Three Fingers Lookout Maintenance
September 06 – 11 14, 2015 v. 2.2

Three Fingers Lookout is remarkably situated on a basaltic pinnacle of the southernmost peak for which it is named. The Lookout is well above timberline at +6,854 feet with dramatic sheer drop-offs on the north and south sides of the cabin. In order to access the cabin, one must transverse a 6.7 mile long Forest Service trail which crosses a permanent snow/ice field and ascend a vertical rock face equipped with wooden ladders and hand ropes. The Lookout commands a panoramic 360 degree view the length of the Cascade Range and of Puget Sound.National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form


Three Fingers is, quite possibly, the most exceptional Grange Hall style L-4 lookout cabin ever built;
it was, most certainly, built in the most impossible location.

On September 25, 1929, a young district ranger by the name of Harold Engles set out with his trail foreman, Harry Bedal, to, as Malcolm Bates wrote, “go take a look at the mountain”.

The two men stuffed sandwiches into their canvas pants pockets, picked up a map, compass, aneroid and tramped off through the tangled climax forest which blankets the lower flanks of Three Fingers. The area was sketchily mapped and, as far as they knew, had never been explored. That fact deterred neither Harold nor Harry. Crashing through the brush was part of the job and, in their case, almost a specialty. –Malcolm S. Bates, Three Fingers: The Mountain, The Men, and a Lookout

On September 24, 1931, fifteen feet of the south spire of that mountain were blown off with explosives set by Harry Bedal and his Forest Service trail crew; Harold Engles was one step closer to realizing his vision.

When Harold Engles first considered putting a lookout cabin on the south finger, he knew it would present logistical problems; might even mean changing the look of the summit with a load of dynamite. But that seemingly drastic facelift would be minuscule when compared with the changes which had already occurred long before man began heading into the mountains and giving names to land. –Malcolm S. Bates, Three Fingers: The Mountain, The Men, and a Lookout

In September, 1932, the cabin was completed and summer of 1933 would finally see the Three Fingers Lookout cabin staffed.

But it turns out that Three Fingers was a less than ideal location for spotting fires as the mountain and/or its valleys are often cloaked in clouds and fog. Indeed, it seems the whole of the Boulder River Wilderness (established in 1984) is a magnet for inclement weather when the rest of the mountains are basking in the glow of sunshine or stars. In the autumn of 1942, Harry Tucker, who grew up on the mountain, closed the shutters for, unknowingly, one last time and, in 1943, the Three Fingers Lookout was abandoned.


Clouds blanket the high points surrounding Three Fingers

Whether through luck or location or perhaps a bit of both, the Three Fingers Lookout cabin survived the years while other lookouts were vandalized or burned to the ground, a common practice of the USFS to easily remove a building from its lofty perch. Harold Engels surmised that the only reason Three Fingers survived was because it was just too darn difficult to reach. Through the years, the cabin remained intact and occasional maintenance tasks were performed by several of the lookout’s former occupants along with family and friends, often in conjunction with the Forest Service who would supply materials and have them helicoptered in (either to the summit or to Goat Flats). In 1972, Harold Engles and the Everett Mountaineers replaced broken ladders and window panes, installed new ceiling supports, and gave the place a new coat of paint. At the request of the Darrington Ranger District, 1985 saw the formation of the Lookout and Trail Maintenance (LOTM) committee within the Everett Mountaineers to officially take over routine maintenance of the cabin. Then, in 1986, with the help of some packers plus a little over a dozen volunteers, supplies and tools were carried over Meadow Mountain in preparation for a major restoration project. About a week later, Pat Tucker (daughter of Harry Tucker) and her husband arrived to spend a month in the lookout replacing the roof and making minor structural and window repairs. Three Fingers Lookout was now the responsibility of The Everett Mountaineers and the LOTM committee nominated the cabin to the National Park Service for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

The morning of August 24, 2015 dawned beneath clear skies with a haze of smoke in the air. Tremendous wildfires on both sides of the Cascade crest were affecting air quality throughout the Pacific Northwest – possibly the worst fire season in history. I’d thought about the smoke the day before, knowing Arthur, Brian, and Don were heading up the mountain and hoped it wasn’t making life miserable for them.


A great morning for an airlift – smoky sunrise over Pilchuck

I was a little bit jealous of the others getting to go up and play while I stayed down low, but Arthur had asked me to facilitate the lift from Verlot and I knew I would be more valuable to him there – so I took one for the team. Besides, I was excited to be at the helipad when the helicopter took off with our precious cargo, and I knew my time on the mountain would come.

The airlift was the absolute crux of the project, replacing hundreds of hours of high-impact manpower that would have been required to haul the tools and materials to the lookout on foot. Without it, an estimated 100-person trips would have had to have been made – 100 pair of boots traveling a heavily eroded trail, 100 nights spent camping in an environmentally fragile area, 100 trips up a steep, icy snowfield and through a class 3 rock scramble, 100 ascents of the three precariously placed ladders followed by the tilted rock slab that leads to the front porch of the lookout, 100 opportunities for something to go wrong that could cause damage to property or, worse, injury to a volunteer. Instead, the lift went off without a hitch and the load was neatly delivered to the preferred location on the back porch. With this first task easily accomplished, the crew was able to set about other routine maintenance tasks – replacing broken window panes and failing hardware, painting and, as always, cleaning up other people’s trash.

