Sourdough Mountain

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 soon after.

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 easy progress.

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 5400'.

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 that tree.

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 any time.

First View
Another View
Ruby Mountain
Flowers Starting
Sourdough Creek
Colonial Group
Better Flowers
Across Valley
Davis Peak
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2006