Baptiste Lookout

Copyright 2015, Scott D. Murdock


"It'll be cool. You should come up for a visit." My friend made that invitation in April, and at first I didn't think I could do it. Sure, visiting an active fire lookout tower in a Montana forest sounded like fun. But a six-mile hike, uphill, with a pack? Followed by a six-mile hike, downhill, with a pack? I knew that was beyond my ability. Or was it? I did plenty of walking, just not that far. And not with a pack. And not uphill. But, I had four months to prepare -- and prepare I did. The big concern turned out not to be my physical conditioning, but the very active fire season in the region. As you'll see below, I probably used poor judgment in hiking in so much smoke. (I did pay the price, with a sore throat and sinus trouble for a couple weeks after the hike.) But in the end, I'm glad I took this opportunity to set and achieve a stretch goal for myself. And visiting a good friend just made it better.

Sunday, 23 Aug 2015

From my motel in Columbia Falls, it was nearly a two-hour drive to the trail head. Here is a look at the trail head. (on the right) and the cars of my friend, another hiker, and me.

It took me a few minutes to get my gear strapped on. I did test-fire the bear spray (away from the cars) to be sure I knew how to use it. I wore a breathing mask for the first four miles of the ascent. I didn't have cell service for most of the hike, but I did have my DeLorme EarthMate SATCOM device. Before I started out I sent a message to my friend in the tower, and my girlfriend in Denver, and they were able to follow my progress on a map at DeLorme's web site.

This is it. I'm really doing this.

As I worked up the trail, this was typical scenery.

The trail occasionally had an obstacle, adding an American Ninja Warrior quality to it (I love that show).

There were quite a few switchbacks on the trail. Shortly after this one, I met the other hiker on the mountain that day. She was on her way down from visiting the lookout.

There were several stream crossings on the trail. This was the first and gentlest.

I had a brief glimpse of the tower from across the canyon. The continued increase in elevation was concerning.

A typical view of the trail. I made plenty of noise when I was in the area known to be frequented by a black bear.

Another distant view of the tower. At this point the hike became an exercise in putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.

The scenery along the trail was spectacular.

This was my first full view of the tower.  Mission accomplished!

Here I am celebrating my arrival, at the rock sign next to the tower. You can see this sign in on-line aerial imagery.

The arrow marks the location of the helispot, vital in the event the lookout has to be evacuated.

Towers are cool. This is an R-6 type, constructed in 1964.

Another view of the tower from beyond the helispot.

The outhouse. I hadn't used one of these in several decades.

A sign at the tower for visiting hikers.

The focal point of the tower cab is the Osborne Model 1934 Fire Finder.

The stairs on the tower, with the hatch at left. You close this at night to keep out any curious wildlife.

The ferocious guard dog keeps watch from the catwalk.

I learn about the fire finder over a cup of coffee (in a reproduction Forest Service cup).

My friend put me to work making the afternoon radio call to Kalispell Dispatch.

Here I am checking humidity and dew point with a sling psychrometer.

Here is a look around the cab from different directions.

The smoke didn't completely block the scenery.

Imagine how nice this looks with a clear sky.

Monday, 24 Aug 2015

I didn't sleep very well, partly due to the tower swaying and shaking in the wind, and partly because I was pretty sore. After breakfast, I loaded up and made the trip down the mountain. Here is an area of damage from an avalanche a few years ago.

About four miles into the hike, the smoke got more noticeable and I put on another breathing mask. Back at the trail head., I found conditions even smokier than the day before.

Once I got back to Columbia Falls, I took a shower and then a three-hour nap! In spite of the smoke, I am very glad I took on the challenge and completed this adventure. Being in better shape won't hurt on my "normal" research trips!


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