Mission to Devil’s Tower

Mission to Devil’s Tower

A S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Mission

Lately, inspired by the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. meme and youtube Chernobyl adventures (e.g. here and here), I’ve become fascinated by the idea of scouting “exclusion zones”: places that are off-limits to the public which may contain spooky ruins, strange artifacts, unusual people (“Stalkers”), wild nature and anomalous phenomena. My recent Salmonberry River mission gave me a taste for this kind of adventure; looking for another one, I remembered “Devil’s Tower”: a ruined cement factory near the town of Concrete, Washington that is known as a gathering place for artists, explorers, vagrants and weirdos. I visited the place about five years ago and there didn’t seem to be much security, but apparently authorities have been cracking down and ticketing trespassers due to injuries and deaths that have occurred there (doing things at your own risk isn’t good enough for governments). Intrigued by the challenge of exploring the Tower with the heightened security, I travelled to the area with fellow Scout Raven to investigate.

Day 1: Forbidden Zone Recon

The first day we drove up from Concrete to do some recon of the zone. The main access road passes through a closed front gate with warning signs and a guard station; it looked far too paranoid to approach. There was also a back entrance that was gated but probably a better option. From forest service maps I found a third possible approach: an abandoned forest road less than a half mile south of the tower.  Raven dropped me off there to scout the route, and as I passed the no trespassing sign and concrete road blocks I got an immediate surprise: a mannikin sprawled out on the ground behind the blocks, clothed and clearly meant to look like a corpse. It was either a rather dark joke or a warning; either way, it was an ominous start to my recon of Devil’s Tower!

A warning message at an entrance to the forbidden zone?

That wasn’t the only surprise; a quarter mile in, the overgrown road opened up ahead and there was a large parking area, many trucks and a large hangar-type building. It was some kind of construction site, and I couldn’t see the tower which should have been just beyond it. Where was it? I started to worry that the tower was either already demolished or in the process of being demolished, and this whole mission would be a waste of time. As I watched a truck drive up the road away toward the tower area it was clear that the area was very active and I wouldn’t be able to get to the tower by this route, so I headed back to the car.

We drove to the back entrance to the access road, which was also gated off and signed, and there were a few people at the nearby boat launch. It looked doable, but risky. We decided to return a few hours later with our e-bikes, which we rode up from the town of Concrete so we wouldn’t have to park a possibly suspicious car anywhere near the forbidden zone. We waited until the two or three people at the boat launch weren’t paying attention and quickly pushed our bikes around the gate and pedaled up the dirt road and out of sight. The short ride was very scenic, with spectacular views across Lake Shannon toward mighty Mount Baker to the north. We soon approached some fencing and gates that closed off the construction site to the left, and to the right…there it was! The front wall of the old factory, with a huge painting of a skull and graffiti scrawled all over it. Devil’s Tower still stood!

We studied the wild art and graffiti in the crumbling remains of the out building, and I placed an idol of the demon Pazuzu in the rubble as an offering, noting the synchronicity that someone had painted “I (heart) Pazuzu” in two places on the walls. Still thinking this was all that was left of the tower, I got a pleasant surprise when I walked over to a ledge and noticed that the whole factory complex was still there, hidden below in the trees and covered in crazy graffiti. I got another surprise when I noticed that sitting down in the ruins was a young redheaded “stalker”, who looked up and calmly greeted me. I talked to him for a few minutes, and he told me that he lived there for now, wanted to be a prizefighter, didn’t have too much trouble with security, along with some odd personal details. The dude seemed a little off, possibly from drugs or schizophrenia, and had an air of physical menace about him.

