18 October 2010

Sheep Hill Lookout: Sunday 7/25-Saturday 7/31

Week Three on Sheep Hill Lookout

Homemade sourdough pita with tuna salad, sprouts and avocado, and a peach, ripe juicy sweet, for lunch. I'd feel lucky to be eating this at home, let alone here. Had my first 'real' visitor, not known to me, or working for the F.S., just after lunch. A guy in his 60s from Boise, thru-hiking the Centennial Trail from Nevada to Canada. He used to work for the Nature Conservancy, is retired, and figured he'd better do a thru-hike while still physically capable. Said the trail is terrible to non-existent in places, but is enjoying himself. Given that he is making excellent time, and is ultra-lighting it like an old hand, I'd say he's got a few more thru-hikes in him yet. 

Something big blew up in Montana today. To the left of El Capitan from here. Everybody could see it, way north and way south. Listening in on the radio to the Bitterroot forest tonight, I heard that it started around Willow L.O., and that he had a hairy escape from it, abandoning the lookout to run further into the wilderness, where a helicopter picked him up. The fire swept around the lookout cabin in the end, and didn't touch it.

I took this at 1654, after it had been going for an hour or two. It's developing a cumulonimbus head.

Elli caught sniff or sight of 'em five minutes before I could see them, but 9 people, 9 horses and two dogs from Spokane and Grangeville came up. The youngest was a little Devon. He had lots of good and smart questions and wanted to check everything out, stomping around in cowboy boots and hat. They're camped at Lake Creek Lakes through Thursday. Saw them fishing down at lower Rattlesnake Lake later on. 

Weather moved in, lightning dropping south, east, west and north of me, but not here. Behler and his crew had driven up to Green Mountain to use the lookout in the storm, and he spotted a smoke! I got a cross azimuth on it. Tim's crew responded to it. 1/4 acre, named Butter Fire. My coordinates were nearly dead on! Wahoo! The engine crew from Elk City found one from Elk Summit, became the Whiskey Fire. 

I kept track of all sorts of 'smokes': water dogs, vapor, etc, until about 2030, when the sun went down. Gorgeous, long sunset. 

Sustained 10-15 MPH winds for about 30-45 minutes in the 5 o'clock hour. Followed by rain, that has kept up. Low visibility, drifting misting morning that smells wonderful. Built a fire in the woodstove. Nice and toasty with a cup of coffee, and Elli asleep on the bed. 

One hell of a thunderstorm blew through in the afternoon, west to east. I could see it blackening and striking all the way from Oregon Butte, 29 miles away. Just a black wall of cloud. By the time it got here, it had a shelf-cloud formation: squared-off, flat and level bottom edge (from moving so fast). It meant business. It had to lift itself slightly to get over my ridge--and just right out there! it did--that sharp shelf edge boiled up and all over me. Howling wind and marble-sized hail came just after I was cloaked in that cloud. The noise from it was enough that I couldn't hear the radio, or the thunder, though the strikes were plenty visible. The whole time I was perched on the back of my insulated chair, cackling joyously. I love storms.
the hail on the ground, and the tail end of the storm.

A whole pile of smokes were found far east of me, in the Newsome Creek area. Tim calls it the Bermuda Fire Triangle, because despite the lookouts' ability to see them clearly, the crews on the ground sometimes never find the fires there. 

Two more good storms today, one of which threw lightning directly on us--simultaneous FLASHBOOM! that Elli was less than fond of. She's doing pretty well with the storms. She hangs out on her bed until they get a little to loud, flashy, or both, and then curls up under the table on a insulative mat I put there just for this purpose.

Got more pita dough ready to rally. Such a simple way to make myself bread, I dig it.

Smoky enough I can smell it and can't see well, this morning. My snowbank will be gone today--so sad. I will have to be more stingy with water for dishes. I hope to god I have enough snow-water for dishes, clothes and showers stored up that I won't have to haul it on my back from the spring. 

I just realized today that I've begun to get used to the idea of mountains being rather rounded and not particularly different or outstanding from one another. El Capitan is North Cascades-burly-looking, and still the king (or Captain, eh?) of my 360 degrees, but my eyes have adjusted to the rest of the milder mountains.

I think the sky kind of betrayed Elli today, during a storm that was otherwise underwhelming, and going by mostly to the east of us. She was chilling out, not being bothered by it at all, when we had another direct strike. Scared the bejeebus out of her, and startled me straight onto my glass-insulated chair. I didn't see it coming either, Elli.

From The Good Rain, by Timothy Egan:
And in all that period while I was near Nature,
the great lessons of the wilderness deepened into 
my heart day by day, the hedges of conventionalism 
withered away from my horizon, and all the pedantries
of scholastic thought perished out of my mind forever.

We had our first sheep-y visitor today! I went out to hang my bedding over the west rail, heard a funny noise, and there she was. She proinked away, stopped, came back. When Elli came outside, she stood on the catwalk next to me, barking her ass off, but otherwise making no moves. The sheep looked at us, all like, 'whatever', and very leisurely-like, she meandered off to the northwest. Then Elli went down and went bananas sniffing around. The sheep came back again later, too, so we must not worry her too much. The log from last year says that a family of three was around at about this time. Maybe she was the young one. 

This afternoon I sucked at my job. Gardiner Peak spotted a fire about 10 miles from me before I did. It was about 14 miles away from him. It was going off, too, not hard to see, aside from the fact the light was weird. Within a minute, Hell's Half Acre and Coolwater L.O.s chimed in, too. Dixie crew got to respond to it, their first fire of the summer. The Three Prong Fire.

It is the last day of July, today. I've got a little more than a month left, and am three weeks down. I've a lot of food to eat, yet.

Sourdough Pitas
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup Flour
3/4-1 cup Water
1/2 cup Sourdough Starter
1T Olive Oil
1 t Sugar
1 t Salt

-Mix all but Water, add Water slowly and knead to form soft, elastic dough. 
-Put in bowl and cover, rise to double. At the l.o., fridge overnight.
-Divide into 6 pieces, roll out to around 6"x1/4". Use one-quart Nalgene for authenticity.
-Cook on medium to medium-high heat in cast iron skillet. Or other fry pan. I found that they puffed best if I put the side that was moistest down first (usually the side against the table when you've rolled them), and then turned them onto the 'drier' side.
-Can be doubled easily!


  1. Have you named your sourdough starter/mother?

  2. no...I haven't. Whenever I feed it, though, I get the distinct sense it's a old guy with a white beard who lives in a log cabin. Seriously. I don't know if it's a subconscious "sourdough" thing, but I don't think so. I'll have to get into more conversations with him.

    Actually, I took a part of him to the lookout, a scion, I suppose, and she seemed like a she. She got left with one of the guys on the crew. Does yours have a name?

  3. I can't decide on a name. I've candidates. Mine isn't the 49er sourdough, really. He's more of a tweedy eccentric; tea-swilling, patched sweaters. How I know this, I don't know.

    Names include male versions of the following: Stacy, Sidney, and a more playful Scooter (maybe when he was younger.)