This popular hike (#36 in Sullivan’s Southern Oregon hiking guide, 3rd Edition) was an opportunity to visit a defunct (but still standing, barely) fire lookout and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness, as well as check-out the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Trail (USFS #1470). My being able to do this hike in February without snowshoes speaks to the pathetic state of the Southern Oregon snowpack.
UPDATE: This area was burned by one of the 2017 High Cascade Complex Fires. The Lookout was spared and the Forest Service has since cleared the trail from Huckleberry Gap to the lookout. Sadly, by 2022, the lookout had collapsed completely into a pile of boards and timbers. 😥
Access to the Abbott Butte Trailhead at Huckleberry Gap via Forest Road 68 off of Highway 62 was easy and straightforward (not always the case with forest roads) and I was soon heading north on the #1470, which, in this area, is a well-trodden mix of trail and abandoned roads at least as far as the lookout.
The gloom of the trail’s traverse through deep forest was relieved by the occasional open meadow – here sporting a crusty, patchy, 6 inch snow cover – sad stuff for February.
Parts of the trail are actually an abandoned road, which makes for easy passage along the ridge.
There is a section of the #1470, crossed at both ends by the road, that Sullivan calls (charitably) “unmaintained.” I barely found its southern end and found its northern end blocked by really large blowdown – suggesting that it was just easier to move this piece of the #1470 trail to the road rather than keep trying to maintain the trail itself.
I followed the #1470 up to where a spur trail (USFS #1470A), actually the lookout’s old service road, climbs up to the lookout. It’s still standing (the present 20-foot timber L4 tower was built in 1939) but is falling apart and leaning precariously.
Some write-ups of this hike mention actually climbing it, but I took a pass on that after looking at the lean and the crumbling steps. Call it a concession to being a solo hiker and an aversion to emergency helicopter rides.
I remain jealous of the views enjoyed by those who staffed these lookouts back in the day. Abbott Butte commands a unique view to the east of almost all the prominent heights in Crater Lake National Park,
and, to the south, the usual suspects.
While the #1470 is a virtual highway up to the lookout, beyond that it is, as Sullivan describes it, “faint” and it’s obvious that it gets little use or maintenance compared to the 3.4 mile stretch from the trailhead to the #1470A. I was able to follow the #1470 past the lookout without too much difficulty but had to pay close attention along way, particularly in open or meadow areas, where it got even fainter. There were usually wooden signs at major trail junctions and rock cairns (under the leaning sticks in the middle of this photo) at key turns, but these were easy to miss if I was more than 20 feet off the track.
About 0.5 miles beyond the lookout, the #1470 swings east and Elephant Head comes into view.
It then descends – very faintly in places – down along the sides of several meadows (which will explode with vegetation in the spring, making the trail even harder to follow),
to a large level area immediately below Elephant Head,
then across a rickety and crumbling causeway over some marshy ground,
to the shallow waterbody that Sullivan calls “Elephant Head Pond” (it’s not named on the map).
I had lunch at the pond before retracing my steps to the trailhead. Hiking the entire Divide trail – as an overnight backpack – is on the to do list but hiking this short portion of it suggests I’d better give myself extra time for navigation and trail-finding. Overall, a short (10 miles round-trip; 1,900 feet of elevation gain) but very fun hike with an old lookout, views, and some trail exploration!