29 October 2011

Thorp Mountain Lookout, Hitch I: Part II: August 25-29

8/25
There were possible thunderstorms predicted for last night--not a thing occurred, don't think there were even any clouds. Today, again, a possibility, and clouds have been trying to build in the south all afternoon. They get nice and high, look promising, and then fall back down. The weather has all been moving in from the south-SE today, which is unusual for here, but was the norm for ID.

My shoulder's feeling quite a bit better, still don't know what was wrong. I decided, well, I knew, that I shouldn't haul snow in the tote, so I made 5 trips with the largest pot and the bucket. There was something down near the snowfield that made Elli put her hackles way up and bark her ass off, when we first got over there. She eventually calmed down a bit, so that I felt safe enough to move down, while hollering "hey, bear" and such. Elli then scared the shit out of herself by bumping into a tree limb, and scared the shit out of me by barking horribly at it. What's great is I watched her back into the branch, so I knew what was going on, but her bark was so primal that it still startled me.

We also gave the heli-pad a haircut in advance of today's flight operation. Looks nice and tidy. The helipad is a patch of dirt with a few plants on it and a large H made from 2x4s. It sits right on the narrowest part of the ridge.


The helicopter and crew were supposed to arrive between 9 and 10 AM. At 1147, I finally got a call saying that the helicopter had arrived at the airstrip. Around 1230 the first load came in, Mike from Cle Elum and some equipment; the second load with two radio technicians and more gear; and a third flight with a sling load. Pretty exciting, all in all, especially since 6 visitors arrived at the same time as the first flight.

Mike sees the second landing in

The sling load gets dropped on the far side of the lookout

Bob, the older of the two technicians, was a really nice guy, and had been a lookout in a couple of places back in the day, including Square Mountain (or Square Top, I forget which, sorry Bob!), outside of Grangeville. He dubbed Elli "The Queen", because she just lay around wherever she took a liking, and didn't budge, even if she was at the foot of the steps everyone kept taking, or was about a foot away from the repeater as they wrestled with it. Mike, from the fire crew, was fun to talk to, too, he grew up in Naches, and volunteered all sorts of information that he thought I might find useful, from info about old lookout staff to how to arrange a sling load.

They were at it a long time, trying to replace the radio repeater and install 3 new solar panels, and didn't get to finish before the helicopter had to leave. Seeing as how it was the pilot's fault they weren't able to start on time, they were a wee bit miffed, and I'm sure that having to run another mission is going to kill their budget. For the time being, I have no power, outside of AA batteries. Heh.


Emmer (farro) and Cattle Drive Chili for dinner. Now that's a combo. Ancient grain (now grown again in the Methow), and Costco-bought canned food. With the addition of fresh onions and Tillamook cheddar, it was delicious.

8/26
I was pretty uprooted from what small sense of solitude I had fostered, by the time yesterday was over. I don't know that I'll be having any roof-top satoris or monkey-freeing heart releases this go-round. So many interruptions, visitors and so on, let alone the impending days off. However: it is beautiful; I've got almost everything I need, now that the boys brought in a mop and bucket; and fire danger keeps going up. All we need is some freaking lightning.

This morning, pancakes sounded really good, despite the fact I knew it was going to be a challenge. The pots and lid-pans are GSIs cheapest, thinnest type--the ones that are good for boiling water and being lightweight in your backpack, and not much else. I decided that if I kept the heat very low, to give the pancake's interior a chance to cook before the outside scorched, and used a ton of oil, to avoid sticking, that perhaps I had a chance of success! Nay. Burned in the center, stuck like cement all the way across. Couldn't be turned. So I covered it, to try and 'steam' the rest of it to doneness, which worked. I then scraped the whole mess loose, a pile of pre-chewed-looking pancake, charcoal-black to fish-belly-white with hints of gold. Real not good, even with lots of butter and syrup.

No, that's not a mess-kit plate, that's my frying pan, and a soul-crushing pancake

(Back-to-back, on the iPod: Lamb of God, followed by the Carter Family. Both from my boss and friend, Charles. Quite possibly more schizophrenic than my farro-chili.)

Had a mildly exciting fire this afternoon, behind Hex Mountain. It was called in by the public, followed quickly by the volunteer at Red Top Lookout. The radio made it sound like the entire Teanaway was on fire, but it only got to about two acres, at which point I could finally see the smoke plume from it.

