Two Men, a Book, and Mt. Pilchuck

Edith and David Capocci, with David’s book, Rambling and Scrambling around the Mountain Loop, courtesy Edith Farrell
Green Gables interior with a customer playing a hand-crafted flute, courtesy Edith Farrell

To the delight of travelers along the Mountain Loop Highway, an almost 80-year old landmark at Verlot has been renovated and reopened after closing last September.

The new owners of the Green Gables general store, Edith and Randy Farrell, offer friendly advice to hundreds of hikers and campers who come to play in Snohomish County’s backyard. They also offer food, coffee, and vacation necessities, as well as an eclectic mix of specialty items. For those wanting to know more about the Mountain Loop area, they carry a variety of new and used books.

Green Gables sits at the base of Mt. Pilchuck, the destination of an estimated 28,000 visitors each year. The store is also only a mile or so from where I lived as a child. Almost every day of my life until I left home for college, I looked up to see Mt. Pilchuck looming to the south. Some of my pleasantest memories are of exploring the mountain’s flanks or climbing its peak.

For six years while I was growing up, two naturalists, Harry W. Higman and Earl J. Larrison, studied the plants and animals that inhabit the forests, bogs, lakes, meadows, rocks and cliffs of the mountain. In 1949, they summarized their findings in an unusual, very  readable work of fiction they called Pilchuck, the Life of a Mountain. I’d never heard of the men or their work until I found a copy for sale in the Farrells’ collection.


The story’s main characters are Doc, Merle, and their woodsman friend Frank. Although these naturalists are fictional, their adventures, work, and descriptions of life on the mountain are obviously drawn from the authors’ own experiences. Edmund J. Sawyer contributed beautiful line drawings. Since I’ve been an avid nature observer and a lover of Mt. Pilchuck for many years, I found the time on the mountain with Doc, Merle, and Frank a treat not to be missed.

The mountain, like all mountains, is a living entity whose plants and animals are perfectly adapted to their own niches in the ecosystem.  I loved the historical and geological bits sprinkled in, although some of the latter are a little outdated now. The authors give marvelous descriptions of the incredible views, the quickly-changing weather, and days and nights spent at the lookout station on Pilchuck’s summit.

Today’s hikers have easy access to the mountain from the Interstate 5 corridor. They can drive to the 3,150 foot level, leaving only 2,200 feet of altitude to gain in about three miles of hiking. But when Higman and Larrison worked on Pilchuck in the 1940s, the trail began at the Stillaguamish River and climbed upward for five miles, much of it through timber. A trailside cabin had been built at timberline for a man who lived there during fire seasons. He made trips to the summit to watch for fires. In good weather, he found it easier to stay in a tent at the top.

The Forest Service ran a telephone line to the peak and eventually built the lookout a cabin there, with a cupola atop where he could have an unobstructed view. That lookout station was first built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1920, rebuilt in 1941, and renovated by the Everett Mountaineers in 1977.

While reading about that unknown watchman and his cabin, I remembered my first climb to the summit with a group of high-school friends. We wore old shoes and light jackets and carried our lunches in brown paper bags. As we labored up through the forest, the fog turned to mist and then to drizzle. Noticing lengths of rusted wire paralleling the trail, running through porcelain insulators or just nailed to rotting stumps not far above the ground, we guessed we were looking at an old telephone line. We paused to eat part of our lunch at a level spot where piled stones indicated a low wall. Rotted timbers, sunken in moss, outlined a rectangle. After many decades, I finally know why someone had built a cabin halfway up Mt. Pilchuck.

When Larrison and Higman roamed the mountain, they occasionally shared it with mountain goats, cougars, coyotes, and even a wolf. They studied shrews and six kinds of mice, fish, many kinds of birds, and they even found toads at the very pinnacle of Pilchuck. The larger mammals are scarce now, but marmots and pikas, two rodents of the high places, can still be seen by the hikers who stream to and from the lookout on an average day. Those with skill and know-how can still enjoy wonderfully wild and untouched spots on Pilchuck.

But for those who must do their adventuring from an armchair, Pilchuck, the Life of a Mountain, will serve as a lively, enjoyable guide.

Although the book is out of print, copies are available in libraries and through online booksellers.

    Henry Wentworth Higman and Earl J. Larrison, Pilchuck, the Life of a

Mountain, illus. by Edmund J. Sawyer (Seattle: Superior Publishing, 1949)

Look here for a list of libraries in this region that have copies:

Download the book to your computer: