Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lookout Mountain (Methow Valley)

Twisp River Valley, Gardner Mountain, and the Pasayten peaks from Lookout Mountain Lookout
3 miles round trip, 1100 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Rocky, steep gravel road to trailhead; no pass required

Lookout Mountain is a reminder that generic doesn't mean bad. Peak names don't get much more generic than Lookout Mountain and the view from the summit of Lookout Mountain really is just another generic view of the North Cascades; but what that means practically is that this is a hike with a sweeping view and that the view from atop Lookout Mountain Lookout encompasses some beautiful and rarely seen peaks. This hike is short and the scenery excellent but not exceptional; while it's certainly worth hiking if you happen to be in Methow Valley, it's not worth a dedicated trip if you're traveling from Seattle or farther. It also appears to be a decent bit off the beaten path: I saw only one other group of hikers on a sunny June Saturday when hundreds of hikers were crowding Lake Serene, Mason Lake, and other overloved Seattle area hikes.

I set out for this hike from Seattle in the morning, taking I-5 north to Burlington and then Highway 20 east all the way to Twisp; at Twisp, I turned right (west) onto the Twisp River Road and soon after turned left onto the Lookout Mountain Road. The Lookout Mountain Road was initially paved but soon turned into a good gravel road, which I followed into the boundaries of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The road was in good condition until making a sharp switchback for the final ascent to a saddle just north of the peak. Here, the road became filled with sharp rocks and steep and a bit rutted in a few spots; I took it slow and made it up to the unmarked trailhead parking at the saddle in a Prius. The road continues slightly past the saddle, but you should park at the saddle itself because the road becomes much rougher and there's no parking further up.

The start of the trail follows the old road uphill along the north ridge of Lookout Mountain. The road quickly narrowed into a single track trails, which ascended through a pine forest dotted with blooming paintbrush, lupine, larkspur, and penstemon; the arrowleaf balsamroot was unfortuantely already past prime when I hiked but presumably would have been in bloom earlier in June or May.

Trailside paintbrush
Penstemon and Larkspur
The trail started out following the east side of a wire fence but crossed a cattle guard to the other side of the fence about a third of a mile into the hike. Continuing to ascend along the north ridge, I passed some beautiful trailside meadows with peek-a-boo views of the North Cascades in the distance.

Meadow-lined trail
The trail was generally in great shape, save for five or six instances of blowdown. None of the fallen trees were difficult to navigate around. Parts of the trail were a little rocky, making for unpleasant footing, but nothing about hiking this trail was difficult besides, perhaps, the fairly steep grade.

About three-quarters of a mile in, the trail swung towards the west and began to traverse along the wooded northwest aspect of the mountain towards the west ridge. At points, the trees cleared briefly to open views of the Okanogan Range to the northeast and the peaks of the Pasayten Wilderness to the north.

Trail with a view of the Okanogan Range
At about 1.2 miles into the hike, the trail rounded the west ridge and came to wide open, sweeping views to the south and west. Hoodoo Peak and Oval Peak, both part of the Sawtooth Range in Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness, rose to the south above lower, wooded foothills. The green southern slopes were still dotted with blooming wildflowers, though the balsamroot here, like those lower on the trail, were done for the season.

Hoodoo and Oval Peaks from Lookout Mountain
The last quarter of a mile of trail followed the open terrain along the south side of the west ridge up to the summit, delivering constant views to the south of the Methow Valley and the flat, arid Columbia Plateau in the distance.

View down the Methow Valley towards the Columbia Plateau
An elevated lookout tower stood atop the open summit area. I took the staircase up to the top of the lookout: the cabin itself was locked and is now inaccessible to the public, but the place was still furnished: a mattress, a map of the area, a stove, candles. This lookout was once one of hundreds of fire lookouts around the state used to monitor the landscape for forest fires; it was decommissioned about two decades ago but has so far escaped the fate of being torn down.

Lookout Mountain Lookout
The principal reason for this hike is the 360-degree view from the lookout, unsurprisingly for a peak named Lookout Mountain. To the northeast, I spotted the town of Twisp in the Methow Valley; behind Twisp rose the peaks of the Okanogan Range, including Tiffany Mountain, the highest peak in the range. On the mountain opposite Lookout to the east, I spotted an exposed mine. To the southeast, the burnt ridges of the Methow Valley faded towards the flat expanse of the Columbia Plateau. The southern and western skylines were defined by the Sawtooth Range, a subrange of the Cascades that featured, prominently, Hoodoo, Oval, and Reynolds Peaks. Black Peak and Goode Mountain, two of the taller peaks in the Cascades, poked above the wall of snowy peaks that defined the headwaters of the Twisp River.

Tiffany Mountain and the Okanogan Range rise over Twisp and the Methow Valley
Cascades reflected in Lookout Mountain Lookout
To the northwest, Gardner and North Gardner Mountain filled the space between the Twisp and the Methow drainages. North Gardner was tall enough to block out Abernathy, Silver Star, and other major peaks along that divide. To the north, I could see Robinson Mountain along with the snowcapped summits of the Pasayten Wilderness in the Harts Pass area. Goat Peak Lookout was recognizable by the Goat Wall rising above the Methow River drainage; Winthrop was also spottable directly to the north in the Methow Valley.

Robinson and the Pasayten Peaks
I passed one group of hikers coming down when I was on my way up, but had the summit entirely to myself during my visit. This was likely due to my late arrival- I didn't start hiking until 3- but I was still pleasantly surprised to have such a nice view all to myself on an extraordinarily sunny weekend.

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