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We booked two nights at the Clear Lake Lookout Tower six months ago as dates fill up very quickly. The Forest Service opens it up for reservations in the winter months only, as it is still an active fire lookout during the summer. Clear Lake Lookout is located Southeast of Government Camp, Oregon. The trail starts from the Skyline SnoPark. It's about 3.6 miles from the SnoPark along FSR 42 and then up the 240 spur road. It's popular with snowmobilers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers, so be sure to share the road.
The original Clear Lake Lookout was built in 1932 by the Forest Service. It sat upon a 100 ft tower at that time. It was replaced with the current lookout in 1962 which sits upon a 40 foot tower. The cabin is a 14' x 14' room furnished with a double bed, wood stove, electric fridge (from solar charged battery), three burner propane stove + oven, sink basin, 5 chairs, small table, moveable dresser cabinets, and solar powered light. You must climb four flights of stairs to reach the Lookout which can become icy and very slippery during the winter months. There is also an outhouse and wood shed close by.
Katie took Friday off from work and I took Friday and Saturday off so we could spend two nights at the lookout. A huge snowstorm rolled through the mountains just days before our trip. More than 3 feet of snow fell in the vicinity. Unfortunately that was followed by several inches of rain, making one soggy mess. We arrived at Skyline SnoPark around 9:30 AM on Friday morning. There were a few other snowmobilers already there, but most of the SnoPark was empty. The temperature was about 35°F with intermittent rain showers. Not ideal conditions for snowmobiling.
After offloading our snowmobiles and hitching up our gear sleds, we headed off toward Clear Lake Lookout. The first half mile was not bad, as a bunch of other snowmobilers had gone before us, packing down the trail. After that, the going got tough. Shortly after leaving the packed trail, I got my snowmobile stuck. It sank 2-3 feet into the wet snow. I unhitched the gear sled and dug it out. As I was walking around I sunk nearly to my crotch in the wet snow. At that point we decided to unhitch both gear sleds and try to create a path to the lookout before coming back for them. We struggled for another mile, getting stuck a couple more times before we decided to turn around. It had started raining and there was no way we were going to make it to the Lookout by dark. We had even tried breaking trail first with snowshoes (which helped but was a lot of work). Once home, we regrouped and packed our backpacks so we could snowshoe to the lookout the following morning (Saturday).
We got a little earlier start on Saturday and arrived at Skyline SnoPark at 8:30 AM. There were quite a few more people than the previous morning, but still plenty of parking. The temperature was just below freezing and it was snowing lightly. There were fresh snowmobile tracks where we had ridden the day before, but they stopped at the same place we turned around (at the FSR 42 junction with spur road 240).
There was a faint cross-country ski track on the last 2 miles to the lookout, but it was not very helpful. We still had to break trail through the fresh snow which was tiring work, but the scenery was beautiful. Snow showers continued off and on with a couple momentary sun breaks.
We made it to Clear Lake Lookout in two hours flat. Not bad considering the deep snow we had to break trail through. No one had been there in a couple days, so it was cold inside (right around freezing).
The lookout was just as we remembered it from a visit two years ago. It was pretty tidy with a bit of firewood already stacked inside (always leave chopped firewood inside for the next visitor). The mattress is still in need of replacing and the door could use a weather seal, but overall it's in descent shape. We noticed one cracked window and another that had toilet paper stuffed around the edges because it wouldn't shut all the way.
We quickly started a fire and unpacked our gear. We enjoyed lunch in front of the wood stove which eventually heated the lookout tower to 60°F.
The wind was quite fierce at times, but it would occaisionaly die down for a few minutes and clear up enough to see Clear Lake and Timothy Lake. Unfortunately it did not clear up enough to see Mt Hood.
We relaxed most of the afternoon in the lookout, watching about 30 snowmobiles come and go. None of them came up to visit us though.
The firewood shed was well stocked and I felt right at home chopping away as Katie helped load up the milk crate that we used to haul the wood up to the cabin.
Right around dinner time we observed a snowcat grooming the trail up to the lookout. If only it had come the night before! We turned down the wood stove and went to bed as the exterior temperature dipped down to 20°F. We stayed relatively warm, but added firewood once in the early morning hours to warm up the lookout a bit.
The snowshoe back was very pleasant on the groomed trail. There was a couple inches of new snow, but the going was easy. We arrived back at Skyline SnoPark in just over an hour. It was packed with snowmobilers enjoying the trails. We had a terrific time despite our snowmobile troubles on Friday. The weather has been so unpredictable lately.
Things You'll Wish You Knew on Your First Day at Clear Lake Lookout Instead of Your Last
- The locks and doorknobs freeze: Be prepared to gently beat the locks and doorknobs as necessary to unlock/open them, as they are prone to freezing. If you use warm water on the locks, be sure to bring them inside and let them dry before placing outside again.
- Wood stove: The open position for the chimney flue is when the triangle is parallel to the chimney stack with coil part facing up toward the ceiling. The damper on rear works - high (pulled out toward the sink) when starting fire, low when cabin is warm or going to bed. The fire can last around 4 hours, so you might want to add wood once or twice during the night to keep it warm.
- Paper towels & dish towel: Paper towels come in handy and there are none up there. There is a dish towel up there, but it doesn't get washed, so consider bringing your own.
- Toilet paper: There is extra toilet paper in the tan tote bin in the wood shed if the outhouse appears to have run out.
- Stove/oven: The ignitor doesn't work, so bring a BBQ lighter as a regular lighter puts your fingers a little close to the flame.
- Sink: Close the drain plug to keep the cold draft and smells from blowing in.
- Privacy: If the snow is good (especially on weekends) there will be many snowmobilers up to visit. Close the catwalk if you don't want visitors, otherwise be friendly.
- 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.