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Katie and I took the day off Friday to spend the weekend at Hall House, part of the Fish Lake Remount Depot. It's a historic site with a handful of structures including two cabins (Hall House & Commissary Cabin) which can be rented during the winter. The first building on the site was a roadhouse built in 1867. Hall House was built in 1924 as a summer residence for forest supervisor C.C. Hall. The area was used as a remount depot by the Forest Service from 1905 until 2005 when the last packer and pack string came through. Today it serves as an interpretive site.
We booked our stay six months in advance, so we didn't know what the weather had in store for us. We had hoped for snow and luckily when we arrived at Lava Lake SnoPark (off Hwy 20 near Santiam Junction) there was about a foot of snow on the ground. Just enough to allow pulling my pulk sled. The trail to Fish Lake Remount Depot starts on the opposite side of Hwy 20 from the SnoPark. The Forest Service claims the trail to the cabins is about 0.75 mile, but it is actually 1.2 miles according to my GPS.
We left Portland just after 8:00 AM on Friday morning under light rain showers. We set off on our adventure from Lava Lake SnoPark around 11:15 AM with our packs and pulk sled. The temperature started in the upper 30's and crept into the 40's as we hiked in the snow. It was overcast, but luckily not raining. The trail was very well marked and the snow was packed down by previous visitors. As such, we opted to leave our snowshoes off as we headed toward Fish Lake.
The trail heads gradually downhill until the last quarter mile where it descends a little faster down to Fish Lake. There was one spot where a large Douglas fir had recently fallen over the trail. Otherwise it was a great snow-covered forest trail.
It took us just over half an hour to hike in to the Fish Lake Remount Depot. No one else was around, so we explored a little before finding the Hall House where we were staying. We saw the Dispatcher's Cabin, Commissary Cabin (originally built to store tools and later converted into a residence), Garage/Woodshed, and the Spring House (small shed built over a spring to keep food cool during the summer).
Hall House is a multi-room log cabin with a porch looking over Fish Lake. The Forest Service website and reservation site both listed it as having two bedrooms, a common room, and a kitchen. We were slightly dissappointed to only find one bedroom and a locked door leading to some other room (peaking through the crack at the edge of the door, it appeared to be a bathroom). From the exterior, there also appeared to be an upstairs loft, but there was no way to get up there.
There is a propane stove and oven (oven has a note not to use it) as well as a refrigerator for summer use (no electricity in the winter except for solar powered lights). There originally was a fireplace in the family room, but it has been replaced with a propane fireplace insert. It was in the mid 40s outside and the gas fireplace did very little to heat the cabin up. After running it all day, it only reached 45-60°F (depending on the room). We were very thankful it was not 20°F outside. We were spoiled by the wood stove at the Clear Lake Lookout where we recently stayed. It is sad they replaced the wood fireplace with a gas insert.
There is no water provided on site, but the kitchen was fully stocked with utensils, pots, and pans. Remember to pack everything out that you pack in. Unfortunately we were not the only occupants of the Hall House. We found evidence of mice (shredded toilet paper and droppings) all over the cabin and heard them scurrying around above us and in the walls. There is definitely room for improvement, but money for improvements is likely in short supply. Some of the money from reservations goes directly to maintenance of the Hall House, but obviously not enough.
Fish Lake is a large shallow lake in the winter, but dries up in the summer and becomes a meadow. It was formed by the damming of Hackleman Creek due to the eruption of Nash Crater about 3,000 years ago.
After exploring the Fish Lake Historic Site, we relaxed inside Hall House huddled in front of the gas fire while it rained outside. Our friends Matt and Kara were planning to join us later Friday evening after they got off work. Before they arrived, Katie and I enjoyed a nice tortellini dinner together and hot apple cider afterwards. While sitting on the futon in front of the gas fire, we observed a mouse scurrying across the floor. I think it was just as startled to see us as we it.
Saturday morning the sun was shining and the air was crisp and cool. We had a leisurely start to the day and cooked a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pancakes.
Saturday was Katie's birthday, so she got to decide what we did for the day. She picked hiking around Fish Lake and visiting some nearby waterfalls (Sahalie and Koosah Falls). Due to the terrain of Fish Lake, we only made it to the outlet of the lake, Fish Lake Creek.
After our short Fish Lake hike, we drove South on Hwy 126 to Sahalie Falls on the McKenzie River. Sahalie Falls was really flowing and pretty with patches of snow nearby. We hiked downriver to Koosah Falls before heading back.
Feeling exploratory, we made a side strip to Clear Lake before heading back to the Hall House cabin. The resort was quiet and we learned you can rent the cabins during the winter at two nights for the price of one.
The sun was getting lower as we hiked back to the Hall House, creating a beautiful scene over Fish Lake. Back at the cabin we enjoyed beverages and snacks while playing a card game.
We cooked up a fantastic dinner of fresh potato chips, fried potatoes, sausage, and fried vegetables. It was amazing, but probably not the healthiest. Matt, Kara, and Katie did most of the work, but I was in charge of seasoning the potato chips. Apparently I did a great job because we were fighting over every chip!
The sun was out again the next morning as we packed up and said goodbye. Matt and Kara only had a short hike out as they parked their car off Hwy 126. Katie and I had to take the longer route back to Lava Lake SnoPark, but it was good exercise on a beautiful morning.
Hall House Tips:
- Bring warm clothes and blankets as the gas fireplace insert can leave parts of the cabin feeling cold.
- Keep food in tote bins, the refrigerator, or hung from the ceiling, so the mice don't get it.
- Hang garbage from ceiling to keep mice out.
- Paper towels & dish towel: Paper towels come in handy and there may be none at the cabin.
- The propane oven has a note not to use, so don't plan meals that require an oven.
- Miscellaneous items: Open all drawers and cabinets when you arrive as there are often supplies you may have forgotten already stocked there.
- Water: Bring water so you have some to start with while you are melting snow for drinking, cooking, and dishes.
- Footwear: Rubber soled slippers work very well for lounging around the cabin. You can keep your wet boots near the door.