fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Ernest Smith and the Mt. Pitt lookout

In 1917, a 12-foot-square fire lookout was precut and ready to be assembled on top of 9,500-foot Mount Pitt — the peak in the Southern Oregon Cascades that is now called Mount McLoughlin. Ernest Smith was to build the structure.

The lookout, with its 19 windows and a door, was carried up the mountain by packer Dee Wright. There was no pack trail, so it was quite a feat.

At the top, Smith had to break up rocks to make a foundation for the new lookout. He delighted in watching boulders bounce down the steep north side of the mountain.

When not building, he looked for fires with his handmade locator and communicated with his wife in Butte Falls with mirrors.

Twice that summer Smith got lost. Once, when a lightning storm threatened, he lost his way in the fog getting off the peak. Later he and a helper were nearly blown off the mountain in a blizzard and got lost in the snow.

Finally, on Oct. 12, 1917, its guy wires and lightning rods in place, the lookout was finished. His job now done and his snow-bank water source nearly gone, Smith packed up and went home.

Source: “Climbing McLoughlin Is Natural Physical Fitness,” by Eve Hamilton, Mail Tribune, April 7, 1963.

As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

In sight of the top of Mount Pitt, June 15, 1912. E.W. Smith photo