Now it was time to play the waiting game – we needed a favorable weather window. As previously mentioned, weather in the Boulder River Wilderness can be fickle – add in some elevation and rain turns to snow. Snow does not facilitate safety when it comes to the replacement of a roof. And even if rain doesn’t turn to snow, rain makes those rock slabs slick as… well, you know the adage. Lucky for us, it looked like we were going to get that window without having to wait yet giving us just enough time to put a crew together. Eight days out, Arthur put out a call for hands and I started thumbing through my contacts to see if I could find anyone to flesh out the team.

I should note that the project began over a year prior as Project Manager Arthur Wright began coordinating the details for the roof replacement with all the various and sundry people and agencies that would be required to be involved. Documents had to be written, environmental reviews had to take place*, committee approvals had to be obtained, materials and tools had to be purchased and assistance in transporting them had to be requested and directed, and in the middle of all that, somebody had to actually figure out what was needed to get the job done – right down to the proper number of nails! All of those logistics and minutiae were facilitated by Arthur Wright; without his expertise and dedication, immense patience and tremendous sense of humor, this project would not have been completed.

*These USFS documents can be viewed online.

Unlike the morning of August 24, the morning of September 6 didn’t dawn with fair skies. Instead, terse downpours came and went, leaving us with a modest feeling of dread. Yet we knew the forecast said it was supposed to clear (sometime in the not-too-distant future), so we held on to that piece of fortune telling and tried to maintain our enthusiasm. When I asked Arthur if there was anything else I could do for him before we headed out to meet the others, he merely replied “Make the rain go away.” Well, by the time we made it to the road closure, it mostly had, thus lifting everyone’s spirits. Plus, despite the weather, we were about to undertake a really cool, once-in-a-lifetime project. How often do you get to replace the roof on top of the world? And so on a Sunday morning, our merry band of four – Matt, Skylar, Arthur and myself – began the arduous trek to the remote yet renovated summit of Three Fingers in order to begin prep work for the installation of a new roof.


Saddled up on mechanical steeds

The trip to Three Fingers begins with nearly nine miles of road that is closed to motorized vehicles – because the bridge will no longer safely support vehicular loads – which leaves the traveler with two options: walk/run the road (who runs with a 50# pack?) or bicycle the road. We chose the latter, but what that really means is mostly pushing said bicycle up 8.6 miles and 1,400′ (still with a 50# pack). It seems a bit counter-intuitive to make the road portion more difficult, but the payoff is on the trip out when you can coast down that road on your bicycle and be back at your car in a little over an hour. On the way up? I think it took us about 3 hours to reach the trailhead at Tupso Pass.

With bikes stashed, we once again saddled up with our heavy loads and began hiking the two-and-a-half miles from Tupso Pass to Saddle Lake along the rockiest, rootiest, wettest, there-is-no-more-tread-it’s-just-a-creek-bed-of-a-trail. Like many other trails off the Mountain Loop Hwy, this trail sees little, if any, maintenance. (Please write to your Congressperson and tell them to fund the Forest Service properly, including funds for recreation.) Several blowdowns – including a new one that came down within the past two weeks – added to the adventure. Finally, some 2+ tedious hours later, we reached Saddle Lake; then, after a short stop for food and water, we were on our way again, now heading for Goat Flats.

The two miles to Goat Flats went by with relative ease as this section of trail was in much better condition. Even so, upon arrival, we were all quite happy to call it quits and make camp for the night; our bodies had thoroughly tired of carrying their heavy loads. After settling on some pretty traditional camp spots, it wasn’t long before all four of us were snuggled inside our portable homes and well on our way to sleep. It had been a long day.

Morning came and skies were clearing but we were waiting for the sun to warm the earth and dry our tents – our packs were already heavy enough without carrying wet gear. We slept until 7, had a leisurely morning, and didn’t hit the trail until nearly 10.

The mile-and-a-half to Tin Can Gap sped by as did the rest of the journey and, by early afternoon, we were ascending the icy snowfield that led to the rock scramble and the notorious ladders which would place us on the summit. Upon arrival, we quickly settled ourselves in to what would be home for the next few nights then got to the business of why we had come.

No project trip to Three Fingers is ever solely for the purpose of said project; there’s always a plethora of maintenance tasks to be done – hardware repairs, painting, cleaning, and this time, leveling the cabin – Three Fingers was sagging a bit in her midsection and needed a little propping up. Matt took on the potentially claustrophobic task of harnessing up and climbing under the cabin. From there, he could set the jack under the support beam, crank it up, and build a few new stone monuments (from rocks that Skylar and I collected) for the beam to rest on. Serious business aside, we thought he looked a bit like the Wicked Witch of the East with nothing but his legs hanging out from under the cabin. Once the building was propped back up, we spent the days plugging away on little tasks while enjoying our surroundings, the view, each others’ company, and the sunsets – there simply is no better place to watch the day come to an end.

Every evening after dinner, Arthur would place a radio call to his wife Ann, our communication liaison with the outside world. When Arthur checked in on Tuesday night, there was unfortunate news… Our lead roofer, wasn’t coming – he’d been struck by the flu. But Ann noted that additions to the ground support team and our secondary roofer would be on their way in the morning. I could tell that news put Arthur’s mind into overdrive as he thought through all the potential ramifications and worked to find solutions; we had come a long way and so much work had already been done – long before we even set foot on the trail – for this to be just another “maintenance” trip. I felt my own heart sink in empathy for what Arthur must have been feeling at that moment. But, Arthur being Arthur, nothing changed. We still had a roofer coming and if he was willing to take on the challenge, then Arthur was willing to oversee and support the project in any and every way possible – the job just might take a little longer.


Come Wednesday morning, it was time for a crew change; Arthur and I would be staying, but Matt and Skylar had to leave. In their stead, we would be gaining Dustin, Don, and Lois. While waiting for reinforcements to arrive, Arthur and I spent the day setting a safety line and then installing the roof anchors that he and Dustin would tie into while doing their work.

While we had hoped the others would arrive Wednesday afternoon, Arthur and I remained the sole occupants of the lookout. The day’s routine call to Ann told us that while the ground support team had started their journey fairly early in the morning, our roofer wasn’t on his way until mid-afternoon. We also learned that Don and Lois would spend the night at Goat Flats; we assumed that Dustin would as well. Yet just as Arthur and I were finishing up dinner and settling in for the evening, we saw a headlamp approaching up the slab. It caught us quite by surprise. Here came Dustin, arriving as a boundless bundle of energy having traveled from car to lookout in five-and-a-half hours. FIVE-AND-A-HALF HOURS! I was in awe – I think Arthur was too – and now that we had a roofer, Arthur felt reassured. Dustin just felt hungry – tremendously hungry; I don’t think he’d stopped to eat more than a bar or two during the whole trip up. We watched him scarf down cheese and salami followed by more cheese and more salami then, since morning would come early and there was an exceptional amount of work to be done, we turned in for the night.

Thursday’s project was removal and containment of the existing roof, normally not a hugely time consuming process, but nothing on Three Fingers is normal. Unlike the process of re-roofing your own home where the old shingles can simply be tossed off the roof into a waiting refuse bin, here they had to be loaded into burlap bags so a full bag could be carefully tossed onto the back porch and emptied. From there, the shingles were cleared of nails, sorted, and packaged into bundles that could be hauled out. I considered it my opportunity to play Tetris with old, broken shingles.

While Dustin began the demo of the old roof, I began with one of the critical tasks of the day, any day, and made a water run. Another not-normally-time-consuming process, a water run meant descending to the base of the snowfield approximately 400’ below the lookout. Here’s what that looked like… Collect all available water bottles and load into backpack. Attach ice axe and crampons to pack as well. Descend the three ladders. Navigate the rock scramble to the top of the snowfield. Remove crampons from pack and strap onto boots. Descend snowfield with crampons on feet and ice axe in hand. Navigate to edge of snowfield, remove crampons, then travel to free-flowing stream. Collect and sterilize water (approximately 3-4 litres per person per day). Pack now-full water bottles back into backpack. Hoist now-heavy pack onto back (water weighs 2.2 lbs. per liter). Travel back to snowfield, re-attach crampons, re-climb the snowfield, remove crampons, navigate the rock scramble, climb the ladders, scamper to front door of lookout. Needless to say, this and other ground support tasks were vital to efficiency of the roofing team. Every little thing that Dustin didn’t have to do kept him on the roof while Arthur continued to supervise. I was happy for the exercise.

Upon my return, I found a growing pile of debris waiting for me and began my job of creating order out of chaos. By early afternoon, Don and Lois had arrived and were tasked with helping to bundle the old roof. Before long, we’d made substantial progress, enough for Arthur to make arrangements to get the materials transported off the mountain.

Thursday flew by with everyone thoroughly focused on their individual tasks and suddenly (it seemed), Friday arrived – too soon for me. It was my departure day and I had hoped to see the project through but the roof work had barely begun. Alas, I was going to have to leave the cabin without seeing the finished roof, but at least I was granted with beautiful weather for the hike out. Unable to stay for the weekend, Lois hiked out with me. As I left this special place – feeling even more connected to it than I had before – Dustin had just begun the long process of nailing new shingles to the sub-roof, and I felt confident that Arthur, Dustin, and Don would get the job done.

The hike out goes much faster than the hike in (funny how that happens), at least until you get below Saddle Lake. While we admired the colors of autumn, marveled at the long-stretching views, and were treated to a billy goat sighting below Goat Flats, the journey down remained uneventful. I kept our team moving to be sure we were back to our cars before dark – I was not about to ride that road at night, even with a headlamp. After being out for 6 days, I was anxious to get home while Lois was wanting to rest for a spell, so we parted ways at the trailhead and I coasted nearly all of the 8.6 miles back to my car.

In the end, the project ran three days longer than initially intended – removal of the old roof couldn’t begin until we were sure we’d have a roofer to install a new one, the process of demolishing the old roof was slower than initially anticipated, and it was expected that we would have two roofers instead of one. Because of work commitments, Don also had to leave before the project was completed; he hiked out on Sunday which was just as well – they’d all but run out of food. Arthur and Dustin exited on Monday – tired, hungry, smelly, and feeling the satisfaction of a job well done.

roof 10

Finishing the ridge cap

It took over 400 hours of volunteer-only labor to re-roof the Three Fingers Lookout. Whenever you are lucky enough to encounter an old fire lookout, please remember what it takes to look after these special places. Sign only the logbook, clean up after yourself, pack out your trash, and leave nothing behind – in the end, it’s just more trash that someone else has to carry out. Oh, and volunteer whenever and wherever you can. To be put on the Three Fingers mailing list, email


Materials Transport
Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office-Air Support Unit:
Bill Quistorf, Steve Klett, Randy Fay, Travis Hots, Beau Beckner
Arthur Wright
Don Sanderson
Brian Berggren
Gwen Tollefson
Edwin Prada

Pre-roofing preparation
Arthur Wright
Matt Burton
Skylar Esparza
Gwen Tollefson

Dustin Wittmier
Arthur Wright

Ground Support
Don Sanderson
Gwen Tollefson
Lois Peterson

Communications and Logistics Support
Ann Wright

Financial and Organizational Support
Everett Mountaineers, Lookout and Trail Maintenance Committee
Darrington Ranger District, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

roof 11

Three Fingers Lookout has a new roof!

