Every winter Deb and I do a two-night sisters outing to a fire lookout. We’ve been to Clear Lake Butte twice and Fivemile Butte twice. Unfortunately I could not get reservations this year so we opted instead for the Fish Lake Commissary Cabin. There is actually a bit of cool history with this place. Fish Lake lies right along the old Santiam Wagon Road. In 1867 a roadhouse was developed there, complete with barns, corrals, a blacksmith shop, and a store. When the Forest Service was established in 1905 Fish Lake was used as a ranger outpost. In 1921 Fish Lake became the fire dispatching headquarters for what was then the Santiam National Forest, and a dispatcher’s cabin was built. Phone lines were put up throughout the forest to connect Fish Lake to fire lookouts, guard stations, and district offices. More buildings were constructed, including the Commissary Cabin, which was used for tool storage and later converted to a residence. The Forest Service no longer needs Fish Lake for its operations, but many of the old buildings still stand and an organization called Friends of of Fish Lake help look after the place.
Although Fish Lake is located right on Highway 126, winter access is from Highway 20 to the north. So on March 4 we parked at the Lava Lake Sno-Park, geared up, and headed out. There are NO SIGNS telling you which way to go. What you have to do is walk out of the sno-park back to the highway which you will cross. A bit to the left (east) of the sno-park entrance is the road that you will be snowshoeing down. When we were there a blue diamond on a pole was the only marker. The route of the road you need to follow is pretty wide and obvious:
We continued following the trail/road through the forest:
Then we met up with the Santiam Wagon Road at a well-marked junction and turned left:
According to a 2013 newsletter “Work in the Commissary cabin revealed significant bat and rodent residue creating a human health hazard, the structure was removed from the cabin rental program until the damage can be dealt with.” When I visited in 2016 the work was mostly complete:
Commissary Cabin in July 2016
Commissary Cabin interior in July 2016 before the counter and range had been installed
We’re here! (While we appreciated the outside protective walls around the front door, the sheets of plywood were incredibly ugly. I hope they can find a more aesthetic solution that fits the character of the cabin.)
Lots of icicles hanging from the roof:
There is a table and two chairs:
A gas cooking stove and a propane heater (not a woodstove; more about that in a moment):
A sink (no running water and you can’t use the drain) with counter space, and a couch:
At the back of the cabin is a small room with a twin bed:
The front windows look out onto trees. The kitchen window looks down onto the blacksmith shop, oil house, and shed:
The dispatcher’s cabin is right next door (left) to the commissary cabin (right):
After we settled in we went for a walk to explore the area. Fish Lake dries up and becomes a meadow come summertime. In winter it is a wide expanse of white:
What a gorgeous afternoon!
The Hall House is the other cabin you can rent here. It was built in 1924 and named for Forest Supervisor C.C. Hall. Notice the unusual vertical log construction:
Hall House has an awesome porch:
See the old phone line insulator up there?
We cooked up dinner on the stovetop, which worked great. Veggies over rice with roasted red pepper sauce. YUM.
I had heard about snow ice cream, where you take a bowl of powdery snow and mix it with sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. We gave it a try, but our snow was icy. Still, it tasted pretty good!
I tried a night shot of the cabin exterior, but it was too cloudy for stars and it was snowing:
We woke up Monday morning to the slightest dusting of fresh snow:
After a leisurely morning we snowshoed the 1.3 miles back to Lava Lake Sno-Park:
We saw a number of little critter tracks in the fresh snow:
From the sno-park we snowshoed up Road 2067. Some inconsiderate driver had actually tried to drive up the snow-covered road and made quite a mess for all the snowmobilers, skiiers, and snowshoers to deal with:
What a gorgeous day it was turning out to be!
After half a mile we arrived at a junction with a signpost that contained no signs:
Fortunately I had printed the trail map from the Willamette National Forest website so we knew where we were going. We turned right:
We arrived at another junction, this time with signage!
