Sourdough Mountain Lookout
Sourdough Mountain Lookout is accessed by one of the hardest designated trails in North Cascades National Park. The lookout is also one of the oldest lookouts in the United States. The views are some of the most scenic in Washington. The mountain sits between the Pickett Range, Ross Lake, Diablo Lake, Jack Mountain and the Snowfield Peak group. There are two trails up the mountain but the one described below is the most accessible called the Diablo Trailhead.
WillhiteWeb.com - Washington Hiking
Drive State Route 20 to mile 126, then turn left at the sign for Diablo. Park next to the river and tennis courts at the signed trailhead.
The first 3.5 miles climbs steeply up switchback through the forest. Then the grade eases a bit as it traverses the side of a ridge in the Sourdough Creek drainage. At 4.2 miles is Sourdough Camp on the creek, with just a few tent spots. Permits are required from the Marblemount Ranger Station. Now the final mile is full of views as the trail climbs up a meadow to the ridge top. Once on the ridge, a short walk takes you up to the lookout tower.
Distance: 5.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,200 feet
Summit Elevation: 6,120 feet
The summit of Sourdough was one of the first lookouts established by the U.S. Forest Service. In 1915, Glee Davis was assigned to pick a spot to watch for wildfire. He chose Sourdough, maybe because he had an old family trail to the summit. He called it Tent Lookout. Glee Davis wanted to keep the lookout at his rag house camp on the ridge slope above Sourdough Creek, where there was ample firewood and water and a break from the wind, but the regional Forest Service chief from Portland, William Bushnell Osborne (father of the fire finder), visited Sourdough and insisted the lookout belonged on the natural platform at the summit. Glee Davis built the lookout from blueprints of the lookout on Mount Hood. It was the standard twelve foot square cupola, but unlike subsequent lookout cabins, which were made of precut lumber and glass and bundled in mule kits, Davis and a local blacksmith named Harry Clouds built Sourdough Lookout from boards of fir and red cedar shakes hand-split on the mountain. This first lookout stood into the 1930s until burned and knocked down to make room for a new structure. The new Sourdough lookout was built in the same location, by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The present building was rehabilitated in 1998-99. A neighboring peak to the west has the name Davis Peak after Glee Davis. In 1920, two school teachers, Miss Cora Crosby of Bellingham, and Miss Thompson of Everett were the lookouts. In 1929, Roy Abbott was the lookout. He came up from Oregon State College and became so attached to the Mount Baker Forest that he declined to go back to College that winter. Roy said that he did not get enough of the Mount Baker during the summer as he was not permitted to amble away from his post on top of Sourdough during the summer months, and what he could see lots of country that lured him to it. Therefore, he purchased a string of traps and Miles Garratt's claim to both Big and Little Beaver Creeks as his trapping ground. In 1951 & 1952, the lookout was manned Shubert Hunter, a nineteen-year old Native American from the Makah Nation. He remembers not one person coming up the summer of 1952. In 1953 the lookout was manned by Gary Snyder (who staffed Crater Lookout the summer before). In 1954 and 1955 the lookout was manned by Philip Whalen. Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen were poets highlighted in the book, "Poets on the Peaks".
Want more adventure from the lookout?
You can hike 3.5 miles along the ridge to the west into the Picket Range, all above treeline with alpine meadows and tarns.
View from the lookout to Stetattle Ridge, a forest fire broke out in Cle Elum on this morning blowing smoke over 100 miles directly into the area.
Stetattle Ridge North
First views from the Sourdough Creek Camp area
On the trail looking down to Diablo Lake
Davis Peak from the trail
View down the North Cascades Highway corridor
North face of Davis Peak
First view of the lookout
Colonial Peak and Snowfield Peak group above Diablo Lake
Looking west to the Picket Range
Ross Lake from the lookout
Jack Mountain from the lookout
Davis Peak from the lookout
Sourdough on the front of book
Forest fire smoke and a locked up lookout