All photographs © Gwen Tollefson
except those embedded or captioned © Arthur Wright
or captioned © Norm Buckley.


September 20-22, 2014


Arriving (photo © Norm Buckley)

Mortar, waiting for the trip to the lookout.

Mortar, waiting for the trip to the lookout.

This trip came about as part of a grander scheme of getting 180 lbs. of mortar to a lookout 6,850′ above sea level. MANY persons were recruited for the task (though some refused to participate) which meant I was lucky to mostly travel mortar-free, but I did have my batch of painting supplies and I did paint until sundown. Many thanks to all of those who participated in this caper. Because of you all, I made it up there! And if you, dear reader, ever want to feel particularly proud of yourself and especially connected to a place, volunteer. On with the story…

Did you say you wanted a challenge? Well you came to the right place! Let me tell you how to do it…

Start by biking a washed out Forest Service road for 8.8 miles and gaining the first 1,000′, all with a 35# pack on your back. Next, hike a typical (or worse) Mountain Loop trail (rocky, rooty, muddy, and just generally crappy) 4.5 miles to Goat Flats where, along the way, you will gain the next 1,800′. If you are smart, make a group decision here to call it good for the day. This will be okay by you because you will be exhausted. Set up camp, have a sponge bath at a tarn, take some pics in the fading light, eat dinner, and head to bed. If it is a windy night, there will not be a lot of sleep.


Goat Flats sunset


The infamous Three Fingers ladders.

Morning will come too soon and so will the wake up call. Eat breakfast, break camp, hang your tent in a bear bag (you won’t be needing it at the lookout), and keep heading up, first 1.5 miles and 1,000′ to Tin Can Gap on good trail, then the final 1.5 miles and 1,070′ on snowfields, glaciers, rock, trail, and precariously placed ladders. Keep in mind, if you did not bring your ice axe (with the knowledge of how to use it) and crampons (especially if the snow is icy), you will travel no further than Tin Can Gap unless you are looking forward to becoming a Search & Recovery (note that I said Search & Recovery, not Search & Rescue – there is no rescue for that which is just a body). Now, having actually attained the lookout, you will think it’s time for a little summit siesta, but wait -there’s no rest for the weary because there’s work to be done!


Stirring paint

Paint the outside of the lookout while your Crew Leader fixes window glazing and performs other maintenance tasks. Be extremely careful to look at the ground with each and every step you take lest the next one be your last one. The day (what is left of it by the time you have hauled your fat bottom up here) will slip by and soon you will take note of the setting sun. Work will continue right up to (and a bit through) sunset, then it will be dinner time followed by bed time. You think you might like a look at the stars but you are reminded that tomorrow you will be heading out – ALL the way out, so you will simply focus on getting some rest. Note I say rest, because another windy night, even though not as loud in the lookout as you thought it would be, plus roommates will = more not-a-lot-of-sleep. The price we pay…

Again, morning will come too soon and so will the weather. Your anticipated third day of no rain will not materialize so just wait for the showers to blow through and the rocks to dry. Why not make yourself useful and clean up the inside of the lookout? There’s a broom over there in the corner. Your Assistant Crew Leader will go through and inventory supplies while you set about cleaning – put the log books away, consolidate the trash so it can be hauled out, and give the joint a good sweeping since clearly it’s been awhile. At 11:00 a.m., after the showers have passed, it will be time. Head down – ALL the way down, including the bike ride back down the road. Lookout to TH time will be 8:20 and it will come none too soon because you will have Absolutely. Nothing. Left. To. Give.


Heading out

My thanks to Brian for starting the job, to Jeff & Co. for hauling mortar and tackling the masonry job, and all the others we enlisted along the way to pitch in and carry materials up (so that I didn’t have to), but most of all, my extreme thanks to Arthur and Norm for having unending amounts of patience with my slow self and getting me up there. What a fabulous place.


Queest-alb Glacier

A final note to any of you who visit this or other lookouts. Please remember that many of these special places are cared for solely by volunteers. Many are located within Wilderness boundaries and so all tools and supplies must be packed in and all trash must be packed out. With that in mind, please respect these special places, clean up after yourselves and haul out your own trash. People like Arthur, Norm, David, and all the other CLs (of The Everett Mountaineers, The Mount Baker Club, and other organizations), along with those they enlist the assistance of, are there to maintain the place, not to be your personal housekeeper. Practice LNT even here.

3fingers-9543 9547 9549 9553

Lookout maintenance masters Norm and Arthur

For information on assisting with further maintenance of the Three Fingers Lookout, email

View the full set of photos on Flickr. View Norm’s photos on Flickr as well.

For a fabulous account of a recent trip to the Lookout, read 2 days. 36 miles. One epic adventure in the wilderness of Washington. (It’s Siddharth’s story that inspired me to start blogging again.)


August 19-25, 2012

gpw trip 406

Lyman Lakes viewed from the ridge south of Cloudy Pass

It was long about June that my friend the Crazy Canadian sent me a note with his “dream trip” – 7 days in the Glacier Peak Wilderness traveling to Image Lake all for the purpose of walking the crest of Miner’s Ridge. The secondary agenda was to scramble Cloudy Peak, which had eluded him thus far (for various and sundry reasons). Would I like to go? Um… Does a bear poop in the woods?

