Water tower campout

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There is a neighborhood in the northwest of Oregon that used to be the site of a World War II military hospital. Interspersed among the houses are a few remnants of the installation. Most obvious are the 120′ tall concrete skeletons of former water towers. On top of each concrete structure used to be an oak sided water tank – with a row boat in the tank to facilitate maintenance! The oak tanks and boats are long gone. And the towers definitely show signs of advanced disuse.

A friend lives not far away from one of the towers. For a long time he has wanted to climb up, spend the night, and rappel down in the morning. But he needed an accomplice. One day he was visiting and saw some of my climbing equipment, and casually mentioned his water tower idea.


About a month later we were standing below the tower, casing it out. From a distance it looked large-ish. But from the base it was huge. The ladder up the side was way out of reach of the ground. And it looked really rusty. Back at my friend’s place that evening we discussed how we would get up to the top. Our wives didn’t make much fuss about our plans; I think they were attempting to call our bluff, assuming we’d back down from the ridiculous idea.

At 11 PM we were about to set out with our gear. The wives still seemed incredulous, but they did start talking about how embarrassing it would be to explain that their husband’s body was found at the base of an abandoned water tower he was trying to climb, because… well, just because.

We brought a 20′ ladder to reach the rusty maintenance access ladder. Under cover of dark we climbed up and up and up inside the crazy rusty cage and then hauled our gear up with ropes. We stopped at a platform below the top, because climbing the final ladder to the top unprotected looked like a death wish. At the platform there was a railing, which provided psychological comfort. It was completely rusted through in several places, and I wasn’t about to put any weight on it, though.

I set up a tent and my friend threw down some tarps and blankets. There was nothing stable to anchor into. But we were safe enough sleeping up there. I’ve never rolled out of my tent and across a campsite before, so I didn’t think I’d roll out of my tent and off the platform during the night. Still, my sleep was restless and my dreams were of falling off of things.

In the morning, just before sunrise, we descended. The idea to rappel didn’t pan out, because there were no good spots to hang or anchor the rope using the gear we’d brought.

And that’s it. I can now say that I spent a night, in a tent, at the top of an abandoned water tower.


  1. Your adventures never cease to amaze!! I live them myself vicariously through you. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the adventure I just lived through your words and your pictures. What a blast!

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