NORTH Mountain/Lookout
Route: West-side bike trail + logging roads (snowshoe)

DEC
31
2018

TR #: 330

Category: Washington (Mtn Loop HWY)       Summit/Lookout Elev: 3,820 ft       

Partner: Jess K

Another great winter-snowshoe-to-fire-lookout. The lower the snow level, the longer the day.


INTRO

As of 2018, there are about 90 old fire lookouts still standing in Washington. (Click here to open my fire lookouts page to learn more about the history of fire lookouts in Washington and to see a map of these standing lookouts). I've visited a handful of these fire lookouts over the years, particularly the ones on summits in the North Cascades. They make great objectives for snowshoe adventures in the winter. So when my friend Jess and I both had New Years Eve Day free and were looking to get outside and enjoy the winter beauty away from the ski slope crowds, I proposed North Mountain Lookout, which sits on top of North Mountain just north of Darrington. 

(A bit of history of the North Mountain Lookout: North Mountain became a fire lookout spot in 1962. The fire observer lived in a tent, since it was not until 1966 that the 41-foot treated timber tower with a R-6 cab was constructed. This tower remained active through the 1980s. Because of its road access and proximity to the town of Darrington, the tower has been plagued by vandalism over the years, but it is occasionally used on an emergency basis. Restoration work began in 2015. References:  http://www.firelookout.com/wa/northmtn.html  and  http://www.northmountainlookout.com.)

North Mountain is relatively low in elevation (3,820 ft), but still rises about 3,300 ft above the town of Darrington (elev. ~530 feet). There is a road that drives nearly up to the lookout, but in the winter this road becomes covered in snow, forcing the start of the hiking further and further down the mountain, depending on the snow level. A wintertime perk of North Mountain is that the mostly-timbered slopes make it a safe choice if snow conditions are unstable. Plus, the views from the top are great: Mount Baker and the peaks of the North Cascades National Park to the north, and Whitehorse and Three Fingers and other peaks of the Mountain Loop area dominating the view to the south.

I had assumed that Jess and I would be driving as far up the North Mountain road as possible and then hiking and snowshoeing the rest of the way to the top via the snow-covered road on the west side of the mountain. But it turns out that in Spring 2018, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance started a project to develop some mountain bike trails on the south side of the mountain all of the way from the summit to a mountain bike skills park at the base of the mountain. By Fall 2018, the Skills Park was completed and a a couple of segments of the summit trails were finished. So Jess and I ended up piecing together a route up the south side involving a section of the North Mountain Road, an old logging road spur, the upper segment of new bike trail, and then ending on the upper section of the North Mountain Road after the gate. Because it had been a low snow year so far, we were able to drive on bare road all the way up to the upper segment of bike trail, 2.5 miles and 1,500 feet below the lookout. These roads could be easily snowshoed later in the season and make for a fuller day (and in retrospect, I should have parked the car lower at the base of the first bike trail connector we spotted, so that we could get more exercise). See my map below for the locations of the bike trails and logging roads.

All told, it took Jess and I a relaxed 1.5 hours to reach the lookout from where we parked our car. We hiked the bike trail and put our snowshoes on for the final stretch of road. We enjoyed mid-morning tea and coffee at the lookout, snapped some photos of the view, and headed back down, reaching the car before noon with plenty of time to head home and go to our wild New Years Eve celebrations (my wild celebration: working on a logging road overlay; Jess's wild celebration: walking her dog and doing a 1000-piece puzzle). 

The following page gives a short trip report for the hike. I recommend this one as a casual winter destination.


MAP and STATS



gpx file for our hike
GPS track. (GAIA map screenshot) Logging roads and bike trails as of Nov/Dec 2018.
GPS track.

Total trip (from GPS track): ~5 miles, ~1,500 ft gain/loss, ~3.5 hours (car to car time, includes breaks)
7:57 AM : Sun rises
8:03 AM : ~2,260 FT : Leave car
9:40-10:15 AM : 3,820 FT : Summit / Lookout
11:30 AM : ~2,260 FT : Arrive back at car
4:22 PM : Sun sets

PHOTOS

North Mountain as seen from North Mountain Road just north of Darrington. December 2018 had less snow than usual, but later in the winter or under a heavier December snowpack, the snow level would be much lower than in this photo.
The start of the new bike trail where we started hiking.
With the snow line only about 1000 feet above us and no bike tracks in sight, we figured it was a safe bet that no mountain bikers would be bombing down the trail on this day....
A pretty dusting of snow. The new bike trail is very nice for hiking (when there are no bikers on it of course).
A nice bridge on the bike trail just before it intersected the North Mountain Road.
The bike trail intersected the North Mountain Road a few hundred feet before the gate which blocks vehicles from accessing the lookout.
Sign on the gate.
Pretty trees.
Snow-laden plant.
Arriving at the lookout.
The North Mountain Lookout.
The stairs.
We found the upper platform locked.
The prevailing wind direction of the last storm was clearly from the east.
Another rime on wire photo.
Looking down the tower.
Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain to the south.
Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain to the south.
Mount Baker and NCNP to the north.
A sign on the lookout.
Another sign.