A view of the Cascades

Panorama of Cascade Mountains

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By Chris Winters

EVERETT — So you’re driving up I-5, having just picked up an out-of-towner from one of the flatter portions of this country, you crest the hill near the Boeing freeway and get an expansive view of the Snohomish River valley below.

Assuming said valley is not shrouded in fog, the first thing your visitor says is something akin to, “Oh, look at the mountains! What’s that one called?”

Is your answer:

A. (Pushing back your Mountaineers cap:) “That peak is Whitehorse Mountain, elevation 6,840 feet, and it appears its snow cap has shrunk a bit. When I last climbed the Northwest Shoulder blah blah blah …”

Or …

B. “Ummm … Pilchuck, maybe? Or Big Bear? Pretty sure it’s Pilchuck.”

Most of us, even a few long-term residents, would find “B” closer to the mark. Yet on a clear day, the western Cascades are our own personal snow-capped end of the world, even if we’d be hard-pressed to name more than one or two.

It’s easy to take such a stunning view for granted when we spend so much time indoors starting at computer screens. And when, nine months out of the year, the view is of a cloud bank.

While Mount Pilchuck does dominate our skyline, it is in fact one of the stumpier peaks in the local panorama, topping at just 5,324 feet.

The tallest visible peak is Snohomish County’s resident volcano, Glacier Peak, at 10,542 feet. But given its greater distance from the lowlands, it only appears on the clearest “three-volcano” days as a snowy pimple on Pilchuck’s south shoulder.

Here are a few more tidbits from our local mountainscape to help impress those out-of-towners.

(Most of these details come from Fred Beckey’s seminal “Cascade Alpine Guide: Climbing and High Routes, Vol. 2: Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass,” one of the Bibles of the climbing set. Full of details, colorful descriptions and stories, it’s a good way to prepare yourself for those out-of-towners gaping at our breathtaking back yard. When the weather’s nice, of course.)

• The U.S. Geological Survey says that Glacier Peak last erupted about 300 years ago, but its eruptions over the millennia before that time contributed to much of the geomorphology of the North Cascades, including major eruptions about 13,000 years ago that sent lahars into nearby river valleys and that led to the separation of the Stillaguamish River from the Sauk. These big eruptions spread tephra east into Montana, Alberta and Saskatchewan, but lahars have also reached Puget Sound as recently as 1,800 years ago.

Three Fingers is one of the more recognizable features from the lowlands. The South Peak (elev. 6,854) is widely considered to have been the highest. It was first summited in 1929 by Forest Service rangers Harry Bedal and Harold Engles, who then ensured no one would ever repeat the feat by blowing the top 15 feet off the mountain with dynamite to build a lookout cabin. The North Peak (elev. 6,870) is now the highest of the three.

Mount Pilchuck, the closest peak to Snohomish County lowlands, has been the site of three plane crashes, in 1948, 1952 and 1964. Hikers still occasionally report coming across wreckage on its slopes.

Mount Stickney (elev. 5,280), originally called Prospect Mountain, was later renamed after a prospector who worked in the area and who reportedly went to Alaska in 1898 and was killed by wolves.

Merchant Peak (elev. 6,113) was the site of another plane crash on May 16, 1965, in which Seattle city councilman and civil rights activist Wing Luke, 40, and two others were killed while returning from a fishing trip in Okanogan County. The wreckage wasn’t located for more than three years after the crash.

• Before 1917, Baring Mountain (elev. 6,125) was called Mount Index. What is now Mount Index (elev. 5,991) was called, naturally enough, West Index. Baring is noticeable for its near-vertical north face, which rises 3,000 feet above Barclay Creek, with significant overhangs. Seven attempts were made to climb it before Ed Cooper and Don Gordon succeeded in 1960.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_at_Herald.

Own the mountains poster

Poster of Cascade Mountains Panorama

Get to know the names and shapes of Snohomish County’s notable peaks. Each peak is conveniently identified on this high-quality 24-by-36-inch poster of the Cascades, photographed from Everett.

Posters are $7.95 each for Herald subscribers and $14.95 for non-subscribers. Pick yours up between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday at the front counter at our office: 1800 41st Street, S-300, Everett. MAP