PNW Trip Report — Three Fingers Lookout Hike


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | September 10, 2015      

We’ve finally been getting wet weather here in Washington. Last weekend it looked cloudy and rainy, so we decided to head up to the fire lookout on Three Fingers Peak in the Cascades. The Cascades aren’t blessed with a nice hut system, but we get a large concentration of remote fire lookouts instead. I’ve been to a few over the years, mostly in winter on ski touring trips. Although usually a pain to access, the views are always incredible, and they have some neat history as well. Three Fingers is perhaps one of the more inaccessible lookouts. To get there involves 8 miles of biking and 8 miles of steep hiking. At the end of all that, you must navigate a snow field, easy rock scrambling, and 3 vertical ladders that lead to the lookout. I’ve always wanted to check it out.

We left early Saturday morning and biked the eight miles amid foggy weather. Although the bike ride is fairly long, it’s on an easy logging road and doesn’t gain much elevation. The trail, however, is another matter. It is fairly steep, and our recent rains have turned most of the path into a rushing stream.

Julia checking out the view from the top of Three Fingers Peak

Julia checking out the view from the top of Three Fingers Peak

The Everett Mountaineers, who maintain the lookout, asked that we take a broom and dustpan up to the hut. It made for some interesting comments on the trail. If you head up to any lookouts in Washington, email the folks who maintain it; they're usually looking for people to carry things up to the lookout.

The Everett Mountaineers, who maintain the lookout, asked that we take a broom and dustpan up to the hut. It made for some interesting comments on the trail. If you head up to a lookout in Washington, email the folks who maintain it. They’re usually looking for folks to carry supplies up.

Essential items for a long bike approach.

Essential items for a long bike approach.

Checking out a brief view on our way up. The lookout is on top of the rocky peak past the glacier, hidden by clouds.

Checking out a brief view on our way up. The lookout is on top of the rocky peak past the glacier, hidden by clouds.

Skyler climbing  the ladders to the lookout. How old are these things?

Skyler climbing the ladders to the lookout. How old are these things?

Over a few hours of hiking we encountered a few people who were headed down because they couldn’t find their way in the clouds. Wary of the same fate, we were also excited that there might be room for us to sleep in the lookout. The lookout is tiny, and there aren’t any flat areas outside, so if there are more than seven or so people there isn’t enough room. Eventually we found our way through the fog to the final three ladders that lead to the lookout’s perch. Inside we found three other folks who were happy to share some floor space. Over the next few hours we hung out, checked out the historical stuff inside the lookout, and were even able to catch some great views in a couple breaks in the clouds.

Much to our surprise, the next morning we woke to 5 inches of fresh snow on the ground. I guess ski season isn’t too far away! The snow made the easy (and exposed) rock slabs we traversed yesterday a bit more technical. We gingerly made our way down the slippery ladders, and descended through a completely new landscape.

I love checking out these remote fire lookouts. It’s wild to stay in a little building in such an incredible spot. I’d love to come back and explore the area in the winter. Hopefully that’s not too far away (and will actually happen in comparison to last season)!

The Three Fingers lookout was first built in the 1930s. It was only staffed for ten years, and was restored starting in the mid 1980's. The spire is so narrow that you can't walk around the lookout; only two of the four sides have room to stand. They blasted the top of of this rock spire to make a flat area for the lookout, and blasted much of the trail out of solid rock as well. Apparently the original builders rigged up a winch with piano wire to haul supplies up the rock spire.

The Three Fingers lookout was first built in the 1930s. It was only staffed for 10 years, and was restored starting in the mid 1980’s. The spire is so narrow that you can’t walk around the lookout; only two of the four sides have room to stand. They blasted the top off the spire to make a flat area for the lookout, and blasted much of the trail out of solid rock as well. Apparently the original builders rigged up a winch with piano wire to haul supplies up the rock spire. I can’t even imagine the work it took to build this thing up here.

Enjoying the view during a brief break in the clouds.

Enjoying the view during a brief break in the clouds.

We woke to 5 inches of snow on the ground outside our cozy lookout home. We left quickly; it made the ladders and the scramble descent a bit more technical.

We woke to 5 inches of snow on the ground outside our cozy lookout home. Beautiful, although it made the ladders and the scramble descent a bit more technical.

Julia descending the snowy ladders.

Julia descending the snowy ladders.

Wandering through a whiteout back to the lowlands. Is it winter yet?

Wandering through a whiteout back to the lowlands. Is it winter yet? Could we have skied it?



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Comments

5 Responses to “PNW Trip Report — Three Fingers Lookout Hike”

  1. Lisa Dawson September 10th, 2015 10:34 am

    Wild! Amazing to think of what it took to build and maintain a shelter in such a place. Thanks for the interesting TR.

  2. Scott Nelson September 10th, 2015 7:45 pm

    Love the silhouette in the clouds shot. Awesome!

  3. Casey Greene September 10th, 2015 8:09 pm

    Awesome. What a spot!

    We have the same situation here in Montana: a wild bunch of lookouts to tour to.

    Here’s a short video I made of one in the Bitterroots you guys may be into: http://greenecasey.blogspot.com/2013/03/skiing-last-best-lookout.html

  4. Mark Worley September 11th, 2015 7:03 am

    Amazing place. I have been to a couple lookouts, and hope to get to some more. Three Fingers looks is truly an unlikely, yet totally appropriate, spot for a lookout.

  5. Drew Tabke September 15th, 2015 11:57 am

    Been there skied that :fingermustache:





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