Don Sarver hangs up a Green Mountain Lookout steward banner on the exterior of the structure on Aug. 31. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Don Sarver hangs up a Green Mountain Lookout steward banner on the exterior of the structure on Aug. 31. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Summit stewards make the steep trek to Green Mountain Lookout

At the historic cabin in the sky, they interact with hikers and enjoy the majestic solitude.

Don and Stacy Sarver arrived at the peak exhausted and out of breath, yet an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment washed over them.

The Everett couple strained under heavy packs during their 4-mile climb to Green Mountain Lookout, an isolated cabin perched at 6,500 feet overlooking the North Cascades and Glacier Peak Wilderness.

They hauled enough supplies for their stay over the Labor Day weekend — three days and two nights — including sleeping bags, water, food, portable stoves and clothes.

Green Mountain Lookout, about 17 miles east of Darrington, is closed most of the year. Volunteer stewards like the Sarvers open the lookout in the summer to teach hikers about the surroundings, flora and fauna, and the history of the structure. The lookout will be periodically manned through September.

The program, launched in 2016 by the Darrington Ranger District and Washington Trails Association, also trains stewards to report fires, help with search and rescues, and perform maintenance; one of the Sarvers’ tasks was starting repairs on a neglected toilet near the peak.

During their downtime, stewards relax and pass the time however they want. The Sarvers made coffee — a small reward after four hours of hiking steep traverses, made even better by views of snow-capped mountains, green valleys, flowing rivers and milky clouds in every direction.

With every sip, the grueling climb with its 3,300-foot elevation gain felt more and more like a distant memory. They were finally home for the weekend.

Pouches of freeze-dried meals sustain lookout stewards during their stints atop the mountain. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Pouches of freeze-dried meals sustain lookout stewards during their stints atop the mountain. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the 14-by-14 cabin in 1933. Seasonal fire lookouts used a crank phone to report signs of smoke to the nearby Suiattle Guard Station. The U.S. Army later occupied it to keep an eye out for enemy aircraft during World War II.

By the 1980s, advances in aerial fire detection made the lookout’s original purpose obsolete. Weathering and neglect destroyed all but a handful of the other lookouts built in the area, so Green Mountain Lookout was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Years of winter exposure eventually took a toll. The Forest Service closed the building in the mid-1990s because of a hazardous catwalk and a failing foundation.

Adrienne Hall, who coordinates the steward program, worked for the Forest Service from 1989 to 2016 and was among those who assessed the structure’s issues.

“Being that it was at 6,500 feet, snow was basically shifting the building off and down the slope,” she said.

The lookout was disassembled and removed from the mountaintop by helicopter in 2000, labeled to keep track of original material while the cabin was repaired.

Restoration was finished in 2010 — around 75% of the cabin is made of the same fir from 1933.

Then, the lookout ran into another snag. A federal judge ordered it to be removed after Wilderness Watch, a Montana-based environmental group, argued the use of a helicopter and machinery to repair it violated the 1964 Wilderness Act.

But it was saved in 2014, when the U.S. Senate passed a measure to maintain the lookout because of its popularity with hikers and importance to the community, which was reeling from the Oso landslide that killed 43 people.

The program’s start in 2016 gave volunteers the chance to take care of a historical site, while giving the Darrington district rangers much needed help.

Stewards are required to have first-aid training and backpacking experience; of the 100 who applied to volunteer in 2017, only about 30 were selected. Stewards also attend a mandatory orientation that gives them a crash course on what to expect, how to do their jobs and the history behind the lookout.

For the past two years, Don and Stacy Sarver have been frequent stewards at the summit cabin.

They love this kind of work. The couple, who married 14 years ago in a Starbucks in Queen Anne, are avid rock climbers, hikers and campers.

Don Sarver adjusts his grip on a toilet seat he is carrying up to Green Mountain Lookout for repairs as a part of his steward duties. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Don Sarver adjusts his grip on a toilet seat he is carrying up to Green Mountain Lookout for repairs as a part of his steward duties. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Don, 38, a systems manager for Amazon Web Services and an Army veteran, and Stacy, 40, an accountant for Weidner Apartment Homes, found out about the program via Facebook. They thought it was a great idea, up until their first night at the lookout during Labor Day weekend in 2018.

Wind gusts as high as 60 mph belted the lookout. Cold air whooshed through bolt holes on all sides of the cabin.

“It was enough to be unnerving,” Don Sarver said. “I was thinking, ‘Are we going to fall off the side of this cliff?’”

But any regrets they might’ve had melted away the next morning: The sunrise painted the sky orange as it shined through the peaks of Whitehorse Mountain, Mount Higgins and Round Mountain to the west.

The couple signed up again in 2019 and were the first to open the lookout this summer over the Fourth of July weekend. That time, they brought duct tape to cover the bolt holes, and wine and cheese from Paris to celebrate.

“There aren’t too many people left in the United States who get to do this,” Don Sarver said. “Beyond that, I really enjoy the peacefulness in the mountains and just having these moments of solitude with Stacy.”

Don and Stacy Sarver prepare snacks after arriving at the Green Mountain Lookout for the weekend. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Don and Stacy Sarver prepare snacks after arriving at the Green Mountain Lookout for the weekend. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The cabin is furnished with chairs, tables, tools and a twin-sized bed, though the Sarvers learned sleep doesn’t come easily after the grueling climb. (The biggest plus on the way up is picking delicious huckleberries and thimbleberries.)

About an hour after they unloaded their supplies, their first visitors of the weekend arrived: the VonBergen family from Stanwood. The Sarvers greeted them, answered questions about the lookout and pointed out interesting facts about the surroundings.

Another trio of climbers reached the peak before sunset. After they left, the Sarvers hung lights and settled down to play cards as clouds enveloped the lookout. Their neighbors for the weekend — marmots, hawks and chipmunks — sounded off in the distance.

By Sunday evening, 19 hikers and two dogs had visited the lookout. They also managed to patch up the toilet, which rodents had chewed a hole in. It wasn’t a fun job, but the Sarvers did it without complaint.

“I enjoy being able to give back to the community, while doing something I really enjoy and have a passion for,” Stacy Sarver said. “I’ll do this for years to come.”

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

Green Mountain Lookout Site Steward

Volunteer stewards will be stationed at Green Mountain Lookout through September.

Interested in becoming a steward next summer? Call 360-436-1155. Applicants must have first-aid training and backpacking experience. They’re also required to attend an orientation.

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