Lookout Mountain is a strenuous snowshoe trip with few places to park your car. but once you hit the summit, you'll enjoy grand views from a lonely peak.
The trip begins at the junction of Elderberry Canyon and Libby Creek roads, at elevation 2,380 feet. The route follows Elderberry Canyon Road on a very gradual climb through the forest, through private land for the first 0.2 miles. The road is a right-of-way for the public, but do not stray off of it onto private land.
At 0.6 miles and 2570 feet of elevation, the road goes left at the unmarked junction and reaches a summer turnaround at 1.8 miles and 3190 feet of elevation. Along the way, observe the many tracks of animals in the snow: mouse, crow, snowshoe hare, coyote, deer, and moose. Quiet travel can be difficult in most snow conditions, so be sure to stop and enjoy the stillness of the forest and the sounds of the birds and animals.
Beyond the summer turnaround, the route follows an ATV trail in a southerly direction on a climbing traverse. The Sawtooth Mountains are visible from a viewpoint at 2.2 miles and 3400 feet of elevation. This point makes a good turnaround for a shorter trip.
If you're in it for the long haul, continue on. The ATV trail makes a wide left turn and traverses to its end at 3.4 miles and 3800 feet at a summer campsite in a pass. After this, the nature of the route changes from a trail following an old road to a more cross country route. It's important to be well-equipped for this, with map, compass, GPS, and backcountry know-how, including avalanche awareness.
Climb 1000 vertical feet along the ridge west-northwest from the campsite to the 4855-foot point (as marked on the 2002 USGS topo map). During the climb, Lookout Mountain may be glimpsed through the trees to the north. This point, 4.2 miles from the start, has grand views to the west, south, and east. It also makes a good turnaround point or decision point for a return down the ridge crest between Elderberry & Chicamun Canyons rather than retracing the inbound route.
Continuing on to the top of Lookout Mountain is a commitment. There are no real highlights before the top as the route follows the treed ridge crest for a mile with a few views, losing 200 feet and regaining 100 feet before reaching the saddle to the southwest of Lookout Mountain at 5.2 miles and 4670 feet of elevation. A short break may be in order before the final push to the top. Snow conditions will dictate the right equipment for the 850-foot climb in the next half mile, which can be powder snow, compact snow, slush, crusted snow, or ice.
From the saddle, the route follows the open ridge to the northwest, shifting slightly left (west) above 5200 feet. At about 5450 feet, the lookout tower comes into view as the route crests the nearly level top of Lookout Mountain.
In winter the lookout is closed and the hatch access to the deck is locked, but that doesn't impact the expansive view of the Sawtooths, North Cascades, Pasayten Wilderness, with Winthrop and Twisp visible in the valley to the north. On a clear day with good snow conditions, the view is worth the 5.7 miles and 3140 feet of gain to get here.
After enjoying the view, its time to descend back to the 4855 foot point, where it will be decision time. The longer and shallower route back to the car retraces the inbound route. The cross-country ridge crest descent has more views and provides for a loop trip, described here.
From the 4855 foot point, go southwest for 0.1 mile and then turn south to follow the ridge crest. Be sure to not follow the secondary ribs to the west or southwest. The descent is along a mostly open ridge with the route laid out right in front of you. You can savor the view and enjoy an easy snowshoe descent. Just watch for the snow covered sagebrush which can cause some postholing, even with snowshoes.
When down to 3530 feet, go east-southeast for 0.1 mile then south-southeast to stay on the ridge crest. Stay east of the Forest Service drift fence used to limit summer cattle grazing range. At 3000 feet, cross another dilapidated drift fence line and go east southeast to 2900 feet, then turn to south-southwest, leaving the ridge crest. Descend to the trees and another fence line. Stay east of this fence as it is private property on the west side. Follow the fence line to the cattle guard on Libby Creek Road. Turn left (east) and hike Libby Creek Road for a half mile back to the start.
In winter, Libby Cr Road does not have any plowed pullouts on the private property at its junction with Elderberry Canyon Rd. In early season and late season, the plowed road is wide enough to park near the start. In January and February, the usable road can be too narrow to park without interfering with traffic. Fortunately, there are two options: park near a cattle guard a half mile from the start, or in a small parking area at the end of plowing. This option however adds 2.1 miles both ways.
Each of the two optional parking areas have direct cross-country routes on USFS land to the ridge crest between Chicamun and Elderberry canyons. Both are steep climbs, initially in trees and then in open terrain. The advantage of steep is that one third of the climb to Lookout Mountain is done in the first mile, and there are good views from the ridge crest. On clear days the route is obvious once above the trees, but navigation skills, as well as a map, compass, and GPS are useful, and required in limited visibility.
Using the other route (from the cattle guard a half mile beyond Elderberry Canyon Road), one can hike back to Elderberry Road or take the following direct route to the ridge crest. From the east side of the cattle guard, go north, up the hill, staying east of the fence line. At 0.1 mile, turn north northeast to reach the ridge crest at 2900 feet. Turn left (west-northwest initially) to follow the ridge crest for 2.7 miles, meeting the standard route at the 4855-foot point.
From the end of plowing,a t 2520 feet, cross the cattle guard at the entrance to the parking area and go east (cross-country), climbing through forest and then open terrain, for 0.4 mi to a secondary rib at 2900 feet. Follow the secondary rib to the northeast for 0.3 mi to the ridge crest at 3530 feet. Turn left (north initially) and follow the ridge crest for 1.7 miles, meeting the standard route at the 4855-foot point.