If you ask a Seattlelite what their first mountain summit was, they will most likely say Mt Pilchuck. The road to the trailhead is just across the National Forest boundary about an hour from Seattle and the drive to the trailhead gets most of the pesky elevation out of the way making for a short and sweet hike with great views of the North Cascades.
Mt Pilchuck was first climbed in 1897 from the Monte Cristo railroad by a USGS employee. In 1918 a trail was built when the mountain was chosen as one of the first lookout sites in the area. Building the lookout was quite a feat in those days, twelve feet were blasted off the top of the mountain and materials were hand-winched up the craggy boulders. The lookout was replaced a few times throughout the years and finally abandoned in the 1960’s. The lookout was restored in 1990 by the Mountaineers. 105 people spent an astonishing 10,000 hours restoring the lookout.
We can thank an ambitious ski endeavor for the road that goes most of the way up the mountain. In 1957, Mt Pilchuck was turned into a ski area. The single chair lift loaded skiers at the parking lot (in the same place it’s located today) and carried them high on the mountain for only a few dollars a day. In 1980, the ski area closed due to lack of favorable snow conditions. You can still see remnants of the mountain’s ski era on the trail today.
In late August 2007 I took a day off work and my husband and I climbed to the lookout. It was our first summit in the Washington Cascades and will always have a special place in our hearts. I remember climbing the metal-runged ladder the last bit to the lookout building and signing the register with the exclamation “1st summit!” following our names. Nowadays I love taking my friends and new hikers to this gem of a hike right in our backyard.
More Info About Mt Pilchuck (with photos of the old ski area):
Fifty Years Ago at Mt. Pilchuck on Sun Breaks Blog
Lost Ski Areas of Washington: Mt Pilchuck
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