Lookout Mountain was my incidental hike for this weekend. I saw it on nwhikers.net as one of someone’s hike ideas earlier in the week and decided that it would my hike for the day. Chance of snow/rain at 80-100% everywhere in the Cascades and west. With crappy weather all weekend long, there was virtually nowhere to go for views.
There was only one vehicle parked by the trailhead when we arrived and started hiking just past noon. The goal was to at least get to the lookout before sunset and then hike back down in the dark. Looking at the trailhead registry, the other party was planning to spend the night in the tower.
It was drizzling at first, then it soon turned into flurries around 2,100’ and it stayed that way. With the tracks left by the other party ahead of us, I was able to get by with just spikes. Deeper snow after we crossed Lookout Creek, even more snow after breaking out of the tree line. I knew the dogs had caught up with the other party at some point since they were both gone for a good while before returning.
When I caught up with the other party on the open slope, there was about another hour and a half before sunset. None of the hikers had snowshoes with them and it was a struggle to break trail. Since I brought mine, I put them on and got in front of the group and starting breaking trail for them. Even with the snowshoes in 4 to 5 feet, mostly fresh snow, I was still postholing. The sun finally set at 4:30 and it only took minutes before the darkness arrived. I put on my headlamp as the dogs and I continued to plow through snow in the dark. I constantly looked back to check on the hikers and they were still moving at my direction.
It was quarter after five when I got to the last switchback below the summit. Judging by my GPS, I was getting pretty close, but I wasn’t entirely sure how close since it’s hard to gauge in the dark. In a short while, I came across a box half-buried in the snow just off the trail. Both dogs were sniffing hard so I curiously opened it and discovered that it was a toilet! This was good news, it meant that the tower was not too far ahead. Then about a hundred yards past the toilet and out of the trees, an shadow loomed through the darkness over us. Alas, the tower.
After climbing up two flights of stairs, I was glad to find that the tower was unlocked. It was so nice to get inside and to get out of the snow and the harsh wind. The place was roomier than I had pictured, furnished with two beds with beddings, a desk, bookcases, an oven, and a history platform in the middle of the room. As I sat on the bed and looked around the room, I discovered a Coleman lamp hanging from the ceiling. Luckily my 10 essentials included matches, so I was able to light it after staring at the instructions for quite sometime.
The last time I was able to see the light from the hikers headlamps, they were just getting to the last switchback. I flashed my light hoping they knew I was at the tower. The subsequent times I looked out the window, there was nothing. After hanging out for an hour or so, it was obvious that the hikers had turned around. I wasn’t comfortable spending the night alone with the dogs, so I decided to head back as well. I had brought enough layers and insulation to change into so I was able to get warm before diving into the cold again.
We caught up with the hikers halfway down the mountain. When they saw my light flashing from the tower, they thought I was still on the trail and decided to turn around without knowing they were really close. The dogs and I then hiked the rest of the way back to the car with the hikers. I could really use some company in the dark.