Mount Hood Fire Lookout
By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian
The Forest Service determined in 1915 that the top of Mt. Hood would provide an outstanding view of surrounding forested land and would be ideal for detecting fires during the summer months. The peak has an elevation of 11,239 feet. They placed a fire finder on summit along with a tent that had a wooden floor for the lookout personnel. Elijah Coleman was the fire warden selected to be the first lookout. He was also a guide and by the time his season was done on the lookout he had climbed the mountain 357 times.
Wire was strung from the base of the mountain to the summit so phone communications could be made as radios were not yet available. Lumber was also hauled to the summit to make a cabin for better shelter. It was considered a significant achievement for the lookout to live on the summit for weeks at a time considering the elevation and sudden storms.
Ten tons of lumber were packed by mule from Government Camp to Crater Rock which was a quarter mile from the summit. From there 10 men carried the lumber up to the summit in multiple trips. The cabin was completed in late September and near the time that sudden weather changes could occur. The cabin was 10 feet by 12 feet and topped with a smaller tower that was added the next season.
The cabin had to be secured to the rocky mountain top by cables to keep it from being blown away by high winds. Elijah Coleman was injured in a near fatal fall and was replaced late in 1918. He came back the following year. Over the next several years a number of people served on the lookout. The extreme weather that commonly occurs during the winter often made it difficult to get to the summit until late in June. During the summer fog and clouds as well as storms made it difficult to observe fires.
Remarkably several visitors visited the summit during the summers as hikers made the difficult climb. The lookout continued to be staffed during summer months until 1934. The building began to deteriorate rapidly once it was no longer used or maintained.
Elijah Coleman died at age 88. He had first climbed Mt. Hood in 1897 and he had climbed the mountain 586 times before his last climb.