I had just arrived at camp and was witnessing the beginnings of what would turn out to be a pretty crazy mushroom trip. As the dudes drifted off into the surrounding woods and individual headspaces I went to my tent and changed into kit, emerging to questions about my super powers and golf clothes. Things were getting weird really quick. The sky was clear and I could see the Burley Mountain lookout from where my tent was pitched on the Cispus River. I rolled out to make my second attempt to reach it this year, but this time by riding the shorter, steeper route.
I started away from the river thinking I knew where I was and where to go. Turns out that navigating without a map or GPS and on the memory of driving a road once isn’t the best way to find the unmarked start of a forest service road. After climbing FS-28 for five or six minutes I saw a hiking trail sign for Burley Mountain on my right, that was wrong turn number one. I burned back down the clean gravel to the river and continued West. Thinking I had gone far enough, I turned onto another road that I was fairly certain was the start of my climb. As the road became more and more overgrown, I had my doubts. When it ended on a butte under tower rock, I had another 20 minutes of climbing in the legs without even getting close to the lookout. Fool me once, but fool me twice?
Resolving to only make one more turn and it being the correct one I choose my next one carefully. After doubling back a couple times and asking an old woman mowing her lawn I was pretty confident I had found the not at all inconspicuous, yet elusive NF-7605 to Burley Mountain. This climb attacks the mountain practically straight up the North face, half as long as taking the long route making it twice as steep. Just because it is half the distance doesn’t mean it is short. All told it clocks in at seven miles long throwing its 4,100 feet of climbing at your legs from the first pedal stroke. It is a hard climb, giving zero respite in the form of a view until the very top. The road won’t see a whole lot of car traffic because of the massive ruts, but it has a pretty good surface for a bike. Settle in and enjoy the quite solitude of your tires barely holding grip on the grade.
About six miles up, the view explodes off the side of the road as it rolls over a pass of sorts before making a winding left hander up the final gut wrenching climb. Only a quarter mile from the summit, there will be thoughts of throwing in the towel, but on a clear day, Mt Adams, Rainier, St. Helens and Hood would all be witnesses to shame you.
The final turn to approach the lookout is on the edge of the world and even with the finish so near it is hard not to stop to take in the view. The Burley Mountain Lookout is maintained by a few locals and is left open and unlocked. Be the first to make it up there and stay the night.
I climbed the steps entering the lookout to jot down a few notes in the summit register and low and behold, there was a bottle of Fireball Whiskey resting on the center table. In the absolute quiet, my mind exploded with excitement upon realizing the previous occupants had left one last long pull from the bottle. A sniff test revealed there was most likely more whiskey than urine in the bottle and with a devilish smirk, I tossed the ill-advised, burning nectar down my throat, leaving behind just enough for one more person to enjoy upon their arrival.
I sat down on the steps outside to chase the whiskey with the can of cheap beer I had toted up in my bag listening to the faint sounds you only can hear when it is absolutely silent. Sometimes there are not words to adequately describe the beauty of something and on a clear day, this is one of those places. Next time I will be packing a sleeping bag and some coffee.