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I’ll be spending 4 days at Gold Butte fire watchtower

I’ll be spending 4 days at Gold Butte fire watchtower

Despite many adventures, my Oregon bucket list never seems to shrink. As soon as I knock an item or two off, it grows by 5 more. Last year saw horseback riding with Kiger mustangs and summitting the snow-covered Steens mountains. It also saw me hot-spring soaking and finding pianos on the playa of the Alvord Desert. This year is shaping up to knock another item off my list: staying at one of the few remaining mountaintop fire watch towers.

Due to their harsh and remote locations, fewer than 20 are left in Oregon and many are only open short portions of the year. Reservations are required, and getting a reservation is hard as they are almost always booked solid for the 6 month window of dates the moment they become available. One must diligently visit the reservation site very early every morning (east coast time no less) when dates are opened. After getting one of the rare reservations last year, I was thwarted when the road to the Lake of the Woods tower washed out and closed it for almost all of 2017 and 2018. This year, after about 2 months of on and off trying, I managed to get a 4 day reservation for the exceptional Gold Butte lookout. It’s located via hike out onto the summit of the butte and is known for having some of the most spectacular views of all the watchtowers.

It’s also a historic building. It was originally built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and usually manned by a married couple. During WW II, it was part of the Aircraft Warning System as an early invasion watchtower. In the 1970/80’s it was heavily damaged by carpenter ants. It might have been demolished like other towers if not for the efforts of the Sand Mountain Society – a fire tower preservation and restoration group. They painstakingly numbered pieces then rebuilt and replaced damaged sections exactly as it was first built, making a stay there almost exactly as it would have been in the 30’s.

Staying at one of the fire towers requires that you backpack in everything you need: water, food, and supplies. Firewood, a bed, table, fire stove, pit toilet and a few small items are provided – but there is no power, no phones, and it’s miles to your nearest neighbor. During the day you can read, hike, swim or fish at the nearby lake, or greet other hikers visiting the summit. The evenings you can watch the unbelievable sunsets and cook in the woodburning stove, then drift to sleep miles from civilization.

I’m personally looking forward to it more than my next trip abroad. I can’t wait.

Here’s a good write-up and video about the lookout

Paul Gerard’s 10 great conditioning hikes near Portland

Paul Gerard’s 10 great conditioning hikes near Portland

Hike Yourself Into Shape: 10 Conditioning Hikes Near Portland

Paul Gerald makes a great list of hikes designed to get you back in shape. I agree with this list whole-heartedly, but they do ramp up in difficulty very quickly. You might want to do some of these hikes (or find one of similar distance/elevation gain) more than once before moving up to the next level of difficulty. Also, hikes like the Elk-King traverse and Table mountain can be technically difficult and have exposure/very real falling dangers. So, definitely do your homework before going.

Here’s the abbreviated list:

  1. Angel’s Rest – Distance: 4.6 miles. Elevation Gain: 1,600’
  2. Hamilton Mountain – Distance: 7.6 miles. Elevation Gain: 2,100’
  3. Devil’s Rest via Wahkeena – Distance: 7.4 miles. Elevation Gain: 2,400’
  4. Nick Eaton Way – Distance: 8 miles Elevation Gain: 2,600’
  5. Dog Mountain – Distance: 7.2 miles. Elevation Gain: 2,900’
  6. Trapper Creek Loop – Distance: 13.3 miles. Elevation Gain: 3,200’
  7. Table Mountain – Distance: 10 miles. Elevation Gain: 3,650’
  8. Elk-King Traverse – Distance: 11 miles. Elevation Gain: 4,600’
  9. Tanner Butte – Distance: 18 miles. Elevation Gain: 4,450’
  10. Mount Defiance – Distance: 11.9 miles. Elevation Gain: 4,800’
75 of the Best Day Hikes in Oregon

75 of the Best Day Hikes in Oregon

Outdoor Project’s list of Oregon’s 75 Best Day Hikes.

This is a good list of the hikes in Oregon. Having done a number of these, I agree with many of these. While the Columbia Gorge list does not include the Washington side hikes like Dog Mountain, Hamilton Mountain, or Table Mountain, Coyote Wall, etc, at very least it makes a great starting point for Oregon-side trails.

Note that a number of these hikes are not for beginners or novices. Be sure to google the details before you go.

