meadow Creek Road (USFS 5483) near the 4200-ft gravel pit marked on the map (4-1/2 hr).
Bailout option: Between Mirror Lake and USFS Road 5483, the easiest bailout is to ski to Yakima Pass, then follow roads east around the north side of Lost Lake. Continue down USFS Road 5480 to Keechelus Lake near Roaring Creek. Follow the long flat road to Crystal Springs Sno-Park on I-90.
From the 4200-ft gravel pit, glide USFS Road 5483 southeast down Meadow Creek valley to USFS Road 5484 at Stirrup Creek (est 3100ft, set altimeter here). (Ignore USFS Road 5483-118, which goes to Meadow Pass.)
Stirrup Creek to Baldy Pass
Follow Road 5484, taking the left branch at 3200ft. Follow this road into the Dandy Creek drainage. Take a right branch at est. 3750ft. Continue a gradual ascent of the road to 4000ft. The Crest Trail crosses the road here. Cut left on the trail and climb gradually to the bed of Dandy Creek, which can be followed to Baldy Pass, 4120ft+ (between Dandy and Sunday Creeks, marked "King-Kittitas" on the map, 6-1/2 hr).
Bailout option: While in the Meadow Creek drainage, the easiest bailout is to ski down the main Meadow Creek Road (USFS 5483) to the south tip of Keechelus Lake (all downhill) then follow the flat roads (USFS 5480 and 54) to Crystal Springs Sno-Park on I-90.
Baldy Pass to Meany Lodge
Once at the Baldy Pass Road, take it left (north) a short distance, then take the first road going right (east) along the county line. In clear weather, there's a nice view of Lake Keechelus and the Snoqualmie Pass area from here. In about 1/4 mile take an obscure road branching right at about 4260ft. This branch is shown on the map, just south of a 4360+ foot knob on the divide. If you miss the road, you can just ski through the open clearcut southeast along the Sunday-Mosquito Creek divide (the Pacific Crest Trail route). The road (and trail) descends just east of the divide to the edge of a clearcut. The trail enters the woods, turns left (SE) and follows the divide for about 1/3 mile. Then it drops off the divide to the south and descends through the woods to the Stampede Pass Road just west of the pass notch (7 hr).
Bailout option: A final bailout is to exit directly from Stampede Pass by following USFS Road 54 east to Crystal Springs Sno-Park on I-90. The road has a good downhill slope and provides fast skiing until the last short mile before the Sno-Park.
From Stampede Pass, go right (SW) on the main road (USFS 54) for a short distance, then take the first left branch and follow it around the east side of Lizard Lake. Just south of the lake, take a left branch going uphill. The road crosses perpendicularly under buzzing transmission lines and re-enters the trees. Stay left at a road branch, eventually passing a clearing with a public restroom. Continue climbing toward the Stampede Pass weather station at point 3963ft.
Follow the road just west of and below the weather station. Continue along the crest about 1/2 mile to a major power line corridor. Descend the clearing below the power lines in a NE direction to USFS Road 41. Take the road to the right and continue NE (gently uphill) along the road to the point where the power lines descend toward the railroad south of Martin. Ski down the left (north) side of the power line corridor, where you'll likely encounter tracks of Meany skiers, to 3000ft. Cut left into the woods to the base ot the Meany Lodge ropetows. Meany Lodge is at 2900ft elevation in the woods a short distance north of the rope tows. The lodge is marked on the USGS map left of the word "Martin."
Alternate 1 (shown in blue): This is the most direct route to Meany, but it requires a good snowpack. Just north of the weather station a set of smaller power lines (on wooden poles) heads northeast. Follow this power line corridor downhill toward (but not quite to) Point 3626ft. Here you have two choices: 1) Continue down the power lines to the road at 3400ft. 2) Take a somewhat obscure road south (USFS 220), descending to meet USFS Road 41.
Alternate 2 (shown in red): This route requires a bit more climbing than Alternate 1, but may actually be faster. From Stampede Pass descend USFS Road 54 eastward. This is a steep, well-travelled road and you can ski very fast on it. Descend the road to its junction with USFS Road 41. Ascend USFS Road 41 going south for a mile until it curves to the NE. Rejoin the main route here.
My first three trips (solo or with a friend, using the Historic start) required about 8-1/2 hours from the Snoqualmie Summit parking lot to Meany Lodge, with only one 10-15 minute lunch break. The 14-person party I led in February 2006 (using the Modern start) required 12 hours from the "new" Snoqualmie Lodge to Meany Lodge. The course record from Lodge Lake to Meany in 1936 was 4 hours, 37 minutes!
If you time it right, you can get a tow behind the Mountaineers' snowcat to the Crystal Springs Sno-Park on I-90. (The snowcat leaves around 4:30 pm Saturday, 3:30 pm Sunday.) If you don't time it right, you'll have to ski an additional three miles of road back to the highway.
Equipment should be chosen for touring efficiency rather than downhill performance, but be aware that some steepish slopes with tight trees will be encountered and snow conditions may be difficult. With icy conditions, ski crampons may be helpful for the Crest Trail below Silver and Tinkham Peaks. Nordic track skis are not advised for this route.
Beyond Mirror Lake, all bailout options require considerable flat road skiing. If you carry a short length of rope, you may be able to hitch a tow behind a snowmobile.
USGS 7.5-minute maps, altimeter and compass are essential. (Green Trails maps may also be good, but I haven't used them.) My early trips were done without GPS, but today I would definitely carry one with the route pre-loaded. Even with good visibility, the route finding can be challenging. Carrying energy food in a fanny pack and using a hydration system enables you to keep moving continuously.