Things got weirder when he suddenly appeared up on the bank near me, motioning for me to come over to the edge to look at an “apple tree” and to show me some kind of “portal” he’d made in the bushes. I changed the subject and told him that I needed to go talk to my buddy, who had disappeared by now, probably spooked by the guy. I left and found Raven riding his ebike up the road on the other side of the fence, and I quickly joined him. We both agreed that we should come back the next day to explore the tower, hoping that the stalker would be gone. We rode out the front entrance this time, past the guard shack and the gate and didn’t see anyone, then down to Concrete. Here’s a video I made of our first day recon mission:

Day 2: Into the “Dojo of Pain”

The next day we returned to the back entrance to the zone on foot, but there were people near the gate so to be more discreet we bushwhacked to the access road. The construction zone was closed and the tower area was clear of people, so we were able to explore it thoroughly. It was an incredible place, covered in the most bizarre and colorful graffiti, like the scene of a post-apocalyptic rave or cult temple. The main building had several floors, with large holes that could be death traps, and an amazing elevated tunnel that led to an overgrown and graffitied tower. This was the highlight of the mission for me: walking on top of the tower, with spectacular views over the lake and mountains, eldritch symbols and artwork painted on it, with a walkway high up in the trees, made me feel like the sorcerer Saruman atop his tower in Isengard in  Lord of the Rings. The tunnel itself was like an anarchist art gallery, with spray-painted murals along the walls and holes in the floor that could drop the unwary far down to the forest floor below.

I walked back down the tunnel and made a dangerous crossing over to main building; I trusted two thin pipes stuck in the ground to keep me from tumbling down the steep slope to the lake. Then I entered the main building at the basement and went back up to the main chamber. As I was admiring the scene, I heard a noise, and as I turned around, there on a platform was my red-headed stalker friend from the day before! I pulled off my mask and said hello; he suspiciously greeted me and asked me what I was doing (my tactical clothing made him think I was a cop). After a tense conversation we both calmed down, then he said rather dramatically: “welcome to the dojo of pain”. I liked his name for the place; it really did look like some kind of dangerous dojo, or as I called it, a “temple of chaos”. We talked for a few minutes then I took off, having seen the whole site and not wanting to push my luck by sticking around.

The resident stalker, who said his name was “nobody”, surprises me in the “Dojo of Pain”.

This was one of my favorite missions to date. I’m glad I got to see the tower again, because I have a feeling that the place is going to be demolished before too long. The place has  a combination of chaotic energy, natural beauty and impressive ruins that you don’t find very often. The encounter with the stalker was a little disturbing, but appropriate for this weird “forbidden zone”. Here’s a video I made of day two of my mission to Devil’s Tower:

Scouting an Abandoned Railroad and Ghost Town in Northwest Oregon

Scouting an Abandoned Railroad and Ghost Town in Northwest Oregon

I recently travelled to northwest Oregon to explore an abandoned railroad and ghost town on the Salmonberry River. The section I explored is part of the 86 mile long Tillamook Bay railroad that was damaged and abandoned in 2007 after a heavy storm. My mission was to hike five miles from an access road down the tracks to a ghost town called Enright.

From my research, I learned that there are plans to develop the railroad into a rail trail that will allow cyclists to ride from the suburbs west of Portland all the way to the coast at Tillamook. I also learned that the trail has been recently closed to the public; apparently it became a hip place to go after some internet posts a few years back, and the authorities were concerned about public safety. They had been allowing people to visit at their own risk, but that was no longer good enough for the government, who apparently acted after someone’s dog fell 180 feet off a bridge and died. Wanting to see the route before the rail trail tamed it, and not worried about restrictions that were probably unenforceable and designed to keep non-Scouts out, I packed up my Scout bag and headed south.

I began my hike from the confluence of the Salmonberry and Nehalem rivers; the more popular starting point is at Cochran Pond 16 miles up the tracks, but I was intrigued by the ghost town and wanted a more discreet access point that was less likely to be monitored by authorities. The tracks at the access road looked almost normal, like you’d see at any rural railroad crossing, but that would soon change. I ignored a sign saying the area was closed and walked quietly past several houses near the tracks, feeling rather exposed in broad daylight.


Fortunately the tracks soon became overgrown and the houses ended as I passed into one of the wilder sections of the route. The tracks ran along the Salmonberry river, which was a beautiful clear turquoise that looked very inviting as the day warmed up. Half a mile down the trail I ran into three friendly loggers, who warned me about some lines they had put in place two miles further down but didn’t seem concerned about my presence at all. I crossed trestles and an impressive bridge, which was built in 1922 but still looked very solid:

The next notable sight was a piece of track hanging in mid-air from where the storm had washed out the bank beneath it:

I also caught my first glimpse of the fiber optic cables that ran along the tracks, which were laid in the early 2000s to connect Portland to transpacific cables going to Asia and Australia. Apparently they were also damaged by the 2007 storm and abandoned.

