Tuesday, July 29
Another sunny, cloudless day. I don’t mean to sound ho-hum about it, but it’s the clouds and the storms that bring the real drama and beauty to the landscape. Despite those feelings, I savored every moment of the quiet, still morning knowing that tomorrow I will be packing up to walk out.
Breakfast has been a special treat since my friends brought huckleberries a few days ago. Although I don’t have any more pancake mix, my standard oatmeal with huckleberries is almost as good. As I ate breakfast, the sun popped up over Baptiste Peak blasting the lookout with brilliant light and heat. I could tell that today would be a scorcher. All of the lookouts had higher than normal temperatures during our morning weather reports.
Last night, I set my alarm for 0200 (2am) in order to get up and watch for meteors. Although the peak of the Perseids will be August 10-13, there will be a waning gibbous moon that will interfere with the meteor showers on those peak nights. The dark nights around the New Moon (like now) is the best time to watch. I went out on the catwalk for a better view and the stars were brilliant. Far away from any city lights with their light pollution, the Milky Way seemed close enough to reach out and touch. I took some time to identify some of the most familiar constellations and wonder at the magnificent universe that we live in. A few meteors streaked across the northern sky, but I was too sleepy to stay up long. I will try again tonight.
One visitor hiked up to Baptiste Lookout today. Faye, who is a waitress at Nickel Charlie’s in Kalispell, loves lookouts and has hiked to all of them in this area. She was searching the Internet for lookouts and found my postings on NF News and decided to hike up to meet me. We had a good time eating lunch together and talking about lookouts.
Not many hikers come to Baptiste Lookout. You have to be willing to hike 12 miles roundtrip on a trail that is not heavily publicized. In the ten days that I have been here, I have had only five incidental visitors (meaning that they weren’t friends of mine or Forest Service employees). All of them were locals just out for a day hike. Firefighter Lookout, to which you can drive, gets about three times as many incidental visitors in the same period of time. Cyclone gets more in one day than Baptiste gets in ten days!
Different lookouts handle visitors differently. Some like to chat and share information and some close the door and don’t interact with visitors at all. It’s important to remember that lookouts are not visitor centers and entertaining visitors is not part of the job description. However, lookouts can play an important role in welcoming and educating people about public lands, fire and forest management, wildlife, weather and many other things. In my opinion, a lookout should embrace the opportunity to be an ambassador for public lands as long as it does not interfere with their main job of watching for smoke.
In the late afternoon, white cumulus clouds began to build up in the sky and I was hoping for the excitement of thundershowers. A little rain fell around afternoon check-in time (1615) which increased in the next few hours. The temperature dropped. The wind blew hard from the east and whistled around the outside of the lookout. There was thunder, but no lightning. At one point, the rain was beating down on the east side of the lookout while the sun was shining in on the west side. A day that was supposed to be a 90-degree scorcher was turned chilly by a mountain storm. One thing that I love about being high in the mountains is how fast the weather can change. I traded my shorts and barefeet for jeans and wool socks while the wind continued to shake the lookout and seep through the cracks.
My last dinner consisted of every vegetable that was left in the propane refrigerator. Almost all of the fresh fruit that I and friends carried up is gone too. I have eaten well and slept well at this lookout. I have enjoyed solitude and entertained friends. I have weathered storms and heat, lightning and wind, and have been thrilled by the forces of nature. I have felt humbled by the starry nights and mesmerized by sunsets. But most of all, I have felt at home in this vast landscape with the mountains as companions.
One of the volunteer lookouts told me that this experience would change me; it will “change your DNA,” he said. I can feel the changes within me.