We turned left and traveled about 0.3mi down a spur trail that ended at Lava Lake:
The sunshine felt GOOD:
At first they were kind of obscured by clouds, but then Maxwell Butte and Three Fingered Jack came into view:
We sat there in the sunshine for awhile enjoying the peace and quiet and the warm sun. Then we headed back to the main loop. We found that no one had traveled this 0.9mi section in a little while and it was untracked:
We definitely got a workout breaking trail as we circled back to the sno-park! This Lava Flats Loop was 2.3 miles total (not including the trek from the cabin and back). We were curious to see where the trail came out at the sno-park because we hadn’t seen any signs of it when we started. Turns out this tree covered in broken arrows is the place to start:
We headed back to our cabin, checking out Fish Lake on the way:
From a spot near our cabin we noticed that the very top of North Sister was visible through the trees:
We spent the afternoon relaxing and trying to warm the place up. While we waited for that to happen we had to bundle up:
One of the downsides of staying in a cabin in the forest (versus a lookout on a mountaintop) is that it’s kind of dark inside even on a brilliant sunny day:
As evening set in we turned on the battery-powered twinkle lights that we had brought and settled in:
Deb made dinner that night. With only icy snow outside we “skipped the middle man” and ate the rest of the condensed milk right out of the can. Delicious!
The skies were clear so we went outside to check out the stars. I had forgotten to bring my wide angle lens so I had to make do with my regular lens:
Tuesday morning was sunny and beautiful (and only 16 degrees Fahrenheit at 6:45!) and the sun sparkled off the snow:
The heat had fortunately stayed on through the night so we slept warmly. But once we were out of our down sleeping bags it was a bit chilly. Time for tea!
Before heading home we wanted to take advantage of the clear weather and get a better look at the mountains. We stopped at a viewpoint along Highway 20 on the way to Sisters and saw Mt. Washington:
And two of the Three Sisters:
We stopped for a bite to eat in Sisters, then drove a bit further east for an even better viewpoint of the mountains. The Three Sisters:
Black Butte and Mt. Jefferson:
So that’s our trip! We had a great time at this cool little cabin. This is a great place to rent for families since the trek in is short and relatively flat. I would stay here again, although next winter we are going to try again for a lookout.
Things to know if you go:
The Forest Service website says it is 3/4 mile from the Lava Lake Sno-Park to the cabin. My GPS said 1.3 miles.
The cabin has a couch, a twin bed, a table with two chairs, a gas range with stovetop and oven, and a sink (no running water and a sign said not to pour anything down the drain). An outhouse is in the trees behind the cabin.
The source of heat for the cabin is not a wood stove, but a propane one. It does a mediocre job of heating the place up and I’m sure most of our heat was hanging out underneath the high ceilings. Bring warm sleeping bags and plenty of warm clothes. We also had trouble with it going out and one thing that sometimes helped with this was to turn the thermostat up to 80. There is also a button at the base of the unit that you have to press and hold when re-lighting the pilot light and we found that if we held it in for a full two minutes that worked better than holding it in for the recommended one minute.
Although there is a picnic table and fire ring outside (it’s right behind the neighboring dispatcher’s cabin) they weren’t usable when we were there because they were buried in snow. Also, it was cold.
There are lights in the cabin but they are powered by batteries charged by a solar panel. During the short cloudy days of winter when sunshine is in short supply, the battery can go dead quickly so bring some lights of your own.
There is no water so you’ll need to melt and filter (or boil) snow. Gray water cannot be poured down the sink (according to the sign in the cabin) so you’ll need to pour it in the toilet.
Our Verizon phones had zero signal of any kind at the cabin (although we had full signals at Lava Lake Sno-Park). Good excuse to unplug from the world!
On our way home from Bend on Monday the weather was so gorgeous that we could not pass up an opportunity to be outside enjoying the clear skies. We decided to do a short loop at Maxwell Sno-Park along Highway 22.
A handy map is available on the Forest Service website, complete with numbered waypoints. We headed north past #8 and #9 then angled NE past #12 to the Mountain View Shelter. There was so little snow that we carried our snowshoes instead of wearing them.
Even though it was now 12:30 we came across a shady patch of forest where the branches and needles still had frost from the night before. BEAUTIFUL!
We continued on, hiking through the snow. There were large stretches of bare ground.
After about 2.1 miles we reached the Mountain View Shelter, a first-come, first-serve place where people can stay overnight.
The name is quite misleading though. At best it could be called “mountain peekaboo” shelter. If you move around the area a lot you can get a glimpse of various mountains through gaps in the trees. Mt. Washington:
The Three Sisters:
Three Fingered Jack:
Turpentine Peak (with the tippy top of Mt. Jefferson visible):
Coffin and Bachelor Mountains:
We sat at the shelter for awhile eating a snack and soaking up the sun. It wasn’t quiet since there was a group of people there who were staying at the shelter, but the sunshine sure felt great! We decided that rather than return the way we came, we would loop around via waypoints #17 and #16 on the map. The first part of this route followed a road:
I’m not sure where we went wrong, but sometime after passing waypoint #16 we lost the trail. We were following a clear trail, and then we weren’t. #13 was ahead of us so we just went cross-country, navigating towards it with the GPS. When we finally emerged from the woods onto the trail, it was clear that we had been too far upslope, but I’m still not sure where we went wrong. Must have missed a switchback or something. Anyway, the trail was a sight for sore eyes:
We finished the loop, then enjoyed root beer and a tasty treat from Sparrow Bakery back at the car.
