10 November 2011

Thorp Mountain Lookout, Hitch II: September 3-12

{Two notes: 1: What do you think of the new layout? Blogger stopped 'supporting' my self-built original one, so I tried to rebuild, found this, and kinda liked it. It's not perfect, yet, but hopefully I'll get the inspiration to fix it...someday.
2: Our internet sucks. We get 5GBs, and then we pay through the nose if we go over the limit. I could not upload pictures without doing so. Sorry for the length of time this here lookout dispatch is taking me!}

One year ago today, I turned in my radio, did my evaluations, and pointed Ruby Sue 2 west. An hour or two ago, one year ago, I bought cherries and peaches in Ellensburg, elated at my new trove of fresh fruit. I was done there, but I feel like I'm just getting started, here. I am.

The huckleberries down in Knox Creek meadow are getting bronzed by the cooling temperatures, and a few of the berries are ripe. The wildflowers are mostly done, though there is a good smattering of lupine and yarrow, a few paintbrush, and this rad yellow flower on a long stalk with rows of buds running up it. Each bud is actually a compound bloom of 4 or 5 little tiny individual flowers. {Name: Rainiera stricta. Uncommon alpine/subalpine flower, common name Rainiera. It is pretty prolific at Thorp, but given that it is in sight of what I assume is its namesake, its commonness makes sense.}

The shadowy side, where the flowers are still blooming the best. The Rainiera are the non-lupine spikes.

Two mistakes this afternoon. One that makes me sad: I mis-remembered how much gin I had left, so didn't pack up any more. Rationing is now in place. The second embarrasses me greatly. There was a fire called in by the public, down at Kachess Lake group camp. The legal location that dispatch gave was for the major campground on the west side of the lake, and holy shit, but there was a well-defined plume of smoke coming up. I have never seen smoke from the regular campfires down there, and that had to be it. So when there was some confusion just a bit later as to whether the fire was at the group camp on the east, or the one on the west, side of the lake, I got on the radio and said it was definitely on the west. Turns out, it wasn't, and that I can apparently just see the smoke from the campfires really clearly today. It makes me feel so damn stupid, that they're down there at the district saying that that damned new lookout thinks campfires are wildfires.

It's Labor Day weekend, with low relative humidity and high temperatures, and we are the only place in the state without a burn ban on. Maybe I'll get to call in something real, too.

Made redemption pancakes this morning, in my brand-new-used skillet. It was absolutely gorgeous, as far as Goodwill goes: I couldn't find any cast iron, but this was a brand-new non-stick pan. When I loaded it into my pack, with the other new pots, silverware, measuring spoons and cups and mixing bowls, I didn't think to put padding between it and all the other metal. Now it has 3 bare patches. Still, no pancake stickage. Pancakes made from mix at high elevation are so fluffy and light. At Sheep Hill, they fell apart as you ate them, the gluten/fat/leavening ratio was so off. Here they're just lovely.

I feel like a freshman in high school again, in trying to prove myself to dispatch and the district, and I have no way of knowing whether they think I'm a jackass, or a pain in the ass, or whether they think I'm doing fine. I'm also working with the disadvantage of knowing no one in advance, having no pre-lookout fire season to get to know the crew. If I'd had that, maybe they'd still think I was a jackass, but at least I'd know that some of them like me for who I am.

Five visitors and two dog disagreements before 9 AM! Whee. The next set of visitors gave me corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes and spaghetti, however.

We hauled water from the spring this morning, prior to all that. I checked out the stream above where the iron pipe (to make filling jugs easier) is stuck into it: the stream comes straight out of the hillside maybe 15 feet above that! I've decided to go ahead and just use it without filtering. I've drunk straight from it 3 times with no ill effects, and I'll still slowly up my intake, so that my body can vote yea or nay (hopefully) gently. It just seems sacrilegious to filter water for a lookout. I'm sure you'll hear about it if things don't go well.

On the way back up, I decided to try the possible shortcut trail we'd noticed. It was steep and rough, but well-established for about half of the way up, and then split in two and got much harder to follow in both directions. We just bushwhacked the rest of the way up on the left option. I believe it is the route the phone line followed, back in the pre-radio days, the 1930s and 40s. The phone lines would be hung up into trees with hooks that were designed to give when snow build up pulled the lines down. It was the lookout's job to follow the line in the spring, find the loose hooks, and climb the trees to re-hang the lines, so that they could talk to the district. There is a huge pile of old wire, and the occasional tangle of wire along the ground.

Today we took the right fork of the phone-line goat trail, and definitely followed the 'line' right up--we only lost it right below the lookout, where the trees got very thick. When the hand crew came up (prior to me) to open the shutters and cut some fire wood, they actually cut an old silver snag that had held the phone line. The bastard is chock-full of knots, I have no idea why they chose to cut it down. I'll never be able to split it. I'm hoping I'll be able to find some insulators, to add to my Crater Peak/Sheep Hill collection.

I finally mopped the damn floor. I had to hand-scrub every inch with a brillo pad to loosen the dirt before I could mop it up. It still isn't perfect, but it looks a LOT better.

Discovered today that what I was told about this being the southern-most active lookout in Eastern Washington was wrong. I am the only non-volunteer lookout, but Kelly Butte, which is slightly less than 20 miles to my SW, has volunteers staffing it, and so does Sun Top, which is 15-20 SW of Kelly Butte. I found out what repeater I can use to call them, and now I have a cross-azimuth in the south if I ever need it! Hurrah!

We've had just two visitors today, and I won't lie, I was dearly hoping for zero. I hope it happens.

Oy. There are mice in the attic, though they can't get into the cabin unless they were to drop through the hatch door when it's open, and that would be a 7-foot drop. However, I would rather not have mice anywhere in the building, so I set traps. This afternoon one snapped, so I climbed up there to discover the mouse had only gotten its front paw caught. I got it outside, as it struggled mightily to balance itself on the trap so that it wouldn't hang by its arm. I smushed its little head and put it to rest. So sorry little guy, that was not how it should go.

Soaring raptors, smaller, with long tails, the last few days. Flowers really fading now, aside from the few types that have just started blooming. Huckleberries in the brekkie oats today! It was a larger handful than last year, and there are more where they came from, though it's kinda slim pickings.


Lots of little birds all over the summit this morning. As usual, hell if I know what kind. Clouded over pretty thoroughly, chance of thunderstorms! It's shower day, and unlikely to happen now, so some lightning would be a great way of making up for it.

Only one batch of visitors so far today, but there were 20 of them! It was a youth group based in Seattle but with participants from all over the country, who do service projects in Africa. I took a group photo for them, and gave them a 'tour' of the lookout and the fire finder. Elli hammed it up, they loved her.

Can't see the tops of the cloud formations, but the bottoms look like they could throw some lightning. The air is very still. When it's like this, the corners of my eyes swear they see flashes in the clouds.

Elli has started picking huckleberries for herself, which is awesome. She's eaten a cherry or two, perhaps a raspberry, when we've offered them to her, but has never gone and decided to eat fruit straight off a bush on her own.

The main observation for today is that it is hot as hell. Sweaty-sitting-still type of hot, even with single-digit relative humidity. Never did get any lightning yesterday. No visitors yet today, but I'm waiting for friends to arrive! Jon and possibly Aja will be up later on.

The place I always hang my towels on shower day: probably not the best spot, but always the most useful!

Steak from Yelm, beets from Leavenworth, and potatoes from Rent's Due Ranch (our friend Dillon's family's farm) for dinner--heck yes. Sat up talking until midnight or so, sipping on tasty citron vodka.

Woke up with a minor headache, likely due to said tasty citron vodka. It was warm all night--I never shut the door, and that hasn't happened before. It was 75 degrees by 9 AM.

Jon went down to go fishing at the lake a while ago, so it's just me and Elli again, greeting the visitors. Visibility is poor, due to the heat and a large fire down by Goldendale. Yesterday I couldn't see beyond 20 miles, but it is better than that today. I baked chocolate chip cookies to serve as dessert, hopefully to trout.

Jon spent all day down there, said that the fishing/swimming/napping was just fine. He brought back 5 cutthroats and 1 triploid, all large. Baked long and slow with salt and pepper and sliceds onions, those trout were delicious. For some reason, I only took pictures with my phone. Well, I know why: my brother has been sending me pictures of these spectacular looking mexican dinners he's been eating down in Madras, OR. For a week. So I had to send him these dinners-with-Jon. Unfortunately, due to the desire to shovel the  trout into my face, I did not take 'real' photographs. Here's the moonrise, instead:

Very smoky today, due to the Goldendale fire and prevailing winds. Can't see far and the smell is strong, which always makes me nervous--it can really hide a fire that is right close. Jon left pretty early. It was great to have real company (and spectacular food), and it is always wonderful to return to solitude in my space. Aside from the 4 parents-2 noisy kids-1 dog-visitor combo this afternoon, of course.

Jon departs, with a much lighter pack.

Three decent fires are going up in Leavenworth. Sounds like a hay truck had a load on fire (thrown cigarette? probably.), and burning hay was flying off as he drove. Each fire is about half a mile away from the last, and they're scattered from the Tumwater Canyon to Chiwaukum. The middle one is prompting evacuations from Tumwater campground.

We have a report of a fire, in a landing pile on Keechelus Ridge, directly west from me, where I should be able to see it clearly. It's been an hour and a half, and the thing should be erupting, but I have been unable to see anything. So stressful. It helps that the crew has arrived now, and they haven't found anything, either. Confusing directions from dispatch, too: the road they say it is on, is not in the section they say it is in. I've just been scouring the entire ridge. My visibility is getting more terrible as the sun gets further west. This sucks.

The IC for Keechelus has called it a false alarm. Thank god. It's getting dark.

It's kind of amazing how fast time goes up on lookout, and also how much stuff fits into that time, especially the amount of mental adjustment. Even here, where I have had just a single day with no visitors. No real mental peace, but much calmer. This wheel of mountains has become known in its shapes, though features change with light and weather and time of day. A nice thunderstorm and some fires wouldn't hurt.

It's our fourth anniversary this week, and I am heading to the lowlands to see my sweetie.

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