If there was ever a peak whose summit should only be visited once, Mt Kent would be high on the list. Nevertheless, I can think of one reason to return: BERRIES. Thus, if you are going to go, go in September.
At 5087 feet, it is one of only a few peaks above 5000 feet on the divide between I-90 and the watershed areas to the south. However, even if those peak bagging instincts provide enough excitement to get to the summit, you will be let down by rather mediocre views. This, plus the fact that it is an utter chore to get there, explains the lack of any real evidence of human travel.
Take the McClellan Butte trail to gain access to Mt Kent. I took the old footpath that starts off from a turnout just a couple hundred yards on the right side Tinkham Rd (exit 42) if coming from Seattle. Starting at approx 1600 ft elev, the path heads mostly west and southwest initially as it takes you by an enormous fallen tree. There are a few places where heavy snow years have added several branches to the lower portion of Alice Creek. In late summer, these are usually dried up rock beds snarled with fallen snags that require some creative navigation. In a quarter mile, you’ll have to cross the main branch of Alice Creek just past a defunct, moss-covered bridge. This will require an agile tip toe even in late summer and early fall. Earlier in the year, your feet will probably get wet here. The continuation of the boot path on the other side is not obvious, but it is located in the most feasible spot for crossing the stream. You’ll gain little elevation for this first 1/4 mile.
Continue on the footpath for another 1/4 mile, gaining a modest 150 feet as it begins to climb gradually to the southwest. There were several downed small trees shrouding the path, but heading straight through and over it wasn’t a problem. You’ll notice an old metal coil half buried in the path.
At a 1/2 mile in, you’ll see a huge old culvert under an old road grade that creates the only water attraction on this trip (PIC). From here, cross the leaf-covered road, and follow the path as it switchbacks up to an old railroad grade (Iron Horse Trail) in a tenth of a mile. There is a sign “McClellan Butte,” but it faces uphill. Look to your right, and 75 feet away across the road, you’ll see a sign pointing to the continuation of the McClellan Butte trail (PIC). This is the point at which the newer trail joins the old footpath you’ll see marked on USGS maps. The tread and trail are well-groomed for the next 3.5 miles.
The trail slants SW beginning a long, annoying, and utterly unnecessary switchback for the next 3/4 of a mile, gaining a mere 344 feet to a logging road at 1.37 miles and 2250 ft elev (PIC). If you look at a USGS quad map of the region, you can see the old path marked with a red dashed line and labeled “foot.” Why the Forest Service and land management people choose to do this is beyond me as there are/were zero erosion problems here. But that is a whole other topic of discussion. Regardless, it adds a 1/4 mile to your trip unless you can follow the old path marked by a blaze on a tree at the point where the trail makes a hard right turn to the north a couple hundred yards after crossing the railroad grade.
At the logging road. the trail slants northward up the steep hillside, then switches back SW, climbing gradually. At 2 miles and 2600 ft elev, you’ll pass through an area where large trees once lived. There are a few nice ones left in here. After this, the trail finally steepens, though still blessing you with long, useless switchbacks. At 2.2 miles and 2800 feet, you’ll cross a small talus field (PIC). Right before the talus is where the old path wiggles up next to talus field, when common sense dictated that it would be shorter and easier on the feet to gain elevation next to a rock field instead of zig-zagging across it, adding another 1/4 mile to your trip. Look closely, you may locate it. Again, the USGS map still shows the old path.
The switchbacks shorten and steepen for the next 1/2 mile and you’ll come to a nice set of rock steps at 2.75 miles and 3320 ft elev (PIC). After a few more switchbacks, the trail begins a long, moderately steep rising traverse SW along McClellan Butte’s east face. In another 1/2 mile around 3750 ft elev, you begin crossing a series of gullies, which are impassable into July (PIC) without an ice axe and traction for your feet. In 2011, a huge pile of snow (PIC) blocked and diverted the trail until August.