A few miles in the going got more difficult, as the tracks became overgrown and swampy and I was forced to bushwhack, jump and machete my way through. It was impressive to see how quickly nature reclaimed the abandoned tracks, and it made me realize that if they don’t develop the rail trail and keep the area closed, this route might become totally overgrown and unhikeable in a few years.

The trail opened up as I approached the location of Enright, and suddenly looming over me on my right was a huge, rusted tower that looked like a giant teapot:

I assume it was a water tower, thought it might have held something else that was loaded onto freight cars at this stop. There was a rusted ladder running up the side, which I quickly started climbing, wanting to see if I could get inside the tank. Halfway up, the ladder started to get wobbly and I decided that it wasn’t worth risking a dangerous fall in the middle of nowhere. So I unfurled my shadow sun banner instead and claimed this tower for the Shadow Empire.

Moving on, I soon came to a no trespassing sign on my right. Investigating, I saw that it led to a house with a large lawn that had been mowed recently. Retreating back to the tracks, I walked quietly past the rustic house, which appeared to be empty but well maintained. It was a creepy scene, like some post-apocalyptic country home where you might encounter mutant hillbillies or zombies or whatever disturbing thing you want to imagine.  Fortunately I didn’t find any of that and soon moved on. I passed a long line of overgrown rail cars that had apparently been stranded here after the storm, which added to the end-of-the-world vibe. Then I came to a second house, also empty but with a large well maintained yard and some rather aggressive signs warning trespassers:

Who was mowing these yards and maintaining these houses, miles from civilization down a rough trail? Were they owned by the railroad? Were they planning to turn them into rental cabins? Your guess is as good as mine.

Near the second house, I came across this piece of artwork on one of the rail cars:

The artist presumably favors keeping the Salmonberry river wild and opposes the rail trail, and I can’t disagree with the message.

At this point I had seen what I came for and decided it was time to head back. I did some more Scout rituals to symbolically mark the area, then began the long trudge back to civilization.  On the way back I did a little ninja training, using my grappling hook on the rail to climb up and down the steep railroad embankment and climbing on top of the bridges.

This was a magical expedition into a beautiful post-apocalyptic world, which I will definitely be back to explore further in the near future. Here is a video I made of my adventure:

Scouting the Lost Bunkers of the Pacific

Scouting the Lost Bunkers of the Pacific

I recently travelled to the far northwest corner of Washington state in the Makah nation to look for three World War II observation bunkers located on the Pacific coast: at Anderson Point, Portage Head and Wa’atch Point. These bunkers are more obscure than the Camp Hayden fire control structures on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, such as the Camp Hayden and Agate Rock bunkers I scouted previously. I’d never heard of them until a local informant sent me some interesting documents published about 30 years ago by a local military historian. By studying these documents and some old topographical maps I was able to determine the approximate location of the bunkers, though the exact routes and conditions of the trails were unclear. The trail to the Anderson Pt. bunker was shown on a 1960 topographical map, but it was removed from all later maps. I couldn’t find a trail to the Portage Head bunker on any maps, so I assumed I would have to bushwhack the third to half a mile up the bluff to the bunker location. The Wa’atch Point bunker was at the end of an old forest road that was still on maps, so I didn’t expect it to be too difficult.

For this mission I met a local informant and fellow scout named “Dabquatch”; we made a base camp in the Makah fishing village of Neah Bay and spent two days exploring the area. We eventually found all three bunkers, but I don’t want to give away too much information about how we did it. The tribe seems to want to keep their locations obscure and I respect that; I wouldn’t want to see them become too easy to find or turned into tourist attractions—better to leave them to the Scouts.

