Commonwealth Basin Snowshoe

I had the brilliant idea to do a romantic Valentine’s snowshoe instead of an expensive dinner with the boyfriendo. Romantic, it was not. Adventurous? Perhaps. 

To avoid making reading this post a Herculean effort, I’ll condense it down to that by the time we parked the car to hike Commonweath Basin, it was our third attempt that morning and already a good two-plus hours had passed since we left home. Romance was no longer on the table. However, determined to make it a good hike, we parked at Snoqualmie Pass (as it was 12:30 on a weekend, parking was difficult) and set about the long walk to the trailhead (including dashing across a busy street).

Wilderness is right! Be sure to check avalanche conditions before departing.

Part of the Pacific Crest Trail, Commonwealth Basin in full is 10 miles, but it’s a very popular winter trek even if only doing part of the trail. It’s the same area I went on a guided trek with a ranger, and the same spot I went to for my first time snowshoeing. When we first did it about a year ago, the trail was wide and well-packed down at that time. We brought our spikes, but some friends of ours awesomely lent us their snowshoes (Thanks T&C!), so we lashed those to our packs just in case.

You start the hike, in winter at least, by hiking up to the PCT trail parking lot. Once you get to the official PCT trailhead sign, the trial becomes a messy labyrinth of trails, and unlike most other hikes in the state, WTA doesn’t have fork-by-fork directions for this one. Some people call that a ‘choose your own adventure,’ I call it mayhem, especially in feet of powder. Even trudging through the open parking lot, I was concerned at the amount of post-holing (sinking down into the snow) I was doing. As we randomly chose our turns in the snowy trails, I went from sinking ankle-deep to shin-deep to knee-deep. This was not fun.

I quickly opted to switch to the snowshoes. While the postholing was over, the trail was so narrow that wide snowshoes did not fit, so my options were walking one foot in front of the other like on a balance beam, or tramping down the snow just outside of the trail with my left foot while walking normally with my right. Did I mention this wasn’t fun? We passed by a ranger, leading another guided hike. I asked him is the trail got wider and he said no (lies), and I asked when we’d join the main trail towards the basin, he said there wasn’t one (another lie!). We let the giant group pass us and continued upward. Not further from that, we had to dive out of the way of a backcountry madman barreling downhill on skis. It was getting harder and harder to pretend to be having a good time.

Look at that wide trail!

Mercifully, the trail widened after it joined another tributary trail. Finally, I could walk like a normal person! At this point, we’d been going for maybe a mile or two, and we couldn’t tell if the trail was the same one we took last year–it appeared different, but in all that snow how were we to truly know? It felt like we were in more of a lowland area, while last time we were higher up, giving us more thrilling views. I was still determined to salvage the hike, even if there were clouds swirling ahead obscuring the sun. The boyfriendo gave in and put on his snowshoes and decided to play around in deep powder with them. I followed him and promptly hooked my snowshoes on each other and went tumbling ass over teakettle down the hill. NO. FUN.

If this were the MTV show Boiling Points, I’d have hit it. Instead, I got myself back on the actual trail, dusted myself off, and we headed a bit further along the trail, hoping to find a good place to sit and eat and take in the view and let my blood pressure decrease. By now, we had to start thinking about nightfall in guiding when we were to turn around. It also had started to snow a tiny bit, making us further think about the drive home. We decided to pop down by a little creek rushing by for me to tuck into my now-cold Spaghetti-Os. We began talking about getting a beer on the way home to regroup, giving me something to look forward to.

Well, at least this view was nice!

We finished our break and hit the trail. We promptly had to literally throw our bodies into a hill on the side of the trail to dodge another backcounty madman on skis, this time with a backcountry madman on a snowboard with him too. “Sorry!” they shouted, as they immediately got stuck on an uphill and held us up while they tried to walk up it. I contemplated the odds of being caught for their murder and decided it wasn’t worth it.

With darkness and snow falling, we kept a pretty quick pace going. When we joined the fork, we decided to go on the new trail we hadn’t used previously. This one was far wider than the one we had taken up, so I’d strongly recommend taking a left at the first fork if you want to stick to a wider trail in the lowlands.

We finally made it back to the bottom of the trailhead, certain our misadventure was over. It wasn’t, but that is a tale for another blog. I’m sure one day we can laugh about our disastrous attempt at a romantic hike, but for now I’m sticking with only going on fully established trails that are hopefully free of dangerous idiots on skis. Anyone else have a disastrous snow hike trek to share?

In summary:

Distance: Officially listed at 10.0 miles (this might change depending on what route you take, you can go as long or as short as you’d like on snowshoes)

Elevation Gain: 2300 feet

Parking: Forest Pass needed in the summer, but no pass needed in the winter. Be warned in winter that you must share parking with skiiers and snowboarders, so is very crowded on weekends.

Bathrooms: In summer, pit toilets at PCT trailhead, closed in winter.


2 Replies to “Commonwealth Basin Snowshoe”

  1. I was curious how this snowshoe would be-we’ve hiked part of this trail and there was a lot of uphill. Thank you for sharing your experiences-I’m glad I didn’t try it with my kids.

    1. When I went the first time over a year ago, the trail was far wider. That time, we were dodging piles of pee and (what I hope was) dog poop on the trail. While I’d prefer that over the backcountry idiots, it still wasn’t a fun trail.

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