Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fire season is not going gentle into that good night

"Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

During yesterday's red flag warning this new smoke plume popped up to the east.

But by late afternoon it was gone.  There are several fires, mostly small ones, now burning in the Bitterroot National Forest, and fire crews are working the ones they believe pose threats. I can't find any info on whether they hit this one or if it burned itself down, but it appears to be subdued.  

It's supposed to rain today and then cool off for the rest of the week, with highs in the 60s and 70s, so that should help usher fire season over the threshold.

Meanwhile, farther north: There's a winter weather advisory for Glacier National Park.  It's not all that uncommon for this time of year.  A similar one was issued in early August of last year while I was in the Bob, but all I got was a lot of rain that made me miss the Perseid meteor shower. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fire Season Already at its Peak

That was fast.  After a summer of light fire activity, we are suddenly in peak fire season.

According to a story in the Missoulian, a fire weather forecaster and meteorologist at the Northern Rockies Coordination Center says, "The next two weeks will be the most active part of our season, and computer models tell us we will have an extended summer into September, and the fire season will likely linger before going to sleep on us."

It should still be a light year overall.  To date, only 20,826 acres have burned in the Northern Rockies, well below the 10-year average of 314,692 acres.  But averages don't matter if a fire affects your summer activities:

Dude! (photo from the Missoulian)

Wildfire season usually ends when a fall storm brings cool temperatures and precipitation, but no such storms are in the forecast, and temperatures are expected to stay well above normal for a few more weeks.  This type of weather is more typical of late July, but due to the wet, cool spring, we are running about three weeks behind in terms of seasonal norms.

Full Story from the Missoulian.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fire Season

Edit (8/23/2011):  According to the latest InciWeb reports, the Saddle Fire, the one to the southwest, made a run of 17,000 acres on the 22nd and is now up to 18,275 acres.  The fire started in Idaho, but has now burned into the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana.  The Lutz Fire, the one to the north, is now up to 260 acres.  Typical Montana summer.

Even with the long, wet spring and above-average snowpack, we're going to have a fire season this year.  Among several wildfires burning across the west are two on either side of me, though neither is very large or very close. About 20 miles to the north is a fire of about 177 acres, and fifty miles to the southwest is another of about 748 acres.  Between them, they've made things around here look and smell rather smoky.  (All the current fires are detailed here.)

Sunlight and smoke create some nice visual effects.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mountain Showers

Almost every day of the past week waves of summer afternoon mountain showers have passed through, dropping the temperature from 80 to around 65.

Usually leaving behind beautiful evenings.


 And sunsets.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Forest Service Cabin Rental

Not a lot of people know about it, but the Forest Service rents out some of its backcountry cabins and fire lookouts.  The Gordon Reese cabin, which is the one the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club uses as a warming hut in the winter, rents for only $35 a night, plus a $9 reservation fee.  A few weeks ago I reserved it for one night for me and Mari, but then it turned out Mari couldn't go because she needed to take her father to a doctor's appointment.  I tried to cancel the reservation, but even though I gave them six days notice, the Forest Service told me if I cancelled, I'd still be liable for the full rental amount plus a $10 cancellation fee.  I'm sure that made sense to somebody in the government.

A lot of you know that if I have to pay for something, then I'm by-god gonna use it, so I went up and spent a night in the cabin alone, and resolved to make it a writing retreat.  (I know I already have a writing retreat cabin, but this was a matter of principle.)  So I took my outline and parts of the draft and a bunch of my journals and crammed them into my backpack with my sleeping bag and a few other supplies.  I didn't really take much else because the cabin is about a half-mile hike from the parking area.

The Gordon Reese Cabin is in the Wisdom Ranger District of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.  That sounds a lot more impressive than it really is.

The main level.  There was plenty of wood for the stove, but it wasn't cold enough for a fire inside.

The sleeping area upstairs.  It supposedly sleeps 8, but only if they're all small.

The deck.

 The view from the deck.  The cleared lane is one of the ski runs.

 View of the cabin from out back.

Afternoon mountain showers coming in.  That's a fire ring between the benches.  It would be good if you had a group and wanted to sit around and sing campfire songs.  Or not.

I moved one of the interior seat cushions to the deck, along with a small bench for a footrest/table.  Don't anybody tell the government or they'll charge me a $10 relocation fee.

Storms getting closer.