After finding the Anderson Pt. bunker high up on a bluff, we couldn’t locate any trail to the Portage Head bunker; all obvious traces of the old access road were gone. The bushwhack looked very difficult and we were on the verge of giving up when a local Makah scout that I recognized from a youtube video happened to come rolling down the trail in an ATV. I told him what we were doing and he very helpfully guided us to the vicinity of the old road to the bunker. It was totally overgrown and very difficult to see; if we hadn’t run into this local we would have missed it. He asked us to bushwhack in from the side to keep the location of the road secret, which we happily complied with. We hiked up to Portage Head and got spectacular views from the top of the bunker down to rock formations near Shi Shi beach and west across the Pacific.

The next day we drove north past Wa’atch point where another observation bunker was supposed to be located at the end of an old access road. This was an easy hike but the bunker was buried under a mound and I didn’t see it until I walked down to the cliff beyond it and turned around. The views here were also spectacular, as you would expect at the site of a Pacific coastal lookout.

Here is a video I made of this scouting mission:

At the entrance to the Portage Head bunker.
Admiring the view from the Wa’atch bunker.
Scouting the Elwha River Road

Scouting the Elwha River Road

For this mission I scouted a closed section of road along the Elwha river and visited the Glines Canyon Overlook, site of a former dam. The dam was removed by 2014 to allow salmon to return to their spawning grounds and to restore an ancient ecosystem—the largest dam removal project in history. The road going to the dam has been closed to vehicles since early 2015, when the waters released by the dam removal washed out a section of the road, forcing the closure of campgrounds, a ranger station and other facilities.

From the trailhead it was a short ride to the road washout, where the awesome power of nature compared to the works of man is on full display:

The river washout that destroyed the road and closed this area to vehicles.

To get around the washout, there is a rough bypass trail which I was able to walk and ride my bike on without problems, passing a few of the massive old growth trees that the Olympic National Park is famous for along the way. Back on the road, I passed a few hikers and a guy with two pack llamas before arriving at the abandoned Elwha Ranger Station. The station and several other large buildings were all well-preserved but empty; there were even two trucks in a garage, stranded on this side of the washout with no way to get back to civilization. There was a young family of three there, including a little girl who had a magical presence. The whole scene was a little eerie, like something out of a post-Apocalyptic film where almost everyone has vanished and the survivors are wandering around on foot.

One of many unusual sights on the closed Hot Springs Road.

When the family left I decided to symbolically claim the site for the Shadow Empire by rolling out my “shadow sun” banner and briefly meditating on the transience of all human constructs before the power of the Shadow World:

Meditating at the closed Elwha ranger station.

I continued up the road, crossing a bridge over the Elwha river and admiring the crystal clear, turquoise water. An easy climb brought me to the Glines Canyon Spillway Overlook, site of the former dam. This was a spectacular place. From the top of what is left of the dam I could look straight down into the canyon at the blue-green river, now rushing freely through the chasm where the dam previously stood. On the other side there was a wide view of the former lake bed, now a rocky river plain where vegetation is growing back and bears are known to roam.

The remains of the Glines Canyon Dam.

I walked over to the edge of the dam, hoping to climb down onto the huge metal spillway and get a better view of the canyon. But the rock face above it was too high and vertical, so I settled for looking down from the top of the canyon wall. I unfurled the shadow sun banner at this spot and again meditated on the impermanence of all forms. Then I walked back to the top of the dam and carved my Scout Sign on a light post to mark my visit.

The view of the old lake bed from the Glines Canyon overlook.

The ride back was an easy cruise, mostly downhill and uneventful. I took a dip in the river to cool off, then had another encounter with the little girl and her family at the road washout. She had an interesting presence; I included our conversation at the end of this video I made about the trip, so you can hear for yourself:

Scouting WW II Coastal Defense Bunkers

Scouting WW II Coastal Defense Bunkers

Mission Summary

For this mission I decided to scout some abandoned northern Olympic Peninsula coastal defenses that were built during World War II. These are a series of artillery emplacements, bunkers and lookouts set on bluffs overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Port Angeles, Washington.

From my online research I determined the approximate location of several of the bunkers. The most interesting resource was this page, which contained the original secret military maps and schematics of the facilities made in the early 1940s. Several of the bunkers are located in Salt Creek Recreation Area, part of the Camp Hayden artillery fortress:

The original map of the Camp Hayden harbor defenses from 1944 (click to enlarge).

