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Reviving an Old Route to the Pratt

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Jul 13, 2021 05:02 PM |

WTA has been hosting annual work parties and Backcountry Response Teams along the Pratt River Trail since 2016 as a part of our Lost Trails Found campaign. We're working to save this alternate access point into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and ensure plenty of hiking opportunities in a place that needs it most.

If you’ve ever hiked to Pratt Lake near Snoqualmie Pass, you’ve likely taken the popular route off of Forest Road 9034 on I-90. It’s a great 11-mile roundtrip trek that attracts day hikers, trail runners, families and backpackers alike. Passing by the quaint Olallie Lake and stopping along scenic Snoqualmie viewpoints, it’s a great route in its own right.

But this hasn’t always been the only way to reach the Pratt Lake Basin. Hikers once had another backdoor route to this alpine lake.

Pratt Lake Basin
Pratt Lake with a few fall colors starting to show. Photo by Benjamin Luedke.

The Pratt River Trail is a long, lonely, oft-forgotten route starting from the west along the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road. The trail travels 11-miles up a long and forested river valley, alongside the rushing Pratt River (designated as a National Wild & Scenic River) and ending with a long set of switchbacks before reaching the Pratt Lake Basin. It’s a wonderful alternative for hikers seeking close-to-town solitude, and it can be used to create a multitude of overnight or multi-night traverses or loops through the popular Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

But... the Pratt River Trail has seen better days. Until recently, the Pratt River trail had been notoriously difficult to reach — requiring a dangerous crossing of the Snoqualmie River that was only passable in the heat of summer when water levels dropped. Trail maintenance was rare, and it showed. Trip reports from as far back as 1997 note the poor conditions after the ford, citing that “the trail appears to vanish in ferns, brush and blowdowns” and “the Pratt River trail is disappearing fast.”

Connecting the dots for more remote maintenance

To make maintenance of the Pratt River Trail more viable, WTA volunteers worked alongside forest service contractors to rebuild the Pratt Connector Trail in the early 2010’s. The new 3-mile connection linked together the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trailhead and the Pratt River, giving hikers — and trail crews — the opportunity to cross the river via the impressive Middle Fork bridge, rather than attempting a ford.

The impressive Middle Fork bridge
The Middle Fork Snoqualmie bridge now serves as a safe starting point to the Pratt River Trail, thanks to the volunteer-built connection. Photo by John Merrill.

With a sparkling new access point in place, it was possible to get to work on the deeper sections of the trail. Fallen trees and brush had overtaken much of the Pratt’s trail corridor and few hikers ventured beyond the well-maintained connector trail. Trip reporters who ventured deeper often turned around well before the lake due to the poor conditions.

Years-long effort to Restore a fading path to Pratt Lake

To reopen this fading route and prevent the trail from becoming completely lost, WTA has been hosting annual work parties and Backcountry Response Teams (BCRT) along the Pratt since 2016 as a part of our Lost Trails Found campaign. We're working to save this alternate access point into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and ensure plenty of backcountry hiking opportunities in a place that needs it most. While the path isn't fully cleared yet — we're getting closer and closer every year, and we're excited to get this full route back into hiking shape.

“Many years ago we couldn't ‘make the turn’ [past the connector trail] because the vegetation and downed logs were so thick. Now, we can go many more miles — all through the work of volunteers using hand tools and crosscut saws,” says Liz Ulloa, a volunteer chief crew leader who has been working on the Pratt since 2010.

Rainy day crosscutting on the Pratt River Trail
Rain in the forecast? No problem for these volunteers! Photo by Emily Snyder.

Last summer — not even a global pandemic could stop us from getting a bit of work done. With smaller crew sizes and extra safety precautions, we held 17 days of volunteer trail work between Pratt Lake and the start of the connector.

Our early-season BCRT started up high from their camp around Pratt Lake and worked down toward the switchbacks, cleaning up 38 fallen logs from the trail and polishing up the trail surface around them. Two late-season BCRTs then came through from the valley floor, camping midway up the river. They cleared 32 more fallen trees, dug out new drain dips to divert water off the trail, cleaned up puncheon decking over boggy areas and cleared encroaching plant life from 300 feet of trail.

LeeAnne cutting a log on the Pratt
Crew Leader LeeAnne cutting out a log. Photo by Bob Zimmerman.

This summer, we've kept up the momentum with an early June BCRT to the Pratt — accomplishing some much needed seasonal maintenance ahead of the busy summer season. The 6-person volunteer crew, lead by Liz, made a big push to the lake. The crew logged out every remaining fallen log from the trail up until the 8.25 mile mark, just short of the first switchback toward the lake. The work's not done, but after a decade of work, the possibilities for the Pratt River Trail are becoming reality.

Helping remote adventures remain on the map

“I’m hopeful this trail will be fully open within the next 5 years so it can be hiked as a thru-hike. I've only been about 8.5 miles in from the Middle Fork side, and I’ve been to Pratt Lake on the other end,” Liz said. “Seeing the completed trail would be amazing. The whole valley is such a beautiful place, with its feeling of remoteness and wildness. I want to share it with others.”

With the help of our volunteers and members, we're looking forward to a full summer of work restoring access to the Pratt and so many other backcountry destinations across the state. To keep up with the latest on our Lost Trails Found campaign and to find out how you can help, head to wta.org/losttrails.

Comments

Stuke Sowle on Reviving an Old Route to the Pratt

This is amazing! A huge thank you to all who have worked so hard to get this trail back into shape. As the article states, it opens up so many possibilities in this area!

Posted by:


Stuke Sowle on Jul 15, 2021 07:11 AM

nivla.nibura on Reviving an Old Route to the Pratt

I used the Trailhead Direct in 2018 to access Mason and Pratt Lakes (via Granite Creek), and returned via the Pratt River Trail the next day.
Dozens (or perhaps likely, hundreds) of downed trees, eroded culvert ravines, and a difficult array of ribbons showed its neglect.
Can't wait to see this corridor (the second between Middle Fork and I-90!) allow for more awesome loops and thruhikes!

Posted by:


nivla.nibura on Jul 15, 2021 09:47 PM

Drfelice on Reviving an Old Route to the Pratt

I love the middle fork And am so excited about the progress. Thank you!

Posted by:


Drfelice on Jul 15, 2021 09:49 PM

ALW Hiker on Reviving an Old Route to the Pratt

I loved reading this story and about the Lost Trails Found campaign. I've been to both ends of this trail and it will be great to have another way into this part of the ALW.

Thank you for all the hard work!

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ALW Hiker on Jul 16, 2021 03:21 PM

EandM on Reviving an Old Route to the Pratt

Thank you. Two years ago, I counted over 200 downed logs from the main Middle Fork to about the 'big tree'. Last year, this was mostly clear and the traveling much easier.

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EandM on Jul 16, 2021 06:14 PM

QuahHiker on Reviving an Old Route to the Pratt

Rally happy to see this. Learned about it from your post on Facebook.

I've been to the Big Tree spur from the north, and just yesterday was at Pratt Lake to the south. For some time now I've longed to connect the two but never took the chance to try this "unmaintained" trail. Looking forward to its completion!

Thanks, WTA and volunteers for this work and all the trail work that you do. You allow us to take in the wonder of our surroundings without having to worry about the placement of every step!

Posted by:


QuahHiker on Jul 21, 2021 04:14 PM