Continuing on the trail, there a few more shorter switchbacks. At 4000 ft elev, you’ll see a marker about 10 feet up in a tree on your left that says “3.” This obviously refers to 3 miles, but my GPS says 3.5 (PIC) due to the aforementioned unnecessary lengthening of the trail over the years.
After another .65 miles, at 4.14 miles and 4700 ft elev, the trail turns right and goes around the S rib of McClellan Butte. You’ll see a pile of rocks on the left side of the trail marking the spot you must descend to the road below, which is visible through the trees from the trail (PIC). There is a noticeable footpath through here for the first 50 yards or so before you come to an opening with a bunch of snags and old stumps. You’ll see an isolated, dead tree standing in a flat area slightly to your left (PIC). Straight ahead is the talus. You must descend 250 feet to the road below. Total trip distance thus far is 4.25 miles. Walk the road only 80 yards or so until the road turns to the right. Stay mainly straight to slightly left through the small trees. There is sketchy evidence of boot travel, but don’t rely on it. You’ll descend slightly through trees and brush to roughly 4365 ft elev over the next 75 yards, where you will reach a talus field. This is the first of three you’ll either skirt or cross. The key is staying close to 4400 feet elev as you contour around the east side of Pt 4684. It is a steep, slow side-hill for the next half mile on small talus, and through a brushy forest. Oh joy! You may pick up some evidence of boot travel, but again, don’t rely on it. The best way becomes apparent as there are limited areas where your feet don’t try to slide out from under you. This entire section to the lakes is only about .45 miles, but it will chew up a good 1/2 hour. Here is how I did it, and it really wasn’t all that bad:
The first talus field, I skirted the forest along the top (PIC) for a 100 yards. You could just as easily follow the bottom and then angle up (I recommend the latter as I found this easier on the way back). You then go through some berry bushes and some forest briefly before coming to another talus field. I was able to go straight across this one near the top, sticking to 4400 ft elev. I re-entered some brush again for another 50 yards before skirting the top of a 3rd talus field for another 75 yards. You’ll see a decomposing log angling upslope. Work your way over to it. Climb around it, and enter more 40-degree sloped forest and berry bush fun. This time, it lasts a good 1/4 mile as you contour around the SE side of Pt 4684. Be sure to maintain 4400 – 4450 feet elev or you’ll find yourself helplessly sliding on needles and hanging on to berry bushes for dear life. You’ll finally see the Alice Creek drainage below you to your left, and the brush bash will level out for the last 50 yards to the shore of the northern Alice lake. It was September 15, so the lake was more like a pond and only a few feet deep (PIC).
But the fun isn’t over yet, as 650 vertical feet over .45 miles of small rocks and more brush await. Can I say Oh Joy! again? I kept the pond to my left (north) and followed a grassy area to a talus field (It will be wet here into mid-summer, with lingering snow). I angled up and to the right, following the trees for maybe a 1/3 of the way. I then entered a break in the trees, continuing mostly up and slightly right, crossing more talus. At around 4700 feet, I picked up a boot path along the right side of the talus field next to a steep forest. This path peters out after another 100 feet of elevation and you are forced into the forest. You’ll see some small cliffs to your left and more slippery, steep forest to your right. Try to stay in between them, but DO NOT go too far to the right as the forest is too steep to ascend with the slippery needles and few veggie belays. Instead, follow just to the right of the small cliffs as you continue up on the edge of a forested area with beargrass underfoot. You’ll crest the ridge around 4900 ft. Now, you head to the right, following the ascending ridge ducking under trees and climbing over some small boulders. It is fairly steep on either side, so it is obvious you must stay on the spine. In a short distance (less than 100 yards) you’ll come to a more open, flat area where a cairn marks the summit. Sign the register. You deserve it!
On the way back, ask yourself why you had forgone McClellan Butte’s spectacular summit in favor of this side-hilling brush bash. Or, when you rejoin the McClellan Butte trail, and you aren’t too weary, take a left and follow the well-maintained trail 1.25 miles to the base of an easy (but somewhat scary) scramble that takes you to its exposed summit.