North Cascades: Visit anytime, online, thanks to diaries of local hiker
Halfway up the steep, gravity-averse trail to Lookout Mountain, Jim Kuresman and I are stepping lightly. Crossing this semi-open meadow, we're hiking on eggshells...
Special to The Seattle Times
Northwest travel guides
NORTH CASCADES, EAST OF MARBLEMOUNT — Halfway up the steep, gravity-averse trail to Lookout Mountain, Jim Kuresman and I are stepping lightly. Crossing this semi-open meadow, we're hiking on eggshells, as it were.
There's an unspoken "shush!" between us. Instead of jabbing our trekking poles into the earth as we'd been doing, we now carry them so they don't touch the ground. Less vibration that way.
We'd been warned by a trailhead sign of these unwelcome guests who could make this hike rather unpleasant. We're doing our darndest not to stir them up.
Lanky, long-legged Kuresman — at 6-foot-4, he takes two steps for my three — hikes in front. He tells me to listen for buzzing, and to scan the dirt for golf ball-size holes from which the pesky nasties might swarm.
Lookout Mountain and beyond
For the Lookout Mountain hike, take Interstate 5 to Exit 230 at Burlington, Skagit County, and go east on Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) for about 40 miles to Marblemount. Just past Milepost 106, go straight onto Cascade River Road where Highway 20 takes a hard left. Cross a bridge over the Skagit River and continue on Cascade River Road for about 7 miles to a small pull-out parking area on the right. The trailhead is across the road. Elevation: 1,300 feet. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking.
The hike: 9.4 miles round-trip. Elevation gain: 4,450 feet. High point: 5,719 feet.
Map: Green Trails 47 Marblemount.
Top fall hikes
Here are Jim Kuresman's Top 5 recommendations for fall hiking. As always, and especially at this time of year, keep an eye on freezing levels and go prepared for any weather.
Trip reports with photographs for all of these can be found on Kuresman's hiking Web site, hikingnorthwest.com or www.kuresman.com. Some are listed under Favorite Trips; all can be found using the search option.
• Enchantment Lakes, just outside Leavenworth. Along with lakes and peaks, in fall the Western Larch turn gold.
• Goat Mountain, near Mount Baker. A rainbow of fall colors, heather and huckleberry.
• Lake Ingalls, north of Cle Elum. The larch, the lake, Mount Stuart.
• Skyscraper Mountain, Mount Rainier National Park with no crowds.
• Mount David, north of Lake Wenatchee. Says Kuresman: "Mount David is among the best high-elevation ridge walks in the Cascades. Long but very well worth it."
More outdoor Web sites
www.nwhikers.net — Comprehensive forum site on Northwest (mostly Washington State) hiking. Offers trip reports and forums on everything from gear to history to photography.
www.wta.org — Web site for Washington Trails Association. Offers trail guides, trip reports, as well as volunteer information for helping maintain trails.
www.tomdav.com — Trail and mountain photography site.
www.hikerbob.com — Offers trail guides, maps and other information on Northwest hikes for a fee.
www.washingtonhikes.com — Mostly photos with some basic trail information.
www.mtnphil.com — Climbing and backcountry skiing site with amazing videos.
www.pbase.com/nolock — Amazing aerial photographs of Washington mountains by John Shurlock, a Concrete, Wash., pilot-photographer.
www.cascadeclimbers.com — Trip reports, photos and more; geared more for alpine climbing and scrambling.
Given Kuresman's vast experience — he hikes up to 1,000 miles each year and has done so for about a quarter-century now — I do as he says.
"Usually the first person through riles them up and the second person gets stung," Kuresman tells me.
Second person? That would be ... me. Thanks, Jim, I think. I inch a tad closer to him in the hope that the wasps might mistake us for one big first person.
Fairly holding our breath, we tiptoe the rest of the way through the meadow and make it through unstung. Soon we're back in the woods, continuing a relentless climb up through heavy timber.
Imparting such hiking wisdom, as well as his tales from the trails, is something Kuresman does quite a bit of these days, mostly through his Web site, www.hikingnorthwest.com. (You can also get there by going to www.kuresman.com.) To say that Kuresman keeps a record of his hikes is an understatement along the lines of saying that Mike Holmgren is a Seahawks fan.
Details from the trails
"From 1987 to the present, every hike I've ever done is on my site," Kuresman tells me.
"On my site" means name and date of the hike, its mileage, elevation gained and, often, detailed and fun-to-read trip reports. There's Monte Cristo and Glacier Falls on May 20, 1989 (12 miles; 1,300 feet). Tuscohatchee Lake on July 12, 1987 (13 miles; 3,100 feet). A snowshoe excursion on Feb. 12, 2005, to Kendall Lakes Road (8 miles, 2,200 feet), in which he enjoyed "rain, snow, then rain again." A three-day backpacking trip (May 23-25, 1992; 38 miles; 5,500 feet) to Enchanted Valley and Anderson Pass.