Me? I haven’t taken a vacation in over 8 years. Oh, there have been various days here and there added to my weekends to make 4 or 5 day trips, but there has not been one single week during which I have not set foot in the restaurant for the purpose of working since late January/early February of 2004. I’ve been threatening to take a vacation every year; B’s offer gave me just the impetus I needed.

A side note… I’d never been out for 8 days. I’ve never been out for more than 4, and that was in, a couple of day hikes, and out, not moving most every day. I am told it is a fairly monumental thing to which I am about to subject myself. I blame my naivety for not feeling overwhelmed by the plan.

We agreed on the itinerary (though I talked him into 3 days out instead of 2 – I just didn’t think I could make it out from Cloudy Pass via Spider Gap in 1 day) and found a week between our two schedules that would work. To make things easier, he’d come down from Vancouver on Saturday afternoon and we’d head out to camp near the TH for an early morning start on Sunday. This was the final plan…

Day 1 – Phelps Creek TH to Larch Knob (7.4 miles, 2,700′)
Day 2 – Larch Knob to Cloudy Meadows using the ridge to ascend the Gap (5.8 miles, 1,625′)
Day 3 – Scramble Cloudy Peak
Day 4 – Cloudy Meadows to Image Lake (7.6 miles, 1,383′)
Day 5 – Scramble Miner’s Ridge
Day 6 – back to Cloudy Meadows (7.6, 1,683)
Day 7 – back to Larch Knob (coming down the snowfield this time) (5.8, 1,525′)
Day 8 – Out

food 002b

Food for 8 days

I spent the next 2 months arranging menus and preparing food for the trip. None of the freeze-dried, sodium-laden, pre-packaged garb for me; I was going to eat well. And I did.  I used Sarbar’s as inspiration, making gentle modifications to her recipes to suit my tastes and create a little variety. The menu included Raspberry/Strawberry Protein Smoothies and Oatmeal with Walnuts, Cherries, and Candied Ginger for breakfast and a no-repeat dinner selection – Fettuccine Carbonara, Lemon Tuna Spaghetti, Pesto Salmon Quinoa, Chicken Tortilla Noodle Soup, Chicken Phad Thai, Beef Stroganoff, Cherry Chicken Quinoa, and Smoked Salmon Pasta. I was stumped for lunches and decided about 2 days before the trip that it would be bars and pb&j on bagels. In the end, I had to leave the fruit crisps behind, not because of weight, but because of bulk. Left some of the bars behind as well.

I started packing Saturday morning and the first round yielded a 50# pack weight. Um… No. No, I’m not carrying a 50# pack. Time to revise and downsize. I trimmed here and there, take half the washing soap, leave the balm behind, half the bandages etc. in the first aid kit, opt for a protein smoothie on only 4 days, same for the dessert option (which was either Chai Ginger or Coconut Cardamom Pudding), etc. etc. I managed to get it down by 5#. So now I’m carrying a 45# pack with 15# of it being food (less than 2# per day) and it’s only gonna get lighter. I’m not thrilled with it, but it is what it is. It will only get lighter. (That’s my mantra and I’m sticking with it.)

gpw trip 026

Paintbrush and Mountain aster in Spider Meadows

DAY 1 – We spent the night at the Phelps Creek Campground in order to get an early start on the trail. Up at 6:00 and boots on the trail by 8:00. Traveled the 5.5 miles on good and wide tread (with a very gentle grade) to Spider Meadows quickly. The next 1.2 miles went a bit more slowly, but only because of the gawk factor. Made it to the junction in good time, stopped for lunch and a little creekside siesta, then headed up the headwall, climbing 900′ in 0.7 mile in the hot afternoon sun. It took me 1.5 hours (slowest 0.7 mile I’ve ever hiked) but I was praised for my effort, being told I’m “one tough lady.” I don’t know about the lady part, but I appreciated the sentiment nonetheless. Made it to Larch Knob between 3:00 and 4:00 and had our pick of campsites. Looked like there were some lovely sites above the knob, but I was DONE (stick a fork in me) with climbing for the day, so we opted for the grassy (and therefore less dusty) site right by the trail. A few camp chores, dinner on a fabulous lunch rock (yes, you can have dinner on a lunch rock), and I was ready for bed. B stayed up to watch the stars and play with night photography. A shot of Jack in my cocoa, a muscles relaxer, and a couple of Aleve and I slept fairly well on my new (this year) Exped mattress.

gpw trip060 065 069 copy

Paintbrush above Phelps Creek Basin – The view of the loo above Larch Knob – Larch Knob campsite

DAY 2 – Monday morning, so good to me… Or maybe it should be “Morning has broken and so will something else.” But that would be giving it away.

