2014 Day 8 as a Volunteer Lookout

By | July 29, 2014

Monday, July 28

Unawah Mountain where I saw a lightning strike a few days agoAlthough I was expecting another blue-sky day, I woke to grey stratus clouds that covered most of the sky. Last night I could see a tiny light that was Rich’s campfire in Silver Basin. This morning, the smoke from their campfire was the only sign that they were there.

Unlike lookouts who serve for an entire season and get regular supply deliveries by pack train, all of the volunteer lookouts at Baptiste send up their boxes of supplies at the beginning of the season on one pack trip. Because the trail to Baptiste had not been accessible by mules until recently, the boxes of the first volunteers were carried up by fire fighters before we got here. Last night when Rich unloaded all of the supplies that his mules had hauled, I failed to notice that most of it was the gear for the next volunteer lookouts that will follow me. These boxes and gear bags had to be moved into the lookout this morning. I was relieved that a bear had not eaten everyone’s food during the night.

Volunteer supplies and gear copyEven before the morning weather report, I started hauling the nine heavy boxes and gear bags up 41 steep steps. Some were so heavy that I had to rest them on every other step as I made my way up. After nine trips and much panting, all of the supplies were in the lookout. The next task was to figure out how to store it. After some re-arranging, I found room for most of it under the bed and the work table.

Firefighter Lookout called around noon to confer with me about a possible smoke sighting. We determined that it was just dust on the road west of the reservoir and south of Clayton Island. In fact, there have been a lot of dust clouds coming off the road yesterday and today…….and they sometimes look like smoke.

Lookout flag flutters in the breeze with Baptiste Peak in the backgroundWith help from my Saturday guests, we figured out how to hang the flag. Flapping merrily in the breeze, the flag adds color and marks this building as an official National Forest Service lookout.

The life of a lookout can be crazy busy with storms, lightning, visitors, reports, radio monitoring, and phone calls. At other times, almost nothing is happening. Today was one of those days. The sky cleared with only a few high white clouds. There were no visitors. It was a reading/writing day for me. To be a lookout, you have to be comfortable with yourself.

Taking pictures of the lookout this evening, I thought about my friend, Burt Edwards. Burt was a smoke chaser in Glacier National Park in the 1920s and 1930s. When I was a young adult, he told me stories about all of the lookouts that used to be in the North Fork in the 1920s–on every major mountain peak. I have seen the ruins on Thompson-Seton and Nasukoin and Tuchuck and have wondered about the lives of these lookouts. Burt told me how the lookouts would spot smoke and give him the coordinates so he could track it down and contain it. I wish that he could see me sitting up here on Baptiste Lookout looking for smoke all these years later. I think that he would be proud.

As I watched the sun set and the light fade tonight, I am a little sad that my time here is ending in a few days.

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