Green Mtn LO (Sep 10-11, 2016)

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green_mtn_lo_coverConditions: overnight
Gear: overnight gear
Map:  USGS Huckleberry Mountain
Area: Darrington, WA
Reference: Day Hiking North Cascades
Stats: 8.7mi, 3317' gain (round trip)

Earlier this year I remember seeing a friend post about a notice on WTA talking about how the FS was looking for volunteers to be lookout stewards for a new program at Green Mtn LO. I was intrigued, checked out the WTA site and found the notice, and realized that the very day I noticed it…was the last day to submit an application. Yikes. I was busy. I didn’t have the time to give the application and essay the time it deserves. Oh well…I thought I’d just shoot off an email that basically said “PICK ME…PICK ME…PICK ME…” That’s really all the time I had so off my frantic email went. In the few minutes I had I wanted to convey what I liked about the program, why it was important to me, how I loved historic lookouts and feel that have a place in this world even in designated Wilderness Areas, and how much I really wanted to be part of the pilot program. Well in the quick message I sent off I must have impressed someone because I got picked.

There was a orientation/training program in late Spring up in Everett. It was the basics. How to work the FS radio, the need to be current with First Aid, etc. I signed up for a NOLS FA class since my card was woefully expired, and then it was time to sign up for dates. They wanted volunteers to pair up so I volunteered with an old friend. We’d worked countless days and weekends up along the Suiattle long before the road washed out in 2003 and again in 2006. We’d both attended meetings and wrote letters in support of saving Green Mtn LO from removal and reopening the Suiatte River Rd all the way to the end. Finally, in late 2014 the road was open, the LO was saved, and now with this LO steward program it was time to give back again.

As the date approached for the volunteer weekend the weather turned unseasonably wet. Yikes. Kim and I were both looking forward to cooler temps for this trip but not drenching rain. Thankfully right before the trip we got a nice break in the weather with only a slight chance of showers with minimal precipitation expected. The trip was slightly complicated when I got called for jury duty the week before the LO weekend but again, thankfully I didn’t get seated for a jury. We were packed and ready to go…  

Saturday morning Kim arrived at my house early…6am. From my house it is a full 3 hour drive to the Green Mtn trailhead. Kim hadn’t hiked to the LO from the TH since before the washouts so she’d forgot how long it takes to get there! We had a side trip before getting to the TH to pick up the FS radio and a key to the LO. Finally, around 9:30am we arrived at the LO…the 2nd car there…and it was cool but dry. Nice.

We had all day to get to the LO but we did want to get there as soon as we could to get the LO open for other hikers. Kim and I stayed together through the forest near the TH and into the lower meadows. The other hikers were arriving though. Kim volunteered to hang back to pick up a gallon of water from the tarn in the basin while I hiked on ahead to the LO. I arrived, pulled out the nondescript key, slid it into the two locks which secured the LO door, and then swung then shutter up and opened the door. Gosh…felt good to finally see the inside of the LO. I found the plank marked “door” so I could keep the door shutter open and then found the volunteer box, put on a FS hat and a FS “volunteer” lanyard, and then let the other hikers who had arrived that they could come in. Several of the hikers I’d spoke to on the trail on the hike up and made sure to tell them not to leave the LO until I got there because I’d be opening it up. All of the hikers (I counted 18) that day were happy, pleasant, and really surprised to find they could go inside. Kim arrived a bit after I did and we then opened up most of the rest of the window shutters. It’s a remarkably simple system of eyebolts and metal poles that keep the shutters propped open. The views on Green Mtn LO are incredible (Snowking, Chaval, Buckindy, Dome, Glacier Peak….)

Most of the hikers were gone by about 2:30pm, a few lingered a bit longer, one nice gal stuck around until after 3pm and she and Kim chatted for quite a while. Then everyone was gone and we had the place to ourselves…sort of… One lone hiker arrived later. She stayed long enough to see the swirling clouds of the evening arrive. Kim and I thought she’s be hiking out a bit by headlamp. We had talked to her before she left and she was experienced, knew what she was doing, and was a fit and fast hiker.  As Kim and I unpacked for the night in the LO I was surprised to see a long backpacker heading up the ridge to the LO. It sure was getting late. I knew he’d have his heart set on camping in the LO. We showed him around and he asked lots of questions. Then the hard news…he’d need to camp down the ridge. There is a lone site back down the ridge. I’d not seen it but there is a boot path heading further down the ridge to it and there were previous reports of people camping there. He was obviously disappointed. He didn’t have water and inquired about the large Nalgene bladder Kim hauled up to the LO. Again…some hard news…we had none to spare. That was our water from two people for the evening and next day.

Clouds swirled around all evening and the LO got completely socked in. The wind picked up to a bit more than a breeze but nothing to cause us to lower the shutters.  

Morning arrived and the swirling clouds remained. Temps dropped considerably overnight and we were treated to a short snow shower in the morning. We packed our things up and dawdled a bit wondering if we’d get some early hikers arriving. Nothing. Just before noon we shouldered our packed, secured and relocked the LO, and then started the hike down. We did then see hikers heading up. We stopped a few times to chat more with hikers…there were even a few people out who just hiked up to the meadows to pick huckleberries…and continued the short hike back down to the car.

We had perfect weather both days. I’ve been to the LO site with spectacularly clear weather, I’ve been there with snow, this was a first with swirling clouds. I think this was by far the best of all the trips…made sweeter because we got to spend the night inside the LO.

Note: Green Mtn LO is an administrative LO which means it is still a functioning LO even though it may not always be staffed. That means that it will remain shuttered and locked unless manned by a FS person. I’m OK with this. It would be nice to see the inside but..I understand the restrictions.

My goal this past weekend was to share my love of this special place. Hopefully people who got to go inside the LO will appreciate the place as much (or more) than Kim and I do. It we could have inspired just a few people to appreciate these special structures enough to want to protect them…then mission accomplished…

These lookouts are placed where they are because they are high up and they have panoramic views which helped out with fire spotting back in the days before airplanes were used. The result is they tend to have spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. Green Mtn, in my opinion, has one of the best views of any lookout. We were in danger of losing this LO (a judge had ordered is removal). Those of us that fought hard for its right to stay (petitions) are tickled pink that we can now visit this special place and know the LO will remain. I felt very fortunate to have been chosen as one of the lookout stewards by the FS. Being able to see this historic structure in this setting is mind boggling. Getting to open it up, show it off to the public (other hikers), and then to be able to overnight it inside the LO just like it was done in the good old days...puts me at a loss for words. It was special. Something I'll always remember.
Green Mtn LO Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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