A few miles west down the coast are the more obscure Agate Point and Agate Rock bunkers:

Map of the Agate Point bunkers (click to enlarge).

My plan was to scout these in stealth mode using my bike and see how many I could locate in an overnight trip.

Camp Hayden Recon

Starting from Port Angeles, I rode the Olympic Discovery Trail for about six miles until it joined highway 112, a dangerous road with little shoulder and giant trucks whizzing by. I turned onto a side road toward the Salt Creek Recreation Area to get off the highway and make a stealthier approach to the area. The road into the facility had a sign saying it was closed, which I was happy to see because it meant I was unlikely to encounter anyone else:

Closed roads are good news; it means you will probably have them all to yourself!

Sure enough, the road was empty, but it was also steep and rough and I ending up mostly walking my bike up to the top of Striped Peak. There were some fun trails and gravel roads to ride down, spectacular views of the Strait, and before long I found myself in the vicinity of the first bunker on my list. Looking off to my right, I caught a glimpse of it through the lush foliage, looking like a ruined Mayan temple in the jungle. This was Battery 249, which once contained two six inch anti-ship guns but now apparently houses a bat colony.

“You will all parish in flame” — spooky graffiti outside the Battery 249 bunker.

There were two chambers, both barred and covered in graffiti. There was also a hole in the ground with a ladder leading down to a rather spooky underground chamber that I explored. On top of the complex there was a pillbox structure and a nice flat area; as it was getting late, I decided to set up my stealth camp there, get up early and look for other bunkers nearby.

The only problem was that I didn’t have a lot of water and there were no streams around. My only choice was to ride down to the nearby campground and get some water from the bathroom. I bombed down the gravel road, which unfortunately came out right next to the home of the resident park ranger.  I casually pedaled past it into the campground, hoping that no one saw me and there was nothing overly suspicious about a mountain biker coming down this road from the direction of a closed road. I rolled my bike into the bathroom and filled up my water bottles using the tortuously slow timed water faucet, during which time three other people decided to use the facilities, which was less than ideal. Then I rolled out out of there and casually headed back up the road toward the bunker. The recreation area closed at dusk, so it was a bit suspicious to be heading up there with dusk approaching, but I didn’t have much choice. I got back to camp without event and made the report about my mission shown in this video:

Early the next morning I studied the Hayden Camp map and realized that a bunker labelled “BC12” should be only about a hundred yards east of my campsite. I packed up, left my bike hidden on top of Battery 249 and bushwhacked in the direction I thought it should be. Sure enough, there it was, naturally camouflaged and with a tree growing on top of it:

Bunker BC12 was well-camouflaged from the “bushwhack side”.

This bunker wasn’t barred off so I was able to walk in and admire the view through the gun slot. When I went on top of it I was disappointed to see a driveway right next to the main gravel road and realized I hadn’t made much of a discovery; the bunker was clearly visible from the road and I could have ridden right to it. I scratched it off my list of potential Scout lookouts and road-walked back to my bike. As I rolled my bike back up toward BC 12 to take some more pics, I spotted a guy just ahead of me walking right toward the bunker. I waited a few minutes until I saw him continuing up the hill, unsure if he spotted me. I returned to the site, took some video footage and thought about what to do next. There were two other sites in Camp Hayden that I could’ve looked for, but I decided that since I’d violated park rules by stealth-camping and had just seen some guy walking in my direction, it was time to get out of Dodge.

On my way out of the area, I rode through the campground to scout it out for future reference. There was a dramatic viewpoint where I walked out onto rocks with waves crashing over tide pools. As I returned to my bike, I looked up and saw a third bunker staring me in the face, this one also barred off, labelled “Tongue Point” on the old maps.

Agate Rock Recon

My next target was a more obscure site called “Agate Rock” a few miles down the coast. After a scenic ride around Crescent Bay I came to an abandoned forest road with a gate and a no trespassing sign, which a Shadow Scout always considers an invitation:

A very inviting sight: a gated, overgrown forest road with a no trespassing sign.