So it’s a bit nippy in the morning when you wake up before the sun rises above the peaks and you’re near a ginormous snowfield. What to do? Get some coffee going, of course! But B isn’t happy with the minute amount of water left in the pot; says it’s got floaties in it. So he grasps the pot of the MSR Reactor by the handle and, in an attempt to broadcast the water out of the pot, instead flings the entire pot (sans handle, because it broke off) into the melt stream from the Spider Glacier/snowfield (which is it, a snowfield or a glacier?). What ensues is (in retrospect) a rather comical moment. Everything becomes slo-mo. In my mind, B is uttering a long and drawn out “NOoooooooo…..” as he leaps and bounds down the hill after the pot. This is followed by his body being flung, face down, onto the ground in a fit of emotional turmoil the likes of which I’ve never seen. He lays there, prostrate, still as a stone. I dare not approach to ridicule nor console. Meanwhile, as I watch the scene unfold before my eyes, my own brain has it’s own soundtrack. “Phuk! … Crap. … Well, that sux. The stove doesn’t work without that pot. Shite. … Okay. But we have another pot (brought along for washing), and we have a backup stove (a pocket rocket, which uses the same fuel canisters, though not nearly as efficiently). Okay, well, I guess I’ll get busy with plan B.” And so I get out the other pot and the other stove and start to hook it all up because now I REALLY want my coffee. Meanwhile, 15 feet down the hill from me where B has remained prostrate, I see movement. He lifts his body from the ground and wanders over to the creek, looking. He goes to the edge, where the creek becomes a waterfall, and spies something caught in the rocks. Working his way to the other side, he comes up not empty-handed but firmly grasping a now-somewhat-beaten MSR Reactor pot. Yay! The trip is saved! He says, “I had to try.  I couldn’t not try.” So we have a little talk about how the handle of the pot is not entirely secure by design (a bit of a flaw in the design, if you ask me) and agree that all is well and move on to begin out day. First order of business? COFFEE!!!

Now, where was I? Coffee, check. Breakfast, check. Packed, check. Campsite clean, check. Off we go.

gpw trip 173

Looking down on Lyman Lakes from Spider Gap

Took the ridge route up to the gap, getting views you wouldn’t otherwise see. Awesome rock patterns and the oldest larch tree I’ve ever seen – hundreds upon hundreds (maybe thousands?) of years old. Too old to fully comprehend. The route is sometimes steep, sometimes not, but somehow I managed to hoist myself up it. Reached the gap in relative short order (or so it seemed – I wasn’t looking at my watch AT ALL). The view from Spider Gap down into the Lyman Lakes Basin? Wow. Wow! WOW! … wow. The fact that I was standing there? Yeah, that was a bit of a wow moment too.

Lots of gawking at the gap, then the quick descent down the snowfield (and an unplanned seated glissade followed by a planned seated glissade since my butt was already frozen), some difficulty find the route once off the snowfield, finally figured it out, had lunch, and continued on our way. Stopped at the campsite at Upper Lyman for a snack and to get water and, boy howdy, was it ever buggy! First time the little buggers had been anything more than an minor annoyance. B says “They’re biting!” and hauls out his rain gear as extra added protection. Me, I slather on the bug juice.

From here, the journey to Cloudy Meadows was fairly non-eventful. Meant a nice guy at the outlet for Lower Lyman (into RR Creek) who was out fishing. The fishing at Lower Lyman was apparently not that good; it was better at Hart Lake, he said. But, fishing isn’t always about catching, so he was having a damn fine time. up.gif Climbed, slowly, up from Lower Lyman to Cloudy Meadows, thoroughly enjoying all the creekside gardens of lupine, aster, arnica, valerian, etc. etc. Then came the meadows. OMG! The smells were out of this world! Fragrant yet subtle, never over-powering, but please, can I just lay down here in this meadow and smell this for the rest of eternity? And I’ve never seen so much lupine in my life!

We picked the “upper” campsite at Cloudy Meadows (I think it once might have been a horse camp) because the view is most spectacular and there’s a small creeklet running by the “front door.” (The downside being that the potty is about 1/4 mile away so plan ahead). No much in the way for good trees for caching, so we buried it in snow for the second time. Set up camp, had dinner, enjoyed the sunset, and climbed into bed a happy camper. Sleep, once again, courtesy of Mr. Jack, Ms. Rx, and their cousin Aleve.

cmc sunset pano2

Sunset color from Cloudy Meadows

gpw trip 392

Pasqueflower on Cloudy Ridge

DAY 3 – Not having to pack it up and go, morning came a little bit later. The clouds, however, did not. In fact, we were pretty socked in in the a. of m. Over breakfast (did I ever mention that my homemade oatmeal packs had walnuts, dried cherries, and candied ginger in them?), the Crazy Canadian makes a confession; seems his knees are a bit too out of whack for a scrambling of Cloudy Peak et al.  Well luckily, thanks to an unnamed source, I had a backup plan. I was told the ridge walk south of Cloudy Pass was well worth one’s time, so we decided that we would follow Plan B, after chores, of course, like a sponge bath, and laundry, and digging a deeper hole in the snow for the food cache, lest the current burial melt away. It was probably around 11:00 or so by the time we finally headed out, but it felt good to be clean and have stuff done.

The ridge walk was PHENOMENAL!!! Really, this is a MUST DO! Forget scrambling Cloudy and North Star; that’s the obvious thing to do. Man almighty, the views from the ridge are spectacular! We’re talking Fortress IN YOUR FACE!!! Okay, okay… You get the idea. We had a great, gentle afternoon and it felt really good to hike without an ungodly heavy pack on my back. Oh, yes, and the weather cleared quite a bit. It never did rain.

