Two weekends ago I took a little field trip into the Chelan-Sawtooth to scope out road and snow conditions with the idea of trying to visit the old Cooper Mountain fire lookout site high atop Chelan Ridge. With hit and miss snow still lingering around 5,000′, I was dubious I’d be able to drive the whole way from the Methow side to Cooper’s 5,867′ summit. Surprisingly, I made it to within 2 miles of the summit.
The Cooper Mountain fire lookout was established as a Crow’s nest lookout in the 1920s, then a log cabin was built in 1927 that burned in a fire a short time later. In 1931, a road was built nearly all the way to the summit of Cooper making it the first lookout site in all of the Chelan National Forest to have vehicle access. A new log cabin with a 45′ wooden tower and 7×7′ cab was built at Cooper in 1932, then a 53′ timber tower with L-4 cab followed in 1939. The L-4 remained staffed into the 1960s and was destroyed sometime in 1968.
It’s possible to drive all the way to Cooper’s summit along the lofty Cooper Mountain Road from either the west or east dependent on road and snow conditions of course. I approached from the Methow side using Black Canyon, which is in surprisingly good shape with sections of fresh gravel and smooth grading. Once on Cooper Mountain Road, the traveling got a little rougher with more rocks and small snow patches but none were blockers for a high clearance 4×4. From a saddle about two miles west of the summit I could see a large lingering patch of snow on a very narrow, steep section of road. I played it safe and parked off the road in a wide area, choosing to walk the rest of the way.
My decision to park and walk was a good one. The snow patch was deep and the road so narrow and steep it would have been really tricky to turn around. Shortly after hiking through the snow I met a couple attempting to drive westbound from the Chelan side. They conceded and turned around when I showed them the snow blocking the route to the west. At least it seems the road coming up from Echo Ridge is passable and it’s possible that by now that last snow patch has melted out.
The short road hike to the summit was a pleasant one along Chelan Ridge, which is a popular raptor and HawkWatch site during summer and fall migrations. The spur road turning to the old lookout site is shaded with a steep snow bank at the top, though the summit of Cooper is fully melted out. I met one other person on the summit who had driven up from Echo Ridge nearly to the top, stopping at the deep snow bank.
The views from Cooper over to Chelan and the big peaks of the eastern Wenatchee National Forest are grand! The old lookout footings still remain at the summit block and the broad summit has a lot of room to explore and relax. It’s a great place to kick back a while and enjoy the views and I did just that.
This old burned snarled tree on the summit is a rather beautiful work of art. At first I thought it might be the old Crow’s nest tree, but in old panoramas the Crow’s nest is visible to the southeast and this tree is to the northwest of the summit. At any rate, it makes a nice photography subject.
After a long break on the summit, I hiked back down and had the good fortune of finding one of the biggest black bear tracks I’ve ever seen! They were very fresh and headed off the road in the opposite direction I was going so it’s possible the bear heard me coming and hightailed it outta there. While it takes a little effort to get to Cooper, it’s a fantastic old lookout site with great views of Chelan and the surrounding area and during the right time of yearyou can enjoy some fantastic hawk migration watching!
Date Climbed: 5/23/21
Distance (RT): 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 685′
Summit Elevation: 5,867′
Usually it’s possible to drive to the summit but I hiked due to snow blocking the west approach.