Lookouts: Winchester Mountain

Every year for Labor Day weekend my husband and I go backpacking with another couple. It’s become a tradition for us and we look forward to it all year. I usually choose an epic hike in the North Cascades with spectacular scenery where we can roam and snack on blueberries for a couple days. But this year was different. We had a new addition to our crew- a little one-year-old. Hmph, well now, I had no idea how to plan for a baby. I don’t have any children and I don’t know the first thing about a one-year-old’s wilderness skills. I had so many questions. How far should we go? How much food do we need? Would the baby be miserable in the tent all night? Where do you put all those dirty diapers?

Winchester Mountain above Twin Lakes

I was stressing to determine the answers to these questions. I immediately decided that I was not going to have anything to do with the dirty diapers, so in turn was not going to worry about their whereabouts. Our friends are amazing parents and I really didn’t have to worry about these kind of details. I just didn’t want them to be uncomfortable or to push them too hard. So I gave them some choices and was happy they chose an easy hike to Twin Lakes where we could base camp and explore as much as we wanted. Then I freaked out again because I checked the weather and it was going to be cold and rainy in the high alpine. Will baby freeze to death? Ugh.

A little hidden saddle with big views

We met our hiking partners at the charming Wake ‘n Bakery on the Mt Baker Highway and loaded up on delicious pastries and coffee. We then made our way to the busy Yellow Aster Butte trailhead and walked up the 4×4 road to Twin Lakes. The cold morning air gave way to sun and blue skies prompting us to take multiple breaks to shed layers. The road walk wasn’t so bad and we chose a particularly entertaining switchback to stop for a snack and watch the trucks struggle up the bumpy road. I’m sure they did not appreciate the audience.

Checking out the Lone Jack Mine

We made it to the beautiful Twin Lakes but they were unfortunately surrounded by trucks and car campers. We walked to the far side of the upper lake to look for a more secluded site. A narrow boot path led around the lake and we followed it past a mine shaft (where we taught baby about echos) to a big camp spot. There was a faint path leading up to a tiny narrow saddle and we went up to explore expecting that it would just lead to a nice bathroom spot. Instead, what we saw took our breath away. The path came to an end abruptly and the ground plunged into a steep valley. Directly in front of us were the silvery jagged peaks of the Pleiades sprinkled with just a touch of fresh snow.

Twin Lakes from the Winchester trail

We quickly figured out that the farther down the road we went the more spectacular the views. We set up camp at Skagway Pass, an old mining route to the Lone Jack Mine which gave up $200,000 worth of gold to it’s original owners and is still active to this day, hence the high alpine road. The area is full of old open mine shafts in the ground and old cabins. The guys dropped rocks down the holes to see how far down they went. Not too far. We all laid in the heather and took a nice long nap. Later we made biscuits and pasta and squished water and chocolate pudding in ziploc bags for dessert.

Checking out the lookout

That night as we went to sleep, it was so quiet you could hear a needle drop. It made me uncomfortable. I tossed and turned searching for just the tiniest hint of a breeze or rustle in the trees. I’ve been living in the city too long. Even in my quiet neighborhood I can always hear the soft hum of the I-5 highway, cars driving by, airplanes overhead. The baby cooed in the nearby tent and I hoped he was warm enough. I worried that the weather would turn bad the next day and snow on us. I knew I had to stop worrying, just let it go or I wouldn’t get any sleep. The baby fussed softly and his mom gave a long calm shhhhh. Rain (or was it snow?) began to lightly drum on the rain fly. I drifted to sleep.

Lookout book stash

The next day was foggy but there was no snow and the rain stopped. We packed up the baby and all our warm clothes and headed to Winchester Mountain. The trail climbs immediately between the lakes and we found ourselves shedding layers again. I was hoping maybe the clouds would burn off while we climbed, but I doubted it. I was disappointed. I was so looking forward to the stellar views. All we could see were the deep blue lakes below in a haze. The lookout was completely shrouded in fog when we arrived. We were only three miles from Canada as the crow flies. We could throw a stone and hit it but we sure could not see it.

Weathered planks of the lookout

We met a friendly forest service worker and she told us the lookout was open, but asked us to remove our boots before going in. We complied. It was very zen. We had lunch in the lookout as we checked out every nook and cranny and I poured over the guest log entries and book collection. Mostly Edward Abbey and nature writing. I thought about what it would be like to spend the night there and decided that it would be incredibly cold. The layers started coming back on.

Returning to the lakes in the clouds

Later our friends and the baby would head down the road for a more comfortable night’s sleep and we bid them farewell at the lakes. It had been a successful first backpacking trip for baby and we were so happy to share it with them. We sat by the lake and watched the bats feast on the bugs surfacing the lake. They undoubtedly made their homes in the myriad of mine shafts nearby. We walked back to camp and climbed into our sleeping bags. It was quiet again without our friends but the rain returned and I drifted to sleep.

The magnificent Pleiades

Backpacking Biscuits Recipe:

At home, mix the following ingredients in a ziploc bag:

1 cup biscuit mix (I use Fisher brand, but any will work)
2 Tbsp powdered milk
1 tsp dried parsley
1/4 cup dried corn
3 Tbsp grated parmesan (the shelf-stable kind that comes in a shaker, not fresh)

On the trail, put the mixture in a non-stick or greased pot approximately 6 inches diameter (the smaller the pot, the thicker the biscuits!). Start by adding 1/4 cup of water and add more if needed. Spread the mixture out and put on low heat covered for about 3 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the biscuit “pancake” and cook covered for another few minutes until golden brown and cooked all the way through. Cut into quarters and enjoy them warmed.

Hikes featured in this post:
Winchester Mountain

3 Replies to “Lookouts: Winchester Mountain”

  1. It’s really cool reading about backpacking with a baby from the perspective of someone outside of the family! You’re such good friends to go out with them, it’s a lot easier with extra hands to help!

    1. Thanks, Bobby!

  2. Beautiful pictures as usual! Always enjoy your posts. I hiked the PCT north of Stevens Pass that weekend and it was really cold at Lake Valhalla. I haven’t hiked much up near Baker, was thinking of heading up there soon before the snow flies (hopefully). happy trails!

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