Debo has volunteered for a lookout this summer and she’s sending her adventures to NFNews…
Tuesday, July 22
While watching the sunset last night, I easily dropped into sleep as the night darkened. Wrapped in flannel sheets and sleeping bag, I slept warm and comfortably with windows all around me and nearby Baptiste peak as a companion. I awoke in the early hours of dawn and dozed as the day lightened contemplating my good fortune to be here.
I used the Osborne Fire Finder this morning to spot on different peaks in order to learn their names. I made name cards and placed them above the windows inside the lookout so that I could review them throughout the day.
All of the lookouts give the weather report from their location each morning. I eagerly prepared all of the information for my first weather report. The report covered temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, cloud cover, visibility, precipitation, and lightning. All of this is reported on the radio and recorded in the record book. The lookouts start reporting at 10:00 in an assigned order with Thoma Lookout going first. This morning, there were only six lookouts on duty. However, the other five will be returning to their lookouts today. Tomorrow, eleven lookouts will be reporting the weather. I find it very exciting to hear the lookouts reporting and to compare the weather in each location.
After the lookouts report their individual weather, Kalispell Dispatch reads the weather forecast for the next few days. We learned this morning to expect a cold front moving in with thunderstorms, lightning, hail, high winds, and colder temperatures tonight and tomorrow. Shortly after this forecast it started to rain. The assumption was that the storm might be coming sooner than expected. However, shortly after noon the rain stopped, the clouds thinned, and blue sky and sunshine made an appearance.
Hikers began to arrive. First came Mark and Margaret Heaphy, Logan Smith, and Sadie (the Heaphy’s dog). The Heaphys are not fair-weather hikers, so it was not surprising that they hiked through the morning shower. They ate lunch in the lookout, enjoying the view and naming as many peaks as they could. Behind them came two guys from Whitefish/Columbia Falls who had kayaked on the reservoir yesterday and were hiking today.
After evening check-in, I hiked down to Logan Creek at the bottom of Silver Basin which is about 1000 feet below the lookout down long, steep switchbacks. Besides exercise, my main purpose was to return the water jugs that wait there imploring guests to haul up some water when they come to visit. Mark had hauled up two jugs today and I wanted to return them so that other visitors would have the opportunity to help out. I brought back a gallon of water for the solar shower. The hike was glorious with sunshine, light breezes, and temperature around 68. Beargrass is currently decorating the slopes of Silver Basin and the other vegetation is green and lush. There was enough wind to keep the bugs at bay.
In the evening when the storms started to brew, excitement among the lookouts increased and there was more chatter over the radio. Around 7:00, the large storm with lightning and thunder moved west to east along the north end of Hungry Horse Reservoir. It was astonishing to see how fast it moved across the landscape. At the same time, one was building across the mountain range on the west side of the reservoir directly across from Baptiste Lookout and moving in my direction. It moved closer with multiple lightning strikes along Wickiup Mountain and Battery Mountain, as well as Battery Creek and Wheeler Creek drainages. Spotted Bear Lookout called me on the radio to give me the azimuth for a lightning strike that produced smoke. I rushed to find it on my fire finder and my maps. In minutes, the entire area was lost in a downpour of rain and I couldn’t see anything. As it quickly moved past and the sun started to shine through the rain, it seemed like my lookout was surrounded by rainbows. My comment to the Scalplock Lookout was “I found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and its right here!”
One of the most wonderful things about being in a lookout is your intimacy with weather. It surrounds you and makes you a part of it and not just an observer.