Temperatures in the mid 90s in Seattle and just as
hot in the mountains. What's a hot weather wimp hiker to do? Go for a 5400'
gain up Sourdough Mountain of course. Suzanne was in Newhalem on Friday
for work. I met Kolleen and Bob in Kirkland Friday afternoon and we made
a painfully snow trek through Everett. Even the car pool lane was mostly
stop and a little go. We stopped near Arlington for dinner and proceeded
on to Newhalem arriving after 8:30 pm. Suzanne mentioned it reached 102
in Diablo that day. With that in mind we set 5:00 am as our wake up time.
The next morning we were at the Diablo trailhead and on our way by 6:10
am. Even then it was already warm. The forecast was for clear skies and we
had largely overcast. Trail Pair has a way with clouds but I didn't think
even they could bring in clouds during a severe heat wave. In addition to
the heat it was darn right humid. Much more so than I'm used to hiking in.
I hiked Sourdough one time previously, back in 1994. None of the others
had done it before. I remembered a steep but smooth trail that did not seem
like it averaged 1000' gained per mile. That is just how it turned out. There
is a nice trailhead sign and right behind it is a rude path heading straight
up the hillside. This works but is not the real trail. The trail heads behind
the building to the right. We followed the path steeply uphill until it
ran into the real trail.
The first couple of miles are the steepest. It quickly became apparent
that the humidity had more of an affect on me than the others. I kept up
a consistent pace but could not keep up. Even so I gained 1100' in the
first 30 minutes and 1800' in the first hour. Somewhere past 3 miles the
route came partly out of the forest and into some meadows. The humidity
dropped a lot and I got a second wind. Suzanne and Kolleen were well out
ahead as Bob and I hiked together. We did pass a small creek which allowed
us to soak hats and bandanas to cool off.
At 4.2 miles we reached Sourdough Creek. Suzanne and Kolleen were waiting
there. A nice cool breeze blew down the creek. From the creek on it's roughly
another 1000' in a mile to the lookout. The way is now mostly in meadows.
The lower trail had a few columbine and tiger lilies but not much else. Except
for a few ripe huckleberries. Above the creek was a real wildflower show.
Lots of yellow, blue, and white with a few red paintbrush as well.
We reached the ridge top at about 5800'. All our altimeters showed another
300' to go but in fact it was only about 100'. There is still snow on the
ridge top but not enough to pose any problems. Most of us had low top hikers
and kept our feet dry. It was hot enough that the snow was a real nice treat.
Suzanne and I would our way up to the lookout and Kolleen and Bob arrived
The good news was that there were no low clouds to block our view. The
bad news was that the higher overcast provided less than perfect contrast
for photos of the many mountains in view. To the north wasn't so bad but
it was pretty awful to the south. We reached the summit at 9:30. It took
us 3:20 to climb 5100' in about 5 1/2 miles. Diablo Lake was right below
us. Ruby Mountain was to the the southeast. Jack Mountain rose well above
us to the east. Hozomeen provided a dramatic profile to the north. The peaks
north of the Cascade River Road have large glaciers on their north side.
There were some bugs much of the way up and definitely on the summit.
For a change they didn't bother me much. I never put on bug juice but all
the others did. The lookout is locked and the shutters are still all down.
The trail up was in good condition with half a dozen logs to go over or
under. None proved to be much of a problem. We spent just over an hour on
the summit and it was still only a little past 10:30. I could have stayed
longer but the bugs and the coming heat provided an impetus to get moving.
I joke about heading up to the real summit farther west on the ridge.
When we reached the point where the trail drops off the ridge Suzanne headed
up the way trail to the west. Not what I planned on but I couldn't let them
go without me. Up we went over one bump then down and up again. There was
a bit more snow here but the ridge top is mostly wide and rounded making for
The ridge continued on and on with more and higher bumps but we stopped
when we reached the nearest high point. This did turn out to be the summit
of Sourdough Mountain. Far below us was Sourdough Lake. It is not visible
from the lookout. There was also a nice small tarn on the ridge top. Finally
we headed back. Our little detour brought the days elevation gain up to
We finally dropped off the ridge at about 11:25. It was noticeably hotter
now and some sun blazed through the clouds. The sun gave us much different
lighting for the fields of flowers and we took a number more photos along
there. We passed a couple heading up in the heat a ways below the ridge and
a single hiker resting. The rest of the way down was almost uneventful. We
did see a few grouse. One even stayed along the trail posing for photos.
The real even occurred about half way down.
Suzanne and I were ahead of Bob and Kolleen when we rounded a swithback.
Suzanne stopped immediately and yelled. Right in front of her in the middle
of the trail was a very large black bear. I have seen quite a few bears on
the trail over the years but had never been able to take a photo. They always
ran away well before I could get my camera out. This time it was different.
The bear had no interest in getting off the trail. Suzanne and I snapped
photos as Bob and Kolleen approached.
They did not understand our calls of "bear" until they were almost down
to us. Even with four hikers the bear was not going anywhere. Suzanne immediately
suspected there was a cub nearby. We banged poles together and yelled but
the bear was not going anywhere. It was not threatening at all but it was
not moving either. After what seemed like a long time there was a noise high
up in a tree right along the trail. Yep, there was a small bear cub up in
Mom bruin did move a few feet off the trail but not far. With this new
information we chose to climb the steep hillside to detour well around the
bear. This worked fine and we were soon back on our way. That was much different
than any other bear encounter I've had. She was one big healthy looking bear
too. Now the rest of the way down was uneventful. 5400' of elevation loss
is tough on the knees any time.
We made it down in 2 1/2 hours from the ridge top even with our bear encounter.
It was plenty warm at the bottom. I finished off 32 oz. of water in a matter
of seconds. This proved to be a great hike. The humidity was not appreciated
but we persevered. The views of the north cascade peaks from the lookout
are among the best. When we made it back to Seattle in the early evening it
was still 94 degrees. A hot day in the mountains beats a hot day in the city
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2006