On Monday, the weekend weather forecast predicted a snowstorm. By
Wednesday, it predicted sun. By Thursday, clouds. And by Friday, it was
back to the snowstorm. A typical North Cascades forecast. Brian and I
decided that Lookout Mountain would be a good Saturday adventure —
snowstorm or sun, the lookout would be a tangible and fun destination.
The Lookout Mountain trailhead is just east of Marblemount, 7 miles up Cascade River Road. The trail begins on the north side of
the road; there is parking in a small lot on the south side of the road. The trailhead is at a fairly low elevation of 1250 ft, so it can be accessed all year round. Of course, the lower your start, the more you must climb to get to the top!
Brian and I arrived at the trailhead while it was still dark, eager for a day of snowy hiking. Off we went. After a few steps my headlight batteries died. I returned to the car to get new batteries. Off we went. Brian asked if I had displayed my NW Forest Pass. Back to the car again. Off we went. Third time's a charm.
The trail wastes no time in climbing up a steep timbered spine between Lookout and Monogram creeks. We encountered snow on the trail at about 2500ft and put on snowshoes at about 3600ft. For the rest of the climb we proceeded to take on and off our snowshoes as terrain and snow conditions dictated. For the most part, we followed the faint track of the summer trail, until we reached an open snow slope (4600') where we could see the lookout far above, after which we just slogged and wallowed through deep snow to the top.
On top, we climbed up to the balcony of the mile-high lookout. By now it had begun to snow lightly and clouds obscured the renowned North Cascades scenery. On a clear day, you can gaze west down the Skagit Valley to Sauk and Bald Mountains, or south to Snowking, or north to or east to Teebone Ridge, Big Devil and Little Devil Peaks, and Eldorado, or north to the pointy Pickets.
I have had my eye on Lookout Mountain Lookout for an overnight night photography trip, so I was pleased when we found the door unlocked. The lookout is one of the most well-maintained and well-furnished lookouts I've seen. There are two beds, chairs, tables, and a full stove (not sure about the fuel situation). There are even some books and about ten stuffed animals to keep you company.
All in all, this was a fun day, with the lookout making up for the fact that the views didn't quite deliver. I will definitely be back for some night photography!
The lookout on the summit of Lookout Mountain is one of the last remaining fire
lookouts in the North Cascades. The original lookout was constructed in
1929 as a 2-story "cathedral" cabin. This structure was demolished in
1967, and replaced by a 30' treated timber R-6 tower that was
constructed in 1962. This structure still stands strong and tall today, and is maintained by volunteers. The person primarily responsible for the lookout has
been Dan Trudeau in conjunction with the Forest Service. They did a lot
of restoration work back in 2002. The Sunray stove is a vestigial
remainder from its last staffed days back in the 60s. The lookout is open to the public
on a first come, first serve basis.
It is my goal to eventually visit all the remaining standing fire lookouts scattered about the mountain ranges of Washington. Click the following link to go to my webpage on fire lookout structures of Washington, which gives a bit of history of fire lookouts as well as a complete listing of the remaining standing lookout structures in the state.
Stats (Jan 2012):
Roundtrip distance: 9.4 miles
Start elev.: 1250 ft
Summit/Lookout elev: 5719 ft
Elevation gain: 4470 ft
Ascent: 4:00, Descent: 2:30, Time in lookout: 0:45, Total car-to-car: 7:15
- 5:45 am: Met in Sedro-Woolley
- 6:50 am: Arrived at TH (1250 ft)
- 7:15 am: Started hiking up trail
- 7:57 am: Sunrise
- 8:00 am: Hit snow on trail (2500 ft)
- 8:44 am: Put on snowshoes (3500 ft)
- 8:53 am: Took off snowshoes
- 10:02 am: Put on snowshoes
- 10:41 am: Took off snowshoes
- 11:11 am: Put on snowshoes
- 11:18 am: Summit/Lookout (5719 ft)
- 12:03 pm: Began descent
- 2:35 pm: Arrived back at car
- 4:27 pm: Sunset