9.2 miles round trip, 3,300 feet of elevation gain
A hike with epic views, a bit of scrambling, and many of my friends was the only thing that could possibly be waking me up at 4:30am on a Saturday morning. The air was chilly with fall as I hopped out of bed to scramble into my pre-laid out clothes (the mind doesn’t function as well in the early hours) and sipped on some warm coffee.
Almost forgetting water and hoping that wasn’t an omen for the day’s events, I kissed Taylor goodbye and hurried out to my waiting ride. Nikki was driving and we were taking along the dog she was watching, Indi, a small, high-energy Collie-Shepherd mix.
Indi licked my left ear clean the entire 2.5 hour ride to the trailhead in the North Cascades. For the last 10 minutes, we discovered that she loved putting her head out the window to catch the scent on the breeze, a discovery we wished we would have made earlier!
Indi thriving once the stupid humans realized she wanted the window down
When we got to the trailhead, it was a scene of utter chaos, as 3 other dogs were joining our crew on the hike today.
We were not a quiet or discreet bunch
After gathering dogs and humans alike, we set out on the trail at 8:06am, our destination a lookout built in 1931 atop an imposing-looking pile of jagged boulders.
The first hour or so took us through muddy forest and thick trees, with several stops to delayer as the quick ascent warmed us up. As we broke through the trees, fall colors and a shroud of mist greeted us.
Fall colors in the meadow leading us up to the ridge and over to the right
We spent another hour or so taking slow switchbacks to the top of the ridge, ascending into the mist and silently praying that the clouds would part, at least momentarily, to offer a view.
Thankfully, the sun did it’s part and burned off the morning fog, thinning the mist enough to reveal our first glimpse of the lookout and snow-covered volcanoes alike.
First view of the lookout perched atop a jagged, imposing pile of scree and boulders
Here is where the trail became less obvious and a fun scramble through a giant boulder field led us through to the saddle
Koma Kulshan peeking through the clouds
A quick, relatively easy scramble across the boulder field gave us the saddle, with almost 365 degree views of some of the North Cascades’ most famous peaks, including Eldorado and Forbidden. In classic PNW form, the lake lived up to its name, and was hidden by the dense clouds for our entire trip.
Hidden Peak on the left with Eldorado, Forbidden Peak, and other classic summits dominating the skyline
Once on the saddle, we turned onto the ridge itself, alternating between light scrambling and finding the winding path. At this point, 3 of the dogs had to turn around, with only little Monsieur Pierre making it to the top!
A path to the sky
Looking back on the saddle, with Hidden Peak appearing the most prominently
Finally, after a solid 3 hours of effort, we arrived at the lookout! At 6,900 feet and perched somewhat precariously on the top, it’s a feat of engineering that this lookout even remains.
Looking out over the sea of fog
Have to take a selfie with Glacier and Rainier!
Can you imagine waking up to a view like this?! The lookout is open to the public for overnight stays on a first-come, first-serve basis
Feels like a slight breeze might just push it over the edge
There’s a lake down there somewhere
Another shot, with Glacier Peak to the extreme left and the tip of Rainier hiding in the middle
After enjoying the views and the warm sun for an extended lunch break, we headed back down the boulders, already noticing the steady stream of people making their way up.
A view of the lookout’s perch from the saddle; can you spot the human?
It was a pleasant but long downhill return trip to get back to the car. My feet were hurting quite badly, so I jogged or speed walked most of the way to get off my feet as quickly as I could. The beautiful reds and yellows were incredible spread out over the meadow, and the cool fall air mixed with the perfectly ripened trail-side berries were a good distraction for my aching feet. Although the return trip seemed to take forever, I was back at the car around 2:30. The parking lot was very crowded and cars were parked on the side of the narrow road for about a quarter mile down the road.
A bunch of badass ladies
This section had a very Sierra-like feel to it
Everyone knows my love for berries
Meadow with fall colors just starting to come into their own
Looking back up towards the ridge we ascended, more afternoon clouds rolling in
Pierre, the last dog standing (or being carried)
We had one tired pup on the way home!
This was a fantastic fall day hike that is well worth the long drive, narrow, rough forest road, and steep ascent/descent. If you are thinking about tackling this trail, please:
1. Keep your dog on a leash.
2. Get there early, as the lot completely filled up.
3. Know the rules regarding dogs and backcountry camping: this area is on the boundary with the national park, which has strict rules of its own.
4. Be prepared for the trail. This is a scramble and is slightly exposed in places, especially on the top. I saw a man attempting to take a selfie where no selfie should be taken. Be smart and get home safe.
Stay tuned, as next week we will be attempting an adventure I’ve wanted to do for quite a long time. Fingers crossed that the finnicky PNW fall weather holds up for us!