The loop ended up being about 5.5 miles. Next time when we have a full day I’d like to do the Mountain View Loop, which is quite a bit longer. Our track:
Our last hike of 2017 was up Vista Butte near Mt. Bachelor.
Greg and I spent New Year’s in Bend. On the same weekend last year there was snow all over the place. Snow along the streets of Bend, snow along the drive to Mt. Bachelor, lots of snow on the ground at the sno-parks (last year’s trip report from New Year’s Day). This year was quite different. It was sunny and beautiful, for one thing, and there was a surprising lack of snow. We saw a whole lot of bare ground as we drove up to the Mt. Bachelor area on Sunday, and the driving was smooth sailing unlike last year’s white-knuckle crawl through blowing snow.
When we arrived at the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park at 9:30 there was absolutely no parking left. The lot was totally full and the Forest Service employee who was patrolling the area said there were no more legal parking spaces left if we wanted to snowshoe up Tumalo Mountain (unless we wanted to park further away and make a longer hike for ourselves). It was a beautiful day and we wanted views, so we headed back down the highway to the Vista Butte Sno-Park, which is nothing more than a wide spot on the road and easy to miss.
The trail parallels the highway for a bit before turning towards the butte:
The trail split and we opted to go right on the Lower Loop. After 1.7 miles we met up with the Butte Trail and turned right for the final mile to the summit. A word of warning if you come here. The snowshoe route crosses an old logging road that is used by snowmobilers. You can hear them and smell their foul exhaust when the trail is near that road. Very unpleasant.
Almost to the summit we were already getting great views. Mt. Bachelor was right there, almost close enough to touch:
Final push to the top! (By the way, this butte is unnamed on topo maps, so maybe the Forest Service just slapped a name on it because they needed a named destination in the sno-park.)
It took us a little over an hour and a half to snowshoe the 2.8 miles to the summit. The summit was VERY windy and therefore cold. But the views were pretty awesome. We had to move around to get all the various views, but we ended up being able to see quite a lot. Mt. Thielsen:
Kwohl Butte and Mt. Bachelor:
Tumalo Mountain, our original destination for the day (maybe next time):
Looking north, with Broken Top on the left:
A better view of Broken Top (on the right) with South Sister on the left:
Swampy Lakes (and Tumalo Falls is somewhere out of sight down there):
Diamond Peak and The Twins:
We could even see Mt. Shasta! (Nope, I was wrong. That peak is Mt. Scott, not Mt. Shasta.)
Snowshoeing back down:
5.3 miles with 670 feet elevation gain. This is a great snowshoe for a clear day! It’s not too long or difficult and the views are pretty great. A note to dog-owners, though: dogs are not allowed here, although that didn’t stop a large group of people that we saw on the summit, who had brought their dog along anyway (and it wasn’t even leashed). Here is the sign at the sno-park:
Here is our track:
And here is a map of the snowshoe trails in that area.
On Saturday Greg and I headed to Mt. Hood from some much-needed fresh air and nature time. We headed to the White River Sno-Park, put on our snowshoes, and started hiking upriver, with a view of the big beautiful mountain right in front of us.
It was pretty easy going. It hadn’t snowed in a few days so the trail was pretty packed down. A little over two miles in, we stopped for a snack. All around us it was white and snowy. No wind, thankfully!
On the next hill over (at right in the photo above) we saw two tiny figures up on top. The route up looked really steep!
Then we headed back down.
There was an impressive amount of snow on the toilets at the parking lot:
On New Year’s Day Greg and I went snowshoeing at Edison Sno Park, which is a few miles south of the Cascade Lakes Highway on Road 45. It was a bit of a white knuckle drive due to low visibility, questionable road traction, and several cocky drivers, including a giant jacked-up pickup coming at us in the opposite direction in our lane while passing. Going way too fast and driving way too recklessly for the conditions. Good grief.
Anyway, it was a relief to get out of the car and hit the trail.
It was a winter wonderland out there with all the snow.
I’ve never snowshoed on the east side of the Cascades before and I was delighted by two things over there: 1) how the beautiful red ponderosa bark looked in the snow and 2) how fluffy the snow is! Snow on the east side is fun snow, not the awful sticky icy junk we get here in Portland.
