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In the lookout at last.

July 10, 2016
1978 Indian Mt L.O.

The world looks altogether good from the lookout, surrounded by nature.

6,235 feet elevation, Huckleberry Mountain

July 2, 1940

At the lookout the wranglers ran a rope from the lookout building to a bleached, twisty, driftwood-looking log and tied the stock so they could graze on the sparse vegetation.  Jackson and Buddy prepared a meal of fresh meat and potatoes on the cookstove inside the building, after first removing a bucket from the chimney that had kept the rain and snow out.  Last season’s fire lookout had left a supply of dry, split wood in a box near the stove.  Jackson told Buddy to do the same for next year.

While the food was cooking, the wranglers removed the loads and saddles from the stock.  Then the wranglers took the mules and horses by turns to a nearby snowbank to feed and water them.  They only had to lead one mule and three others followed like children.   A wrangler had put a bell on one of the mules to make a racket when it trotted along after the others.  They were all jacks.  The horses were all stallions.  Buddy noticed this, but was too tired to ask why.

The men made a campfire after looking far and wide for some tree roots to burn; all the other wood they could find was too wet.  They used three sticks of the dry wood from inside the cabin to start the fire.  After talking about how they each came to work at Glacier, the wranglers and Jackson bedded down outdoors, the fire popping as it cooled.

Buddy ended up doing most of the work to open the lookout for the fire season, and after a seemingly endless, chilly, night on a cot inside the cabin, Jackson and his pack string had gone back down the mountain right after breakfast.  The bacon they had eaten for breakfast was the last fresh meat Buddy would get for two weeks until the next resupply.

He could hardly believe that the mountain was all his!  Nobody would tell him what to do!  He could sleep when tired, eat when hungry, do chores whenever he saw fit.  He was an official Park Service fire lookout.

That first day Buddy hauled his cot outdoors from the relatively dark, damp cabin atop Huckleberry Mountain.  The air inside the cabin had a peculiar sour smell from hundreds of dead house flies.

At 6,235 feet  the air was cold, but the sun was warm.  Soon insects buzzed around as a cold breeze swept over him. He took a nap for a couple of hours.

Buddy felt exhausted by the long horseback ride of the day before and the poor sleep because he had been cold.  At last, outdoors on his cot, the sun beat hot and he laid on his right side, clothes on, except for his boots, two wool blankets covering him.  He felt warm.  He felt happy.  He slept fitfully for a short time.

When he woke, the left side of his face was hot and sunburned, but he didn’t care.

He sat up on his cot that he had dragged out of the cabin and looked around.  The cloudless sky was dark blue about an intense sun.  Insects buzzed.  He couldn’t identify them; not that he was any expert.  He had spent a fair amount of time outdoors at his parents’ place in Kalispell and had gone hunting every fall, but these bugs were new.

He looked for the outhouse, perhaps 20 yards away down hill toward the distant bend in the North Fork of the Flathead River.  Buddy wiped the sleep from his eyes and carefully padded barefoot toward the outhouse.  Then stopped.  Then peed on the ground.  He felt elated because the mountain was his and he could piss wherever he wanted.  Man, he really had to pee bad!  He made a dark wet bubbly place in the dirt.

He padded back to his cot, sat down, put his boots on with care, cleaning his feet from the tiny bits of dirt, lacing each boot all the way up.  He needed lunch.  He needed to get settled in his little cabin.  The left side of his nose itched from sunburn.

The interior was considerably darker, though clean, except for the stove where he and Jackson had fried pancakes and bacon.  Overhead was a ladder fixed to a couple of wooden brackets.

Buddy took down the ladder and put it up into a hole in the ceiling. In less time than it takes to tell, he was up inside the cupola where he could barely stand erect.  In fact, the cupola had seats built in on all sides, an Osborne fire finder in the center, on a metal pedestal.

Bud sat for a few minutes looking out into the blue distance in each direction.  Of course to the south all he could see was the green of the ridge where he had come with the pack train.  Below, on three sides of the ridge, was the Flathead, where it made a wide bend on the east, the south, then on the west, before it made another bend and headed north again.  Buddy thought about grizzlies and wondered where his rifle was.

 

Author’s note: Carl Bonde worked at least two summers in the Glacier Park Service Fire Lookout atop Huckleberry Mountain on the North Fork of the Flathead River about 1940.

Most of this tale about Huckleberry Mountain is factual.  We hiked up the trail six miles to that lookout last summer.  Other information came from Ray Kresek’s book, Fire Lookouts of the Northwest, necessary historical data, because the lookout Bonde used has since been replaced at least twice.

Details regarding packing with mules and horses came from our experience with going into the Bob Marshall Wilderness two summers ago with Penny and our grandson, Josiah.  We went with a man named Rick who had purchased the outfitting business from Smoke Elser.

Knowledge about life in a fire lookout comes from our having served three summers at Indian Mountain Lookout in the Kaniksu National Forest in Northeastern Washington.  We gleaned information about the old days from the old timers at Priest Lake, and from digging around garbage pits and bushes on the mountain top, where we found boxes and boxes of old telephone batteries and other items of interest.

Two weeks, three days later

Heavy cloud buildup.  Buddy has connected and tested the field telephone so he can speak with the dispatcher, Jackson Miller.  It is about 6:30 p.m.   A few drops of rain start to fall and Bud remembers that the rain gauge hadn’t been emptied since the last sprinkle when he got 0.12inches.  Bud raced out of the cabin, down the hill toward the gauge and as he tossed out the water, “Crack” “echo echo echo.”  A blinding flash came simultaneously.

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