With a forecast for bluebird skies and stable snow, the North Cascades seemed to be the place to go. After tossing around a variety of ideas and spending way too much time pouring over trip reports and topos and forecasts, Sourdough Mountain with Brian and Paul eventually moved to the top of the list. It's hard to imagine having chosen a more beautiful place to spend a sunny winter Saturday.
Sourdough Mountain can be approached via Diablo (south) or Pierce Mountain (east) sides. In the winter, these trails are covered in snow, and the typical approach is from the Diablo side. The route wastes no time in gaining elevation, heading up through steep timber for about 4000 feet before breaking out into the open. We found the snow to be in pretty good condition, and made quick work of the timber before hitting deeper powder that slowed us down bit up high.
The summer trail branches off to the right to cross Sourdough Creek, but the winter this slope tends to be avalanche prone, so the best route continues northward until it hits the ridgeline. From here the summit of Sourdough Mountain is only a short ridge-run to the east. To the west is the tantalizing sweep of Stetattle Ridge, a snow pathway towards ever-closer views of the Picket Range. We chose to head to the east, to the rambling summit of Sourdough Mountain. Stetattle Ridge would have to wait for another day, perhaps an overnight trip involving a glorious sunset and sunrise on the surrounding Cascades scenery.
The summit of Sourdough Mountain is nearly a vertical mile of elevation gain (actually probably more with the ups and downs) from the car. But the views are worth every bit of effort. Glittering a mile below are Diablo and Ross Lakes, and gleaming all around are craggy white-capped peaks, the 360° view dominated by Davis Peak, Pickets, Jack Mountain, Ruby Mountain, Colonial Peak, Snowfield Peak, and Pyramid Peak.
After we tagged the summit of Sourdough Mountain, Brian and I continued onward to see if we could find the Sourdough
Lookout, which is about a mile further along the ridge. Paul decided to stay behind and soak in the view. When Brian and I arrived at the final bump on the ridge where the lookout is located, all we found was a giant cornice. We stood on top of the cornice. My GPS later indicated we were standing right on top of the lookout.
A scenic snow romp to collect Paul, and then three of us headed down. We were back at the car 8 hours and 58 minutes after we left that morning. What a great way to spend a winter day!
Drive State Route 20 to mile 126 (20 miles east of Marblemount), then turn onto Diablo Road (there is a sign for the town of Diablo). Proceed 0.7
mile, crossing an iron bridge that spans Stetattle Creek. Bear right and
reach the trailhead in 0.25 mile (elev. 900 ft). Park on the right side
of the road. The trail begins on the opposite side, near the tennis
Even though the lookout was buried under a wall of snow, I figure I can at least partially count it towards my goal of visiting all standing fire lookouts in WA.
Listed on the National Historical
Lookout Register, the summit of Sourdough was one of
the first "lookout" points established by the U.S. Forest Service in
1915. Glee Davis built the original cupola cabin lookout in 1917. A neighboring peak
to the west of Sourdough is named for the Davis family. The present building (a L-4 ground cab) was constructed in 1933. Bush Osborne
chose the location to test his fire locating device. The Osborne
Firefinder soon became standard equipment in lookouts. Beatnik poet Philip Whalen worked a
couple of summers on Sourdough as a lookout back in the 1950s. The lookout was rehabilitated in 1998-99, and has become a popular hiking destination. The lookout is staffed in the summer. All other times of year, it is closed to the public. Or simply buried, as shown in the following aerial photo I took in February 2013 on a flight with pilot and aerial photographer John Scurlock.
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.
Roundtrip distance: 13 miles (11 to summit, without sidetrip to search for buried lookout)
Start elev.: 900 ft
Summit elev: 6140 ft
Lookout elev: 5985 ft
Elevation gain: 5240 ft (to summit), 5085 ft (to lookout)
Ascent: 4 hours to summit, 1 more to lookout, Descent: 4 hours, Total car-to-car: 8 hours 58 min
- 4:15 am: Seattle constituent embarks on I-5 northward
- 5:30 am: All party members meet in Sedro-Woolley
- 6:58 am: Arrive at TH (900 ft)
- 7:07 am: Start climbing up
- 7:17 am: This Area Is Safe From Flooding sign (~1200')
- 7:28 am: Hit snow on trail (1700 ft)
- 7:33 am: Sunrise
- 7:40 am: Put on snowshoes (2000 ft)
- 8:13 am: Left switchbacking trail and started heading straight uphill (2900 ft)
- 9:27 am: Started to break out into the open (4800 ft)
- 11:18 am: Summit (6140 ft)
- 12:12 pm: Lookout (5985 ft)
- 12:18 pm: Begin descent
- 4:05 pm: Arrive back at car
- 5:04 pm: Sunset