And much, much more.
"Obviously, I'm some kind of lunatic to have been doing that back in the days of pencil and paper," says Kuresman, 47, who when he's not on the trails works as an investment broker from a home office in Ballard.
As of mid-September, Kuresman had hiked 12,183 miles and climbed 2,999,200 feet. Or roughly halfway around the world and about 570 miles into low Earth orbit, higher than the level in which most manned spaceflights circle the planet. But it's not just about numbers. Along with a couple-hundred trip reports, hikingnorthwest.com features thousands of photographs — more than 4,400 of them.
Stunning shots from all corners of the state — heathery meadows aflame in fall; pink and red and fuchsia sunsets from Cascade summits. Wildflower rainbows and blazing eastside larch. Peaceful lakeside campsites. Waterfalls galore.
"It's not just a bunch of pretty summit shots, though; I like to show what the trail looks like along the way so that people know that they're on the right route," Kuresman says.
Kuresman started his site, which has no advertising — it's strictly a labor born of his love to hike — about four years ago. He'd been a regular contributor to www.nwhikers.net, a Northwest (mostly Washington state) hiking-themed discussion forum where he'd met dozens of like-minded folks and future hiking partners. Kuresman's Web site is kind of an extension of that.
"Before the Internet it used to be very difficult to meet people to go hiking with," says Kuresman, who used to hike primarily solo. "But you read 50 to 100 posts by people and you get to know someone pretty well; you can figure out if someone's a little crazy or they just have a set of beliefs that are different than yours."
Since the Internet, four out of five outings are with other hikers, he says.
Starting hikingnorthwest .com was a way to showcase Kuresman's thousands of photographs that heretofore would be relegated to boxes in a closet. The site also boasts some not-exactly-hiking-related feature stories. Like the one about his escapades in procuring a used Subaru Outback via eBay through a Philadelphia car dealer. And the numerous, wallet-draining breakdowns that ensued during the sometimes harrowing cross-country drive through December snows, fogs, winds and more. Entertaining stuff.
Each month, about 1,350 visitors check out his site.
Reaching new heights
After two hours of forested climbing — including another breath-holding stretch where tree flagging warned of wasps (thankfully, there were none) — we come to an open meadow affording terrific views south into the Cascade River valley and to numerous peaks, ridgelines and forested folds on either side. All is shaded slightly blue as eastside forest fires have given the air a hazy tint.
Our mountain I.D.-ing caps on, we pick out countless features including Teebone Ridge, Eldorado Peak, Johannesburg Mountain, Hidden Lake Lookout and Snowking Mountain, which Kuresman had climbed two weeks prior to our hike.
We catch the first glimpses of our destination: the small boxy cabin atop the tower on Lookout Mountain, about 1,000 feet above us. We'd be there in an hour, our progress slowed by trailside huckleberries which needed to be sampled and panoramic vistas that needed to be ogled.
"This is my kind of hike — a high ridge walk," Kuresman says, smiling and obviously in his element.
He tells me he's noticed that hikers are divided into two groups: peak baggers and lake baggers.
"I'm not a peak bagger in the sense that I have a list of peaks I need to cross off, but summits are what I really like."
A little before 11 a.m., about three hours after setting out from the trailhead, Kuresman reaches another summit. We're inside the lookout enjoying lunch and views north to mounts Baker and Shuksan, east to the Picketts, and south and west to what we'd seen before and beyond.
Built in 1962, this 14-by-14-foot glass box sports a couple beds, a gas stove, table and chairs, eating utensils, stuffed animals (three bears, a bunny and an owl) along with a few books to while away the hours. Refurbished a couple years ago, the lookout is no longer used to sight fires, but is available for folks to camp out in on a first-come basis.
Amazingly, given his hiking prowess, Kuresman has never been here before.
"One of my goals is to do 10 new trips a year," he says. "This is number 12 for 2006, so it's been a pretty good year."
After about an hour, we snap the lookout door back in place and begin the knee-jarring descent. We see only one other party on their way up to the lookout. This is the same trailhead for Monogram Lake, a popular backpacking destination, which is where most people parked at the trailhead go.
Along the way, Kuresman reflects further on how the Internet has been a boon to his hiking.
"Before, I thought maybe I was crazy because I was hiking all the time, and I didn't know anyone else who did it," he says. "But when the Internet came around, I found out that there were a lot of crazy people out there just like me."
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer and author of five guidebooks, including the newly published "Insiders' Guide to Bellingham and Mount Baker" (Globe Pequot) and "Day Hike! Central Cascades" (Sasquatch Books). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org