A Brush With Vulture (Cascade-Siskiyou NM) 31-Oct-2021

Three peaks straddle the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) due east of Oregon’s Howard Prairie Lake: Brush Mountain (with north and south summits), Old Baldy, and rocky Point 6054 (known locally as “Vulture Rock“). Point 6054 was never the site of a Forest Service fire lookout, while Old Baldy hosted one between 1924 and 1961, and two sat atop Brush Mountain between 1915 and 1930. The lookout on Brush Mountain’s northern summit was probably one of the most unusual ever allowed by the U.S. Forest Service:

One of the more innovative structures was the Brush Mountain Lookout, built in 1915-16 by Dan Pedersen, a native of Norway and a retired sailor. โ€œWith an axe, auger and a pair of pliers he utilized a 120-foot Shasta red fir as his lookout tower. โ€œStarting at the ground he…bored holes for two-inch yew pegs that made a spiral ladder up the tree. As he progressed up, limbing as he went, he sat on each peg just put in and bored the hole for the peg above until he reached the height he wanted, 104 feet (32 m) – and then he topped the tree…Yew poles, bent and wired to the ends of the pegs, made the stairway more secure. Reminiscent of [Pedersen’s] sailing days, a five-foot diameter “crow’s nest”, built in Ashland and raised to the top, gave him a place to stand while watching for that first puff of smoke (Sarginson, 1938: 2).โ€

History of the Rogue River National Forest (LaLande, 1980: 142)

The tree with its pegs crumbled years ago, but, as of 2007, the crow’s nest could still be found lying on the ground near Brush’s northern summit. So why not go look for it? After all, today was Halloween, so conjuring-up the ghosts of lookouts past seemed appropriate. The LovedOne decided she’d rather conjure-up another knitting project, so I struck off (alone ๐Ÿ˜ฅ) north on the PCT from its trailhead on the Keno Access Road. This pretty mellow stretch of the PCT is all through forest with no views, so I distracted myself with mushrooms, whose soft color gradations endlessly fascinate.

Mushroom I
Mushroom II
The Four Mushrooms of the Apocalypse?
Mushroom III
Mushroom IV

After 2.2 miles (3.5 km) of steady climbing on the PCT, I came to a gravel logging road (BLM 38-4E-2.6), not all of which is mapped. I turned northwest (left) here and followed this road for 1.2 miles (1.9 km) to the edge of a recovering clear-cut. From there, it was north cross-country, through a fence, to Forest Road (FR) 2520-830. I followed this until directly west of Brush’s southern summit, then went off again cross-country toward it. The forest here is surprisingly open and the slope refreshingly gentle and I was at the southern summit in no time. In 1914, this point had been a treeless rock outcropping.

South Point and the stone staircase in 1914 (National Archives)

Today the trees have all grown back and there is no view. But I found that the stone staircase shown in the 1914 photo was still fully evident and intact after 100+ years. Wonderful!

The stone steps today (upper half)
The stone steps today (lower half)

I then made my way across the intervening saddle to the northern summit. After searching in vain for the fallen crow’s nest, I came across the remains of a storage shed (?) that had been built between two huge boulders.

Pegs spiraling up the tree c1915 (U.S. Forest Service)
The finished lookout in 1917 (National Archives)
The fallen crow’s nest in 2007 (Ron Kemnow photo)
Remains of the storage shed
The storage shed was built in the cleft between two huge boulders

From the north summit, I made my way down the steeper east side of the mountain to FR 2520 (Big Draw Road). I knew this was doable because the late Dennis Poulin had used it to bag the summit in 2010 (reaching the top from the west was a lot easier). Once on FR 2520, I followed it west to Griffin Pass and a junction with the PCT. Then NOBO on the PCT to the now iconic Vulture Rock sign. There is now a clear use trail – and many, many, many small cairns ๐Ÿค” – marking the way from here, across an old (unmapped) logging road, up the lower slopes of Vulture Rock, across its boulder field, and on to its summit. The forecast had promised “partly sunny” but that didn’t mean that the views from Vulture weren’t hemmed-in by low clouds. ๐Ÿ™„

Looking west toward Howard Prairie Lake
Looking northwest, with Brush Mountain on the left
Looking south
Looking southwest toward Pilot Rock (arrow)

Rather than retrace my steps, I went southwest across Vulture’s boulder field to where I could work my way around it’s southwestern ridge and then down to another unmapped old logging road than I’d found on a previous hike. I followed that old road down to FR 2520 where a berm creates a pond from the runoff from Big Springs. The pond had been full in May 2020; now it was completely dry.

