By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
Even then, everyone in Lewiston’s hiking club has always made it back to tell the story. The club operates simply. The first Wednesday of the month, March through September, members are invited to a planning meeting at 7 p.m. at the Lewiston Community Center. Hikes are proposed, decisions made and leaders assigned. Details about the month’s hikes — usually one to three hikes ranging from easy to intermediate — are sent via email to more than a hundred members.
Most hikes happen on Saturdays. The group typically meets at the Lewiston Community Center around 8 a.m., though the time or location can change, depending on the hike. From there, everyone carpools to the trailhead.
There are usually around 12 to 14 people on each hike. Some hikes draw more. Those in the rain draw considerably less. The hikes tend to be such that it’s not necessary to be a specimen of strength and endurance. Many hikes are around 3 miles.
This Saturday’s hike is a 6-mile trek. Oregon Butte Lookout is the destination, a manned — or in this case, womanned — lookout in the Blue Mountains, south of Pomeroy and west of Clarkston. It is one of the few remaining outposts of its kind in the Northwest.
For the past few years, Julie Hentrich has been stationed at this remote post to keep an eye on the fires that pop up during the season. When she’s not distracted with her work, she’s quick to provide a tour to those who make the hike — especially when they come bearing gifts. The lookout isn’t accessible by vehicle and the mule-packed non-perishables get old, making cantaloupes, plums and the like a welcome offering.
Scott Fletcher, one of the group coordinators, describes the terrain as somewhat shaded, though the landscape is more open than some of the other hikes they go on. Which means it’s conducive to great views. At 6,000 feet, the lookout is the highest in the state — and is at least partially to blame for the challenge of the hike.
“We all live at 730 feet in the valley and we’re not used to that elevation,” said Fletcher. “People just get winded.”
The elevation, then, is a challenge, but not a problem. The trail takes a one-mile climb before descending down the ridge and back up to the lookout. Hikers go at their own pace, even if that means taking a long rest on the side of the trail. The advantage of being in a group means that whatever you end up doing, you don’t have to do it alone.
In fact, that camaraderie is one of the benefits of joining the group.
“We’ve found a lot of good friends doing it,” said Jim Uhlman, group founder. “We have friends now that we didn’t have before the group started.”
The group started nearly five years ago in conjunction with the Lewiston Community Center. In that time, they’ve seen all sorts. Some are born-and-raised locals and others have moved in from outside the area. There are couples and singles — even families when the hike is kid-friendly.
Some come for their love of hiking, some come just to get out of the house and some simply out of need for community.
The Oregon Butte Lookout hike is not the last of the season; there are a few more hikes left before hunting season begins and hiking season ends. After hikes at places like Field Springs, Kamiak Butte, Elk River and the Wahas, the group has traditionally held their last hike in Enterprise, Ore., heading up Hurricane Creek or the Lostine River and an overnight stay for those who are interested.
As always, the group takes its easy-going approach to hiking, welcoming anyone who wants to join them for any part of the journey.
Schmidt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208)305-4578.
if you go
WHAT: Oregon Butte Lookout Hike
WHEN: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 3
WHERE: Meet at the Lewiston Community Center, 1424 Main St., Lewiston
COST: Free, bring your own water and a lunch to eat along the way
For more information or to get on the hiking club email list, call the Lewiston Community Center at (208) 746-2313. Membership is free.