Return to Clear Lake Butte

In July 2012 I walked up to the Clear Lake Butte lookout. It is staffed in summer and I had a lovely conversation with Carol who was working the tower that summer. In winter the tower is available to rent, so back in SeptemberĀ I made reservations for my sis and I to stay there overnight on March 9.

The lot at Skyline Road Sno Park was totally empty when we arrived just before noon on Sunday. We geared up and started down Skyline. The road was snow-covered but just barely. We saw at least a dozen patches where pavement was peeking through.

After about a mile and a half we reached the turnoff for the butte, which was well-signed.

The road up the butte is not steep, but it does go uphill, obviously. It was my first time snowshoeing with a full backpacking pack and it was tough going. It took us an hour and a half to travel that last two miles. Just after 2pm we made it to the top. I had been really worried about the weather forecast (pouring rain) but except for one brief little shower we had a dry hike in. Yay!

First order of business: get a fire going. Even though the temps weren’t that cold, we were soaked with sweat and looking forward to a cozy fire.

We could see Timothy Lake to the west.

And Clear Lake to the north. Mt. Hood is hiding in those clouds there but we never saw it.

After we got a fire going we did some exploring. The large building next to the tower is the woodshed and it’s really well-stocked with wood.

(By the way, there is a story behind the presence of a yucky old mattress in the shed. The person who wrote the February 12 entry in the logbook last month said that their reservation was almost cancelled because a few days prior someone had left a window open when leaving the tower and a whole bunch of snow blew in. The Forest Service came and cleaned up the mess and replaced the mattress and put the old wet one in the shed. Close the doors and windows tight, people! This is the dead of winter!)

We used the pulley system to bring up snow for melting and firewood. Much easier than hauling it up the stairs!

The kitchen amenities in the lookout are quite nice. There is a propane range, a propane oven, a mini fridge powered by the battery that is charged by the solar panels, and a sink (just a drain, no faucet). Plus counter space for prepping food. Deb decided to use the stove as backup and tried cooking our dinner on the woodstove. (It actually worked!)

While dinner cooked we relaxed and enjoyed the view.

By dusk the rain that we had expected earlier arrived. We played gin rummy and drank wine by candlelight while the storm raged outside. I expected the tower to shake more than it did with all the wind, but it didn’t. Before the weather got too nasty I decided to bundle up and go out for a night shot. I had hoped to do this shot with stars in the sky but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. With the sideways rain and my numb fingers trying to in vain to keep the lens dry (ha!) this was the best I could do.

We enjoyed a warm cozy night, and I do mean warm. We got up every three hours to put more wood in the stove. It was so worth it, though, because it would have been pretty cold by morning if we hadn’t done that. When the sun came up we saw there was a dusting of fresh snow, and it was still falling. Beautiful!

We were mostly socked in by the clouds, but for a brief moment they parted and I could see Timothy Lake. I could also see that it hadn’t snowed lower down and we were in our own personal winter wonderland up on the butte. I wondered how the campers were doing over at the lake. The night before we could see their campfire on the far shore. Considering the rain, wind, and snow I was glad to be where I was and not where they were!

We gathered snow to melt for our morning tea then spent the morning lounging and enjoying the snowy view. AWESOME.

Finally we tore ourselves away, locked up, and headed down.

The first part of the walk down was really lovely since the trees here were snowy.

It snowed for most of the way back to the car and my rain gear eventually gave out against all that moisture. I was glad I had warm clothes in the car that I could change into. We hadn’t seen any snowmobiles the entire time (although judging from logbook entries lots and lots of snowmobiles go up the butte). About 15 minutes from the car two snowmobiles approached and stopped to ask us about conditions. Turns out they were a couple who had that night’s reservations at the tower. They said they had reservations back in January that they had to cancel because there wasn’t enough snow on the ground. I had to chuckle to myself over that. When you travel by foot it doesn’t matter if the pavement is bare, does it?

We had a lot of fun and we’ll definitely do this again. Next time we’ll stay two nights. After the effort of getting there it would be nice to stay longer.