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Snowshoeing to the top of Parker Mountain

Things didn’t start too well. Only a few yards into the hike up to the Parker Mountain Lookout, one snowshoe flopped off. While bending down to readjust and retighten it, the other snowshoe popped off.

Hmmm ... maybe my snowshoes should be used more than once every few years.

It probably didn’t help that my waterproof rubber boots are much more flexible than my normal stiff leather boots. Maybe that’s why the snowshoes, despite my efforts to tighten and retighten the straps, fell off a second time after waddling another 50 yards.

The others had continued ahead, well out of sight. No problem, it was a beautiful sun-soaked day and there was no rush. It’s about 2-1/4 miles from the parking area along Highway 66 to the lookout, with a mostly gentle elevation gain of about 800 feet — it’s confusing because some sources list the summit as 5,156 feet, others 5,206 and 5,210.

We regrouped when the others were pausing to enjoy the scenery, snap photos and shed layers of clothing. Morning temperatures were warming. And because snowshoeing requires some exertion, even a mild uphill walk can work up a sweat.

The snow was softening, too. Although group leader Hans Kuhr had recommended using hiking poles with large cups, mine were my regular poles without baskets. So when poked into soft sections — oops! — they punched through mushy snow layers, leaving me looking like a punch-drunk basket case.

No matter. The snow-covered road kept angling up, sometimes making sweeping turns to ease the grade. Earlier we had passed a signed intersection, then in another mile stepped around a gate before the final distance to the lookout.

Even though walking on snowshoes sometimes feels like having oversized web feet, once in the groove — and, in my case, still in the snowshoes — snowshoeing is a pleasant way to walk. It’s even more pleasant when the reward is a place like the lookout, with its sweeping 360-degree views of sights like Mount Ashland, Mount McLoughlin, the Trinity Alps, more distant peaks and seemingly endless forests.

During our lunch break, others unstrapped from their snowshoes but after my flip-flop episodes, mine stayed on. Some snowshoe-less hikers partway up the lookout to enjoy the views.

The tower is actually version No. 3. Listed as No. 497 on the National Historic Lookout Register, it was finished in 1997. The 50-foot, all-steel tower is mounted on a thick concrete slab and is topped by A 14-by-14-foot room and catwalk.

Parker Mountain’s original lookout dates back to the 1930s. Plans to build the lookout were announced in 1931. Two years later the road was in place and the tower, described as a round timber tower, was being built with help from the Civilian Conservation Corps. A 1937 newspaper story described the lookout as “of rather unique design. The tower is made of long poles. The lookout house, proper, has a steeply pitched roof and is surrounded by a catwalk and railing.”

In 1954 the lookout was regarded as “neither safe nor efficient, having been poorly built,” so it was replaced in 1956, complete with aluminum sheeting and a 14-by-14-foot “furnished living quarters.” But in 1968 the living quarters, then described as “no longer usable,” were burned.” Various improvements were made in following years, but arsonists burned it down, some reports say in 1995, others in 1996.

By the time lunch was over and we had stuffed sandwiches, snacks, apples and whatever into our tummies, most of us stuffed jackets, gloves and hats into our daypacks. The waddle back to the highway was mostly peppered with photo stops and pauses to appreciate the surrounding pine, fir and spruce forests.

My snowshoes are back in the garage, patiently enjoying another multiyear hiatus.

To get there from Ashland, take Highway 66 east. The parking area is shortly after milepost 29. There is a well signed parking area along the highway.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Snowshoers work their way up to the Parker Mountain Lookout. PHOTO BY LEE JUILLERAT