Before we headed out, the thing we had paid the most attention to was the current and recent snow level. The description on how to get into the lookout is very clear: It could be a 6-10 miles snowshoe or hike in, depending on the snow level. So, we spent the night before in Oakridge, to guarantee we would have an entire day to make it in.
We were surprised to find that we drove to within 3 miles of the lookout...this luxury would turn into a hassle on the way out! But, on the way in, it was great! Sunny, packed snow, easy trekking, light packs and the sled that we had loaded our food onto pulled easily along! Truly spectacular! And of course, we were giddy with excitement!
The lookout itself really delivered! From the cupola with a 360 degree view, to the cute propane faux fireplace. It was beautiful and cozy.
The mattress was comfortable (but we put our Thermarests on it anyway - instant pillow top!) and that little fireplace kept the indoor temp between 55 and 65 the entire time we were there! That was despite the 25 mph sustained winds and 45 mph gusts which blew snow INTO the lookout from around the poorly weather-striped door. I spent a good hour filling those gaps with paper towel on the second night.
Did I mention the views? Spectacular! Just Wow! And we got to see those views in every kind of weather (which means sometimes we were amazed at how much we couldn't see) AND we got to see those views at every time of day.
The latter was thanks to me. I was so excited to look outside that, for the first two nights (out of three), every time I woke I would launch myself bolt upright in bed and look outside! 'What did it look like now?' I would wonder.
And Sara got to share in this. Because every time I sat bolt upright, she would startle awake thinking rats or yetis were upon us. 'Ooops....sorry, its ok, its still storming.' I would tell her reassuringly. An around the clock visual weather update, courtesy of yours truly! Sara was thrilled.
But, to my credit, the weather was constantly changing. The middle of the first full day, a huge storm blew (BLEW!) in. We knew it was coming because we had our weather radio with us. Sor first thing, that morning we went out trekking to find the map we had lost on the way in and check out the area.
We watched that storm blow in hot lunch, beer and scrabble...while the tower creaked and swayed! It was quite a thrill!
The next day everything looked different. The valleys were covered in a cold thick layer of snow. There was over a foot of fresh powder everywhere, huge deep snow drifts which we stomped through during the brief lull before the second storm was supposed to move in.
It was gorgeous. We tried our snowshoes on some steeper terrain, took some pictures, and plotted our exit for the following day.
Really, most of our time was spent reading (me), splicing rope (sara) and playing cards or scrabble (both of us). Sunset is so early this time of year, that we made sure we were up the tower by 3pm or so...which left a lot of time for relaxing in front of the faux fireplace.
And it was SO relaxing. We marveled that, of the 11 nights we were gone, the longest we stayed anywhere was 3 nights and the 3 we were at the lookout went the fastest.
Sigh. I can't wait to go back.
The second storm that moved in was warmer, wetter and more docile (25 mph gusts) and was still going by the time we left in the morning. Unfortunately, snow level had risen to 5000 feet, and we hiked out in rain and in heavy, rain-soaked snow.
Sara didn't have a proper shell...so we made do with what we had available. We had both anticipated it being cold and dry the whole time. Next year, we will prepare better.
The trek out was uneventful, wet and quick....at least the part that got us to the car....
The car. Phase Two of our adventure. It had snowed at least 15 inches since we had parked it on an unmaintained forest service road. And we knew, from the way in, that the chains we bought (despite CLAIMING they were the right size for our tires) were too big and came off at the slightest provocation, in a single piece.
Long story shorter that it could be... The division of labor was such: Sara drove and re-applied the chains. I dug out the center of the road with the snow shovel, pushed the car along and retrieved lost chains.
This was efficient enough to get us 3 miles down the road into lesser snow in only 2.5 hours. No kidding.
Of course, spending a night in the wilderness, stuck in the car, would have been inconvenient but not horrible. We had all of our (damp) gear with us, including a stove and pot that I insisted we bring "just in case".
But, we made it out! And were elated to not be spending the night on FS2129! We rewarded ourselves with Burger King and starting making plans for Warner Mountain lookout next year!
Ok, I am going wrap this up with some FAQ:
1. Water - we melted snow on the stove and boiled 5 minutes to sterilize....just in case.
2. Food - packed it all in. Packed all our garbage out. The lookout had a propane stove and oven which was nicer to cook on than my electric range at home.
3. Bedding - brought it all in...including our pillows...luxeries using the sled allowed us!
4. Bathroom - the outhouse is at the bottom of a 41 foot tower. We brought one of these and a empty jug... in 45 mph winds with a paper towel caulked door...there was NO leaving. [Testimonial: I LOVED this thing! I will take it backpacking from this day forward (backpacking = no jug required). Cleaner, neater and warmer than the backwoods squat.] Other business required braving the stairs and snow drifts to the outhouse.
5. Sled - Our first time using a sled, and it was great! The sled we managed to find (at the last minute, true to form) was not ideal and our rigging was makeshift, but it still worked well. Definitely something we are going to use again.
6. Pictures - Of course! Slimmed down to a modest amount for your viewing pleasure. Its your reward for making it through this LOOOOONG post!