04 December 2010

Sheep Hill Lookout: Sunday 8/22-Saturday 8/28

Just got buzzed by a shiny red helicopter. Was headed straight at me for miles, then lifted just over the lookout and carried on straight east. Too fast, and too head-on, to be able to catch its tail numbers.

Morning walk involved finally checking out the unusual tree-pattern on the ridge directly to the north. I stare at the thing all the time, so we finally went and walked it. It's like a reverse mohawk, only the razor slipped just off to one side of the head. From a distance, it looks like it would have to have been cut that way, it's so even, so straight. However, on close inspection, it looks natural. If it was cut, it was cut a very long time ago, and nothing has ever grown back. I've read about wind alleys that occur, where prevailing winds sweep through all the time, and so things just don't grow. That doesn't really apply, here. Anyway, here's a photo taken from near the 'top' of the mohawk, looking south, back toward the lookout:

Frozen this morning. The rain that fell on us last night is all ice on the catwalk and rocks and grass. When I did the weather at 9:00, it had warmed up to 35 degrees. Keeping the fire going, and for once, it isn't cooking us out of the lookout. Nice and cozy. Tried another experiment for brekkie: made french toast with powdered eggs, powdered milk, powdered bananas, and vanilla. Yum. That'll be another good Bowron breakfast, when the bread or bagels have taken a beating in the dry bags.

I have no recollection of anything exciting happening yesterday, outside of breakfast. We'll see if I remember anything further. Tried french toast again today, minus the bananas, and sure enough, the powdered egg is really noticeable. Not gross, but way better with nanas. Put lots of raspberry jam on to hide the egg.

Coolwater Lookout got packed out today. Sad, as I liked hearing him on the radio. Pleasant voice, nice guy, good at his job, good on the radio. Not sure why he's down so early, and for whatever reason, I feel relieved not to be the first one off. Although the district knew I needed to be down early when they hired me, and were fine with that, I can't help feeling a little guilty (and sad) to be leaving before the season's truly done.

I've been ticking through my to-do list this past week or so, like moving those shingles. I've also burned the boxes that I packed in with that I don't need anymore, largely completed the inventory, and scrubbed down the cookstove and oven. Today I scraped down the rusty surface of the woodstove. Rusty dust everywhere. I donned a villains of the wild woodstove west bandanna as face mask. When that was done, I put a layer of polish on it, which will have to be heated up to cure, and will be smoky toxic gnarly, thereby creating a dilemma. I don't want to be inside when I do it, but if it's cold outside, I don't want to be out there while the stove keeps the house warm. And, seeing as how it's hot as balls in here on nice days, lighting a fire on top of that is not appealing. I'm sure I can manage to figure it out.

It has been a beautiful day. I washed a few pieces of laundry, including my Duluth Trading Co. pants, which I'd previously decided not to wash all summer. Something smelled like goat butt in here the other day, and it wasn't anything else I was wearing, and I shouldn't have smelled like that, so washed they've been.

Showered, read book, didn't do a whole lot. Excellent day off. Two visitors on horseback, who've been camped down at Rattlesnake Lakes.

I am beginning to worry that I will not be getting out of here on time. It is a bit after 7 pm, and I am surrounded in smoke.

Seeing as how it is one of our very last days off up here, Elli and I took a hike down to Lake Creek Lakes, leaving here around 8 am. It was beautiful on the way. At one point near the saddle above the lakes, the wind was blowing, the sunlight was crystalline over the meadow, trees and cirque-wall of rocks--and my yearning? love? something for fall hit me so strongly that it literally made my chest ache, hard to breathe.

We went and inadvertently checked out the lowest lake first, which was in the middle of a brilliantly green wet meadow. After hauling back up the trail we'd come down, we came across the upper-most, largest lake. It has a great number of campsites, and has been a bit trammeled by so many horse camps, but we found one lovely site on a bit of a point and had "lunch", though it was only 10 o'clock.

looking down on the upper Lake Creek Lakes

I'd planned on also going down Bargamin trail a ways, too, just to make a day of it, but as we started gaining elevation, I started picking up bits of radio traffic about a fire over on Moose Butte that couldn't be triangulated. I can see the east side of Moose Butte from the lookout, so we picked up the pace, even though we had several miles to go, and it was likely they'd figure it out by the time we got back. Then, just as we got close to the top, there was a report of a skidder that caught fire in the timber sale above Tim's house and the Red River compound.

