- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

ATOP HAGER MOUNTAIN, Ore. (AP) - There is something about splitting wood on the top of a mountain during winter and carrying the logs into a lookout cabin for the evening’s fire that feels perfectly removed from the modern era.

No electricity, running water or flushing toilet are here. No cell phone service or Internet connection or passable road can be found.

There is only a glowing sunset across a horizon dotted with the Cascade Range volcanoes to the west and the sweep of high desert to the east, viewed from a 14-by-14-foot glass house where I’m sipping tea and preparing a dinner of pesto, pasta and chicken.

For the past three years, I’ve been on a quest to spend a night at each of Oregon’s mountaintop lookouts, and this night it’s Hager Mountain Lookout.

One of four lookouts open for rental during winter, Hager Mountain is remote, difficult to reach and a journey back in time.

For water, you melt snow. For warmth, you make a fire. For epic views, just look up from your bed.

In late February, I headed southeast to this little-known mountain on the edge of Oregon’s desert, near the unincorporated town of Silver Lake and northeast of Klamath Falls.

The trip is not easy. You must climb 4 miles and 2,200 feet - while carrying a pack with all your food and gear - to the top of the 7,188-foot mountain.

Yet the challenge is part of the appeal.

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The original story can be found on the Statesman Journal’s website: stjr.nl/1RJQkBn

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“It was a hard haul up the trail, but the boys endured it with positive attitudes,” wrote Phil Avery and Dan Frye, a pair of fathers who stayed at the lookout with their 8- and 10-year-old sons in February and wrote down their experiences in a journal at the cabin.

“We made snow forts and sledded down the ranger road while at the lookout. Overall, it was a great father and son bonding experience. I hope we have more weekends like this that the boys will cherish and pass to their kids.”

PLANNING, JOURNEY AND CLIMB

The biggest hurdle to spending a night at Hager Mountain Lookout isn’t actually the steep climb - but rather just reserving a night.

Despite its remote location, the lookout is popular, and getting a night requires logging onto Recreation.Gov six months in advance to claim the dates you want.

I reserved a night in late February and hit the road early, beginning a drive that takes about four and a half hours.

The drive takes you over Santiam Pass, through Central Oregon and southeast of La Pine on what’s known as the “Oregon Outback Scenic Byway.”

The byway showcases a sagebrush landscape home to ancient volcanoes, alkaline lakes and rocks inscribed with petroglyphs from Native Americans thousands of years old.

In Silver Lake, I turned south and headed into Fremont-Winema National Forest.

From the road, Hager Mountain is impossible to miss. A silicic lava dome that rises high above everything else in sight - it looks similar to Black Butte near Sisters - Hager Mountain was formed some 5.9 million years ago from basalt lava flows.

I parked at Hager Mountain Trailhead and stepped into the cool, sunny morning. There wasn’t much snow at the trailhead (about 5,100 feet), so I strapped my snowshoes onto a pack filled with water, food and extra clothing and began the climb.

The first part features old-growth ponderosa pine forest. These bright-orange trees, cracked with black veins, are a sure way of knowing you’re on the east side of the Cascades.

The first view of the lookout came after a mile, and it was a bit disheartening. It was way off in the distance, at a summit that seemed far away.

After about 1.5 miles, I reached deep snow and put on my snowshoes. From here, blue diamonds marked the route through the forest.

In the final 2 miles, the route broke out of the forest into open, grassy plains around the mountain’s summit.

Views to the west took in numerous Cascade Range peaks. Mount McLoughlin, Bailey, Thielsen, Crater Lake, Diamond Peak and the Three Sisters were all visible at different points.

The final push is the most difficult, straight up the mountain in places and along steep ridgelines at other moments.

Finally, as my legs began contemplating rebellion, I reached Hager Mountain Lookout, stepped inside and flopped on the bed.

NIGHT IN THE SKY

My favorite part of staying at a mountaintop lookout is the small chores.

That might sound odd, but there’s a simple pleasure in splitting wood, washing dishes and melting snow for water while a panoramic view spreads out below your feet.

I would have loved to work a season at a lookout, and doing the chores gives you the illusion of making that dream come true, if only for a moment.

The lookout, which is staffed during the summer by the Forest Service, is well-stocked. There are three bunks, a stove, fireplace, propane-power lights and a random assortment of foods. There was a refrigerator as well, but it didn’t appear to be working.

The most striking thing about the view from Hager Mountain Lookout is the contrast between Cascadian and high desert geography.

A forest of green trees rolls eastward from the Cascades before stopping dead at the beginning of the high desert, where a rolling brown landscape of buttes, mesas and canyons extends to the horizon.

The evening sunset was beautiful - bright yellows, pinks and finally red lighting up the stringy clouds on the western horizon.

After the sunset, there’s not much to do except read and enjoy the rich canopy of stars overhead, including the streak of the Milky Way.

After stargazing, I spent some time reading notes left by past visitors. It gives you a sense of the people who’ve come before, the kindred spirits who seek out remote cabins on mountaintops.

The people before me were a group of four with pretty interesting nicknames - Mama Buttons, A-Rod, Big-E and Dillweed. A-Rod was just about to have his first child. Their favorite activity was sledding down the steep mountainsides and hurting themselves.

“Sledding optimal - but ramp at road base gave the ribs a rough time,” they wrote.

Some entries spoke of the weather.

“Endured three straight days of wind warnings! Great times!” wrote S & M.

The magic of being disconnected from the modern world works differently for each person who visits Hager Mountain Lookout.

For some, it’s a way to disconnect from the modern world. For others, it’s a way to connect with their children and inspire the next generation of outdoors lovers.

If you go

What: A rentable mountaintop lookout in south-central Oregon’s Fremont-Winema National Forest near the town of Silver Lake

How to do it: Visit Reservations.Gov and type in “Hager Mountain Lookout.”

What to bring: Water, food, flashlight, extra clothes, snowshoes or skis

Hike in: 4 miles one-way or 8 miles round-trip

Climb: 2,200 feet

Difficulty: Strenuous

Remember: Pack out all your garbage

Driving: About four and a half hours from Salem. From the town of Silver Lake, head south on East Bay Road south, which becomes Forest Service Road 28, for 9 miles. Parking lot and trailhead is on the left.

Cabin coordinates: 43.02333, -121.04389

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Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com

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