Report from the Wet and Scrappy — Lookout for Winchester!

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PNW Backcountry Skiing

Winchester Lookout

This weekend my friend Skyler and I took a trip up to Winchester Fire Lookout, an historic fire lookout north of Mt. Baker highway on top of Winchester mountain up here in Washington State (see map below). I hadn’t gotten to go backcountry skiing in a few weeks and I was itching to get out, even if the conditions looked a little iffy due to warm weather and tons of new, unconsolidated snow (and I don’t mean powder).

We tried to hike into the Lookout after classes on Friday afternoon, but we didn’t realize that five miles of the road was still covered by snow. Per Dawson family tradition I chained up the Cherokee, but was only able to hog a few hundred yards.

Backcountry Skiing

Winchester Lookout and Mount Baker.

So we slogged till eleven o’clock, and finally camped on a ridge a few miles away from the lookout. I sent my dad a Spot OK message from there, I wonder what he thought? The next day we planned to ski Mt. Larabee, but the snow didn’t want to freeze that night, so we got to the base of Larabee and headed back up to the Lookout. We hung out for the rest of the day and enjoyed the panoramic views from our perch on top of Winchester mountain.

Backcountry Skiing

Brush hiking: We thought we would take a shortcut up this grassy hill to get on the ridge that connects to Winchester Mountain. It turned out to be waist high bushes, not grass, it wasn’t a shortcut either.

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Our bivy the first night. Brrr. At least it didn't rain!

There are a number of these old fire lookouts in these mountains, Winchester is operated as a hut by the Mount Baker Club. The lookouts are usually located on the highground, with amazing views available through 360 degrees of glass walls. I’ve heard some are surrounded by excellent backcountry skiing terrain, as Winchester is. The Lookout isn’t heated, but has a propane cookstove. In a climate such as the Cascades, you appreciate a roof and four walls — heat or not!

Backcountry Skiing

Goat mountain: One of the amazing views out of Winchester Lookout. We were going to ski goat mountain, the peak in the center, if the snow solidified the second night.

We stayed the night and slept in, after waking up early and realizing the temp had not dropped below 35 degrees all night. We headed back in time to catch lunch at the WWU dining hall and finish up some homework.

Backcountry Skiing

Our kitchen even had a propane stove, deluxe!

Backcountry Skiing

Winchester Lookout, with Canadian Border Peak (left), American Border Peak, and mount Larabee. Canadian border runs just on the other side of American Border Peak. Nice border station, you check in by presenting your climbing skins to the customs officer?

(All photos by Skyler)


6 Responses to “Report from the Wet and Scrappy — Lookout for Winchester!”

  1. Mark May 18th, 2009 11:09 am

    Louie, that’s a fantastic place. Old lookouts deserve to be turned into huts for such purposes as your trip entertained. By the way, I’d be interested to know what you think of those Radium boots.

  2. Frank May 18th, 2009 4:10 pm

    Wow, Louie, looks great and sounds like you had a quite the interesting tour!

  3. Kellan Eisenhardt May 18th, 2009 5:38 pm

    What a cold adventure! It is good to hear and see you enjoying the Northwest!

  4. Lou May 18th, 2009 7:41 pm

    Hey Frank, good to hear from you, how are things in CH?! And Kellan, if you give Louie a call I’m sure he’d take you out for some snow camping. Mark, I’m bugging Louie for a review. Have some others coming as well that we’ll be sure to publish before next winter’s buying season. Lou

  5. Lisa May 19th, 2009 5:28 am

    Hi Louie and Skyler,
    Thanks for the trip report and the beautiful photos. It’s so nice to see what you are up to, and to see you balance fun, safety, and homework. You guys are awesome!

  6. Susan LoAlbo (from Virginia Beach) May 21st, 2009 6:34 am

    Dear Louie,
    I am still amazed at what you do….and completely awed!
    You passion about skiing, the mountains and adverture are clear!
    I am so glad that I was able to meet you!
    Lots of Hugs from Virginia Beach,
    Susan LoAlbo

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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