The network of trails at Edison is quite a maze. It’s actually quite confusing. Some junctions are signed and some are not.
We managed to navigate our way to the Edison Shelter, which had an impressive amount of snow on the roof.
We sat inside enjoying the warmth of the stove and the view out the door to the snowy forest beyond. Don’t let the people-less photos fool you. We saw over a dozen people while we hung out here.
It was unclear which trail we needed to finish our loop back to the parking lot, so we followed a sign that said 1.5 miles to the sno park. Along the way passed this massively weird snow mound. I’m guessing there’s a pile of lava or boulders under there.
I think we did about 3.5 miles or so and I couldn’t tell you which trails we took. Next time we’ll bring the GPS. The map on the Forest Service page is only so-so, but there’s a better map here.
We enjoyed some beer in Ben before heading back to our cozy Airbnb cabin.
BTW, we had an interesting time getting home on Monday. We had considered doing the Tumalo Falls snowshoe before heading home, but Greg had a committment in Portland in the evening and we didn’t think we had enough time. Turns out we were right. It took us just under six hours to drive from Bend to Portland via Highway 20/22. Most of the time we were going about 30 MPH due to the heavy traffic and the snowy conditions. Sure was a beautiful drive, though, with the fresh snow on the trees.
Our AutoSocks did great, although after so many miles (we put them on near Black Butte and took them off just after Detroit Lake) they are starting to show wear. Might only get one or two more uses out of them.
Greg and I spent New Year’s weekend in Bend. On our way there on Saturday we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do some snowshoeing since it was such a gorgeous day! We stopped at the small Ikenick Sno Park (right across Highway 126 from Clear Lake) and headed out on the Isaac Nickerson Loop.
You can start off on the road, or start off with a short jaunt through the trees (marked by blue diamonds) which joins up with the road. We opted for the forest.
Once the trail dumped us on Road 650 it was easy going thanks to a nice path cleared through the snow. It looked awfully even, like it had been machine-groomed somehow. I’ve never seen anything like it. In any case, it made for fast going.
After a mile we turned onto spur 637, traveling through a young forest filling in an old clearcut site:
The snow buildup on stumps and logs was pretty amazing.
We saw all sorts of little critter tracks beside and crossing our path.
We left the old clearcut and re-entered mature forest:
Then we re-entered another recovering clearcut:
637 curved and started climbing and when we turned to look behind us we had our first view of Three Fingered Jack:
A little further along we got our one and only view of the Three Sisters, which looked beautiful on this clear day:
This was north of the sisters and we think it’s Belknap Crater:
A little further along still we got a peek through the trees at Mt. Washington:
According to our 15-year-old copy of Snowshoe Routes: Oregon, somewhere around this spot was the proposed site of a snowshoer/skier shelter. Guess that never panned out because we saw no mention of it elsewhere. The route looped around and back down to 650, which we followed back to the sno park. The section of road between the two junctions was not groomed so it was slower going. But we got another view of Three Fingered Jack:
This was a really nice loop. Not super hard, nice variety, and a few views along the way. Also, we only saw two people on the trail! We couldn’t believe our good luck, and imagined the crowds of people we would be encountering if we were at a Mt. Hood sno park that day.
Here’s a map of the route. You can click on the image to see the full map of the area:
Speaking of which, the Willamette National Forest has these really nice sno park nice trail maps on its websites. On the Maxwell Butte page they even have GPS files! I find, in general, that the quality of data and information on the WNF website is vastly superior to what you find on the Mt. Hood National Forest site.
Timberline Lodge is a beautiful old lodge high up on Mt. Hood. I’ve always wanted to stay there so last weekend we splurged and spent Saturday night there.
On Saturday we went snowshoeing at White River Sno Park before heading to the lodge to check in. We’ve been having an unusually dry winter this year so there wasn’t nearly as much snow up there as we normally see in January.
We headed up to the lodge, which was bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun, as was the mountain behind it.
Our cozy room had a south-facing view of Mt. Jefferson. Lovely!
Before dinner we poked around. I’ve been in the building many times over the years, but I’ve never taken the time to look closely at how lovely the artwork and craftsmanship is.
Dinner in the Cascade Dining Room was absolutely fabulous. We ordered the Columbia River salmon and that night’s special, which was mahi mahi served over risotto. Both dishes were superb!
Sunrise in the morning was lovely.
