Autumn Stays at Gold Butte Fire Lookout (3)We had our 4th of July weekend booked for a long time. In fact, just a few days before Autumn was born last October, my husband reserved the Gold Butte Fire Lookout as far out as you can–nine months. So as Spring turned to Summer, we found ourselves eager with anticipation for this trip. It would be Autumn’s biggest adventure yet, as we were planning on spending three nights and four days in a small 14 x 14 cabin atop a bluff in the Willamette National Forest.

As we were finishing up packing the night before our departure, Josh read aloud the trail description from the web site, “From the parking area, it’s about a 1/2 mile difficult hike to the Lookout.” The web site also pointed out that there would be a wheelbarrow available to help transport belongings. I commented that I wish we hadn’t packed quite as much stuff, but how hard could it be? After all, it was only a half mile, and we were seasoned hikers who had easily made the one and a half mile trek to our camp spot on the beach on Autumn’s second adventure with a stroller full of gear. I decided to trust that despite packing as though we were car camping–maybe even car glamping–we could easily make it to the top of the butte with baby, BOB stroller, BBQ (yes, an actual grill), bins of stuff, our border collie and my Bota Box of red wine.

The next morning we headed south. Approximately fifteen minutes past Detroit Lake, we began making our way up a winding, narrow, and minimally maintained forest road. About thirty minutes later, we finally approached the second gate where we would be parking, and I immediately spotted the wheelbarrow that would help carry our stuff. Two wheelbarrows would be nicer, I thought. Then, we noticed, despite what the web site had mentioned, that the second gate was OPEN! This meant that we were going to bypass the difficult half mile hike to the Lookout altogether!

As we continued past the gate and proceeded up the butte, we began to realize just how lucky we were that the second gate was unlocked. In fact, as the road continued climbing steeper and steeper, I began wondering if we would have made it to the top at all with all of our gear. Were the rangers positive this was only a half mile hike, because it sure felt like at least two. When we finally went as far as we could, we learned that although we bypassed a steep half mile climb, there was still an even steeper third of a mile to go. No mention of that on the website! Thank goodness, again, for that open second gate…

We unloaded, got organized, secured Autumn in the backpack, and began making our way up the final ascent to the fire lookout. At this point we knew we would be making more than one trip back to the car, but didn’t anticipate just how difficult and slow the climb would be. It proved difficult enough that we needed to take a break every 100 yards or so. We almost tipped the stroller off the trail and down the ledge on more than one occasion. Even our dog, Fletcher, who usually made several trips back and forth ahead of us, lagged slowly behind carrying his own pack. As it turns out, this short, undisclosed third mile trek to our final destination was, quite frankly, a bitch.

After another thirty minutes or so of climbing, we scrambled our way to the top of the narrow trail to find a tiny cabin with a wrap around porch and wrap around windows allowing for a 360 degree view of the Cascade range. A half a dozen snow covered peaks dotted the horizon against a bright blue sky. If there were a jackpot for most breathtaking views in Oregon, we had just hit it. We looked at each other and smiled. We were exhausted, but we knew it was going to be a great few days in the mountains, and we were ready to enjoy — just as soon as we made that second and third trip back to the car.

Autumn Stays at Gold Butte Fire Lookout (2)Both getting to and staying in a Fire Lookout with an infant is no easy feat. Here are some things to keep in mind should you set out on a similar journey:

1. Go for a hike. Don’t let hiking up a steep trail to a Lookout atop a butte be your first hike ever! Even with months of running, hiking, and yoga, the hike to the top was a quad and lung wrecker. I can’t imagine tacking on another half mile if the gate had been closed. My best advice would be to do some regular hiking or other vigorous activity with baby on your back before booking a trip like this.

2. Pack wisely. Ok, ok, so maybe the trail description really WAS meant for those who are able to fit ALL of their belongings in a couple of backpacks. Oops. Though we may have (literally) shed some blood, sweat and tears along the way, we certainly weren’t complaining when we sat down to eat freshly grilled salmon alongside a bottle of Argyle bubbly. Taking three trips up the side of a mountain wasn’t easy, and if we did it again, we’d buy a bigger backpack, so that we could pack most of our gear in one trip. Another lesson learned? Call ahead. Most Lookouts provide the essentials needed for cooking and cleaning (at least both we had now visited). We brought a bin packed with cookware and other kitchen items on this, and ended up not needing most of it. A call to the local ranger station to see what might be available already, could’ve prevented this packing mishap.

3.  Plan for games and fun. As much as we loved passing Autumn back and forth all day and baby proofing the Lookout, we were ready for a break come nap time. We broke up the routine with board games and by planning a hike for one day and swimming the next. When bedtime came, we were ready with S’mores and a nifty constellation app — and boy were the stars amazing!

4. Make the best of mealtime. With all the gear we brought, I’m surprised we didn’t bring a high chair–which, as it turns out, would have made meal time with Autumn a lot easier. It was challenging for Autumn to feed herself without something to sit in/on, as both she and her food didn’t stay in one spot for too long. Looking back, opening a garbage bag for her to sit and eat on would have probably made eating and clean up much easier. If anyone tries this, I’d love to know how it worked out.

5. Pack lots of water. At this particular spot, there was no water available, which meant we needed to hike in gallons of water. We brought five gallons of water for our four day stay, and ended up buying four more when we went into town. We hiked out with only a half gallon of water leftover. It was hot, and we were active during the days, so we drank liberally. In addition, we needed water for the dog, cooking, cleaning, and cleaning Autumn. And just to mention, water isn’t light.

With each passing adventure, I’ve realized many of the tips offered in this blog series are less about baby and more for parents. I hope you’ve found them useful thus far. This was a hard trip to do with a baby, but worth every aching muscle. You just can’t beat stunning panoramic views and vistas in the Oregon wilderness, and I think Autumn would agree!

Happy hiking!

Autumn Stays at Gold Butte Fire Lookout (1)

 

 

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