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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Trip report: Hidden Lake Lookout

Finally, the trip report and photo gallery.

I’ll keep this brief, as the accompanying photos will help tell the story of Hidden Lake Lookout (HLLO) 2014, but suffice it to say this little USFS fire lookout is the best structure in the state of Washington.
I first visited HLLO in late June 1989—I can hardly believe 25 years have passed, and that I waited until I was 25 years old to first go there!  Since then I’ve visited about every three years, as I believe this was my eighth time to the snug house cabled to the top of a mountain.  Not just any mountain, but a snow-capped 2,100 meter crag sitting at, and marking the confluence of,  the Cascade River; within direct line of sight of tidewater at the San Juan Islands.    Situated closely west of the North Cascade crest, this little mountain has expansive views of over 100 separate named summits, and nearly as many glaciers.  I think it was Betty or Harvey Manning that once said they preferred to be on “lesser” summits because it was always more fun/better views to look up at big peaks, than to look down on everything.  This is especially true when there are views to higher peaks, but also a vertical mile down to the winding, roaring Cascade River.  The “waves of mountains as far as they eye can see” certainly applies here.
As for the glaciers:  the snow pack this year is all about appearance, and not about substance.  That is, while the mountains look to be cloaked in deep snow, the water content is low, and it really is a veneer of white.  I hit snow right at the edge of the forest (most years in May/June there is snow at the parking lot, this time more than a mile up the trail), but the amount of avalanche debris in the Sibley gully was not impressive--full of gaps and simply not that much of it.  Of course, this also meant the ascent was done in complete safety, with avalanche lilies carpeting the already emerging meadows around 5,000 feet elevation.  My early start meant the snow was in great shape for hiking the long traverse around the true summit of Hidden Lake Peak.  I almost needed crampons in the steep shaded areas exiting the gully, but it was the right call to bring neither snowshoes (not even in the car) nor crampons (left in the car).  The scary ascent/traverse of the E face of the lookout peak was not too bad, with no threat of cornice avalanche on my head, and a nice steep “out” to miss the lower cornices.  It was really sloopy/soggy, but at least I wasn’t breaking through to the sharp rocks below. 
Again, I should note the lack of avalanches in the Hidden Lake basin.  Where normally there are huge blocks of debris from all sides of the big, cliffy cirque, this time things are really sparse, and what’s left of the cornices are melting in place—a sad tale if you’re a glacier.
The lookout is just as lovely as it was 25 years ago, perhaps even nicer thanks to the efforts of the “Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout” (of which I am a member).  As I wrote in the logbook there:
Today is the 70th anniversary of D-day, and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964 is coming up.  We stand on the shoulders of Giants.  Thanks to Friends of HLLO (special shout to Ginny and Robert), and to Betty and Harvey Manning, Polly and John Dyer, Laura and Phil Zalesky, Christine and Patrick Goldsworthy, Margaret and Joe Miller (Joe was on Omaha Beach 70 years ago today), and all of the North Cascades Conservation Council.
By the way, the comment about “shoulders of Giants” is also a pun about standing on the shoulder of a big mountain.
How many have ever lived at the top of a mountain for a day?  I strive to spend at least one hour at every summit I visit (or used to visit, as the case may be).  I prefer to spend at least two nights at a given location to really get to know it, and to live it.  Thus, spending an entire 24 cycle at a summit is a real treat, made more-so by having a house there!  I am ever thankful for the desire and ability to do these things—I recognize I won’t be able to do this much longer.  This should have been one of the easiest trips of the year, but I came away creaking and gimpy.  Still, I managed to do it exactly as planned, and wasn’t even that scared descending the E face/traverse (mainly because I could go slow due to no avalanche threat). 

Photo gallery:


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