It’s getting harder and harder to snag reservations for fire lookouts, but last August I was lucky enough to get two nights at Fivemile Butte for the end of February. Unlike our March 2015 visit when the ground was bare, we had plenty of snow this time.
On February 26 we drove out to Dufur from Portland then over to the Billy Bob Sno Park where we put on our packs and snowshoes and set off down Road 4430.
“This route is not plowed, signed or patrolled.” This is the warning in the confirmation letter that renters receive. They aren’t kidding. This is the only directional sign you see the whole way. We’ve been here before and knew where we were going, but we read entries in the logbooks from people who made wrong turns and ended up in the wrong place.
Headed up Road 120:
The only wildlife we saw the whole time, a cute little Douglas squirrel:
Hiking through the gate on Road 122:
We made it! Took us exactly two hours from the time we left the sno park.
The previous renters had chopped a bunch of firewood, but left it sitting out in the snow. So we hauled it up and set it out to dry around the woodstove.
You really go through firewood when renting a lookout in winter, so Deb chopped up more wood. It was quite a task because the pieces were huge and the ax was dull.
We spent the afternoon relaxing and chilling out. I always look forward to reading through previous logbook entries, but was thwarted this time. The logbook(s) covering March 2015 through October 2016 was missing. Not sure who would remove it or why. Also missing was the copy of Mount Hood National Forest that I donated to the lookout last time we were here. I was also dismayed to see so much graffiti carved into the firefinder stand.
We were pleasantly surprised when the sun started to break through the clouds a bit.
Happy birthday, Fivemile Butte! This tower is 60 years old this year:
We cooked up dinner on the propane stovetop: veggies over rice with cashew-ginger sauce. Yum! We played Qwixx, a new game I got last year and hadn’t played yet. Pretty fun! As it got darker we looked outside and realized that the clouds had really cleared out and there were stars ahead. What a treat! It was the new moon, which is great for star-gazing, but the forecast had looked so cloudy that we didn’t think we’d get to see any stars. Glad we were wrong. That’s Venus on the left (looks super bright in this 30-second exposure) and the city glow from The Dalles on the right:
I think the glow on the right in this shot is a combination of Venus and lights from Mt. Hood Meadows:
While we were out looking at the stars we heard a northern saw-whet owl. Later that night when I had to get up and go out, I heard a great horned owl. So cool!
It was a calm night and we slept well. As it started to get light at dawn we woke up and were pleased to discover that Mt. Hood was visible! It didn’t last long and the mountain was quickly enveloped by clouds.
After breakfast we headed out on a little adventure exploring the butte. We first headed east from the summit, going cross country:
Then followed an old spur on the summit to its end:
The naturalist at work, trying to identify critter tracks in the snow:
View of Jordan Butte (left) and Flag Point (right):
We reached the end of that spur and dropped straight down a steep slope to meet up with the end of spur 126:
We snowshoed back up Road 120 and continued on to where the Eightmile Trail (a mountain biking trail) crosses the road. Then we more or less followed the trail towards Perry Point.
Getting up onto Perry Point was interesting. The slope was steep and I had a hard time getting a grip even with the teeth of my snowshoes. My calves are still burning from this little climb!
There’s supposed to be remnants of an old crow’s nest lookout up here somewhere, and we poked around it for it, but couldn’t see anything.
We took a different way down off Perry Point, descending via a less steep slope:
Back at the lookout we ate lunch and took naps while the snow fell gently outside:
After another delicious dinner we played Lost Cities, had fun chatty sister talk, polished off the rest of our wine and whiskey, and went to bed. It was totally overcast and there were no stars.
It ended up being VERY windy Monday night. The tower is very sturdy and actually doesn’t shake much in the wind. It was the noise that kept us up, and neither of us slept well. In the morning a little shelf of snow had built up against the base of the door:
All our tracks on the ground were obliterated. The snow was sculpted into weird shapes and patterns. It reminded me of beach sand.
Snowshoeing out, we could barely see where the road was supposed to be thanks to the smooth layer of snow:
Took us about 90 minutes to snowshoe back to the sno park, breaking trail through the fluffy snow the whole way. Yay for a fun sisters weekend!
Things to know (see post from March 2015 visit for more):
- This lookout doesn’t have a refrigerator so keep that in mind as you’re packing your food.
- Don’t forget to bring toilet paper. I’m pretty sure the Forest Service doesn’t even stock the TP up here in summer, and they certainly aren’t coming up here in winter to do so.
- We reported two issues to the ranger station: the toilet is VERY full, and the ax in the woodshed is so dull that it makes splitting wood difficult. I think they only get up here once a year for maintenance and repairs, and that certainly won’t happen until the snow melts, so I don’t expect these two issues to be addressed in the next few months.
- The door to the woodshed is gone, which is unfortunate because the wood inside is now exposed to the weather.
- Last time we were here we saw mention of a Fivemile Butte Facebook group in the logbook, but couldn’t find it on Facebook. I think it had been set to private or maybe I couldn’t find it then because they misspelled it as “Five Mile” instead of “Fivemile.” Here it is, if you’re interested.
- The signage for getting to this lookout is pretty poor and there were several logbook entries from people who headed the wrong direction. Here is a map showing the route from Billy Bob Sno Park (which, by the way, is only plowed from the Dufur side during winter, not from the Highway 35 side).
Here’s a video I made of our trip: