2018: The Year of BIG Adventures

Probably because I’m a data nerd, I love to look back on the year past, compile some fun numbers, and remember my best adventures, including the funny and disastrous ones too!

I’ve spent a lot of the last two years trying to visit all of Washington state’s 93 remaining fire lookouts, which has taken me all over the state to some pretty incredible places. In 2018 I knocked out some of the more arduous ones to reach in terms of long drives and big physical efforts. Along the way I tallied some pretty interesting numbers, which I couldn’t help but put into a fun graphic. As of the end of 2018, I’ve now visited 80 lookouts! 13 to go, whew!

2018 Fun Fire Lookout Stats

Since most of 2018 was spent on these big lookout outings, it’s no wonder most of the year’s most memorable outings were lookouts! The one exception was finally getting to visit Glacier National Park, which has been on my “must-do” list for probably north of 20 years. So here’s a quick snapshot of my top outdoor moments of 2018. They’re chronological because I could never even begin to rank one over the other!

Drop me a comment and let me know what you’re proud of in 2018! Happy New Year everyone!

Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

Early in June, a friend and I drove all the way to Glacier National Park for a weekend just to bicycle the Going-to-the-Sun Road while it was still closed to traffic. It’s been my dream to visit Glacier for years and let me tell you, bicycling this incredible road before it opens to cars is one of the most personal and incredible ways to see this extraordinary Park.

My friend and I even got to see a young grizzly at Logan Pass, my very first wild grizzly!

This is what you get to experience when biking in Glacier! WOW!
How lucky to see a grizzly and what a backdrop!

Absolutely a bucket-list item, I even wrote up a mile-by-mile trip guide with lots of photos and tips about when to go, where to stay, how to rent a bike, and where to get great food and beer after!

Desolation Peak

Located high in the Ross Lake Recreation Area of the North Cascades is a historic L-4 ground cab lookout built in 1932 that served as the 1956 summer home of poet Jack Kerouac.

As both a literary aficionado and a lookout geek, Desolation Peak was one of the very first peaks I ever scribbled into my “must hike” book almost 20 years ago. In August 2017, my partner Nick and I attempted a kayak camping trip to Desolation from Hozomeen, but it turned in a kayak camping smokepocalypse, that of course, I wrote up as one of my worst but most memorable trips ever.

Kayak camping in a smokepocalypse on Ross Lake in August 2017.

This year, we returned in June and finally made it to the summit. It was of course, not without a little adventure. We waged a fierce paddle battle with strong Ross Lake winds, dodged a cinnamon black bear on the trail (he wanted nothing to do with us!), and narrowly avoided thunderstorms both on the summit and the water. But we were rewarded with tremendous views of Hozomeen and a beautiful early season weekend of solitude.

At long last the summit of Desolation! And we didn’t get fried by lightning… a huge win!

Miner’s Ridge

Deep in the Glacier Peak Wilderness is one of Washington’s most remote lookouts. While Miner’s Ridge is not necessarily a tough hike, it does require a 15 mile one way trek. My trusty sidekick Jake dog isn’t able to cover that kind of mileage these days so late in June, I set out for a solo overnight to Miner’s.

Since it was still early season and snow was just starting to melt, I counted on a relatively quiet weekend. What I didn’t count on was seeing absolutely no one!

I surprisingly scored the entire place all to myself, snuck in a quick trip to the nearby still snow-covered Image Lake, and woke up to one of the most spectacular sunrise views of Glacier Peak and the North Cascades I’d ever seen. Having so much solitude makes it an overnight I’ll never forget!

An incredible sunrise at Miner’s Ridge. And all to myself!

Dodger Point

Talk about some mileage on this one! Dodger Point lookout in the Olympic National Park is a 27 mile round trip adventure, but with the closure of Whiskey Bend Road, you need to tack on an additional 6.5 miles each way for a grand total of 40 miles. I’m still amazed I never wrote up a blog post on this one because it was a fantastic outing!

Very few people get to Dodger these days, so I was lucky to enlist 3 adventurous friends back in July who were up for an overnight challenge. 3 of us rode bikes to the trailhead while one friend took a solo-wheel! It was one of the funniest moments ever, especially when he pushed a few of us up the steeper pitches of the road.

We only saw two people all weekend and several large black bears. It was a weekend of fantastic views and remote solitude!

A gorgeous sunset against Mount Olympus from Dodger Point in the Olympics.

Mount Adams

Climbing Mount Adams was absolutely, positively one of the highlights of my year! Ever since climbing St Helens on New Years Day in 2015, Adams has been on my radar. Then when I found out there is indeed an old fire lookout structure (and partial miner’s cabin) on the summit, I knew I had to get up there.

The fire lookout/miner’s cabin structure on the summit of Mount Adams!

The trick? Climbing Adams when you can actually see the lookout takes a bit of lucky timing. You need to climb late in the season, hope the snowpack has melted out, and nail a window of good weather. Climbing this late also means you’ll deal with relatively crappy conditions: no glissading and tons of volcanic rock.

My ‘always up for anything’ friend Annette joined me for a one-day climb in late September and though this is one of the most brutally tough and long days I’ve ever had, the lookout was almost entirely melted out, we had perfect weather, empty slopes, and not even a hint of wind. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day!

Summoning the universe on the top of Mount Adams! (Honestly, I have no idea what I was doing!)

