I’ve been on a roll lately visiting awesome old fire lookout sites and this past weekend I made a spur of the moment decision to try a route up to Setting Sun Mountain (7,253′) just 5 miles northwest of Goat Peak near Mazama. Setting Sun was once home to an L-5 cab lookout built in 1933, which stood for 20 years before it was destroyed sometime in 1953. The person who constructed Setting Sun, Tracey Heath, also built a twin L-5 fire lookout at Mebee Pass, which is now the last known remaining L-5 fire lookout.
Lightning Bill told me it was common for the lookout staffing Goat Peak to hike back and forth to Setting Sun, especially during lightning storms since the site has a big view up the Lost River valley that other lookouts did not.
I thought about following the footsteps of the former lookout and making the trek from the Goat Peak trailhead but instead scouted out an approach from Forest Service Road 400 just south of Setting Sun’s summit. I was surprised to find the road in good condition and conveniently, the only downed tree was right at the very end! The tree didn’t leave much room for maneuvering so I spent about 5 minutes doing a less than graceful 50-point turn and missing my shorter wheel base Jeep. I backtracked down the road a short ways to a wider area to park, then headed up to the summit.
The route was much more straight-forward than I had anticipated and I was surprised to find a trail most of the way to the summit. I left the road around 5,600′ and headed northwest up an obvious ridge with a faint game/cow trail. After about 1,000′, the ridge turned northeast and opened into a high alpine meadow with fabulous views of Robinson Mountain, the Gardners, and Silver Star.
From here, the terrain turned more rocky and loose and a faint trail headed up a short but steep climb to a high point at 7,054′. This small cliff band section was about the steepest on the route. As I dropped down the north side on my way to the next bump at 7,125′ I saw an interesting sign or marker in the distance but couldn’t tell what it was. When I finally got to it, I saw that it was a beautiful memorial for Methow Valley resident Ian Fair, who tragically died in an avalanche on these slopes on March 4, 2018.
I know several friends who knew Ian well. I opened the summit register at the memorial and read a poignant but beautiful note written by his fiancee, Steph Bennett, in his memory. I took a few minutes on the summit to enjoy the views and take a moment of silence to celebrate the life of someone who lost theirs much too soon.
I signed the summit register with a quote I often write from one of my favorite beatnik poets:
“So shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless and don’t be sorry.” – Jack Kerouac
After a few moments of reflection, I headed down the north side of the bump at 7,125′ and turned northwest along the ridge to Setting Sun. There is one more bump to crest along the way but the ridge trail is easy to follow. Along the way were charred sections of trees and ground from lightning strike fires started last fall on September 20, 2020. Long lines of old telephone wire and insulators lie on the ground along the ridge, so I had to watch my step in places.
As I hiked the last stretch of trail to the summit, I happened to see something that caught my eye and investigated. It was old leather boot! I just love finding artifacts like this in the wilderness. It was hard not to wonder who this boot belonged to, how it got there, and what kind of stories it had to tell. I tucked it back where I found it so perhaps someone else can stumble upon it and enjoy.
The summit of Setting Sun is a great one, with lots of old lookout debris like hinges, a stove pipe, wood, and miscellaneous other things. The views up the Monument Creek drainage into the Pasayten are incredible! I made myself comfortable and pulled out a map, studying all the peaks and surrounding terrain. In a few short weeks I’ll likely be heading up to volunteer staff Goat Peak, so it was fun to see things from the perspective of Setting Sun, only a few miles away.
As Hudson and I lounged on the summit, I heard a strange noise approaching. It sounded a bit like an airplane, but not quite. I couldn’t place it and couldn’t see a thing, then suddenly, a sail plane emerged, effortlessly gliding right over the summit. It made an interesting whirring sound and was so fun to see! I watched the pilot make several passes over the area, his shadow floating on the gigantic face of Silver Star mountain across the way, which was bearing the scars of a recent large avalanche.
I had fancied the idea of following the ridge from Setting Sun all the way east to McLeod, but I have to admit I was more interested in relaxing on the summit than busting my butt climbing over a bunch of high points I’d simply have to repeat on the way back. I decided instead to traverse east over to the peak between Goat and Setting Sun called Peach Peak, or Peachy Peak depending on what sources you look at. I couldn’t resist standing on a summit called Peachy and it’s likely the high point that the lookout from Goat hiked over enroute to Setting Sun.
I regretted not bringing backpacking gear and spending the night! It was a fabulous ridge to enjoy. I’ll certainly be back to do McLeod, Sunrise, and a few others in the area. Setting Sun is a great summit and the route from Forest Road 400 is a very enjoyable one. Here are some more views of the mountains from the summit. Enjoy!
Date Climbed: 6/19/21
Distance (RT): 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,400′
Summit Elevation: 7,253′