Three Fingers/Goat Flats/Saddle Lake Trail No. 641 Round Trip Distance: 16 miles Trailhead elevation: 3020 feet Summit elevation: 6,870 feet Cumulative Vertical Gain: 4,000+ feet Good Topographic Route Information The trail climbs gradually for 2.5 miles to Saddle Lake. There are plenty of mud and roots on this rut of a trail. There is evidence that earlier in the season, this part of the trail may actually be a small stream. Rumor has it that if you plan an earlier season trip, you should expect to get a little wet and mud-covered. There are quite a few minor ups and downs along the way. If the skies are clear, after a mile or so, you will catch the first really good view of Three Fingers off to your left. If your eyes are good (better than mine), you will be able to make out the white lookout house on the summit of the South finger.
Right before the lake there is junction with Meadow Mountain Trail #715. Saddle Lake is not very big, but quite beautiful. Along the east side of the lake trail goes to the shelter build by Everett Mountaineers back in 1970s. No camping is allowed within 200 feet of the lake. No campfires are allowed anywhere between Saddle Lake and Three Fingers. From the northeast side of the lake trail continues on to Goat Flats (about 2.5 miles). Goat Flats is a wide open meadow that used to be heavily populated with mountain goats. In recent years, the majority of goats have been relocated but you still might see one if you're lucky. The great views back to the lowlands remain. You can see Mount Baker to the North and the back side of Whitehorse Mountain to the North-East. There is a junction where the left fork leads to campsites and backcountry toilet. This is an amazing place to stay the night and watch the cities light up. If 16 miles sounds like too much for one day, this might be a good spot to break it up some. Many people do it this way. Others choose to spend the night in the lookout. The right fork continues (about 2 miles) to Tin Can Gap. From here you can see what shape the Queest Alb Glacier is in. You can also decide if you should continue on. Normally, this is where the casual hiking ends. If yo wish to continue, expect some airy exposure, especially on the ladders. This is not for the faint of heart.
Conditions from here on up depend on the month, and especially the year. In late September of 1999 (after a record huge winter snow) the traverse was through moats, and up onto the glacier itself for an extended time. Short 45-degree slopes and crevasses were included. By contrast, in September 2005 the glacier was melted back quite a ways, with good paths to be found. During late october of 2006, after crossing two snow feilds and scrambing down a gully with an attached hemp rope, it was merely a walk up the entire way. If you want the easiest possible conditions, pick a time between mid-September and late October. The Queest Alb was suffering from the drought-like winters three of the past five years. Once off the possible glacier traverses, it's a nice hike up rock, heather and scree. You will round the mountain to the last large snowfield. This permanent snowfield is the best water on route. At the top of the snow triangle, a class 2 scramble takes you to the ladders.
The ladders are solid, but being weathered some, they may leave you with some splinters. You might want to wear gloves. At the top of the rock face, The Everett Mountaineers leave a rope for the final pull to get to the lookout. Don't be dicouraged by how this sounds, this part is no more difficult than anything previous. Your success will grant you the reward of excellent 360-degree views. From the Cascades, the Olympics, and Puget Sound, and of course Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and Glacier Peak. From this vantage point, you seem to be viewing the Cascade range from dead-center and the Puget Sound just spreads out before you. If you choose to spend the night up there, imagine waking to fog filled valleys. Be sure you are prepaired for sudden weather changes. Most parties take 10-12 hours for the roundtrip. This includes breaks, lunches, and trying to get the iron in the lookout to work. There is plenty to read, including old summit registers. Make sure that after you sign the current register, you put it back on the circular table in the middle. There is a resident Packrat named Andy who lives under the lookout and he likes to chew on things.
Lastly, please respect the old summit lookout house and all the objects therein. The National Forest service originally built it as a fire lookout and was going to burn it down to rid themselves of liability issues. But the Everett Mountaineers stood up and took the responsibilty of restoration and maintainence. They annually put a lot of time and effort into keeping it clean and safe so help them take care of it. If you don't mind extra weight and would like to help them carry up supplies, please contact them through their website. Many thanks to Arthur Wright and the many volunteers who completed the new roof project in September 2015. See their trip report here.
Drive the Mountain Loop Highway 6-1/2 miles east of Granite Falls and turn left (north) on Forest Service Road No. 41. 41 is not labelled out on the highway but you will see a sign about 50 yards down the road. At the junction where the pavement ends, keep left. Along the way you'll pass several obvious side roads and, at 17 miles from the Mountain Loop Highway, the road begins to peeter out and then it splits. If you see this, you've gone too far. Stop before the road peeters out and the trailhead is on the left. THIS ROAD MAY BE TEMPORARILY CLOSED DUE TO A RECENT WASHOUT Please check the current road conditions or bring a bicycle. "Gated at mile 8.6 just beyond the Canyon Creek bridge due to washouts, not expected to be repaired this year. Timber sale on private land at mile 1.7 may cause road to be closed between April and July. Reconstruction project between mile 3 - 8 will cause intermittent closures through summer."
A Northwest Forest pass required at trailhead. Depending on the season there might be an excessive amount of mosquitos of biting flies. Make sure you Bring lots of water or a purifier. Also, due to complaints about the aweful accumulation of bad smell at the lookout, the Everett Mountaineers have asked people to refrain from urinating or blue-bagging on the summit unless it is at night. During the day, they would kindly ask you to climb down the first latter and scramble to the right onto the ledge there.
July through October. But you will probably want technical glacier travel equipment if going before September. Access to the Mountain Loop highway is often difficult in the winter time, let alone getting to the trailhead that is 17 miles one way from the Mountain Loop Highway
Camping IS allowed along the trail. The first spot is at Saddle Lake elevation 3900 feet. On the approach you stay to the left instead of going around the lake to continue up the trail, so go right to go around the lake to the spots that are available for overnight camping. Goat Flats is the most popular spot to camp (elevation, 5200 feet), and takes about 2-3 hours to reach. There are lakes and tarns all over the place, but it can get crowded on the weekends. There is also one more spot that you can camp at which is located near Tin Pan Gap, where you access the Quest Alb Glacier, elevation 5600 feet. It is right on the saddle.
Call the Darrington Ranger Station for current road information, 360-436-1155, but don't count on their knowledge of the route. I once asked them about it and they told me that the lookout was locked and the ladders were broken. The lady on the phone even said "trust me, you won't make it". I went up the next day to see for myself and found everything in perfect condition.