Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest; Administered by Wenatchee National Forest
Maintained by Volunteers; Currently standing
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
August 21, 2022
National Historic Lookout Register.
I’ve come to the conclusion that August is my least favorite month. It has nice longer days, but that is about all it has going for it in my opinion. It is otherwise too hot and things are usually on fire by now. This tends to mean trail closures and lingering smoke as well. My partner often says he’ll fight anyone who prefers 90 to 100 degree temps. I’ll complain about the rain, but I eventually long for it. The smell before it rains. The cooler temperatures associated with it. The fresh air that comes with a well hydrated forest. But I absolutely, whole-heartedly, never long for 100 degree summer days. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but the heat really kicked my butt this weekend. It wasn’t even forecasted to be as hot as it has been the last few weeks. We had just emerged from a one-night backpacking trip with our friends in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. We had an extra day left over for the weekend due to our friends schedules not quite lining up. It was a pretty gradual 5-mile hike out (10-miles RT), but the heat had zapped all the energy from me. Our plan was to head over to Jumpoff L.O. for another night of backpacking without friends. Based on the description from the WTA site there was a nice dry camp 2-1/2 miles into the hike to Jumpoff from Long Lake. But, I vetoed this after getting back to the car and we opted to disperse camp for the night. I needed to recoup if I was going to make the 8-mile RT hike up with over 2,500′ of elevation gain. We would later agree that this was a good call for a multitude of reasons.
From HWY-12, we headed east towards Yakima. This was the farthest either of us had been on this highway. We turned right at the junction marked for Rimrock Lake Recreation Area. This is NF-12 on the map, but there were no signs noting that on the road. We followed this paved road until we reached Milk Creed Road, NF-570, off to the left. This is a well-graded gravel road that we took to reach NF-1201. I read online that the paved portion of NF-1201 is a terrible road and this was the better route to access Long or Lost Lake. We didn’t spend much time scoping out the best dispersed spots in the area and picked one in close proximity to where we wanted to be in the morning. Our alarm was set for 5AM with the intention of starting our hike early to avoid the heat. It was still dark when the alarm went off the next morning which prompted us to reset it for 6AM. We then proceed to hit snooze until a little after 6:30AM. We weren’t up and moving as quickly as we had hoped. We turned right onto NF-1201 to head towards Long Lake. You can start the hike at Lost Lake as well but it adds an extra mile both ways that felt unnecessary for this trip. The gravel portion of NF-1201 was well graded as well and only had a few minor bumps to avoid. We parked in a pull out at the junction with NF-653, off to the left, based on a recommendation from a trip report posted to WTA. This is where we would start our hike.
The morning temps were still cool and bearable as we started walking down NF-653. It appeared to be a crummy spur road from the junction, but quickly turned into more of an ATV track with roots and embedded large rocks. We quickly reached the north side of Long Lake, which was blanketed in a green algae, and the notable shelter that marks the start of the route. We were surprised to see a truck on this portion of road too. It’s amazing where people are willing to drive instead of walk. From the shelter, the road continues steeply up a small hill. I had a screenshot of the trail description from WTA since many have mentioned it can be a confusing maze of roads and trails to the summit. Although, I didn’t find the route finding as difficult as mentioned, it was helpful to have for some of the way points. We also had a ranger district map for reference as well. After heading up the road away from the shelter, we were met with an immediate fork. Both routes meet back up with each other a short distance later, but the left is easier on foot. The second fork we headed left again, or straight depending on how you want to look at it. The trail you are following is an OHV trail and has no directional markings for you to follow to the summit. I thought that meant it would be similar to a road walk with some steeper sections thrown in. But, boy was I wrong! In the more gradual sections it was basically a road walk, but the steep sections were no joke. Toss in my fear of heights for good measure and this was now a challenging route for me. There were three notably steep sections that were problematic. All are within the first mile and a half before you reach Louie Way Gap. In all three sections, the road heads up at a steep angle that would be difficult even in an ATV to traverse. It is also made up of loose, rocky, and slick dirt that can make it hard to find stable footings. Heading up wasn’t great, but I knew heading down would be much worse. I took pictures for reference, but you can never quite capture the depth of field in a picture. The second steep section is avoidable by hiking cross country on the slope next to it. The ground is much more stable there than on the road. After the last steep section, we reached Louie Way Gap. It is an open field with a four way junction. I thought the hard climbing was over from here and that we’d have a gradual few miles to the lookout. Wrong again!
