Robinson Butte Snowshoe (Southern Oregon) 29-Feb-2016

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Unlike the last two winters, this year we’ve had a more “normal” year, with a good snow pack fueled by alternating bands of rain/snow and sun. It’s not unusual to have a stormy night, followed by a bluebird morning, and then a gray jay afternoon as the next storm moves onshore. So we’ve become somewhat adept at finding hikes or snowshoes that can fit into the bluebird part of this cycle. A snowshoe hike to Robinson Butte fit nicely into this limitation.

Robinson Butte is located south of Highway 140, just west of Brown Mountain and just southwest of Mount McLoughlin, off of Forest Road (FR) 37. The lookout on its summit is still in use during the summer but plays host to a lot of comm gear year-round. While this area is infested with snowmobiles in the winter, we had it to ourselves thanks to this being a weekday and the upper road to the lookout being suffciently blocked by blowdown to turn away motorized machinery. FR 37 is closed by snow in the winter but we were able to park where it junctions with Highway 140 (room for 2-3 cars). The nearest SnoPark is 0.5 miles to the east – we could have parked there too and made our way cross-country back to FR 37. We went south on FR 37 over snow well-packed by snowmobiles,

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Forest Road 37 covered with snow and laced with snowmobile tracks

past the Northfork Campground and over the North Fork of Little Butte Creek – the outlet from Fish Lake (the little building is a gaging station not an outhouse),

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

North Fork of Butte Creek

where we indulged in a spectral selfie.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Maintaining our aura of mystery

We kept going on FR 37,

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Snowmobile tracks on Forest Road 37

to where we turned right (west), at an unsigned junction, on to FR 37-150, which we followed all the way up to the lookout. You can’t see the lookout from FR 37 but you can see the antennas sticking out of the comm station next to the lookout.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

The antennas (arrow) on Robinson Butte from Forest Road 37

Evidence of snowmobiles diminished rapidly the further we got from FR 37 and we began to have more of a wilderness experience. Although we wore our snowshoes almost the whole day, the snow – even absent compaction by snowmobiles – had settled a lot between 4,000 and 6,000 feet and we could easily have done without them. Erosion and compaction of the snowpack is starting to pick up as we continue to get wet – but now warmer – storms.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Away from the snowmobile tracks at last

About half way along FR 37-150 to the lookout, we came to the only sign pointing the way.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

A sign…

Beyond here, snow cover and blowdown had conspired to block snowmobiles (but it looked like they’d tried real hard to drive up the road), so ours were the first tracks on the snow below the lookout.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Robinson Butte Lookout today

According to the History of the Rogue River National Forest, Robinson Butte was first established as a fire lookout camp in 1913 and the first tower was a 20-footer built in 1933. The present 53-foot tower was originally built in 1963 on Blue Rock, overlooking the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

The Blue Rock Lookout in 1974

In 1974, the timber tower and R-6 flat roof cab forming the Blue Rock Lookout were trucked to Robinson Butte and erected as a replacement for its old tower. The tower is now on the National Historic Lookout Register. All that remains at Blue Rock are the foundations of its relocated lookout.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

An intricate array of struts and braces

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

An intricate array of struts and braces

You can’t actually access the cab in winter, but you can climb the stairs to just below it,

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Looking down the stairs

where you can look down some 50 feet,

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

We left our snowshoes at the door (so to speak)

or out to Mount McLoughlin to the north. {The summer after we visited the tower, it failed an inspection, a condemned sign was posted at the bottom, and the steps were removed from the first set of the stairs.}

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Mount McLoughlin framed by bracing

The lookout shares the summit with a comm station, where heat from its power source had melted its snow cover into a semblance of a Roman aqueduct.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Et tu, Brute?

Lucky for us, bluebird conditions persisted until we had finished both visiting the lookout and eating our snack. But within ten minutes of our starting back, the band of clouds ahead of the next storm was overhead and all became gray jay gloom. Sigh.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Back toward McLoughlin through the gathering gloom

Still, a good snowshoe hike (8.1 miles roundtrip; 1,200 feet of elevation gain) to an historic lookout, with some good views while bluebird conditions lasted. Also a useful check on snow conditions below 6,000 feet. Higher up (like on Mount McLoughlin), there are still areas of soft snow where snowshoes are a blessing and still higher (above 8,000 feet) there is wind slab and snow over ice that really calls for crampons.

Robinson Butte Lookout Southern Oregon

Our snowshoe track to Robinson Butte

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