Castle Point (Crater Lake National Park) 20-Sep-2020

Our first ever mule packing trip was suitably adventurous but plagued by smoke for four of its six days. We came back to civilization to find that fire had ravaged (and is still ravaging 😥 ) a goodly part of our Oregon. We drove home in thick, acrid, choking smoke. And were then confined to our house (which we are thankful is still standing) by this foul miasma for all the next week. Finally, finally, last Friday the winds shifted a bit and we could breathe outside. By today the smoke had thinned enough – but not gone away, there are still fires burning – to allow for a short visit outside. Nothing dramatic, just anything other than staring out our living room window at drifting swirls of yellowish particulates and fetid vapors. 🙄

A while back, I’d come across a hiking guide that the Rogue National Forest had assembled in 1969 (before it merged with the Siskiyou National Forest) for the area around Union Creek on the upper Rogue River. It’s a charming early effort to get people out of their cars and on the trails (a move the Big V seems to have supercharged). Almost all of the trails in it are no longer with us, having been replaced by logging roads or allowed to wither away once their primary purposes (mainly providing connections between ranger stations, guard stations, and fire lookouts) were served instead by these roads. I was intrigued by a short trail (0.7 miles) that once ran from near the site of the now long gone Huckleberry Mountain fire lookout tower,

The Huckleberry Mountain lookout in 1942; it was demolished around 1960 [USFS photo]

to a 75-foot tall noble fir tree which had preceded the tower as a fire lookout. An 8-foot wide platform was nailed to the fir’s top and a pole-ladder up its trunk completed the safety-free adventure of being a fire lookout in the early 20th Century. It’s been 50+ years but maybe the tree is still there?

The lookout tree around 1971 [USFS photo]

As I was plotting a route to the tree, my gaze wandered east to a feature on the edge of Crater Lake National Park: Castle Point (6,276 feet / 1,913 m). It’s one of 40 cinder cones and shield volcanoes in the vicinity of the Crater Lake caldera. The topo map indicated it had an interesting elongated shape for a cinder cone.

The Castle Point topo with slope shading

Aerial imagery showed a perfectly circular crater some 400 feet (120 m) in diameter next to the summit. The LIDAR imagery (which “sees” through trees) was much more dramatic, in that it showed the crater as a massive dimple with a canyon of volcanic material flowing from it into a drainage to the east.

Our track (red) to Castle Point’s summit on the edge of the crater

Castle Point is less than a mile off Highway 62 (but can barely be seen from it). Put a journey to its summit together with a search for the lookout tree and we had the makings of a short hike, mini road trip escape (at least for a few hours) from our smoke-enforced captivity.

Castle Point

We got going by taking Highway 140 east (dodging the south side of the South Oberchain fire), wending our way through Fort Klamath (past the west side of the 242 Fire), and then north on Highway 62 (recently opened after fire closures) into Crater Lake National Park. The crux move of the hike to the Point is finding a safe and legal place to park along Highway 62 which, after some squirrel-like indecision, we finally did. The hike to the summit is short (1.9 miles round-trip. with 850 feet of gain) but through a tangle of fallen trees and fulsome vegetation. No real bushwhacking, just a lot of slow ducking and weaving over, under, and around obstacles.

Cross-country through the forest
Walk softly and crawl over many big sticks…

But soon enough we’d reached the reddish rock at the rim of the crater. Up close it looks even more like a perfect round, sloping crater than it does in the aerial photos. What a wonderful little feature tucked away under the trees so very near the highway! Although dimmed somewhat by the smoke that still suffuses our area, the views from the rim were pretty good. And ones that, as with our hikes to other cinder cones in the park – Timber Crater and Bald Crater – provide a different perspective on other prominent points in the park.

On the crater rim
Looking north toward Hillman Peak and The Watchman, with a hawk circling overhead
Mount Bailey (B) and Mount Thielsen (T) to the north
Garfield Peak (G) and Mount Scott (S) to the east
Rabbit Ears (R) to the west, barely visible through the smoky haze
Union Peak to the south: just a silhouette in the smoky haze
Going back down the north slope of the crater

Huckleberry Lookout Tree

After thrashing our way back to the truck, we drove up to the old lookout site on the north end of Huckleberry Mountain. All that’s left of the lookout tower are the concrete footings on which it sat.

The remains of the lookout

The 1969 guide talks about a sign and a trail for the lookout tree but, after 50+ years, we couldn’t find either one. Some seemingly aimless wandering in the forest ensued, likely in the wrong direction or directions. No lookout tree or its remains were sighted. But it’s there somewhere; we can feel it. Or more likely we can feel the taste of Beckie’s Cafe berry pie in our mouths and are simply looking for an excuse (as if one is needed) to re-visit the Union Creek area. Which, of course, we will… soon. 😀

Union Peak from Huckleberry Mountain
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6 comments

  1. I agree! I didn’t realize this was officially in the Park. A few even provide Off the Beaten track options. Loved that at Petrified Forest in Arizona.

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  2. Thanks! Even in the national parks, there are plenty of places without crowds – you just have to be willing to do a little exploring (and have the skills to do so with some safety).

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  3. Love this! A friend was asking for recommendations for a trip while bemoaning crowds and reservation requirements. I said there is so much more than Parks and popular trails. Your style of exploration is so much more enticing. My kind of #epic. Thanks for sharing!

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