Oregon Coast + Coast Range

  1. Cape Lookout Hike
  2. Cape Falcon Hike
  3. Tillamook Head Hike
  4. Drift Creek Falls Hike
  5. Neahkahnie Mountain
  6. Cascade Head
  7. Saddle Mountain
  8. Kentucky Falls Hike
  9. Port Orford Heads Trails
  10. Golden + Silver Falls

Columbia River Gorge

  1. Multnomah Falls/Wahkeena Falls Loop
  2. Oneonta Gorge
  3. Horsetail + Ponytail Falls Hike
  4. Eagle Creek Hike
  5. Munra Point
  6. Tom McCall Point
  7. Indian Point Hike
  8. Deschutes River, Ferry Springs Hike
  9. Chinidere Mountain + Wahtum Lake Hike
  10. Elowah Falls Hike

Mount Hood/Clackamas River Area

  1. McNeil Point Hike
  2. Paradise Park, Mount Hood
  3. Clackamas + Memaloose Falls Hike
  4. Tamanawas Falls
  5. Salmon River, Old Trail
  6. Bald Butte
  7. Ramona Falls Hike
  8. Clackamas River Trail
  9. Gnarl Ridge Hike
  10. Cooper Spur + Cloud Cap Hike

Mount Jefferson + Metolius River Area

  1. Jefferson Park
  2. Canyon Creek Meadows
  3. Pamelia Lake + Grizzly Peak
  4. Metolius River Trail
  5. Black Butte Trail

Willamette Valley + Foothills

  1. Opal Creek Hike
  2. Abiqua Falls Hike
  3. Silver Falls, Trail of 10 Falls
  4. Butte Creek Falls Hike
  5. Spencer Butte Hike
  6. Proxy Falls Hike
  7. Diamond Creek Falls
  8. Triangulation Peak + Boca Cave
  9. McKenzie River Trail
  10. Brice Creek Trail

Central Oregon

  1. Green Lakes Hike
  2. Tumalo Falls + Creek Hike
  3. Arnold Ice Cave
  4. Broken Top Crater
  5. Lava River Cave
  6. Paulina Lake Loop Trail + Hot Springs
  7. Deschutes River Trail, Upper Reach
  8. Tam McArthur Rim
  9. Steelhead Falls
  10. Waldo Lake + Rigdon Lakes Hike
  11. Paulina Peak
  12. Smith Rock Misery Ridge
  13. Sparks Lake, Ray Adkeson Memorial Trail

Southern Oregon

  1. Diamond Peak, Marie + Rockpile Lakes
  2. Rogue River Trail
  3. Moon Falls
  4. Crater Lake, Mount Scott
  5. Crater Lake, Garfield Peak
  6. Crater Lake Plaikni Falls Trail
  7. Indigo Lake Trail
  8. Grizzly Peak
  9. Mount McLoughlin
  10. Lower Table Rock

Eastern Oregon

  1. Lookout Mountain + Mother Lode Mine
  2. Strawberry Mountain via Strawberry Lake
  3. Slide Lake via High Lake
  4. Little Strawberry Hike
  5. Pike Creek Mine Hike
  6. Borax Lake + Borax Lake Hot Springs
  7. Aneroid Lake
South Sister climb 9/22/2012

South Sister climb 9/22/2012

This last weekend I had a great opportunity to climb South Sister with some friends.

South Sister is the third tallest peak in Oregon at 10,358ft and has some notable trivia.  It the the youngest and tallest of the three volcanoes in the three sisters collection of mountains in central Oregon.  Teardrop Pool at the summit is the highest lake in Oregon.  The mountain also hosts Prouty Glacier, which is the largest glacier in Oregon.

We decided to take the standard route from Devil’s Lake to the summit.  Situated at 5,440ft, it’s a beautiful blue-green emerald to start from.  We started out across a small open meadow, then start the steady 1.5 mile hike up between Devil’s Hill and Kaleetan Butte.  You get no views during that part, until you open into a beautiful alpine meadow where you get your first amazing view of South Sister and Moraine Lake.



We cross the mile or so of the steadily climbing meadow until we hit the mountain proper and start the real ascent.  I’s a dusty and steep climb.  There was a little trail finding needed as there are lots of little paths criss-crossing their way up.