When I got up here, I discovered I could see the entirety of the Moose Butte fire, though they'd already figured its location. I couldn't see the skidder fire yet, but Tim was on initial attack for it, and it sounded like it was going pretty good. In a matter of minutes, it was running, torching and spotting up the ridge, and was altogether too easy and nerve-wracking to see, with my brother on it. A good number of crews and an air attack were on it swiftly.

Besides that, early this morning, before we left, there were reports of a small fire not far from that Meadow Fire. I was unable to see it then, but by this afternoon I could. Resources are already on the Meadow and Moose, and understandably are being focused most on the skidder fire (which has been named the Fitness fire, after the F.S. fitness trail that runs though the area), so they decided not to staff it.

...And then, around 3:45 pm, I noticed a slender column of smoke to the west above Cache Creek. I called dispatch, when wind around 40-50 mph with rain hit the lookout and blew a window open. When it subsided, I called back, and reported the fire. Within minutes it exploded. It's 8 or so miles from me, and I could see trees torching, with flames 50-100 feet tall, and spotting way ahead of itself. James could see the flames from Oregon Butte, and he's at least 21 miles away from it.

at 3:59, after I'd called it in

at 4:17


4:23, from inside the lookout, hence vertical reflection on right

4:34, about 40 minutes after I'd called it in, and already near its final size of an estimated 300-400 acres. The wind had pretty well knocked the column flat by this point, and I couldn't see flames again until the night, when torching trees were visible again in the dark. 

There was also a fire to the northeast that I shot an azimuth off for as I was trying to size up the Cache. Shortly after that, Jim on Sheepeater called to say he could see a fire north of me. Lucky he could see it, because it took it a while before I could see the smoke column, and I never would have been able to say where it was, as it is behind a large ridge.

It sounds as though there are a couple of fires on the Payette that erupted, too, and so the air is just full of smoke. The wind has finally died down to something "normal", and the temperature has dropped significantly. It was blowing hard and gusting higher most of the afternoon, with high temperatures and low humidity. When the cold front pushed in, the wind became something else altogether. And that is precisely when the Cache Creek fire became visible.

My fires are all in the wilderness, so will likely be allowed to burn, unless they push against the Montana Road. The crews are already all out, anyway. This cold front may subdue things.

I got to watch a bit of torching and creeping in the dark last night on the Cache. Pretty cool--when the trees go up, the flame looks brilliant pink-orange.

My three fires are called the Cache, Bleak Creek (the one Sheepeater located for me), and the Saddle (the one whose azimuth I shot swiftly, and then never saw again all night, leading me to wonder if it existed at all. It does!). The Saddle is off the east side of the ridge the trail to here lies on.

Nothing was visible for a long time this morning, due to fog, cloud and smoke. When it lifted, I discovered there were 2 spot fires well away from the main body of the Cache, at about 1/3 and 2/3 mile away, respectively. When they flew the Cache this morning, they estimated the fire to be at 3-400 acres. Holy crap. I got me the biggest fire of the summer. So far.

Nothing too exciting all afternoon. Doing my final check-look before going off the clock, and whaddya know, but there are TWO fires south of me. One is in the steep-ass country between myself and the Salmon River, and the other is on the far side, in (I think) the Bear Creek drainage. Five fires in two days!

Made sun tea and am drinking Arnie Palmers.

Elli's shot for doggy Penthouse

Another Smoke! This one looks like it's right in Sheepeater's lap, though it's out north of him, over a ridge, so would be hard for him to see. Return the favor on the one he called for me! ......and now that he and I have spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out its exact location, I'm 99% sure that it is a band of rock that stood out because of the way the clouds kept shifting the light--made it look larger and smaller, standing up and subsiding....heh. I'm a moron. At least we didn't call it in. Good practice, and highlights the fact that my USGS quads need to be replaced for that area.

The smoke that really was a smoke yesterday on the Payette was around 25 acres this morning, so at least that one paid off. Apparently the Cache Fire made it onto the national SIT Report today! The only fire on the district to do so this season so far.

Canada geese honking overhead at 12:07. Clever subsitute for phrase cluster-f*ck: charlie-foxtrot. Genius. Thanks, brother. Snow level supposed to be 7500' tonight, 900' below me.

Four days left on duty at Sheep Hill. Tipped up last of Pendleton (Let 'Er Buck!) whisky this evening. I am even thinking back nice and romantically about the days down at the district, running PT and getting strong, bonding with the crew; that, coupled with how thoroughly content I am being up here makes wanting to return next year an even stronger desire than it was already.

1 comment:

  1. Do it (return.)

    I'm a big fan of "whiskey tango foxtrot" in casual conversation. Very few people (here) get it.