26 October 2011

Thorp Mountain Lookout, Hitch I: August 20-24

{Well, here goes. Once again, hope it's interesting reading, and not just last year redux. I am going to do this first hitch in two batches of 5 days, because I wrote a whole lot in those first few days.}

I was nervous as hell when I called in on the radio for the first time in 11 months. "Wenatchee, 3Delph." "3Delph, this is Wenatchee." " I am Thorp Lookout, and I am heading up Knox Creek Trailhead to open the lookout." "Wenatchee copies, have a great day."

And with that I'm back at it. Up the trail through a meadow, which was a long slog with my heavy-ass pack. Elli was hot, and kept stopping us both in the shade, which is a classic move for her, and smart. She still hasn't really shedded this summer. It was a quick hike up, with one brief peek of the lookout, way up above on a knob--but then we were there in no time, and without the usual "sweet jeebus, how are we not there yet?" that occurs on most lookout hikes I have been on in Washington. The hike was the easiest thing that happened to me today.

First view of Thorp Lookout: on the right knob

Twenty-five visitors today. That's what stands out as the #1 difference between this year and last. [I had 24 visitors at Sheep Hill, including 5 friends, all season.] I was a little tired and hungry after the hike up, and the state of the L.O. pretty much overwhelmed me. I couldn't figure out where to begin cleaning, and people are coming in droves, literally 15 minutes after I've arrived and seen the L.O. and the view from it for the first time (can see Rainier and Adams! Can't see Glacier. Are those the Olympics peeking out over there? Wonder what the hell the name of all those peaks are? Well, at least I know Stuart.) Folks start, understandably, asking me questions, about me, the job, the building, the view, etc, many of which I fake the answers to. Somehow, it's terrifically embarrassing to say that I only just opened the lookout. And Elli, who has also only barely arrived, seems to be fully aware that these are her digs, and pins the first dog we meet by his neck when he comes on the porch. Twice. Nice to meet you, sir whose-dog-my-dog-just-told-off.

I was so overwhelmed by the situation, mostly the cleaning/state of the lookout (mold--everywhere. Floor filthy. Woodstove so full of ash that the door won't close properly. Twisted sticks of firewood sprawling over the entire NE corner, from floor to window. No mop. No bucket. No cleaning rag.), and the fact that it's much less warm and cozy than Sheep Hill (no cabinets or drawers--two rickety and dirty shelves, and rubbermaid totes, instead. Propane bottles, rusty and dirty, inside the L.O. Floor covered by a gray coating, rather than warm 'wood' linoleum. Firefinder stand is bare old plywood, and the firefinder map itself is so old and faded that I'm worried about using it), and I was still hungry, so I got kind of shaky and felt like crying most of the afternoon, without doing so. I cleaned the mold off of every surface, moved the 3 extra propane bottles and all the totes outside, swept, organized the wood and moved a lot outside, wiped down and trued the firefinder, and started learning the peaks.

There's no screen door. So while it's wonderful to still have this many wildflowers blooming this late in August, it is absolutely horrible to have this many mosquitoes inside the lookout. Found the shitter, down the west ridge; it's not smashed, as it was thought to be, but is just a throne, so has no cover in inclement weather, though it does have a beauty view of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks and Mount Rainier.

I've never seen Rainier from this angle, but it looks a lot like a mirror view of the one from Tatoosh, with Little Tahoma perfectly exposed. I can't see I-90, at least not without binoculars. I look right down on Lake Kachess to the SW, little white power boat tails all day, occasional motor sound drifts up on the wind. Thorp Lake is to the SE.

I think it'll be great here, but from the first night out's vantage point, I miss how well set up and equipped and clean good ol' Sheep Hill was. Ah well.

Five gallons of water hauled before breakfast! From the cache at the saddle, which the old lookout told me about. There's a bit more down there, too.

Effing burned my hand pouring water out of the shitty pot with the shitty handle into a shitty mug. The kitchen is sorely lacking in all sorts of things, and the few things that I have packed won't be up here for several more days.

One tote of snow hauled up here to melt, too. Starting at 0930 is great! I can do a bunch of stuff while it's still cool out, and just relax after work. Well, and relax, comparatively speaking, while I am working, too. Rearranged the N side of the LO. Cleaned up all the new mold and rust and rotted things that that exposed.

Well, the district ranger just made a sneak attack. Lots of visitors today (13 and 3 dogs by 1400), and then I meet a gal, her husband, and their dog name Carlie. Chat for awhile. She asks me my name, and then responds, "well, I'm Judy, and not to scare you, but I'm the District Ranger" (that is to say, my 'biggest' boss on the Cle Elum district). Maybe not scared, but got the adrenaline running, anyway. Another visitor was fun--her dog was aggressive, and she told me to put Elli away, and that she had pepper spray in case anything happened. Unclear if she meant she'd use it on her dog or on mine. Putting Elli inside is by far the easiest, for certain. The annoyance at being told what to do, at my own 'home', is still great. I won't lie, this visitor thing might make this unsustainable.

The mosquitoes are out of control. Elli and I are getting a little crazy. The natural bug repellent is with the gear not yet arrived. 100% DEET is not my favorite. Also looking forward to pillow/sheets, food, and gin. And books.