Reaching 8,900ft, we reach the base of Lewis glacier and get a good view of the last push.  From here, the rock turns to red, dusty, and chunky pumice. It’s quite a slog at this point as there are lots of little criss-crossing routes up through the crumbly rock.  A set of poles here is a godsend for footing.


Then, you reach the summit ridge!  Here you can see Teardrop Pool.  I stopped to wash off my hands, and it was just as cold as you might expect.  You still need to walk from the south end of the rim to the north end to reach the true summit.  As you make your way around, you’ll see piles of rocks and small forts that look like people have set up small bivouacs against the winds.

From the summit on the north side, we got a great view of the fires burning near Sisters.  You can also get a fantastic view of Broken top Mountain to the east.

So, overall, it was a great climb.  Took us about 8 hours or so if I remember right. Not the fastest ascent, but I had done almost NO exercising or hiking for about a month and half before doing this climb.  So in reality, I think I didn’t do such a bad job overall.  I think I’ll certainly do this climb again.  I also recommend it for anyone looking for a good conditioning climb that wants to test their fitness without having to do a lot of technical work.

SummitPost entry
PeakBagger entry with excellent topographic map



Mt St Helen’s Mother’s Day climb

Mt St Helen’s Mother’s Day climb

I tried to climb Mt St Helens on Mother’s day last year after graduating from BCEP – but the weather had other plans (winter snowstorm + lightning!) and we had to cancel.  This year it couldn’t have been more opposite.  Temps were predicted to be warm.  No, strike that, downright HOT.  So warm in fact, that there was a wet-slab avalanche danger warning issued for the entire cascade range and they were even taking the unheard of step of offering refunds on climbing permits.  This made me apprehensive, but our excellent climb leaders who’d had a lot of experience with these conditions and St Helens felt our particular route up Monitor Ridge should be very safe.

We started our 2-day adventure on Saturday afternoon from the Cougar Snopark located on the south side of Mt St Helens.  After a couple thousand feet of gain and ~4 miles of sweaty snow hiking with full camping packs, we reached the tree line and set up camp for the night.  It was blindingly sunny the whole time and getting roasted by the sun was a real danger.  I was taking a bath of multi-spectrum SPF 50 every hour and still got plenty of sun.  The heat made for interesting conditions.  The warm air temp kept me sweaty hiking in a T-shirt and shorts; while the snow was soft and made for slower going.  We brought snowshoes to keep from post-holing.  But as the sun went down, the temps started dropping fast.  After finding a beautiful spot to camp at the foot of Monitor ridge above the tree-line, we quickly melted snow for water and had dinner then I hit the sack early.  (I am now in love with the MSR Reactor stove – I’m selling my old stove to buy one of these).


After a few hours of sleep, we awoke at 3:45am to get ready for our climb.  We whipped together our gear, got some food in us, and checked conditions.  The temps were cold but after gathering gear I was shedding layers like crazy.  It was warm – still in the upper 30’s lower 40’s by my guess.  I had hoped for freezing temps since that helps freeze the snow and make for safer climbing – but it was not to be.  A little after 4:30am we switched on our headlamps and started up the Monitor ridge route.  I know the warm temps and high avy danger warnings kept me apprehensive all morning as we started up the steep pitches.  We climbed up, through, and around the rocks of Monitor ridge, taking short breaks every hour for a bite and drinking.  The idea being that by staying on the ridge top and out of the snow fields – we would be much safer.

We made steady progress of about a 1,000 ft of elevation every hour; and the route was only moderately steep.  I would certainly say it was easier than Mt Hood.The sun began to glow over the horizon and we feasted on a beautiful sunrise about half the way up.  The snow was fairly well consolidated, and easy to walk on with crampons.  As we reached to summit, however, the sun was full-on shining and the snow quickly softening.  But by then, we had already reached our goal, the summit rim, at around 9:30am.


Upon reaching the summit, we posed for the obligatory summit shots and took a breather.  This became more fun because a great number of people there were sporting all manner of ladies dresses, hats, etc.  We posed for our shot and quickly re-clad.  Even though it was already in the 50’s, the mild wind was enough to keep our jackets on.  We had some lunch, took some photos, enjoyed the scenery and enjoyed the show.  We were some of the first few groups there, and a huge line of people were steadily streaming to the summit. The costumes and goof-balls that showed up were certainly entertaining.


