Sourdough Mtn LO (Aug 23, 2014)

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sourdough_mtn_lo_coverConditions: day hike
Gear: nothing special
Map: USGS Diablo Dam
Area: Diablo, North Cascades
Reference: 100 Hikes in Washington's North Cascades National Park Region
Stats: 10.46mi, 5113' gain (round trip)

It's been a goal of mine to get to more lookout sites this year. One of those, Sourdough LO, I got close to in Feb-2006 as part of a snow trip up Sourdough. It was late in the day, our group was tired, and we decided to forego the lookout site for another day. Steve was the only one that day with enough energy to head over that way to tag the summit.

I got an early start leaving the house about 6am and driving north to Hwy 20. This trip would have a lot of elevation gain and I didn't want to deal with it when the day had a chance to warm up. I got to the "trailhead" (884') really a wide spot off a road in the town of Diablo and did a final check of my gear and then headed up the trail (8:30am). Yikes this trail is steep! It gains over 1200' in just the first mile. Ugh...this was not going to be fun coming down. I told friends I should be out by 5pm and I figured that gave me plenty of time and lots of buffer.

The trail is in the trees at first, then in the open...dead snags...didn't look like a burn. Lots of the snags have fallen down over the trail. Some appear to have been there a while. I'd read a trip report earlier in the year that mentioned the downed trees and I hope they'd have been cleared but nope...still a lot down. I didn't count but somewhere around 20 small trees. Most are easy enough to step over or duck under. Only one or two are big enough to crawl under.

The trail zig and zags its way uphill. The grade of the trail only rarely eases up a bit. Count on a consistent 1000' of gain per mile the whole way up to the lookout site. At about 4mi (4950') I reached the point where the trail crosses Sourdough Creek. There was a sign marking Sourdough Camp. Lots of wildflowers blooming in this drainage (lupine, paintbrush, bog orchids, elephant's head, columbine, asters). I crossed the creek (minor crossing) and the trail starts a long rising traverse to the Sourdough Mtn ridgeline. The condition of the trail deteriorated a bit...more overgrown, narrower, out sloping, a couple of mucky sections...but overall...not bad.

At about 4.8mi (5632') the trail does several short and steep switchbacks in open meadows right before gaining the ridge. Steep is being kind...any steeper and it would be a scramble. Nearly the whole trip up to this point was views down to Diablo Lake and up to the Colonial group (Colonial, Pyramid, Pinnacle, etc). One on the ridge (5.11mi, 5854') the views to the north opened up. Wow! Looking east along the ridge the lookout was visible and thankfully not much further away...only about 1/4mi. The trail wound around through trees, over rocks, around snow patches before reaching the lookout site (5.37mi, 5985'). It was about 12:45pm and it had taken me about 4hr 15min to reach the site. Not bad for these bionic knees :) but I knew I'd have to pay the piper on the way down :(

I didn't stay long. I figured about 45 minutes per 1000 of elevation loss. I might be right on target to reach the car about 5pm if I didn't stay at the top too long. I dropped my pack and ate lunch. I snapped a few photos of the lookout which was completely sealed up (seemed awfully early in the season for the lookout to be closed for the season). Then it was time to head down.

The descent seemed to take forever! It was nice at first, nice green forest, a bit of a breeze, the colors of the flowers... Then...the knees and feet started to complain. I just took it slow. The last 1000' of loss was the worst. Mostly because I was just tired and wanted the comfort of A/C and a soft seat. I was just about on time reaching the car about 4:30pm. I packed up and headed down the road sending a message from Newhalem to some friends that I was out.

More information on the lookout: The original (first) lookout at the site was built in 1917 with a cupola cabin. The current structure (L-4) was built in 1933 and is on the National Historic Lookout register. It is apparently staffed every summer.
Sourdough Mtn LO Slideshow


(click on map to view a larger version)

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