2016 Days 5 & 6 as a volunteer lookout

By | August 7, 2016

Today could not be more different than yesterday.  After the thick clouds, rainstorms, and cold temperatures of the day before, the morning sky was clear and the sunshine heated up the cold lookout quickly and effectively.  It was a quiet day with blue skies, a few white cotton-ball clouds, and calm winds…….and not much for a lookout to do except to soak in the peace and beauty of the surrounding landscape.  The quiet seemed strange after the noisy day of roaring winds and buffeting rain.

Calm day

With the morning chores done and no visitors arriving, I had a free afternoon.  As a self-proclaimed workaholic, I usually spend my life staying busy, accomplishing things.  I live by “to-do lists” with never enough time to get it all done.  Not so today.  I spent the afternoon, leisurely sitting on the catwalk in the warm sunshine and cool mountain air, gazing at the peaks around me……..without any feelings of guilt!  I was doing my job and was available if needed.

Not getting enough exercise can be a problem when staffing a lookout because you are expected to be in or close to your tower between 0800 and 1630.  To remedy this, I practice yoga every morning and hike down into Silver Basin every evening.

On my walk that evening, I only found 3 huckleberries (yes, three!). I suppose the Bears won’t be hanging out in Silver Basin this year.  It was a delightful evening with perfect temperatures, so I rambled around looking at wildflowers.  Harebells, showy asters, wild onion, Indian paintbrush, and arrow leaf groundsel  were abundant.  There were others that I could not name, even with the help of a book.  The sunset was beautiful, but less than spectacular due to a lack of any clouds for the light to bounce around on.  The orange glow stayed on the horizon late into the night.

I woke around 0100 to a dark, star-filled night with howling wind.  Something was loose and rattling somewhere against the lookout.  It sounded like a bear rummaging around below, but I knew that it was just the wind.  I got out of bed to check on it several times, but could not find the problem.  The night was warm in comparison to several days ago.  A dome of millions of stars stretched across the big sky and the Milky Way looked close enough to touch.  I am usually a sound sleeper and miss the glories of the dark Montana sky, so I spent some minutes on the catwalk gazing at the magnificent sky and feeling sorry for those who live in cities where light pollution deprives them of ever viewing the heavens.  Every moment in Montana makes me grateful for the abundant riches that this land offers.

Molly & Leif

Around 0930 the following morning, Leif Haugen and Molly Scherrer arrived at Baptiste.  They left Hungry Horse Ranger Station at 0600 to drive to the trailhead and hike in to meet Helicopter 6PJ (read 6 Papa Juliet) that was bringing supplies and construction materials for repairs to Baptiste Lookout.

Molly and Leif tying up load to be picked upAfter Leif and Molly got all of the out-going materials ready near the helipad, they radioed for “6 Papa Juliet” to come.  While waiting, they dressed in appropriate clothing ……Molly in a jumpsuit and Leif in a yellow fire shirt and trousers.  They both wore hard hats.  Leif and Molly had hiked to Baptiste instead of riding in the helicopter so that they could have time to organize all of the materials without the helicopter having to wait around thus saving the Forest Service a considerable amount of money.

6 Papa Juliet

Shortly after the radio call, “6 Papa Juliet” circled the lookout to see where the landing site was.  Then, it returned to base to pick up the in-coming materials in a sling.  When it returned, it lowered the sling load to the ground.  Molly disconnected the load and the helicopter circled nearby peaks while Leif and Molly worked to unload the materials and prepare the load of out-going items.  When that was accomplished, the helicopter returned to hover over the site while Molly tied on the load.  “6 Papa Juliet” lifted the load and returned to base.

After the helicopter was gone, the three of us moved everything that had been deposited.  This included a tool box which is now housed below the lookout.  Many lookouts are built with a tool shed on the ground floor.  Baptiste does not have one, so this large tool box will suffice. The drop also included propane tanks, paper supplies, new flooring, paint, tools, and some personal gear for volunteers who will be working later in the season.

Molly hauling flooring up to lookout

Once everything was stored, the three of us ate lunch in the lookout and worked on the refrigerator.  We determined that the problem was indeed the thermal couple.  Leif called and ordered the part before leaving the lookout.  When it is available, he will hike back in and repair the refrigerator.  It is easy to see how dedicated Leif is to the volunteer lookout program.  It would not be the success that it is without his inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm and his skill in solving problems.

Visitors at picnic table

While we were working on the refrigerator, a hiking couple came and ate lunch at the picnic table below the lookout.  To show their appreciation for the lookout program, they hauled up several containers of water from Silver Basin.  I learned several years ago from another volunteer lookout, Inez Love, that if you leave a water container at the creek asking hikers to bring some water to the lookout, they often do.  Every drop of water that one does not have to carry is greatly appreciated.

That evening after my daily hike into Silver Basin, I took my first solar shower since leaving home.  One of the things that the helicopter brought today was a new solar shower which I immediately filled with rainwater that had come off the roof and been saved in a trash can below the lookout.  The shower was glorious and so were the clean clothes that I put on afterwards.

My shower in the warm evening sunshine came just in time because an hour later dark rain clouds were building up in the west and moving toward the lookout and blocking the sun.  Although dry thunderstorms were predicted for tonight, these storms were dumping rain before they passed over the Swan Range.  The storm was pushed north and missed my lookout, but I watched as rain poured down upon the reservoir and surrounding hills.

At the same time, a larger thunderstorm was approaching south of my lookout.  For awhile, I thought that it might come this way, but it passed to the south displaying lightning and angry-looking purple clouds.  There was quite a bit of lightning around Kah Mountain and Soldier Mountain and further south and I assumed that Spotted Bear Lookout was getting hammered by the storm.  The winds were so fierce that my door was blown open forcefully.

Evening sunset

With all of the storms moving through, the sky at sunset had a myriad of colors that my camera did not come close to capturing.

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About NFNews Editor

Patti Hart is the editor-in-chief and founder of the NFNews.net. Patti lives on the North Fork during the summers and travels the world for the rest of the year, updating NFNews every day wherever there is an internet connection.

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