Perhaps a mourning period for Sheep Hill, since I can't seem to stop comparing the two. Mourn, then let it be, move forward. Not the first time my Cascades have had to win me back again. I'm here on a beautiful peak-y peak, with wildflowers erupting (in the end of August! lupine, paintbrush, yarrow, sulphur flower, heather, harebells, valerian, lousewort, columbine!) in an L-4 lookout that has been standing since the 30s. Rainier is big as life, the peaks are jagged steep sharp--and yet I miss Idaho so much it hurts. Instead of 3+ ridges to explore on walks, we have one, and it's full of tight little groves of alpine fir and mountain hemlock (my favorite tree!). I miss the open rocky sparse expanses with beargrass and the occasional wildflower or patch of heather and penstemon, that looked so desolate to me in the beginning, and the surrounding country so rounded off--but I miss it. The Frank Church's remoteness, its beauty, and the ease with which my eyes could roll over those mountains on checklooks. These peaks ridges valleys drainages will become familiar to me too, and I will know their names, like I knew Burnt Knob, Boston, Spot, Salmon, Sheepeater, XIII, Oregon Butte, Bargamin, Cache, Rattlesnake, Mallard, etc...most of those were strangers at first, too. But I had company during that first stage last year, and now I have shit-tons of unfamiliar faces asking me questions I feel I'm pulling the answers to out of my ass. And god knows, I hate feeling like I suck at my job. But I do have dear sweet Elli, who keeps comforting me, even though I feel guilty that her home keeps getting invaded and that she's a walking mosquito-feeding machine.

Smiley LE Dogg, comforter of the upset, upsetter of the comfortable 

Today involved hauling another tote of snow for water (the patch of snow is on the north side of the west ridge), re-doing the forest map on the side of the firefinder stand (there is no drop-down map), and unpacking my stuff! Four guys from the Naches crew brought up 8 boxes and a stuff sack, along with a roll of screen! They were the only visitors, too, thank god.

The "Pack String" leaves. Thanks, boys. 

It was a largely overcast day, with wind that started last night at dark and has yet to stop. Rain and socked in just before going out of service. Did all the dishes (I've been eating out of one pot, with one spoon, waiting for dish soap), excepting the ones I threw away for being irretrievably disgusting. Made mac n cheese with green chiles and sundried toms for dinner: discovered there is no can opener. Truly fucking ridiculous.

Have a fire going now, and Elli is sleeping with her head on my pillow. Tea in the morning and a real breakfast: oh boy.

I slept a lot better, with the fire going (have a leaky air mattress, not a real mattress or pad=cold sleeping) and a pillow. We went down to find the water source for this morning's walk. Not too far, it feels about the same or just a little further than last year. If so, it was more like a 1 1/2-2 mile round trip last year, too. A pretty little stream, which I have a hard time believing could make me sick (how naive does that sentence sound?!), I had a few handfuls of unfiltered water to drink, so we'll see. I figure that the simple fact that there are no less than four filters in the LO must mean something.

Built the screen door: YAHOO! No longer have to choose between solar-powered sauna and mosquito-induced madness! Hauled one more tote of snow, now have 15 gallons of snow water and 7 gallons of drinking water.

Had a nice after-work walk out the ridge with gin and lemonade (Betsy's Lookout Cocktail of Choice), and then sat on the rock outcropping west of the lookout in the falling sun and settled further into place. Comfort and contentment are finally starting to sink in.

Spotted first smoke this morning around 0900. It was really far away, but I called in the azimuth and my distance estimate to dispatch. Turns out it was around 40 miles away, past Ellensburg, and that a city or county fire department was responding. Still looks good, no matter what: at least I'm doing the job they hired me for.

In other news, I've jacked up my shoulder. Don't know what I did, but it hurts like a mother and I can't breathe properly. After a few hours of being careful, it was easing up a bit, and I was scoping where to hang the solar shower (Shower Day!). I slipped on a rock and flung my arms out to catch myself on a guywire, and it's much worse since then. Can't lift much, can't bend forward, can't lie back, still can't breathe, can't use left arm well, even though it's the right arm that's hurt. Don't know. I hope it's just a muscle spasm or something that will ease off. I do not want to have to leave, but if I can't haul water or anything else, well, I'm effed. Also, it's Shower Day, one of my favorite days, and my hair is greasy as hell. If I can't lift the solar shower, let alone my arms to wash my hair...meh.

Got a call from the Fire FMO, and he sounds great, kind, friendly, glad to have me here, and eager to help by sending up a mop, a bucket, and several cubies of water when a helicopter comes in to fix the radio repeater, probably friday. Hot damn, yo.

The evening walk ended sitting on another rock outcropping, looking back at my little lookout shack with the Stuart Range streaming behind, from west, through the lookout windows, and on east; surrounded by wildflowers. Laughing: this is exactly what a lookout "should" be, archetypal: light and mountains streaming through windows, beauty and brightness, wilderness and one little outpost of civilization.

Crows (or Ravens?: "If you think it's a raven, then it's a crow. If you know it's a raven, then it's a raven.") swoop and sail and cruise on the updrafts that push up Thorp's ridges.

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