Once again the clouds had vanished and the morning sky stretched out in an uninterrupted blue. Each day seems just like the last one as vegetation continues to dry. Although the fires around Missoula have caused smoke-choked air there, our air quality here in the North Fork is still fairly good.
Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency as nineteen major fires burn in Montana. This will bring more money, equipment, and personnel to help fight fire. While fires burn in the rest of the state, North Fork residents wait breathlessly as the unrelenting hot, dry weather continues. Many are hoping that campfires will be restricted soon.
This was a Jen day. The first Jen to visit was a friend who lives in Whitefish, Jen Fugatt, who hiked up with her sister and brought me a bag of cherries. We had a delightful time naming peaks and eating lunch together.
The hot, cloudless day brought nothing new to the landscape. The sun beat down continually drying earth and vegetation as lookouts searched for any sign of smoke. On days like this, one gets to the point of just wanting something different to happen.
In the evening, my friend and former North Fork resident, Jenn Makulec, hiked up to Cyclone for dinner. Since we had not seen each other in a while, we had lots of news share. In an attempt to finish off my remaining food and empty the refrigerator, I cooked a veggie stir-fry from my garden and corn on the cob. We had a wonderful dinner watching the sky to the northwest turn red from a fire in Canada one and a half miles north of the Border and west of Highway 93.
Jenn had brought a bed roll so that she could spend the night. Standing on the catwalk, we watched a sliver of moon in the west as the sun was setting. The smoke from the Canadian fire created a red glow along the mountain tops in the Whitefish Range. Although we bedded down shortly after the sun set, we kept chatting until it was completely dark.
The new day dawned on my last day at Cyclone Lookout. It was another cloudless morning with warm temperatures around 60 degrees. This portended a very hot day since nighttime temperatures typically dip down into the 40s or 50s (sometimes even 30s) in July at 6031 feet.
As the sunshine blasted into the Lookout, I cooked a big breakfast for us. Jenn left for her truck before the morning weather reports and carried down some of my gear to place in the bed of my pickup at the trailhead. I stayed behind to pack up and thoroughly clean the Lookout to get it ready for the next volunteer.
Although I was scheduled to leave Cyclone Lookout on this day, the next volunteer was not scheduled to arrive until Saturday. With the high fire danger, I had offered to stay a few days longer. However, since there were three other active Lookouts in the North Fork, it was agreed that I could go home with the promise that I would stay ready to return on a moment’s notice if a change in the weather brought lightning or there was a fire start. Since Cyclone Lookout is practically in my backyard, this was a feasible plan.
Although the fire danger is extremely high, there have been no lightning storms to spark a fire. The biggest danger currently is human activity. I heard today that Stage 2 Fire Restrictions will go into effect on Friday. This will mean no campfires, a fact that will please North Fork landowners who worry about careless tourists.
Before leaving Cyclone Lookout, I checked one more time for smoke in the Bowman Lake area. There was a lightning down strike over a week ago and Ranger Tye Cheatum smelled smoke on the Bowman Road yesterday, but neither Numa Lookout nor I have been able to spot any smoke.
After hauling my backpack down the stairs and locking the trapdoor, I said one more goodbye to Cyclone Lookout. Four years ago when leaving Baptiste Lookout after my first hitch as a volunteer lookout, I shed tears because I was so moved by the experiences that I had. Even now, I end my lookout hitch with a wistful feeling much like saying goodbye to a dear, old friend.