North Cascades National Park | Stephen Mather Wilderness
Location: 48.7427222,-121.1102774 Summit Elevation: 5,985′ Lookout Type: L-4 groundhouse Site Established: 1915 Current Structure Built: 1933 Date Visited: 9/11/16
Sourdough is one of the oldest established U.S. Forest Service lookout sites and the trail to the lookout is the toughest designated trail inside North Cascades National Park. Sourdough has been a muse for poets including Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder. The views from the summit of the North Cascades and Hozomeen are spectacular but you’ll have to climb nearly 5,000′ to get there.
Photos from a 2016 visit.
Sourdough Mountain was one of the very first lookouts established by the U.S. Forest Service. Glee Davis scouted the site in 1915 and then constructed a standard twelve foot square cupola on the summit in 1917 with materials packed up the mountain by horses. His father-in-law was the first lookout. The cupola lasted until it was burned and knocked down in the 1930s to make way for a new structure built by the Civilian Conservations Corps in 1933. That building was rehabilitated in 1998-1999 and still stands today.
In 1953, beatnik poet Gary Snyder manned the lookout and then fellow poet Philip Whalen took over from ’54-’55. Their stays were highlighted in the book “Poets on the Peaks“.
The Sourdough Mountain trail is considered the toughest designated trail inside the North Cascades National Park, climbing 5,200′ over 5.2 miles. Though none of the trail is ridiculously steep, it climbs 3,000′ in the first 2 miles and doesn’t relent until you reach the summit.
Roughly 4 miles in you’ll cross Sourdough Creek, the trail’s first water source with camp sites if you have an overnight permit. From there you’ll climb into a wide open expanse of vibrant wildflowers and breathtaking views over to the North Cascades and down to the stunning turquoise water of Diablo Lake nearly a mile below. The area is filled with fragile vegetation and meadows, so please take care to travel only on trail, snow or rocks.
From Sourdough’s scenic lookout, the views are huge in all directions, especially of Hozomeen’s double-summited peak looming to the north. The jagged Pickets are to the west, Jack Mountain to the east, and Pyramid and Colonial peaks to the south above Diablo. Bring a map or peak finder and challenge yourself to name as many peaks as you can! It’s no wonder Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder both found Sourdough to be their muse.
Sourdough is a workout, but worth every step! If you’re up for a slightly different approach, you can also climb to Sourdough using the Pierce Mountain approach on the Ross Lake side. Be warned though, it’s not any easier and logistics are tougher.
From Marblemount, drive Highway 20 east 20 miles to Diablo. Turn left on Diablo Road and continue 0.7 miles to the Stetattle Creek bridge. After crossing the bridge, turn right and reach the trailhead in 0.25 miles.