In the midst of the fire kicking up, some hikers came up with two dogs, and Elli went down to play with them, which was highly unusual. Then one of the hikers said, "Hi, Betsy!" It was friends from Bellingham, Jenny and Ian, their son Abel and their dog Maddie, along with some Jenny's sister, niece, nephew and dog. How stinkin' nice to see friends! They brought me a peach and a beer, and left me half an avocado, too. Abel was much taken with the fire finder. Perhaps if he's lucky, there will still be a lookout or two active by the time he's old enough to man one! [Jenny and Ian took some great pictures of their trip.]

mmm-mmm...

...and swiftly re-purposed into a drinking glass!

There is a race going on this weekend, the Cascade Crest 100-miler, of which Thorp Peak is the highest elevation point, and approximately the 80-mile marker. They started today in Easton, and the first runners should start coming through, and Elli should start going batshit, in the middle of the night.

8/27
The first racer came through at 1:30, and then they just came through every so often after that. Elli did pretty well. She went over to the door to bark at the first one, but after that she just raised her head and 'hwoofed' at them from the comfort of bed. Now that it's daylight and she's up and about, she decides on a case-by-case basis whether or not to bark.

The bulk of the racers came by noon, and I think they were cut off at two. There were around 80-100 runners. Had a few regular visitors, and they were rather surprised by the amount of company they had. Seeing some of the folks who had made it this far, I began to think that maybe someday I could pull something like this off. Should probably start off with 'normal' trail races. Or with actually running regularly.

8/28
It was hot and hazy and a little stir-crazy-making today. Had one weird spot clear down south on Raven's Roost, and never could make out what it was. [Never did, either, must have been a weird trick of the light between the Roost and the peaks behind it, because I saw it occasionally for the rest of the season, but it always looked the same.]



By the end of work I was so hot and sweaty and dirty (it's dirty here, Jenny helped me to realize that: it was rockier at Sheep Hill. The floor, the firefinder, Elli, and my feet stayed much cleaner there), that I decided we would go down to Thorp Lake. It was further down than I expected, which made me pissy in my already-grumpy mood, but there were columbines blooming, and the lake was gorgeous, set in nice open woods with big old firs and hemlocks and campsites. Elli went in shoulder-deep straight away, and stayed there for awhile. We then took a maze of trails into the brushy thickets on the east side of the lake, trying to get around it far enough to have a view of the LO. Had no luck with that, and got disoriented in all that scrub. Can't get truly lost, the lake is right there, but sure can get pissed about not having the easiest way back to the campsites. Elli was still happy as a clam, though, and tore around as fast as she could, making noise like a horse thundering along the trails. We hauled ass back up here, which led to me reconsidering that 100-mile trail race idea. Yeah, there is no way in hell. Just not necessary in this lifetime.

Thorp Lake

The sunset, which was accompanied by a delicious dinner of tuna salad mac and cheese: mac and cheese, tuna, onions, mustard, and pickles! Even crappy days turn out okay.

8/29
A helicopter is scheduled to come in again today, between 10 and 11. Hopefully they do make it that early, because I am setting off for the trailhead at 1500, ready to try having days off in the big city, if for no other reason than picking up some decent pots and pans, bowls, silverware, measuring cups and spoons, a mug and a can opener at Goodwill.

Welp, it's 1830, and I'm still here, and uncertain if I'll be out of here tonight or not. The heli crew came and went (and I have my very own solar panel and battery now!), again getting here later than scheduled and having to leave without finishing everything, but the larger reason is that we have a fire northwest of me, on Hour Creek. The fire crew is so small on Mondays that literally everyone from the station is out on it or assisting with it, and so there is no one to pick me up. It's been sunny all day, but cool, and clouds are starting to crowd on the western mountains now.

the view to the south, Little Tahoma just peeking in on the right

1930: I'm getting socked in. Sometimes I can see the sun as a perfect circle through the blowing clouds: beautiful. Brilliant purple-blue and silver-green lupine against bright white misty smearing clouds, with wind humming in the guylines for a soundtrack.
 

"Make lookout extraction a priority" was the order over the radio just now! They're starting to demobilize the fire for the night, and conveniently, someone can drive from the trailhead near the fire to my trailhead, to fetch me. 1938: Heading out now, see you in four days.

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