Lookouts: Return to Green Mountain

The first time we went to Green Mountain was in 2006. We had just moved to Seattle two months before and it was our second hike in the Cascades. My sister and her then boyfriend joined us for the drive up the long washboard Suiattle River Road to the trailhead. It was a hot sunny September day and we got a late start. We sweltered in the heat on the exposed switchbacks slowly making our way up. My sister’s boyfriend wore brand new leather boots that required many re-applications of moleskin and we stopped a hundred times for breaks like classic rookie hikers. We finally stopped for lunch on a rocky outcropping. We were nearing the lookout that crowned the top of the mountain but we couldn’t see it from our lunch spot. I didn’t know how much further it was, but I knew we weren’t going to make it there that day. That was ok, we were just beginning a lifetime of exploration in our new home, we would have plenty of time to return. And anyway the views were fantastic from our vantage point, could they really be that much better at the lookout?

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So green on Green Mountain.

We made our way back down the trail and re-traveled the long road in our old forest green Jetta, the muffler occasionally grazing the bumpy road. We watched the sun set behind Whitehorse Mountain and had dinner in Lake Stevens. By the time we got home it was dark. After that epic day we decided to stick to easier hikes before tackling a big mountain again. But I couldn’t wait to return to Green Mountain, the place where I fell in love with the Cascades and that mysterious Glacier Peak volcano. But just months after our hike, a strong winter storm washed out the Suiattle River Road and did not reopen until October of last year, a whopping eight years later. Over those years I longed to return and complete the hike to the lookout. So when I heard the road reopened I knew I had to return this summer.

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Climbing through the fog.

While the Suiattle River Road slumbered and the wild encroached on it’s edges of gravel, bureaucratic controversy around the fate of the road and the lookout roared to life. First, repairs to the road were delayed for years by extensive environmental studies brought on by environmental organizations. Then, Wilderness Watch, a  Montana-based environmental organization, sued the Forest Service in 2010 for violations to the Wilderness Act for using helicopters and other machinery to rebuild the 1930’s era lookout. This case went on for years until, shortly after the nearby Oso landslide in the spring of 2014, Congress passed a bill saving the lookout. Then finally, in late October 2014, the road was re-opened.

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Wishing for the clouds to break.

In late July of this year my husband and I returned to the Suiattle River Road. It still had it’s jarring washboard just like we remembered. It was cloudy but we were determined to get there so we headed up the trail anyway. We were the first car at the trailhead and as we climbed through the trees I jogged my memory for any recognition of the trail. There was little and it was different than I remembered and a little creepy. We heard something rustle in the brush nearby and Nali was on alert. Then just as we were about to clear the treeline we heard a loud clap of thunder. We were now in thick fog and it was beginning to rain. The trail ahead was brushy and ready to soak us to the bone. We reconsidered. We didn’t want to be on the tallest mountain around inside of a thunderhead. It didn’t seem like the triumphant return we wanted anyway with little to no views so we headed back down and decided to try again later.

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Signs of changing seasons.

I was really disappointed that we didn’t have good weather that day, but a month later (just a few weeks ago) we decided to give it another go for my birthday. Well, once again thunderstorms were in the forecast. We decided to car camp the first night during the storms and then backpack up to Green Mountain on the following day when the weather was supposed to improve. So we headed out with rain gear in tow to the newly re-opened Buck Creek Campground. The campground was about half open and the rest blocked off. We walked through the abandoned portion during a break in the rain to get water at the creek. It was eerie, like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Picnic tables were turned upside down and fire rings removed leaving a circular scar in the dirt. Fallen trees criss-crossed the gravel squares meant for tents.

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Following…

The next morning the rain stopped and we headed out early to hit the trailhead. Again we were the first ones there, and again it was cloudy and foggy. But we had faith that the forecast would be correct and that it would burn off any minute. So we climbed through the trees and this time continued into the open meadows above treeline. This time the trail was thankfully brushed out, but we still got wet. That was ok, we would dry everything in the sunshine later. As we climbed the switchbacks I tried to recall what is like the first time we were there and I remembered the slopes just full of green ferns now beginning to brown after a harshly warm summer.

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Finally made it to the lookout, sadly no views, though.

Before long we made it to a tarn, the rain beginning to come down harder and steadier now. We stopped at a bench to rest and scout out a camping spot. Wow, that’s funny, I said, I have absolutely no recollection of this tarn at all. My husband remembered that we sat around the lake for a long time snacking on blueberries. It’s funny how our memory plays tricks on us.

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That long winding trail.

We set up camp near the lake and I thought how lovely it will be in the oncoming nice weather. We then headed back up the trail, our loads lightened for the increased grade. As we climbed I had the sinking feeling that we were going to be socked in at the lookout. But we climbed anyway and I looked forward to lunch and checking out the lookout itself. Sure enough on the last bit to the top, we watched the basin below us fill with white. But we made it to the top! Finally after all those years. But it didn’t feel as victorious as I hoped for. But then I thought we could return in the morning when the weather will surely improve.

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Fall is here in the mountains.

As we headed back down to the tent I started to get the feeling that the weather was not going to improve. My husband felt it too and suggested we move the tent to a more protected spot in the woods. I reluctantly agreed. It was better under the trees and we could sit outside and cook dinner and make hot chocolate. It would do. We stayed in the tent and read out loud to each other and eventually dozed off to sleep. The fog encased us while the rain dripped, dripped on the tent. It was cold and the dog was shaking so I zipped her up into my sleeping bag with me. Summer, sadly, was coming to an end.

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Small tarn surrounded by blueberries.

We didn’t end up trying again for nice views at the lookout, as the top of the mountain was still shrouded in fog in the morning. We instead packed our bags, skipped breakfast, and looked forward to a nice hot meal in town. As we descended on the trail I thought about how much has changed in the nine years since we first climbed those green slopes, how much I’ve changed in almost a whole decade. I realized that the mountains have made me a better person in those years. One that cares about the environment and saving our special places (including historical lookouts), one who is healthier and who has overcome fear and anxieties to accomplish goals and climb even bigger mountains. Green Mountain may not have spoiled me with it’s lovely views for my birthday, but it has given me so much more than that. Thank you, Green Mountain, I will return again and one of these times I will finally bask in your lookout’s glorious views!

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2006
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2015

Hikes Featured in this Post:
Green Mountain

3 Replies to “Lookouts: Return to Green Mountain”

  1. I love that you say hiking has made you a better person, concerned about our environment and saving special places. While I have kvetched a bit about the onslaught of people moving to the region and how that affected our trails and wilderness experiences, I’ve also said, well, if it makes people concerned and take action about conservation and protecting those special places, then it’s good. Yahoo! I haven’t been back to Green Mountain since about 1990, ha, that dates me. However, it was truly spectacular. I’ll scan a shot of me near the summit and send to you. You’ll get your clear day!

  2. Laurie Gossens says: Reply

    How fun to read the evolution of your hike. I love hearing about your times with Tristan.
    Can’t wait until you enjoy the Green Mtns in Vermont!!

    1. Thank you for your beautiful story and photos. We too went back to climb to the Green Mountain Lookout this summer after an absence of many years. It felt exhilarating and thrilling to be there once again. Glacier Peak watched over us all the way up and down. I experienced it again as I read your story.

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