What kind of a mountain sits right on the Pacific Crest Trail, within a few miles of a major highway, and doesn't have an official trail to the top? This is one of those mountains.
Located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Union Peak is a pretty popular summit in the winter months. Skiers skin up to the summit, and can enjoy untouched powder for months, even well after ski season is over.
Pay attention while climbing this mountain. The descent looks straightforward from all angles, but there are some cliffs to avoid, especially to the east and west.
Getting ThereFrom Smithbrook Trailhead
From the west (Everett/Seattle): Travel SR 2 east 68.5 miles. Very soon after SR two separates, take a left on Smithbrook Road #6700. Be careful crossing the westbound lanes of SR 2!
The Smithbrook trailhead is 2.7 miles up the road on the left hand side.
From the east (Wenatchee/Leavenworth): Travel SR 2 west, and turn right at about a half mile past milepost 69. The Smithbrook trailhead is 2.7 miles up the road on the left hand side.
From the trailhead, hike roughly one mile to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. At this intersection, take a right (north) and continue to the very first turn to the left (west)- in about 30 seconds. From here, it's a bushwhack to the top.
Trailhead elevation: 3,800 ft
Union Peak summit elevation: 5,696 ft
Travel time required: Two hours each way.
From Nason Ridge Saddle
Continue driving up Smithbrook Road for roughly one additional mile past the Smithbrook Trailhead to the obvious crest on Nason Ridge. Immediately upon reaching the crest, parking can be found on the left (west) side of the road on and
near a short little spur road.
Follow the well defined spur road for .1 mile to a very faint climbers path for the start of the "trail".
Trailhead elevation: 4,600 ft
Union Peak summit elevation: still 5,696 ft
Travel time required: One hour each way.
Attaining the summitIn winter, or when you don't feel like bushwhacking (RECOMMENDED ROUTE!):
The easiest way to ascend this mountain is to park at the Nason Ridge Saddle, and follow a faint climber's trail along the ridge westward towards the summit. Just follow the ridge, and the summit is pretty easy to ascend. Be careful though, and take precaution when enjoying this summit in winter conditions. While not incredibly steep in most places, all sides of this mountain are avalanche prone.
PCT Bushwhack from Smithbrook TH (not recommended)
So you've made it to Union Gap, where Smithbrook Trail #6700 meets the Pacific Crest Trail. It's been a leisurely hike on a pretty good trail. You can throw that out the window.
At the first left turn (to the west) outside of Union Gap you'll see a snag standing about 10 feet tall. To the north, you'll see a boulder field. This is your first objective, and is very easy to reach.
Once in the boulder field, you'll want to climb straight up to the highest point you can reach within the field. Currently, there is small cairn in the center of the boulder field that you can line up with the only snag visible to guide you. You're about to enter an obvious avalanche slope.
Line up this cairn with the snag in the center to find your route up Union Peak.
Ascend this slope to the summit of Union Peak. Sometimes it's easier to climb the left side, sometimes it's easier to climb the right side. It's pretty self explanatory.
This route is steep in places. You're climbing in, on, and over low, dense brush. If it's early morning and dew covered, or if it's raining or snowing, this slope is very, very slippery. Descending can be especially dangerous.
Ascending Union Peak- in the fog.
The summit is a small, very gentle plateau, with amazing views of the surrounding area.
The summit plateau of Union Peak.
Descent is the opposite of ascent. Be careful.
As is standard, a NW Forest Parking Pass is required at the Smithbrook trailhead. There are no facilities, and only one stream near the beginning of the trail at Smithbrook for water, so be prepared. No pass is required for parking at the Nason Ridge Saddle.
I know of no reason why anyone would want to camp on the summit, but if you'd like to, go for it.