A Hike From Hell & a Fire Lookout Tower With Views of Heaven
An arduous trek and a restless night made great by good company and panoramic views of Oregon's iconic Cascade Mountains
Devil's Peak could have no other name. The trail leading to the craggy top runs just over 3.5 miles, but gains some 3200 feet in elevation. I assured myself and my father it'd be just fine. I mean, how hard could three miles be? Initial online research seemed to answer the question with an emphatic REALLY DANG HARD. I figured, what do they know? And either way, the views would surely be worth it. Right?
Exploring lookout towers has been a favorite #content building activity of the Instagram and Tumblr sets for some time—and for a good reason, they're really cool—but it wasn't really on my radar until I stumbled across an ancient looking online registry of US wildfire lookout towers a while back.
After a bit of clicking and comparing to google maps, it became apparent that one of the better looking towers happened to be located just about a mile from the small forest service cabin my family has owned on Oregon's Mt. Hood—about an hour east of Portland—for decades.
The tower we settled on had been manned by the USFS through the 1970s, but the area had since been designated Wilderness, and the tower had officially been decommissioned and left to naturally decay. Word from the local Ranger’s office was a shadowy group made discrete efforts to keep the structure standing, while adhering to strict Wilderness rules.
What was once an integral part of the Forest Service—watching for forest wild fires during the dry summer season—has been all but forgotten. Now, day hikers looking for a solid challenge and a “nice” place to lay their head are responsible for slowing the surrounding forest’s impressive efforts to reclaim the mountaintop.
"Sheer stubbornness was to thank for reaching the peak, and that alone."
Since no one in the family had known of its existence, we gambled and hoped no one else in the Portland area did either (in hindsight, lol). So, on a warm, late summer morning my old man and I landed at the trailhead—after grabbing a maple bar from the world famous Huckleberry Inn in nearby Government Camp—and set out on what was to be a rather trying trail hike.
The trailhead is nearly a 45 degree angle from the gravel road where we left the old Subaru. By the time two hours passed we were sure we were merely a few feet away. I was totally spent, and my father was too. Then we passed a halfway marker carved into a tree and just about threw in the towel. But an hour longer and we reached the 5,045 ft peak, laying eyes on one handsome lookout tower. We have sheer stubbornness to thank for reaching the peak.
"Two creaky wire cots, a 300 degree view of The Great Northwest, and evidence of a very healthy mouse population welcomed us..."
Two creaky wire cots, a 300 degree view of The Great Northwest, and evidence of a very healthy mouse population—along with a couple well-earned cold ones. Once we settled in (read: cleaned up mouse poop and swept for an hour or two) two log books bursting with entries proved plenty of entertainment while we waited for sundown. They also proved the landmark tower had in fact been inhabited by curious folks like us for nearly every night for months prior to our visit, and likely for years before it.
In the end, both sunset and sunrise were more than we could have ever dreamed of. Witnessing a blazing sun rising over hundreds of miles of old growth forest in every direction is one of those life-affirming experiences.
A word to the wise: If all the trail guidebooks say a hike is hard, it probably is.