Three Fingers as seen from about 1 mile up the trail, This photo was taken in mid-July 2008 when there was considerably more snow on the mountain than when Doug and I climbed it in September 2008.
A moonlit night at the precarious perch in the old fire lookout on the summit of Three Fingers. It was a perfect night, warm and calm with a waning moon for the first half of the night, and starry skies for the early morning hours. I hope Douglas managed a few hours sleep amongst my all-night antics.
It is my goal to eventually visit all the remaining standing fire lookouts scattered about the mountain ranges of Washington. Click the following link to go to my webpage on fire lookout structures of Washington, which gives a bit of history of fire lookouts as well as a complete listing of the remaining standing lookout structures in the state.
In September 2008, summer finally arrived in the North Cascades. The cool and wet of August was replaced with warm sun - too nice not to be outside. It was the perfect time to climb Three Fingers, so my friend Douglas and I made plans to hike up to the old fire lookout on the south summit, and spend a night in this precarious perch. I had begun my summer with a fun night of night photography in the Hidden Lake Lookout, and I was excited to bookend my summer with another night of night photography in and around the Three Fingers Lookout. Thanks Douglas for joining me on the spur of the moment and putting up with my all-night antics!
Below are some photos and more detailed information from Douglas and my gorgeous 2-day end-of-summer adventure.
TRAILHEAD: Three Fingers/Goat Flats/Saddle Lake Trail No. 641. To get to the trail, drive 17 miles up the Tupso Pass Rd. No 41, which branches left off the Mountain Loop HWY 6.5 miles east of Granite Falls (the turnoff is unmarked until a small HWY 41 sign about 100ft down the road, so make sure to pay attention!) NOTE: Goat Flats and the lookout are quite popular, especially in the fall when the route becomes more straightforward. If you want to spend a night alone in the lookout, your best bet is to go midweek.
ROUND-TRIP DISTANCE: 16 miles (at a relaxing pace with a few short breaks it was a little under 5 hrs up and 4 hrs down for us, but it takes most people 10-12 hrs round trip)
TRAILHEAD ELEVATION: 3,020 feet
SUMMIT ELEVATION: 6,854 feet (used to be 6,870ft before 15 ft was blasted in 1931 to make room for the fire lookout cabin).
THE LOOKOUT: When Darrington District Ranger Harold J. Engles and trail foreman Harry Bedal decided to construct a lookout in 1931, they picked a high rock spire overlooking thousands of acres of old-growth timber on the Snoqualmie National Forest to the east of Seattle, Washington. This high rock spire was the south peak of Three Fingers. All the materials for this gabled L-4 cab had to be lifted the last 1,000 feet via a windlass made from telephone wire. The top 15 feet of the summit block was blasted to make room for the fire lookout cabin. The only way to get up to the lookout was (and still is) via a series of ladders on the final exposed summit perch.
The Three Fingers Lookout was staffed for only ten years and abandoned in 1943. It was restored in the 1980s, and is maintained by volunteer hikers and kept open to any hikers who can get there. It is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.
Douglas hiking up the trail. The 5 miles and 2000ft elevation gain from the trailhead to Goat Flats is over-traveled, and in the early season the trail is synonymous with a stream.
Saddle Lake, which is 2.5 miles from the trailhead.
Doug at Goat Flats. It took us 2 hours to hike the 2000 ft and 5 miles between the trailhead and Goat Flats. Several people actually camp at Goat Flats and dayhike up to the lookout from here.
The easy trail traverse to Tin Can Gap (saddle on the right). There seems to be some ambiguity in the Cascade Alpine Guide that suggests that the saddle that everyone refers to as Tin Can Gap is called Camp Saddle.
The view of the three summits of Three Fingers from Camp Saddle (or Tin Can Gap). Depending on the conditions and time of year, the route from here to the lookout can involve some steep traversing of the upper Queest Alb Glacier or an easy hike on a trail to the summit. Usually September and October yield the easiest conditions, and from here it took us an easy 90 minutes to the lookout.
We collected water about 300 ft below the lookout.
The final climb up to the lookout is a short snowfield and an easy rocky trail to the ladders (at least under Sept. 2008 conditions).
Three ladders to the summit.
I found that Douglas's sunglasses were excellent reflectors and snatched them when he was talking to another guy who had hiked up for the day….
We had fun traversing around the airy lookout and propping open the shutters with metal rods. The lookout was built in 1932-3, and is showing some wear, although it has held up quite well under the maintenance of the Everett Mountaineers.
An old latch to batten down the windows.
The lookout is tightly wired down to the mountain. I imagine this place has weathered some pretty severe winds and storms since it was built in 1932-3.
There is some interesting reading in the lookout, including some old newspapers from the '30s. This ad boasts the amazing efficiently of what we finally figured out was a calculator. "To subtract, merely touch the subtract bar. It's just as simple and fast as touching the adding bar." Hmm…what about logarithms and square roots….
Despite the nice textbook library (including books on Mathematics, College Physics, and Pharmaceutical Measurements), we were disappointed to find the library lacked a Thermodynamics textbook. This would have been useful to figure out how much longer we needed to cook some carrots due to the decrease in boiling temperature at altitude….
Sunset over Puget Sound. From our perch, we could see Saturna Island (a beautiful non-mountain destination where I love to spend my time) and the rest of the San Juan and Gulf Island chains.
Evening light in the lookout.
A cozy candle-lit evening in the lookout, with the city lights towards Puget Sound far below. I spent the night hours taking photos of various permutations of candlelight, stars, moon glow, and city lights. Click here to open my page devoted to night photography.
Moonlight in the lookout (20 minute exposure). Click here to open my page devoted to night photography.
Orion. To me, seeing this constellation always means that fall must be approaching…. Click here to open my page devoted to night photography.
Candlelight and star streaks (20 minute exposure). Click here to open my page devoted to night photography.
Now a black-and-white photo of candlelight and star streaks (20 minute exposure). Click here to open my page devoted to night photography.
Candlelight, star streaks, and city lights (20 minute exposure). Click here to open my page devoted to night photography.
What a great place to wake up! That's Mt. Baker on the skyline.
Morning in the lookout (taken just before Douglas noticed that I knew where his sunglasses had been all along….).
More on my website
This trip report is copied from my website, which has several other climbing trip reports and photographs from the North Cascades and elsewhere: http://www.stephabegg.com.