Three Fingers Lookout
Story by Erica Arnold
Pretty sure I reached Nirvana last weekend. When my Canadian friends informed me they were headed down to WA for a “hut hike,” I had no idea what I was in for. Stoked to catch up with this crazy crew, I blindly accepted the invite, stuffed some cliff bars in my backpack, and headed into the Snohomish wilderness. A few Strokes albums, coffees, and missed turns later my friend Kate and I finally found the gravel corridor into the woods that lead us to our meeting place at the fork in the road. Patiently waiting- -there we were greeted by a truck-bed full of burley Canadian dudes, hopped in, and drove deeper into the forest towards the trailhead. Spirits and energy were high that night as we fully took in Washington’s charm and set up camp over a teepee of fire, friends, and a fifth of whiskey.
Clearly an unfrequented path, the first third of the hike was spent bush-whacking through thick shrubbery, tip-toeing across rivers and popping raspberries and salmon berries into our mouths along the way. After about four hours of trekking we finally made it past the tree-line and were graced with an intimidating yet breathtaking view of what was yet to come. Shifting our gaze upward past the infinite layers of mountains on the horizon, the “three fingers” came into full view towering over us. A hot mess of butterflies knotted my stomach as my buddy pointed out a tiny speck of white on top of the middle peak: “that is where we’re sleeping tonight.” Calmed by peanut butter and jellies on raisin bread—moral was boosted once again and we were off.
Rocky Scramble and Steep Ladders
Over the course of the next few hours our team of twelve navigated through the thin alpine biome: marching up rocky switch-backs, crossing glaciers, free climbing, and stopping to fill our bellies with glacial snow-melt. As we crossed the backside of the southernmost peak, our digs for the night no longer seemed so unattainable—and man did it look good. Flooded with new wave of adrenaline, we charged up one last snowy slab and rock scramble until we reached the final ascent. Rocking the stupidest smiles on our dirty faces we climbed up one last vertical face using iron pegs and a rope ladder before finally cracking open the door to our humble abode.
That evening a bright display of orange and purple fell over the mountain-tops mimicking the euphoria in our souls. Fixed in a state of pure bliss we passed around a bottle of Champagne, jammed on some bean burritos, and watched the sun set into a sparkly sky. Adding to our elated state, meteor showers danced over the dark sky until our eyes couldn’t stay open any longer.
Turns out, the top 15 feet of the peak was blasted by a group of mountaineers in 1929 to create a flat space on which to build a fire-lookout. Between 1933 and 1942 members of the forest and fire service took turns taking post in the tiny wooden cabin, protecting the same wilderness we had just become so familiar with. Rebuilt again in the 1980s, the hut now serves as both a historic site and secret destination for free-climbers, backpackers, and wanderers.
Before heading back down the next morning we added to a yellowed, leather-bound journal that contained stories and energy from adventurers before us. One passage that sent shivers up my spine was written by a widow who climbs up to the hut every year on the anniversary of her husband’s death. There is absolutely a special energy to this place and she swears up here is where she feels his spirit most strongly. In that moment I felt more connected to the past, content with the present, and faithful in the future than ever before. Moments like these set my soul on fire and have me continuously craving more!!
“This hike is very difficult and strenuous, and the last half mile of the trail requires mountain climbing equipment and expertise. You must traverse a short, steep section of the Three Fingers Glacier, make a rocky scramble and ascend steep ladders to the lookout on the south peak of Three Fingers Mountain. As there is considerable exposure, those using the cabin and ladder must determine if the climb to the lookout is safe.” – USDA Forest Service
The lookout was built in 1932-33.
From the Verlot Public Service Center (11 miles east of Granite Falls, WA), travel west on the Mt. Loop Highway for 3.9 miles. Turn right (north) on the Tupso Pass Road (Forest Service road 41) and follow this road for 18.0 miles to the trailhead.
Watch full video by Jayme Gordon