The road was overgrown but rideable for about a half mile before it turned north and disappeared into the bush. Not discouraged, I stashed my bike, put on my long pants, jacket and gloves and bushwhacked north, where faint signs of the original access road were still visible. After a while of this I intersected a newer, easily walkable road which took me up the hill to the very edge of the Peninsula. There was a small clearing and a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to the ocean. The views across the strait and down the coast were spectacular. I saw large ships in the distance and could imagine being a soldier manning a lookout on this spot, watching for enemy battleships.

Commanding views of the Strait from the top of Agate Rock.

But where was the bunker that should be nearby? After admiring the view for a while, I turned around and again, what do I see but the slot of another overgrown bunker staring me in the face!

I was so distracted by the view that I almost missed this well-camouflaged bunker.

I crawled through the slot into the vault. There were two concrete pedestals that once held six-inch guns; from this high ground it was easy to imagine them raining deadly fire on enemy ships miles away down in the Strait. Walking to the back of the vault, I came out the front entrance, which was wide open. There was graffiti everywhere, so despite the difficult route I had taken it was apparently not a problem for others. And I soon discovered the reason why: there was a nice gravel road nearby that apparently offered easy access by a different route. I was a bit disappointed to see this, but still carved some scout sign on the bunker wall and put it on my list of potential Scout lookouts for the spectacular vista and obscure location.

My Scout sign marks this bunker as a place of interest.

I ate some food at the cliff’s edge and contemplated my next move. It was midday and I still had a hike and a sizeable bike ride to get back to Port Angeles. There is another bunker in the area that is supposedly on private property and well-secured, and others further down the coast that are even more difficult to find. I decided that I would save these for another scouting mission and headed back the way I had come. The ride back was uneventful other than some close truck passes on Highway 112 and a buck eating leaves in someone’s yard right off the trail in Port Angeles. I was tired but buzzed, both by the things I had discovered on this mission and the prospect of returning for more scouting in the near future. This definitely belongs at the top of my list as one of my favorite missions to date.

P-5000 Road to Spada Lake

P-5000 Road to Spada Lake

I decided to scout the the old P-5000 road (now called Forest Road 6126) that runs along the Pilchuck river after reading WTA user mato’s reports and doing a little research. Apparently people could drive this road all the way from Menzel Lake Road to Spada Lake 30 or 40 years ago, and it was a popular motorcycle trail until a boy was killed in 2005 and they restricted it to non-motorized travel. I wanted to see if it was still possible to hike the entire route to Spada Lake, and there was only one way to find out.

The road begins at a gate off Menzel Lake Road about 5 miles southeast of Granite Falls. The first eight miles are an easy, pleasant river walk. Then you come to a pile of trees across the road and things quickly go south. At 8.5 miles, the full-on bushwhack begins.

Entering the bushwhack section.

For the next five miles, you will be pushing aside bushes, scrambling over trees and up and down washouts, while making sure you’re still on the road. It’s not as bad as it looks, but it’s definitely a grind. There was a faint trail most of the way and it’s usually not hard to figure out where the road is by following the corridor through the trees.

At about nine miles you come to a ruined bridge over Wilson creek, but it’s an easy scramble and ford to get back on track.

The ruined bridge over Wilson creek (9 miles in).

I hammock-camped in the forest above the road; everything was covered in moss, a reminder that this area gets heavy rain. About 13 miles in I came to a crossing of Pilchuck River that I was concerned about from looking at the maps. As it turns out it’s no problem; there’s a ruined bridge that can still be walked across.

The ruined bridge over Pilchuck River (13 miles in).

Then you hit a perfectly maintained forest road—a beautiful sight after all the bushwhacking—that takes you down to the Culmback Dam on Spada Lake—which is another beautiful sight after having no views but trees and bushes for miles.The entire route to the dam was about 15 miles. From there it was a long road-walk down to Gold Bar and refreshments, ending a long but adventurous 24 hours.

At Spada Lake. Mission accomplished!

I liked the post-apocalyptic feel of this scouting mission; this is what hiking will be like after civilization collapses, when everything is overgrown and falling to ruin and nature reclaims the land. Is this is a glimpse of our future? Shadow Scout thinks so!