We enjoyed the breakfast buffet in the Cascade Dining Room which included an astonishing array of food: waffles, eggs, biscuits and gravy, roasted potatoes, fresh fruit, artisan cheese and much more. After breakfast we checked out, put our stuff in the car, and snowshoed up to Silcox Hut on yet another gorgeous day. It was actually pretty warm out. I felt overdressed and hot in my winter snow clothes.
I haven’t been up to the mountain in two months, what with other commitments and a wretched cold at the beginning of February that knocked me flat. Worst cold I’ve had in a LONG time. Weeks ago my sis and I had marked this Saturday on our calendars as a snowshoe day, and even though it looks like tomorrow will be better for it she works on Sundays and I have a class, so today was the day!
We headed over to Tamanawas Falls and found the lot empty when we pulled in shortly before 10:00. As we packed up to hit the trail I realized that I forgot my camera. I have never done that before. Nuts! Well, I’d have to rely on my Droid RAZR.
We could see that the snow was hard packed so we left our snowshoes in the car, put on our Yak Trax, and set off.
Navigating the bridge was tricky. A ridge of frozen snow ran the length of it.
A fallen tree knocked out the railings on the west side of the bridge. It’s amazing that it didn’t take out the whole bridge.
Down the snowy trail. Oh that came out so dark! I’ll never forget my camera again!
Crossing Cold Spring Creek:
Observing the way that snow has piled up and then melted on tops of logs and rocks was really interesting:
I love this creek!
There was a sketchy section where the snow trail skirted this hillside and became very very narrow. I took this picture on our way out, although it doesn’t really convey how tricky it was to get around that tree.
And then we reached the falls. Ah, lovely!
The camera on the Droid (or any smart phone for that matter) does not provide a wider angle like I’m used to. This is a stitch of two horizontal shots.
We didn’t linger long since Deb had to work this afternoon. We had encountered no one on the hike in and we encountered no one on the hike out. It was such a mild day (probably about 40 degrees) that we saw a family having a picnic at the trailhead picnic table!
Goodbye, winter! I’m done with snow for the season and I’m off in search of sunshine and wildflowers until next winter. I’m SO excited for this:
Greg and I headed up to Mt. Hood on Sunday to go snowshoeing. Traffic slowed to a crawl in Rhododendron where the two lanes merged down to one and then right after that we ended up behind the slow-moving gravel truck, which was actually okay because the roads were a little slick and it was nice to have fresh gravel to drive on. It made for a slow trek up to Government Camp but we were so busy gawking at the winter wonderland all around us that the slow pace was okay. The trees were snowy/frosty starting about 2,000 feet and it was SO beautiful!
White River was our first choice if the weather was clear and Twin Lakes was our backup. Even though it had been clear for the drive up the clouds started rolling in pretty quickly and the mountain was already vanishing when we left Government Camp. Plus there was a sign that said chains or snow tires were required on Highway 35 and we had neither. So we headed to Twin Lakes.
The scene at Frog Lake Sno Park. Beautiful!!
The trail was well-traveled and pretty packed and we had an easy trek.
I love snowy trees against a blue sky! (It was REALLY cold out but that was actually okay because if it had been warmer then all that snow would have been sliding off the trees onto our heads!)
We got to the lower lake where we had a bite to eat.
Gray jays hung around begging for food:
Then we headed to the upper lake, which was further away than I remembered. Beautiful snowy landscape along the way:
Normally you’d be able to see the tip of Mt. Hood poking up above the trees over there, but it was too cloudy. Glad we didn’t go to White River!
More gray jays hung around and did their cute begging thing. Many many photos ensued.
Greg at the lake:
Then we turned and headed back to the car. One last picture at Twin Lakes Summit.
Back at the sno park we made great haste to stow the gear and get the hell out of there. The place was full of idling snowmobiles and the exhaust fumes were overwhelming. I started feeling nauseous. I don’t know how those guys put up with the fumes. On our way to Government Camp for some nosh we saw LOTS of cars parked along the highway near Trillium Lake because the parking lot had filled up. When we passed the ODOT yard we saw that they had spray-painted “NO PARKING” all along on the piles of plowed snow at the entrance. The areas along 26 near the Timberline Road junction were crazy with people putting on or removing chains. Then we got to Government Camp and it took us 15 minutes to drive the business loop from the east end to the Ice Axe Grill (we had to return Greg’s rented snowshoes at the Huckleberry Inn, which is why we drove through the middle of town). There were hundreds of cars, pedestrians, snowshoers, skiers, sledders, and dogs all over the place. It was a madhouse.
On a side note, the icicles on the buildings in Government Camp were wicked.
A beautiful day on the mountain! Really glad we went.