Pine siskin ain't scared.

Tiny bit of rainbow.

Golden-mantled ground squirrels are often mistaken for chipmunks, but all chipmunks have stripes on their faces.

Through the deck railing.


Red crossbill at the parking area.

The cabin and lookout rentals are listed by national forest, so it helps to know where you want to go.  Our first choice was a fire lookout in the Bitterroot National Forest, but it was booked when we wanted it, so the Gordon Reese was a good second choice.  When I was looking for it I went to Google and searched for "Beaverhead National Forest cabin rental."  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Random Thoughts From Sula

  • The Netherlands is also known as Holland, and people from there are called Dutch.  That’s enough to make you say Amsterdam!
  • I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I’d rather go hungry than eat fish tacos.
  • “Bucolic” means pastoral or rustic, but it sounds like it should refer to someone who regularly drinks too much booze and then throws up.
  • Restaurants shouldn't have BLTs on the menuthey’re too easy to make at home.  And I won’t even go to a place that sells PBJs.
  • I hate when people try to emphasize a point by putting a period after each word.  Most. Annoying. Thing. Ever.

Hiking a tiny piece of the CDT

A little over a mile from my cabin is a Forest Service road that snakes and climbs its way up to the Continental Divide, gaining about 2,000 feet over 12 miles.  The road is narrow and rugged, travelling along the edge of the mountains and with a lot of blind turns.

About halfway up.  You can see some of the lower parts of the road in this pic, as the strips of white to the left of center and at the far left.

Near the top, at Schultz Saddle.

The Continental Divide Trail crosses near Schultz Saddle.  I parked and took a short hike of a few miles, out and back.  The early part of the trail is in forest, most of which burned in 2000. 

These wet meadows were snowfields until a few weeks ago.

The bear grass is in bloom.

As are the other wildflowers growing at over 7,000 feet.

As the trail climbed to the east, there were more open views of the surrounding mountains.

CDT sign, marking the 3,100 mile trail that generally follows the Continental Divide from Canada to New Mexico.  Each year a small number of intrepid thru-hikers backpack the entire thing.  

I met three groups of southbound thru-hikers on this day.  They were each happy to stop and talk about their trips, all of which got off to a late start because of the extended winter we had this year.  Now they are just hoping to get past the high country in Colorado before the snow starts again in the fall. Their average days cover between 25 and 30 miles, and their packs weigh between 25-40 lbs, depending on how long it's been since their last resupply.

When I asked about their trips and routes, two of them told me about crossing Interstate 90 at Homestake Pass east of Butte.  I asked if there was a bridge over the interstate there, and one of them said "We could see the road we needed to be on, on the other side of the highway, but the official route would've taken us miles out of the way, so we just jumped the fence near the rest stop there and ran across four lanes of traffic."  The other one added "I think we scared a woman waiting for her son to come out of the bathroom when we popped out of the woods with backpacks on."

Each of the groups was planning to take a break at Chief Joseph Pass and hitch-hike down to town to pick up supplies they had sent ahead.  Three of the guys were going to the Sula Store, but the other group, which was two young couples, planned to hitch-hike all the way to Darby.  "They got a movie theater there?" one of them asked.  Crazy thru-hikers.

The trail was faint to nonexistent in a few places, but CDT hikers build the best cairns I've ever seen.  This has to be the tallest and most tidy cairn in the Northern Rockies.

There's no trail at all here, but the cairns are so well done that when you stand beside one you can usually see the next two in line. There are two cairns in this pic, and I was standing by another.

This is the highest point of my hike.  Still a lot of snow up there.

About three feet deep in places.

Panoramic view from on top of the ridge.

Looking over a snow and talus field toward the Bitterroot Mountains.

The return hike, showing how well the cairns mark the route.  Note the complete lack of any signs of a trail.

On the return trip I met two more thru-hikers headed north.  They were doing the CDT in a  "flip-flop," having started hiking north in Rawlins, Wyoming.  When they get to Canada, they'll take a bus back to Rawlins and walk from there to the southern end of the CDT.  At the start their trip in southern Wyoming they encountered so much snow they had to hike down into a nearby town and buy snowshoes.  "That's a badass trip," I said.  "It was an ass trip," one of them said with a laugh, "as in, it was shitty."  They were still in good spirits for having had such a rough beginning.

The beginning of the drive back down.

The long and winding road.