Lookouts

From the time I learned that there were things called lookouts, and people called lookouts who lived in these lookouts, I wanted to be one.

This was circa age 8. My first lookout references were Martha Hardy, whose book Tatoosh chronicled her first season during WWII--on the peak directly north of my front door; and Bud Panco, a Packwood local, who worked and volunteered for decades on High Top. By the time I was old enough to be a lookout, getting hired into the Forest Service was tough, and I was getting ready for college and going to college and all of that business.

When I had returned to seasonal work, it wasn't any easier to get hired, but after a few years of manifestation, I got lucky, and I have been fortunate again and again in finding lookout work and it finding me.

Beyond these two years' journals, I had a year away from the glass hut on a mountaintop, but have since returned to Idaho every summer, once to Williams Peak and then to Sheepeater, both on the Payette National Forest's Krassel Ranger District.


SHEEP HILL
In the Summer of 2010, I worked in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, on the Nez Perce National Forest, above the Main Fork of the Salmon River, in Idaho. I worked the early season as a wildland firefighter in the Red River Ranger District. Below are links to the posts about my experience, including my lookout log.

Big News! (The Announcement)
Packing Fer the Hills
Arrival and Settling In in Idaho (Arrival in Red River, etc)
The Red River Ranger House Where I Live
Life On the District
First Week on Sheep Hill
Week Two
Week Three
Week Four
Week Five
Week Six
Week Seven
Week Eight (And the Trip Home)


THORP MOUNTAIN
In the Summer of 2011, I worked on the Cle Elum Ranger District on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Thorp is located between Cle Elum and Kachess Reservoirs, north of I-90 and just south of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  I was hired mid-summer, and went straight to the lookout. Post season I spent lighting prescribed fires with the crew.

Cat Out of the Bag (The Announcement)
Hitch III (And the Post LO Season)


WILLIAMS PEAK
In the winter of 2013, I joked with my friend Dylan that if he decided not to go back to Williams Peak that summer, to let me know. To my great luck, he did. I got hired on to the Krassel Ranger District on the Payette National Forest for my third year as a lookout. The Payette takes excellent care of their lookouts, both the buildings and the people. Williams Peak sits in the northeast corner of the confluence of the South Fork Salmon River, the East Fork of the South Fork Salmon River, and the Secesh River. It is the only lookout I am aware of that was built with the corners facing the cardinal directions, instead of the walls. This screwed with my sense of direction terribly, but everything else about it was marvelous. I fell in love with the South Fork country in a big, big way.

SHEEPEATER
I received a call in the winter of 2014 from Jim, who had staffed Sheepeater for the last 7 or so years. Jim and his wife Caroline had decided to become the full-time caretakers of Burgdorff Hot Springs, and Jim wanted me to take his post at Sheepeater (Jim at Sheepeater features in a couple of journal entries from Sheep Hill!). So instead of returning to Williams, I headed out to my fourth lookout, located back in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, to the south of the Main Salmon River, and within sight distance of good ol' Sheep Hill. Sheepeater is a 12' x 12' metal cabin, built by a refrigeration company somewhere in the midwest. It's an unusual bird, and cozy on the inside, if not particularly photogenic from the outside. Elli and I were flown from McCall to the remote airstrip at Chamberlain Guard Station, and hiked the 12 miles in to the lookout. 

2 comments:

  1. Oh I can't wait to read these. I took the North Cascades Institute's Beats on the Peaks backpacking trip a few years back, and read a lot of Snyder and Kerouac and Whalen's lookout logs and poetry. We climbed Desolation and hung out at the lookout for a day and now I am obsessed with lookouts. You get interestinger and intersestinger.

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  2. Well, well--you know what's great? I worked at the North Cascades Institute for three years! I love that you got to do that trip--I got to hear some stories from Jeff Muse, have read a bunch about the beats on the peaks, and been to Desolation, but to get to have the immersion of that trip--ahhh, I wish I could have. That's some special land up there.

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