Sometimes a trip starts from your eye catching a name on a map. For our trip this past weekend, it started when we were looking at the map of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and noticed a small dirt road that headed off to the southwest with the words “To Bully Choop Fire Lookout.” Before noticing this, I’d never even heard of this lookout. We’ve attempted it twice, successfully summiting it the most recent time.
After a little research, we found out that the lookout resided on BLM land and at a summit of 6,977 feet. It is also listed as number 300 on the National Historic Lookout Register. When we attempted it earlier in the year, we found deep snow and a road that was occasionally bordered by sharp drop offs. Even before turning back, we were granted views of the snow-capped Trinity Alps, a glimpse at the remote campsite at Coggins Peak, and could see the outline of the Lookout against the fading sky.
This time, we went prepared for snow. We even took the precaution of renting snowshoes in case the snow stopped us again and we had to hike in. We left relatively late in the day, and began the drive up. We began by heading west on 299, and eventually found the small, indescribably turn-off that led into the mountains. The road slowly winds into the mountains, alternating between being hidden tucked into the trees, and exposing the driver to beautiful vistas.
We knew that we were losing sunlight. Although the lookout seems close to Redding as the crow flies, the drive takes time. The road is narrow at parts, and the few times we encountered another vehicle we had to find a wide spot for one of us to pull over.
Once again, from a distance we could spot the lookout as the sharpest point on the “high sharp peak,” as the name “Bo-li Chu-ip” roughly translates to. Our snow precautions were unnecessary, we ended up finding a few small patches of snow that could be bypassed by a Prius. Still, it was nice to take the snowshoes for a ride.
Finally, we came to an open gate. One of my coworkers had told me that she had done this drive three times, only to find the gate closed each time. However, the lookout is only about a mile past this landmark, although the road becomes remarkably more gnarly. We just put it in 4×4 and drove slow and crawled over the sharp rocks and the journey went without a problem. After turning the final switchback, we came to the flat cement helipad at the base of the lookout. We arrived exactly at dusk. The horizon was the definitive border between the light and dark, with the last rays of sun and blue sky slowly disappearing.
The lookout is surrounded by a metal catwalk. We were the only people up there. From here, we could see Mt. Shasta, Black Butte, Lassen Peak, and the twinkling lights of the cities and I-5 corridor far below. In every direction we looked, the fading lights illuminated the peaks and made them all enticing and desolate.
If we didn’t have plans the next morning, camping here would be interesting. The flat helipad would be the perfect level spot to pitch a tent, provided we had sleeping pads to insulate from the solid concrete. I wondered how much wind this location was sure to be exposed to.
The drive down seemed to go much quicker, although at times it felt like we had to ride the brakes to safely descend. In the darkness, with our headlights illuminating a cone of light around us, the road almost seemed less sinister. Perhaps because we couldn’t see the steep walls next to the road.
As with every place we adventure, we must urge an adherence to the Leave No Trace principles. These remote vistas can be ruined by the sight of trash that careless explorers left. I hesitate to write about less well-known locations when I fear others may not respect them. So if you are inclined to visit them, please bring along a trash bag and pack out whatever you pack in. Together, we can share in the caretaking of these places and allow the next visitor to enjoy the beauty that we have experienced.
Here is a video of a fall day from the lookout: