Hard Knox is a mountain summit found in the southwestern region of Kittitas County of Washington State. The shortest, easiest standard hiking approach is very similar to the peak's nearest higher neighbor, Thorp Mountain. In fact, Hard Knox is nearly the same hiking distance and elevation as Thorp Mountain. Also similarly, spectacular views occur from the summit, including Thorp Mountain, Amabilis Mountain, Mount Daniel, Mount Stuart, and Mount Rainier. However, one major difference is while the standard routes for Thorp Mountain are completely YDS Class 1 all the way to its summit the standard routes for Hard Knox range from YDS Class 2-5, depending upon which summit route is taken on its final slopes. This gives Hard Knox the appeal of something for multiple types of hikers and technical climbers.
Northern View From Summit
The Knox Creek Trail (#1315.1) is the standard starting point for hikers that leads towards Hard Knox. Starting at the Knox Creek Trailhead (~4200' elevation), the summit of Hard Knox can be reached within 2.5 miles with 1640' vertical elevation gain. Most of the elevation gain for the route occurs on the approach to Kachess Ridge, during the first half of the route, although the hilly terrain of the second half of the route makes the cumulative elevation gain much more noticeable (~2100' cumulative elevation gain).
Rocky Eastern Slopes
The name "Hard Knox" is a derivative of the American slang phrase "hard knocks". But that appears to be where the relation ends. The most likely working reason for the unique name is a combination of "Hard" (in reference to the "hard" rock cliffs on the mountain's east face) and "Knox" (in reference to the Knox Creek drainage which originates on the mountain). Hard Knox is located south of Thorp Mountain and north of French Cabin Peaks, in a region of the Cascade Mountains that is wedged between the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (to the north and west) and the Teanaway (to the east).
1) The Knox Creek Trail #1315.1 begins (~4200' elevation) by steeply switchbacking up rocky and wildflower-filled slopes.
2) After 1.3 miles, the Knox Creek Trail #1315.1 intersects (~5300' elevation) with the Kachess Ridge Trail #1315 (north-south trail). Turn left, heading south along the Kachess Ridge Trail.
3) During the next 1.0 miles, the Kachess Ridge Trail #1315 climbs an unnamed highpoint (5545' elevation), then drops to approximately 5300' elevation along a saddle ridge, and then steadily climbs around the eastern slopes of Hard Knox until reaching a saddle on the mountain's southern side at approximately 5600' elevation.
4) The standard route leaves the Kachess Ridge Trail and heads west/northwest (off-trail, YDS Class II) until on the western slope of Hard Knox. The upper western slopes of Hard Knox are filled with grasses, wildflowers, and small loose scree (slate/rocks). Steeply climb directly up the slope to the summit (5841' elevation).
Hard Knox Summit
: After reaching the saddle ridge (~5300') between the first highpoint (5545') and Hard Knox, bushwhack off-trail to the top of the ridge and follow towards the summit. This alternate summit route ranges from YDS Class II-IV, depending upon access points and conditions.
: While hiking along the Kachess Ridge Trail by the rocky eastern slopes of Hard Knox, some thrill-seekers and those comfortable (and capable) of doing rock-climbing might opt to climb ~200' elevation vertically up to the summit by climbing the rock cliffs. Many natural handholds and footholds are available, but the difficulty level ranges from YDS Class IV-V, depending upon access points and conditions.
There are multiple routes that lead toward Hard Knox. Here are the general instructions for the most standard access:
1) Follow I-90, heading east from Snoqualmie Pass.
2) Take Exit 80 (a.k.a. Roslyn exit).
3) Head north for approximately three miles to a roundabout. Go around the roundabout and continue heading north.
4) After approximately one more mile, enter Roslyn. Continue straight through town along the main road. The road bends at several locations.
5) The road then goes through the small town of Ronald, and becomes known as Salmon La Sac Road soon after passing through town.
6) After approximately 12.5 miles from Roslyn, turn left onto French Cabin Creek Road #4308.
NOTE: This road might not be marked. However, the road is found immediately after passing the Cle Elum River Campground (on the same side).
7) Follow Road #4308 for approximately 3.2 miles to a road intersection for Thorp Lake. Continue straight at the junction to head towards the Knox Creek Trail (the trailhead of which is located four miles further from this intersection).
A Northwest Forest Pass (i.e. parking permit) is required when parking at or near any of the established trailheads in the area.
Camping is allowed in established campsites only. Major campgrounds, such as Cle Elum River Campground, are found along SR-903 and Salmon La Sac Road.
It is recommended to check with the Cle Elum Ranger District for specific rules and regulations.