"Kalispell Dispatch, Baptiste Lookout is in service. "
Woke up at a ridiculously early hour this morning, to finish organizing and packing for my two-week volunteer "hitch" at Baptiste Lookout, up in the Flathead National Forest. Left Bozeman about 6:30, drove fast and subsisted on fast food as I headed to the Flathead. Bought perishables and some fresh bear spray in Columbia Falls, and then stopped at the Hungry Horse Ranger District office to pick up a "transit radio," that I'd carry with me on the way in. The long, gravel road along the east side of the reservoir was almost devoid of traffic, but on the way I managed to encounter Rick and Marli, the lookouts who were finishing the prior Baptiste hitch. We chatted for a minute, swapped Forest Forest Service radios, and then all headed on ... them to civilization, and me to the mountain.
Made a short detour on the way to visit the grave of Mount Baptiste's namesake ... an old prospector who'd died in his lonely cabin there in 1909. And then to the trailhead, where I stuffed my backpack to the brim before heading out -- clothes, bedding, laptop, perishables, lots of odds and ends. (The Forest Service had packed up my dry food ahead of time, which was a story in itself.) Charlie the Dog and I finally hit the trail a little after 2 ... a 5.7-mile hike that, with my overweight pack, I immediately realized was going to be brutal. It turned out to be as grueling as my worst fears, and I stopped to rest ridiculously often; though the trail was a good one, it took me 4-1/2 hours to make it up the mountain.
It was after 6:30 when I made it to Baptiste; and I was wiped out.
This place has the potential to be ridiculously idyllic in a few days, but tonight it's just a little crazy. As soon as I turned on the Forest Service radio I started hearing an endless stream of traffic from Spotted Bear, which is about 15 miles south of here. A fire had just made an unexpected run down there, and the rangers are urgently working to evacuate backpackers and horses from a ridiculously remote stretch of country, while simultaneously figuring out how to fight the fire itself. The lookout down there is going to be evacuated in the morning.
I'm transfixed, sitting here alone and listening to all of this. It's just down the ridge from me, but the radio makes it seem like it's a world away.