The Big Springs pond (May 2020)
The pond today

From the pond, I followed a short piece of use trail back to the PCT, and that back to the trailhead. This lollipop loop came to 9.8 miles (15.7 km) with 1,700 feet (518 m) of gain, with most of that from getting to the top of Brush. Finding the old steps on Brush’s south summit – and the old storage shed on its northern – more than made up for not finding the crow’s nest. The weather could have been sunnier, but it didn’t rain, so, all in all, it was a very good hike. ๐Ÿ˜

My loop around Brush and Vulture (Point 6054)
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12 comments

  1. Dear Bruce, we found the crows nest today! So exciting! It was a wonderful adventure and yes Brush Mountain lives up to its name.

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  2. Thanks! Mushrooms are an underappreciated photographic resource. And, yes, those pegs would have been daunting – particularly on a windy day. But at least that “office” – unlike some of the cubicles I inhabited over the years – had plenty of fresh air and a view. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Brush is certainly unique among Oregon’s old lookouts – the only one that came close was the original one on Huckleberry Mountain: a 100 foot tree with a ladder nailed to it. There must have been a trail to brush back in the day, but after 100 years it’s now gone. So visiting Brush is much more of an off-trail adventure than is Vulture. I don’t know who built all those cairns – we don’t recall seeing that many when we hiked Vulture in 2020. A few cairns can sometimes be helpful but they seem overdone on Vulture.

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  4. Great post- I especially liked the old photos of the look out- not sure I would want to climb 100 feet up a tree truck each day on a ladder of spiral pegs !

    The mushroom photos were great – I always enjoy your attention to small details

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  5. I love learning about the history of all the old lookouts. This one seems very unique. We have explored a lot in the area the last 2 years, but not Brush Mt. We noticed the resent well marked trail to Vulture Rock and wondered who as responsible? Thank you for sharing your posts and all the interesting information.

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  6. Thanks! One can only wonder what an OSHA inspector would have made of that spiral of pegs. Back in the day, the forest supervisor just suggested adding that crow’s nest rather than just clinging to the last peg at the top. I can always count on mushrooms to add some color and texture to a long green tunnel.

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  7. That stone staircase is so cool! And your archival photo of the fire lookout is wild. And, your mushroom photos are delightful. Happy fall hiking!

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  8. “Memory lane” is what I’ve heard – I seem to be on that road a lot these days. I’m glad I found these remnants as it was getting a little discouraging looking for bits of history and finding none. I’m guessing a round rock since there was no wood here and no evidence of any stone working. It’s just a dry-laid stone stairway done so well it hasn’t moved in 100+ years.

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  9. What a cool trip down history lane… that is a term right? ๐Ÿ™‚ Finding those stairs still intact and the remnants of that storage building is really neat! It looks like the 2nd stair from the bottom, in the first picture, has something perfectly round under one of the corners. I can’t decide if that is a piece of a tree cut off to level the step or some random, perfectly round rock.

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  10. Given the virus-based pent-up demand (plus the thru-hikes that were thwarted by fires this year), you may have to offer the permit gods a human sacrifice to snag a permit for 2022. ๐Ÿ™„ So best of luck with that and we might see you on the trail in 2022. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  11. Loved your description of the ladder up the tree to the crow’s nest and how it was made. The picture from the archive of the tree/ladder was fantastic! Sounded like a great hike. If the permit gods are willing I am hoping to bag a PCT permit for 2022 so I am attuned now to people mentioning getting on the PCT at any point! It paints a picture for me for when I (hopefully) get to that point in Oregon.

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