After dinner, the clouds started to roll about in earnest. We wondered what kind of a night we were in for, but it still didn’t rain. Really interesting to watch the clouds move about. Up here, in the middle of the cloud layer, you begin to understand the complexity of all the layers. Quite beautiful, really. If clouds could look like this through the winter in Seattle, maybe I wouldn’t be so unhappy about the gray.

gpw trip388 424 426

Walking the ridge south of Cloudy Pass – Bird’s-beak lousewort – Cloudy Meadows and Chiwawa

DAY 4 – Another early morning to hit the trail at a decent hour. Seems to be taking us about 2 hours to break camp, have breakfast, and be on our way. This morning was no different. Despite the heavy clouds that rolled in over night, there had been no rain. In the morning, the clouds remained which wasn’t bad since it kept the bugs at bay and kept things cool for the hike over to Image Lake.

The trek to Image was pretty straight forward. Head over Cloudy Pass, down to the jct. with the high route to Suiattle Pass, pick up the PCT heading south for about 2.3 seconds then take a right onto the Miner’s Ridge trail. The boulder field on the high route was interesting, but other than that, not much for eye candy until…

gpw trip 494

Glacier Peak and the Miners Ridge flower show

Miner’s Ridge, what can I say. SPECTACULAR! And one of the most amazing flower shows I’ve ever seen (though rival by the flanks of Liberty Cap over by Buck Creek Pass). I’m actually quite sorry that we moved through this area as quickly as we did. I suppose that would be my only regret. But Image Lake was calling and I was keen to see what I’d come for, so we pushed on.

We headed down to the lake basin and dropped our packs at the jct. with the trail to the campsites then continued around the lake, soaking in the views. It was a bit breezy, so no glassy surface, but by now the sun was shining and most of the clouds had cleared, so I at least got an inkling of what that reflection must be like. Not getting the full meal deal only gives me reason to go back. (Yeah, like I need a reason!) A late lunch by the lakeside and we headed back to grab our packs and head down to camp.

One of the upper sites was taken and the other, though it had a fabulous view, was d-u-s-t-y, so after much investigation and discussion, we opted for the room without a view down by the group site. It put us in the trees but there was far less wind and virtually none of the dust we encountered above, plus there were good places to cache the food and the potty was a short walk away. (I love backcountry camping, but YAY! for backcountry potties. Just sayin’.)

While we were setting up camp, Fred the Ranger stopped by. We had a lovely chat and he gave us the weather forecast for the next day. While not expected to be completely crummy, it was supposed to be cloudy. The high route along Miner’s Ridge simply would not be favorable on a cloudy day, so we decided to take our tired bodies up the ridge for dinner and we were both so glad we did. Beautiful views from the ridge crest and I always enjoy our sunset cruises – a photographer’s delight! So, dinner on the ridge, back on true trail before dark, then down to Image Lake to try and catch the reflection of the moon. Then, it was past time for bed, and I mean p-a-s-t. Another stick-a-fork-in-me-I’m-done day. Trekked back to camp by headlight and crawled in for the night (and just a little, okay lot, bit more).

gpw trip539 561 569

Pasqueflower seedheads and Glacier Peak – Plummer – Glacier Peak and Image Lake

gpw trip 685

Miners Ridge Lookout

DAY 5 – The weather had finally headed a bit south. Nothing terrible, mind you, but we did indeed have the heavy cloud cover that Fred said the weather service had predicted. Not much in the way of stellar views. I couldn’t tell you what time B got up, but I SLEPT IN, ’til about 9 or so. When I got up, I wasn’t feeling terribly well so I was quite glad we were to have a low-key kinda day. No point in heading back up the ridge with the cloud cover, so we took the morning slow. I had breakfast then treated myself to a warm sponge bath. It always feels so good to get at least partially clean. After a leisurely morning, and still feeling pretty crappy, we decided to wander over to the lookout and see if Fred was about, but he wasn’t. We hung out for a little bit, wondering at what it must be like to live in a lookout (my friend Jenny did it one summer with her hubby, though they are both still young, not that that has anything to do with the price of tea in China), but it was breezy and the wind was quite chilly and I still wan’t feeling great, so we wandered back toward Image Lake. We were going to have lunch by the lake but there was no spot that was protected from the wind, so back to camp we went. After lunch, I crawled back in my tent to take a nap, waking only long enough to eat dinner and go back to bed. I think all the miles and the altitude had just finally caught up with me and it felt good to just sleep and sleep and sleep (as best I can, anyway, when sleeping in a tent).

DAY 6 – My wake-up call comes a few minutes early.

B: It’s 5 to 6 and it’s starting to rain.
Me: (groan, then silence)
B: What do you want to do?
Me: (internal) Why do I have to make these decisions?!
Me: (external) Pack up before everything gets wet!

And thus the day begins, feverishly shoving things in sacks all in an effort to get the tents packed up before they get wet. On the plus side, we were fully packed in about 45 minutes. On the other plus side, the rain never materialized. We had a quick breakfast and hit the trail, saying goodbye to Image Lake.

gpw trip 708

Miners Ridge flowers show off even in fog

The cloud cover this morning was extremely heavy and lingered along the sides of the ridges, making for a cool and really quite beautiful exit from Miners Ridge. We lollygagged through the flower section and picked things up once we started to descend. A conversation the day before had B and I in agreement; we were having a good time, we were glad we came, but after 5 days out, we were kind of done. I kept tossing this around in my brain and made a deal with B; if we moved camp from Cloudy Meadows to at least Lower Lyman, I’d try my best to make it out from there in one day. He was game.  So, I hiked my butt off coming off Miner’s Ridge, climbing up Suiattle Pass, crossing over the high route and pushing up Cloudy Pass, where we left the clouds behind. Made it to our old friend just about lunchtime, dropping down into the meadows for lunch then pressing on for Lyman Lakes. Next discussion was moving camp to Upper Lyman. Yes, yes, I know it had the potential to be buggy (sure was when we came in!), but I was willing to risk it. That way, we would be hitting the Gap first thing in the morning and everything after that would be downhill… all the way. B was game and so on we pushed.

