I had the good fortune to meet up with guide book and
outdoor writer Mike McQuaide for a hike up the Cascade River Valley. We looked
for a hike between our homes in Seattle and Bellingham, especially one neither
of us had done. We settled on Lookout Mountain. This has been the summer of
the North Cascades for me. This was the fourth time I had been through Marblemount
in the past six weeks. I was a little concerned with afternoon traffic since
it was Labor Day so we met in Marblemount at 7:30 am. There's nothing like
a 4:45 am alarm on a holiday. 5:30 am traffic was non existent. I had nobody
in front of me from Arlington to Marblemount. Only 1:50 to drive up.
Mike joined me and I drove the seven paved miles to the trailhead. I was
surprised to see that there was only one car parked there. So much for a
crowd. A nice lake and a fire lookout and only one group on a holiday weekend.
We were on the trail by about 7:50. It was a little cool but just right with
4500' of gain ahead of us. The trail is steep but not "really steep" anywhere.
In fact, it is a very nicely graded trail that never seems to gain an average
of 1000' per mile.
It starts in the forest and stays there most of the way. We set a good steady
pace and kept it up. Mike had no trouble keeping up with me. It was a good
thing I was in front. I may not have been able to keep up with him. The trail
has minimal man made structures. There are a few necessary bridges and water
bars but only where necessary. The trail is smooth and nearly mud free. It
goes where the terrain allows not where the builders forced it. In short it
is a fantastic trail.
Reports from the last two years mentioned yellow jackets at an open meadow.
When the forest gave way to a short meadow we walked carefully, fully prepared
to run if necessary. In fact we found no trace of any yellow jackets. The
meadow itself has been brushed out nicely. The brush is well off the trail.
A little higher Mike checked out some red plastic tape. It warned about bees.
Again we found none this year. To our relief we found no sign of any stingers
going up or down.
At about 2 3/4 miles we found the junction with the trail to Monogram Lake.
It is marked with a post. On the way down we noticed a 3 mile marker on a
tree. At about four miles the trail breaks out of the forest. It was getting
warm by this time. The views were good but hazy. On a crystal clear day they
would be down right gorgeous. A big bare Eldorado loomed down the Cascade
River Valley. We didn't recognize it at first with no snow on the west side.
I could see Snowking
which I climbed just two weeks ago.
The lookout was now in site above us. The open slopes had a few paintbrush,
aster, and hellebore. It should be a real flower fest in early summer. The
trail is a little dusty here and does get a bit steeper. I was glad we were
not coming up here in mid afternoon. The route winds it's way higher then
bursts out onto the summit plateau. Here there was still lupine in bloom.
Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan were now in view to the northwest. A last short
push and we reached the summit.
The lookout seems to be in fine shape. I could smell fresh creosote or some
such wood preservative. We climbed up the ladders and found the door covered
by a board. All the shutters are open. A few slide bolts undone and the front
door was revealed. It seemed that the other car's occupants were off to Monogram
Lake. We were all alone at the lookout.
Inside the lookout we found two beds, a propane stove, and a table and chairs.
There are donation envelopes as well. I will be sure to kick in a donation
if and when I stay there. Slowly the sky began to clear and the haze lifted
a little. I wonder if some of it was related to forest fires. We had very
little bug problems coming up but there were some pesky flies at the lookout.
It's about 4 3/4 miles to the top, gaining 4500'. We took about 2:50, arriving
at 10:40. It was very early to be on a summit in the North Cascades.
We spent a full hour on top. The haze never did clear much. It was clearer
to the north but still hazy. Now I need to come back here on a really clear
day. It would be a first class view from Baker to Shuksan to the Pickets,
the Cascade Pass peaks, Hidden Lake Peak, Snowking, Whitehorse, and more.
All to soon (as always) it was time to go. As we dropped down to the open
slope we met a group of three. They were very happy to learn they were near
the top. We met a few more pairs farther down. It was not a busy day on the
The trail is very easy to descend. Soft dirt at a smooth grade. After Snowking,
Hibox, and Vesper the last three weeks this one was easy on the knees. Amazing
with that 1000' per mile grade. We made very good time coming down. In only
2:10 we were back at the car. It was just before 2:00 pm. To top it off I
had a pretty easy drive home as I avoided I-5 entirely.
This was a very nice hike. The forest was pleasantly cool and we did have
open views before the top. The lookout raises you above all trees for a 360
degree view. There are few peaks close by that are much higher and block
the view. If only there was no haze... Still it was well worth the effort.
The mountain was fun and so was the company. Thanks Mike.