The best views are the ones you have to work for.
And no matter the weather, the conditions of the roads or your mode of transportation once those roads end, you have to work hard to reach Flag Point and the four-story fire lookout that is perched on top of it.
But boy is it worth the trouble. You find yourself looking at Mt. Hood at eye level and at arm's length, close enough to make out the creaminess of its snowy top and the bowls and glades that make up its eastern face.
On clear days, you can look north across the gully of the Columbia Gorge to Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, even Mt. Rainier some hundreds of miles away. Looking south all Three Sisters stand up like a happy family, with Mt. Jefferson nearby and other mountaintops too numerous to mention and too small to identify.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The view is just as good at the end of your nose as the farthest horizons.
The U.S. Forest Service lookout tower, built in 1924 and last renovated in 1973, is at an altitude of 5,560 feet in the Badger Creek Wilderness. It is still in use by the Forest Service for the summer fire season, but in the offseason can be rented by adventure enthusiasts -- mostly backcountry skiers but also snowshoers, snowmobilers or those in need of a few days away from everything but pine trees.
There are two ways to approach the lookout, neither of which is very easy, and the journey can be drastically different depending on the weather.
The route recommended by the Forest Service takes you west from Dufur to Billy Bob Sno-Park, where snowplows dare not tread any farther. Roads that run closer to the lookout are closed until March 15, and though on that date it becomes legal to proceed, the roads my not prove passable. That leaves a roughly 11-mile hike, uphill all the way, to the lookout. It's not a technical climb in any way, but can prove exhausting in snowy conditions.
As in most lookouts, a visitor's log can be found stuffed into a drawer. It often provides excellent reading material: depictions of adventure, quick sketches, ghost stories devised to frighten the next visitor. Just about every entry at Flag Point, however, started with groups retelling difficult, sometimes brutal experiences making it to the site. Just to warn you.
But, ah, once you are there: beautiful 360-degree views. Nights starrier than a Van Gogh painting. Snow as untouched as -- well, you pick the metaphor. An all-kale salad?
At least it was for our group. But a glance back into that visitor's log tells other tales. Our journal entry was only one to mention Mt. Rainier. Some, incredibly, noted they couldn't even see Mt. Hood, which to us loomed large and seemingly at our fingertips. They probably found good snow at least, but a lookout with nothing to look out at may not be worth the trek.
So what can you say about Flag Point? The elements will dictate the kind of experience you will have. But isn't that what adventure is all about?
HOW TO GO:
The lookout can be rented for $50 per night at recreation.gov, but must be done well in advance in order to secure a date. It includes a bed, wood stove for heating and cooking and even a propane stove that we didn't get around to turning on during the trip but did seem in good working order. A large shed is piled with plenty of wood that just needs splitting. You will need to bring your own food and water on your back, but there are plenty of pots and pans, though they may need a good scrubbing before use.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.
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