Six in the morning: That was the time we were supposed to meet to start our four-plus-hour drive to the Warner Mountain Lookout Tower somewhere in central Oregon. Naturally, I was late because I procrastinated on buying groceries. After finding some peanut butter, three gigantic Honeycrisp apples, granola, beef jerky, bagels, and honey-roasted mixed nuts — y’know, wilderness food essentials — at the local QFC in Sellwood, I made my way to our take-off point. Thank God for 24/7 grocery stores and bless the people who work that early in the morning.
Brett graciously invited me on this trip a couple weeks back, but my name was on the work schedule. I fought hard to find a colleague to cover my shift, with not much luck, until I asked one of my managers to switch shifts with me. Boom! I crossed off work in my calendar and penned ADVENTURE into it. All caps, yes.
Before throwing my bags into Brett’s car, I met Ian, our third boy scout of this escapade. Ian has a great handshake, so I knew he was going to be a great adventurer in crime. I’m quite the prognosticator. Anyways, we began our trip southbound from Portland eager to get away from the city.
Oakridge was the last town before we hit the trail. We had no idea what the snow situation would be like going up to the lookout tower. Snowshoes were in the trunk though. The Kia Rondo (affectionately named Rajon, because any chance to reference basketball will happen) performed magnificently until the snow was just too much for it to handle, with about four miles to go to our destination. That was perfect. Rajon was parked on the left side of the trail; we put our packs on our backs and hiked up. It took us approximately two hours to get to the tower with the occasional bathroom breaks, photo snapshots, and the stopping time to take off layers of clothes with the sun shining on us. It was a warm hike for January. T-shirt weather with everything covered in snow is a wonderful contrast. We left the snowshoes behind even though they would’ve been especially useful on the way down the next morning.
The tower is gorgeous. Metal stairs, wooden cab at the top. The description on the web from recreation.gov eloquently describes it as such: “This replica of an old cupola-style lookout sits on a high vantage point of Warner Ridge at an altitude of 5,300 feet in the Willamette National Forest.”
After exploring the tower and the near vicinity, Ian proclaimed, “I think it’s time for a siesta.” I was tired, but while both of them napped, I chased around a couple of birds around the railing of the tower with my camera — because really, I’m 11 years old. And I was incredibly unsuccessful with said photo-capturing.
We attempted to go on a run, but that was also unsuccessful. Our feet would fall into the few inches of snow with every step. After ten minutes of awkward running, we turned it into a walk. Much more enjoyable. We conversed about the ridiculous amounts of snow sports that exist, about the terribleness of the Blazers bench defense, and our plans to take over the world.
Dinner was provided by Chef Brett. He combined a smorgasbord of food to create a wonderful plate of rice, black beans, sautéed peppers, onions, tomatoes, avocados, and squeezed lime. And let’s not forget the baked sweet potatoes! We ate like kings.
Talks about our favorite/best personal running performances were interrupted by an accidental finding of cards and board games. There was a drawer underneath the table that caught my eye; I casually pulled it, and found treasures. They taught me how to play rummy and I pulled ahead in the first round with a gutsy (read: lucky) move, and then it all went downhill. My total points may have ended with less than the first round points. Yikes. Regardless, it was fun and I learned a new card game.
The daylight was eviscerated quickly by the dark. It was blustery, but the starry sky kept on keeping me leaving the warmth of the cabin to look up. Words do a difficult job here, but it was nothing short of gorgeous. I fell asleep a little cold, but more than anything, I was happy.
The sun rose. We ate a light breakfast, cleaned up the living space for the next residents, and made the trek back down to the car. I was thankful that my pack was much lighter. Water was the main thing weighing me down on the way up, and now there was markedly less of it.
My eyelids kept on betraying me on the drive home. I didn’t get great sleep the night before. A warmer sleeping bag is now on my list of gear wants.
We reached Portland and the traffic it brings a little before 3PM. The snowy mountains, the flasks filled with whiskey, and the slow life of cabin-living were behind us, but Brett left a few words in the resident-filled log back at the tower — the last couple sentences describing our past day and a half perfectly: “It was a peaceful retreat from the city. Indeed.”