Fire lookouts have always attracted visitors whether on foot or wheels. Sadly, many lookouts are gone, dismantled or destroyed. Those that remain are popular and often crowded; others are so hard to reach and only those with SUVs or ATVs can get to them at all. Some hikers enjoy lookouts regardless of the company they find along the way or at the top.
You can usually expect company if you hike to the Fremont Lookout at Mount Rainier and there are plenty of views to go around. This popular trail starts from Sunrise; the hike is moderate, about 6 miles round trip with 1,150 elevation gain. All trail junctions are well signed and the trail is snow-free.
Starting from Sunrise the main trail heads uphill to a T-junction on Sourdough Ridge. Turn left. The trail passes a junction for the Huckleberry Creek Trail, skirts Frozen Lake (the water supply for Sunrise is off-limits to visitors). Just past Frozen Lake you’ll come to a major trail junction with trails radiating out in several directions including Fremont Lookout; turn right onto the trail (from the junction it is about 1.3 miles to the lookout).
Though the trail is snow-free a few snow patches can still be seen from the trail – note the pink cast to the snow caused by algae (some hikers refer to this as watermelon snow). The trail skirts Frozen Lake and begins its steady climb to the lookout. You will soon see the lookout in the distance; thankfully not as far away as it appears. As you hike note the wildflowers display that starts at Sunrise and doesn’t quit. Look for Indian paintbrush, lupine, Western pasqueflower (anemone), saxifrages, phlox, partridge-foot, heather (white and red), and clumps of cinquefoil all the way to the summit.
Did I mention the views? Though you can see Mount Rainier at Sunrise the views are even more compelling as you head out on the trail with views of the Emmons glacier, Mount Rainier, Berkeley Park, Lodi Creek, Willis Wall and Mount Ruth. At higher elevations, you can look down into still-green and lush Grand Park.
Most vegetation is stunted; lupine and Indian paintbrush are smaller at higher elevation than in the meadows below. Notice the dark outcroppings above and below the trail; some might describe them as akin to a sharks’ fins. The trail grows even rockier as it approaches the lookout; you might feel you are walking on broken crockery as the flat rocks rattle under your feet.
When you get to the lookout it’s hard to tear your eyes away. The sight of a lookout often inspires poetic inspiration and images. Let your imagination run wild; climb the ladder to the cat-walk around the lookout, peer through a window to see tools of the trade, old and new, ranging from an ancient can of bug-spray, a cot and other items for the comfort of those who manned the lookouts. Before you leave walk around to the other side of the lookout for artistic cairns, views of Glacier Peak, Mount Baker and far, far away Mount Stuart.
At the lookout we heard a rumble then watched in awe as an avalanche roared down Russell Cliff, Willis Wall and Liberty Cap onto the Winthrop glacier. That added a dramatic footnote to an already dynamic trail.
Other popular lookouts we revisit include Granite Mountain (I-90), Gobblers Knob and Shriner Peak (Mount Rainier) and Mount Pilchuck in the North Cascades.
Karen’s next article will cover a few more options for lookout hiking. Check back tomorrow!