gpw trip 825

Afternoon reflection in the Lyman Lakes basin

Made it to camp @ Upper Lyman about 3:00 and got ourselves the prime spot. Best bonus of all? No bugs!  Okay, maybe one or two pesky ones, but nothing even remotely intolerable. We quickly set up camp so that we could have time to wander about this most fabulous place. I’m guessing that we both took way more pictures here than anywhere else (and now I’m paying by having to sort through them all). We were visited in camp by a young doe and a yearling buck (handsome fella). Later at night, while B photographed the night shies and I lingered in my tent, a larger buck wandered by. All of the deer seemed not the least bit concerned with our presence and we felt it a real special treat (especially since we hadn’t seen much wildlife, except, of course, for the ginormous marmots at Image Lake).

We had an early-ish dinner so we could get set to photograph sunset through the area. Everything was so peaceful and still. But when the sun goes down, it gets c-o-l-d, so off to bed I went.

I woke around 4-ish ion the morning… Gotta-go-pee!  Pulled my head out of my sleeping bag and quickly retreated. It was C-O-L-D out there. This pee break would have required more than tossing on a fleece, so the hell with it, I’m staying warm, and back to sleep I went (sort of).

gpw trip 766 777 805

Bonanza – Mountain Aster – Outflow

DAY 7 – Morning dawned c-c-cold. I suppose that’s to be expected when you are camped near a glacier. But…  I could put off the pee no more! (Yes, yes.  I know.  TMI.)

gpw trip 909

Morning reflection in the Lyman Lakes basin

B and I spent quite a bit of time photographing in the early morning light, putting off breakfast until the job was done, then the rest of the morning was as all the others had been – eat, pack, go. Just as we were loading our packs onto our backs, a solo traveler headed down the path to our camp. Rick Fordyce was his name, he’d been out for several days but only now had he found what he’d been looking for. We told him we were leaving and he was welcome to the site. A chit here and a chat there tells his story of being from the Pacific Northwest but now living on the East coast, Cape Cod, perhaps (can’t quite remember). Seems he’s written a book and it’s being carried by Elliott Bay Book Co. and Third Place Books. Goes by the title of “I Climbed Mount Rainier with Jimi Hendrix’s High School Counselor.” (Sorry Rick, but that is the most cumbersome title I have ever had to wrap my tongue around.) Says I should buy the book. I says I’ll buy the book if he’ll contribute to my Hike-a-Thon campaign and I hand him my card. Thanks yous and more pleasantries were exchanged and we were on our way.

Followed the trail past the Upper Lymans, then the cairns as we started heading up, up, up to the gap. Hit the snow and kept climbing. Then climbed some more. About 2/3 of the way up, there’s the rumble of a rock slide. B is well ahead of me but I can see that he has stopped as well to pinpoint the fall.  We’re all safe and sound, but I gotta say, it wasn’t too far from my location, maybe 100′ or so, and from B’s perspective above me, he thought it might hit me. I think, perhaps, next time I’ll bring the climbing helmet to be on the safe side. It was awesome to see, but a bit too close for comfort. Distraction abated and climbing resumed. At some point, I switched from the snow to the rock, growing exceeding weary of snow travel, especially as the pitch steepened. Gotta say though, the rocks weren’t exactly easy going. Not sure I’d make the same decision next time.

gpw trip 944

Ascending from Lyman Lakes to Spider Gap

Eventually, the gap was attained and a seated glissade was enjoyed heading down the other side. (I gotta work on my steering technique.) We stopped for lunch at our rock on Larch Knob, chatted with new sets of hikers and backpackers coming in, and had a great chat with a pair of fellow Hike-a-Thoners. I contributed to the delinquency of a ground squirrel by turning my back on my pack for two seconds. That’s all it took for the cretinous creature to nibble his way in to the cream cheese in my side pocket. He was scolded and shooed away and I brought my pack closer to keep a better eye on it. Opportunist, for sure!

After lunch, it was time for the grueling march down, down, down Larch Knob (while others huffed and puffed their way up). It was a busy Saturday on the trail. Not much of major event took place after the down climb – just the lonnnnggggg steady 6.5 miles out. Reached my standard “I’m done” feeling right on track, about 1.5 – 2.0 miles out and was a bit amazed at how far down the road we had parked when I finally reached the TH (another 5 friggin’ minutes of walking!). Stopped near Lake Wenatchee to get quarters for showers at Lake Wenatchee State Park, drove to the park where I was reminded that, for day use, we would need a Discover Pass, bailed on that idea, stopped again at Coles Corner for a milkshake, then headed west, opting for showers at my house then a real meal at Italianissimo in Woodinville. Goodness gracious, a Rusty Nail never tasted so good!

An amazing trip, all in all, but boy was I happy to be home to kitteh love and my own bed.


Young doe – Girl atop the Gap – Young buck

POSTSCRIPT… On Monday, I dutifully wandered over to Third Place Books and bought a copy of “I Climbed Mount Rainier with Jimi Hendrix’s High School Counselor and Other Stories” by Rick Fordyce for $12.00. Two days later, a $12.00 contribution was made to my Hike-a-Thon campaign by one Rick Fordyce. There are still people of honor in this world.