High Rock Lookout

Sunday, July 30: High Rock Lookout!

High Rock Lookout

After doing the Tatoosh Trail the day before, today we did the shorter easier hike to High Rock Lookout. We’d had to pitch camp alongside the road the night before, being unable to find anywhere else to stay (hotel or campground).

Fortunately this rushing stream blocked out the noise of the ocasional passing car:

On the drive to the trailhead we got stuck behind a SLOW Impreza that was crawling along, even on the parts where there weren’t potholes. But we finally arrived and from the car we could see our destination, the tiny-looking fire lookout perched way up on the peak:

High Rock Trail

We hit the trail and saw a “workers” sign. We later learned it was a trail crew from the Washington Conservation Corps. We saw signs of their earlier work cutting the beargrass back from the trail:

High Rock Trail

The trail climbs steeply up, up, up through the trees:

High Rock Trail

It’s a bit rough in spots:

High Rock Trail

A little ways before reaching the top you get a peek at Mt. Rainier:

High Rock Trail

The trail comes out at the base of the sloping summit, with the old lookout perched above:

High Rock Lookout

High Rock Lookout

The lookout hasn’t been staffed in awhile and has been heavily vandalized. For some reason people have written all over the windows. The south wall has been shored up with supports:

High Rock Lookout

High Rock Lookout

The view is pretty fabulous. Mt. Rainier to the north:

High Rock Lookout

Mt. Adams to the south:

High Rock Lookout

High Rock Lookout

High Rock Lookout

Mt. St. Helens:

High Rock Lookout

High Rock Lookout

Looking west:

High Rock Lookout

To the east we could see the meadows of Tatoosh Peak we had traversed the day before. It hadn’t occurred to us to look for High Rock when we over there, but we don’t own binoculars so probably couldn’t have seen it anyway:

High Rock Lookout

We could see Mt. Hood way off in the distance too:

High Rock Lookout

High Rock Lookout

We hung out a the summit for awhile soaking up the fabulous views. This is one popular trail, and we saw plenty of people up here. We also saw plenty of bugs. It was breezy at first, but when the winds calmed we were swarmed with flying ants. they didn’t bite, But were very annoying. Also annoying: the target shooters somewhere in the valley below us.

We headed down, passing dozens of people on their way up. While looking for an off-trail geocache on the way down, Greg got this iPhone shot of the lookout and Mt. Rainier:

High Rock Lookout

This is a nice short hike with great views. Glad we got to do it on such a clear day! Two days later on August 2 the entire Pacific Northwest became choked with smoke as shifting winds brought wildfire smoke from British Columbia, creating poor air quality and eliminating all views.

Tatoosh Trail

On Saturday Greg and I hiked up the Tatoosh Trail to the site of the old Tatoosh Lookout. I believe this summit is commonly called Tatoosh Peak, although on the topo map it is simply labeled “Tatoosh.” (Also, to confuse things, I believe this ridge is called Tatoosh Ridge, whereas the peaks just north of here are the Tatoosh Range.) From Tatoosh Peak one gets amazing views of Mt. Rainier and other peaks.

Tatoosh Trail

We had intended to stay in Packwood on Friday night so we could get an early start in the morning. We made the mistake of using Expedia to book a hotel and the hotel got overbooked. Expedia was not able to find us a room anywhere in the vicinity so we chose instead to stay in Portland and get up at 4am to hit the road at 5am. By the time we hit the trail at 8:50 we had been awake for nearly five hours already.

Tatoosh Trailhead

The first two miles climbs relentlessly uphill through the trees.

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Then things started opening up and we started getting views of Dixon Mountain:

Tatoosh Trail

And we got a glimpse of the huge meadows we would be traversing soon:

Tatoosh Trail

We started passing through nice meadows of wildflowers including beargrass that was WAY past peak. We never would see beargrass that was still blooming on this hike, but the other wildflowers more than made up for it.

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

As we climbed, we started to see quite a lot of valerian in bloom. We didn’t know it yet, but we would see thousands of this wildflower along the entire trail:

Tatoosh Trail

We started leaving the mixed tree/meadow zone and emerged into the big sloping meadow we saw earlier. The wildflower show continued:

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

At 2.7 miles we reached the junction with the Tatoosh Lakes Trail. It’s 1.4 miles round-trip to go to the lakes and back to the main trail and we hoped to do this on our way down.

Tatoosh Trail

Past this junction is when things really started to get jaw-dropping. Behind us Mt. Rainier loomed over the ridge and the further we went, the more of the mountain we could see. We kept turning around to look at it.

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

At around three miles we passed this nice spot that would make a good campsite (and indeed it looks like people have camped here). We stopped here briefly for a snack but didn’t pause long due to the numerous biting flies. It would be great to backpack up here, but there is no water whatsoever and those first two miles of steep uphill loaded down with enough water for two days would be grueling.

Tatoosh Trail

We could see Mt. Adams:

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

And Mt. St. Helens:

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

A quarter mile beyond the campsite is a confusing intersection where a user trail on the left ascends an unnamed 6,050′ peak and another user trail on the right goes to a good viewpoint and lunch stop. We went straight to continue on the Tatoosh Trail, which traverses yet another huge meadow:

Tatoosh Trail

Notice the huge scar of a landslide on the right:

Tatoosh Trail

I can’t find any information about when this landslide happened, but it seems to have been at least a few years ago. The trail across it has not been fixed and it’s a bit of a scramble to get across:

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

There were a few other sketchy sections where the trail needs some serious maintenance:

Tatoosh Trail

Onward we hiked, looking back for the occasional glimpse of Mt. Rainier:

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

At 4.8 miles we reached the junction. From here the Tatoosh Trail continues south to a trailhead on Road 5290 but we would be doubling back and climbing up to make the last 0.7 mile push to the peak. The junction appears to be unsigned but then we spotted an old weathered sign on a tree:

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

The last bit of climbing to the summit proved to be incredibly spectacular as the trail followed a ridge bursting with millions of wildflowers. It was incredible!

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Looking back, we could see the Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams:

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

And Mt. Hood way off in the distance:

Tatoosh Trail

Last push to the top, which had one lingering snowfield across the trail right at the summit:

Tatoosh Trail

5.5 miles of hiking and 3,500′ of elevation gain and we made it!

Tatoosh Trail

The old Tatoosh fire lookout is long gone. All that remains are the concrete footings and melted glass:

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

I found a summit register near one of the footings. It had no log inside so I added a few sheets of paper:

Tatoosh Trail

There is a heart-shaped tarn below the summit which I suppose could be a water source if one camped up here, although I’m not sure how one would safely get down there:

Tatoosh Trail

Looking east:

Tatoosh Trail

Looking back at the summit:

Tatoosh Trail

We stayed here for an hour enjoying the view but the biting flies were AWFUL and we had a long hike back down, so we reluctantly departed and began our trek back down through the wildflowers.

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

Tatoosh Trail

I really wanted to do the side trail to Tatoosh Lakes, but we were running very low on water (and hadn’t brought the filter) and we were very very tired. As it was, my feet were really sore the last few miles descending back to the car. Hopefully we can come back someday and see the lakes. On the way down two guys passed us heading back to their car and they were carrying fishing poles. I asked if they had gone to the lakes and they said they had. I asked how the bugs were and they said the bugs were really bad. So I didn’t feel as bad about missing the lakes on this trip.

This is definitely a hard hike. Our GPS stats came out to 11.2 miles with 4,000′ elevation gain (there is uphill in both directions). Plus there is virtually no shade except for that first two miles of trail. But I’ve been wanting to do this one for years and it was even better than I hoped it would be!

TatooshTrailMap