Sunset from the Lookout


The lightning came on Saturday, August 2nd. The woods have been drying for weeks (with notable exceptions near the Cascade crest). Snappy twigs underfoot, dusty trails, hot sun. Monsoonal moisture rides the atmosphere north, hitting the high pressure parked over the Pacific Northwest. Clouds pile up in the south and tumble over the mountains spilling lightning, thunder and unpredictable rain showers.

I packed my red backpack for a trip to Thorp Lookout, perched on Kachess Ridge at 5854 feet above sea level. There is no road to the lookout, so I climbed 1800 feet in two and a half miles, hunkering down when the lightning was right over me. I saw one immense strike, which made me anxious about continuing up the ridge. Then I smelled woodsmoke and knew there was a fire. I would have to go to the lookout to see where it was. When the storm settled down, I determinedly climbed out into the open and made it to the lookout.

The fire is in Knox Creek, just down the ridge. I watched it smoke and listened as an engine crew made their way to it. Too many burning snags on steep ground for them to work after dark. The sun set behind blue-gray clouds, limning their edges in hot pink like metallic foil set aglow.

I slept on the catwalk under the stars. Woke and drank my morning tea gazing out at the subalpine landscape. Then firefighters arrived to work on the Knox Creek fire and I watched and talked to them on the radio. I scrubbed the lookout floor. A helicopter showed up to dip water out of Thorp Lake to drop on hot spots. Back and forth he flew like a clattering dragonfly.

This week I will go back. There will be more sunsets at the lookout.

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