Then the best part – the return trip. About a third of the people coming up skied or snowboarded down.  We did not have such accoutrements (but man – I would have LOVED to had my snowboard judging by the amazing carving folks were doing!), so we opted for glissading.  The snow had softened dramatically by this point under the glaring sun, so we glissaded huge sections back to our campsite.  Honestly, some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time.  Absolutely amazing conditions.  I did see some slab cracks forming at the tops of some ridges – and it certainly made me pause – but our leaders believed them benign and we skirted them.  Still, I was keenly aware of those avy warnings that I’d been reading.  The advantage of the glissading was actually that we spent much less time in the ‘danger zones’ by zipping around them instead of spending extra time hiking them.  We reached camp in a blindingly fast 2 hours.  We packed up then hiked back to our cars.  We were all quite beat by the time we reached the vehicles – but it all went swimmingly.  What a great experience!


I would have wished for far less avy danger and certainly wouldn’t have attempted this without 2 very experienced team leaders.  I also escaped getting sunburned – but did get a really nice sun rash.   Even two days after the trip, the second I get into the sun my skin starts to prickle.  This after taking baths in SPF 50 every hour for two straight days.  A testament to how bright it was.  Good thing I work an inside desk job so I can give my skin a rest. 🙂

A Windy Dog Mountain

A Windy Dog Mountain

Did an ‘easy’ hike (compared to Hood anyway) up Dog Mountain this weekend, and man was it windy.  Flowers on the upper peak were in bloom and beautiful, but man was it windy!  20-30mph sustained.

Good Hood climbing resources

Good Hood climbing resources

After make a successful climb of Hood, here are some of the helpful websites I used in planning:

Cascade Climbers – message board for folks that just did climbs/etc

Mountain – Best source of wind/freezing levels/temperatures by elevation for many summits:

Mt Hood climb!

Mt Hood climb!

Had a GREAT time climbing Mt Hood on Saturday, Jun 11th.  Here is a flickr stream of photos:

We left around midnight and it was a perfect night for climbing.  It was nicely in the mid-20’s (which kept the snow frozen for easier travel) and only 5-10mph winds.  We were about halfway to the crater rim from Palmer as sunlight starting coming out around 4am.  We hit the crater rim around 6am as I recall.  Fantastic views and we got really lucky with the cloud cover.  There was a lot of low-lying clouds around Timberline lodge level, but also a layer of really high clouds which kept the sun off the top of the mountain.  Keeping the sun off the top of the mountain is important later to prevent ice and snow from melting and falling from above.  But we  had a wonderful window between the two layers and enjoyed it.  We did the Old Chute route, and there were easily 50 other people doing climbs as well.  One or two groups did the Pearly Gates, but it was pretty icy and a good number of people switched over to the Old Chute for the way down.  The snow was nicely consolidated all the way up.

I did find out more about the slide that happened on Wednesday.  I took a picture while I was up there since it was the very route we had to take(!), and we think this is where it happened:
The time of the slide was supposedly around 7am – which surprised us at hearing it had being so early.  Usually these sorts of slides happen after the sun has been shining for a few hours (noon/afternoon).  It was apparently a bunch of ice that fell off the wall and then slid down.  The lady who got hit did end up falling a couple hundred feet, sustained ‘a couple fractures’, and went to the hospital but was expect to make a full recovery.  It was small/mid-sized slide by the look of it and you could see where it had left big chunks laying around as we climbed up.  We’d had below freezing temps all night so there was nothing coming down; but the sun was shining directly on the wall section right where it had broken loose by the time we arrived.  Being new to Hood and climbing, I was a (understandably) worried but we got up and down as quickly as we could.  Since we got up there a little later than we wanted, we didn’t run across the summit ridge to get to the true summit.  The sun had been hitting the chute walls for well over an hour by the time we got up there, so we played it safe.  We got to summit ridge, took a good look around to enjoy the view,  and then came down again to be safe.

Most of the folks we ran into up there were really well prepared and safe.  As for poor form awards of the day, we ran into a ski patrol guy on the way down that said a lady had broken her ankle on the way down because she was glissading with her crampons on (a classic, big no-no).  Another guy had done the chute in the simple metal band crampons tied around his hiking shoes (not boots) and a hoodie (no coat, no pack/extra gear/etc).  He got stuck up at the top until someone who had found an extra ice ax (the one that the guy in the slide lost??) lent him it to go down with.

Oh, and a dog made the summit too. 🙂