My lowest point? Reaching the false summit of Piker’s Peak and seeing the true summit of Adams, still very far away, and very much up a loose, rocky scree field from hell. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more convinced I wouldn’t make it to a summit, but somehow, I sucked it up. Once on top, it was worth every bit of pain!

A grueling climb late in the season with so much exposed volcanic rock and scree, but what a day!

Copper Mountain

Copper Mountain Lookout is another destination that has long been on my list. Another high North Cascades location means it has a short season and combined with limited backcountry permitting, can be a tricky destination.

With uncooperative weather and wildfire smoke, I was pretty convinced this one wasn’t going to happen this year. Then in mid-October, there was a stretch of clear weather. I figured getting a permit for an overnight would be next to impossible, so I chose to do the 20 miles round trip as a day hike.

Do the North Cascades ever NOT inspire awe? The gorgeous Whatcom Peak.

Turns out there wasn’t a soul camped anywhere and in fact, I didn’t pass a single person the entire day! I did; however, see 6 huge black bears on this trip, which was quite the treat! On my hike out I was stopped on the trail for a good 30-45 minutes waiting for a mama bear and yearling to move off the trail. Despite making all the noise I could muster, they sure weren’t in a hurry to stop their berry feasting.

One of many black bears on this trip!
This mama bear (lower right) and what looked to be a yearling (upper left) kept me stuck for a while. But wow were they fun to watch from a distance!

Copper Mountain is stunning with its views of Whatcom, Challenger, and Luna and there is no better place to be in the fall than the gorgeous North Cascades. This was the best 10 hours I’ve ever spent outdoors!

Copper is absolutely spectacular! I will be back for sure!

Mebee Pass

Ah, Mebee Pass! I slept in my Jeep at the Hannegan Pass Trailhead after doing Copper Mountain, then did an overnight to Mebee Pass Lookout as a double-header. It was a big weekend!

Mebee is the last L-5 lookout of its kind known to exist and is tucked up on the very tough to get to Mebee Pass in the North Cascades. Getting there takes a lot of perseverance and some good route finding skills. The bridge that crosses Granite Creek at the East Creek trailhead has been out for several years, so it requires a ford that is usually only safe late in season.

The last known L-5 lookout in existence: Mebee Pass.

The trail is seldom traveled or maintained and the 8 mile trek to the top requires route finding skills, slide alder slope scurrying, hopping over about 80 downed trees in a 2-3 mile stretch, and a final summit scramble.

A very cold morning on Mebee Pass and nothing but the sound of silence.

I was lucky that Nick joined me for this one! We spent a very cold sub-freezing night camped high on the slopes of Mebee but awoke to a spectacular sunrise view and of course, didn’t see a single soul all weekend. Unlike Copper, which took 10 hours to cover 20 miles, Mebee took an exhausting 7 hours just to make it 8.5 miles to the top!

The trail goes where!?

So far for me, this was the toughest lookout to reach but one of my very favorite. I love a challenging outing and I’ve never been to such a special place with so much silence! I can’t wait to go back!

Three Fingers

And finally, Three Fingers. The impossibly perched lookout high atop a spire in the North Cascades. When I first decided to visit all of Washington’s lookouts, this one both excited me and terrified me.

Three Fingers! The lookout is perched very dramatically atop the rightmost spire.

Not only is it a very airy destination, but it requires climbing three precarious ladders to reach the top. I HATE ladders. In fact, I wish I were joking that I have ladderphobia.

Not happy, clearly. But somehow I made it. Granted, it felt like it took me hours to negotiate these damn things, but I did it!

The window to get to Three Fingers without it being a technical mountaineering outing is very small, so by late October I was almost certain I had missed it. But then… a window of beautiful weather!! I talked my friend Ian into joining me and we tackled Three Fingers mostly in a day, descending to a camp lower at Goat Flats for the evening, then hiking out the next day. A mere 48 hours later, the summit was snowed in.

The route required 9 miles of biking to reach the trailhead, but we were awarded with a straight-forward, non-technical, easy 7 mile climb to the summit. Though it wasn’t my finest moment, I did conquer the ladders, though I’m pretty sure if an earthquake was recorded on October 20th in the area, it was probably my shaking!!

My friend Ian making it up the last ladder to the summit block!

We spent a beautiful evening at the lookout, caught a spectacular sunset with a few other friendly folks, then descended in the dark to our camp below at Goat Flats. With a very lucky temperature inversion, we were in shorts and tank tops for a majority of the weekend.

Sunset from Three Fingers, just WOW!

Knocking off Three Fingers was the icing on the cake for a spectacular fall of lookout bagging. With it’s completion, I managed to log 4 huge outings in a row: Adams, Copper, Mebee, and Three Fingers which added up to 25k of climbing and 80 miles of biking and hiking.

Enjoying the sunset on Three Fingers from the BOTTOM of the ladders after finally getting back down. I did it!!

This year I feel incredibly lucky, grateful, and honored to have had a healthy body, some fantastic friends, and some pretty great weather to complete successful journeys to some of these amazing places. A huge thank you to all of my amazing friends (Martha, Ian, Nick, Brian, Brady, and Annette) who helped me along the way. I couldn’t have done it without you all!

So now the big question is… once I finish visiting lookouts, what will I do next in 2019!? And what were your big adventures in 2018?