We turned left from Louie Way Gap on to NF-613. This is shown as trail #1127 on most maps, but it was once an old continuation of NF-613. It does eventually turn into a single track trail and is no longer drivable to any four wheeled vehicle. There were a few warning signs posted to trees about the upcoming side hill before the road deteriorated in case someone was to try it. The road from Louie Way Gap headed steeply up again. Nothing unmanageable, but it was starting to wear us down as the day was heating up. I thought this would be our final push to the gradual slopes of the Divide Ridge. but wrong, wrong, wrong I was! We found the aforementioned dry camp that had a nice view to the valley below. I would have struggled greatly with a loaded pack to make it here. I’m not sure if that is more a commentary on my fitness level or to the trail conditions. This marked that we were a little over half way there. The trail started to head down from here and the trees opened briefly to a view of our end goal. I stared on in confusion, the lookout appeared to be on a completely different ridge line from where we were. We both had the thought that we were somehow on the wrong trail, but that was impossible given that we followed all the directions. It just so happens that the trail heads down again to a saddle before the final climb. Something I completely missed when looking at the topo map. We could see where the trail crossed the exposed slope to the final ridge line, but it was a bit defeating to see. I already made it this far though, there was no turning back now. The WTA description describes the trail as Jekyll-and-Hyde conditions, which is accurate. Despite drinking water constantly, I could feel my body drying up on the final push, the actual final push, to the ridge. It stayed exposed the remainder of the way to the lookout, but was fairly flat from there. We crossed another four way junction where we headed straight. The NF-613, or Trail #1127, route eventually meets up with the drivable road NF-1302 to the summit.
I’ve read the NF-1302 road is 13 miles of rough and rocky conditions. But, they are in the process of building a communication tower on the summit which means improvements could be made. This was partially our motivation for making it up here sooner than later. We wanted to see the Fire Lookout before the area was obstructed by more communication buildings. The 100′ communication tower is already in process and the summit was littered with building equipment. We had the lookout to ourselves while we took pictures, signed the log book, and enjoyed a brief lunch. As we were finishing lunch, a couple drove up in their Jeep and greeted us on the catwalk. We asked about the road conditions and the guy said they had improved since the last time he was up there on his motorcycle. They joked that they took the easy way up in comparison. We only saw them and a group of three ATVs near the summit. We had the trail to ourselves the remainder of the time.
The hike back down was less grueling, but the heat was still giving me a hard time. I was dehydrated and dreaded descending the steep sections. The first one I ended up making it down by half sliding on my hip while I braced and stepped with my dominant foot. Mind you this is only a me problem between the two of us. My partner has little to no issues scrambling down these kinds of slopes. Yes, he’d agree it was steep and a bit sketchy, but he can at least descend while standing up. My main issue, besides just having the fear of heights, is that my center of gravity is in my ankles. It should be located somewhere like your core, but for me it’s not. Or at least I have that perception and my body acts accordingly to that perception. I typically use trekking poles to help stabilize my upper body. Anyway, this means that any time I feel unstable or like I’m going to fall I get low to find my stability. This leads to crab-walking, side-stepping, butt-scooting, or bear-crawling my way down steep loose slopes. I have no shame in getting dirty if I don’t feel safe. I’ve done it before and I will continue to do so in the future. Though I will note there have only been a few trails steep enough for me to roll around in the dirt like this. The second steep portion was once again easily avoided by cross country hiking the stable slope on the side of the road. I was already covered in dirt by the third steep section that I decided to take it low again. We made it back to the car in one piece, but not before this trail chewed me up and spit me out rotten. I conceded the car to my partner to drive us most of the way home.
Jumpoff, often mistakenly labelled as Jumpoff Joe, was first established in 1923 with a D-6 cupola cabin. It was replaced by the existing R-6 flat cab sometime between 1958 and 1961. It was only sporadically staffed after the 1960s for emergencies. It fell into a state of disrepair with heavy vandalism and neglect. Starting in 2010, a group of volunteers decided to start restoring and maintaining it. Mike Hiller, who staffed the lookout during the summers of 1969 to 1973, was the driving force along with the “Friends of Jumpoff” volunteers. They completed a lot of their work by the summer of 2018. It is in better shape and still standing thanks to their efforts.