Fire Lookout Adventure

If you've spent much time in the National Forests of the Western US, & in particular, have done so while traversing high ridges en route to remote summits here in the Pacific Northwest, it's possible you've come across one of the few remaining Forest Service Fire Lookout structures that dot the high country. According to the Forest Service, their heyday was in the '30's, when the CCC went on a construction spree, & when there were over 8,000 fire lookouts in operation. Today, fewer than 500 hundred remain -- 196 of which are still standing in ID alone -- a fraction of which are actually operational. Fire Lookouts have an architectural style all their own, a design rooted in economy of space & purpose-built for the sole intent of 360 degrees of visibility to surrounding mountains & valleys. To those that were hired to man them during the fire season (these guys were also called "fire lookouts"), this meant that while preparing a meal they'd be sure to have a bead on the opposing ridgeline between stirs of the pot or sips of government-issue coffee. At a mere 200 sq ft, they are a single-room exercise in living small, & often at high exposure to the elements, as they are most often perched on rocky outcroppings, knife ridges, or summit blocks to ensure unimpeded visibility. For this reason you'll often see them with ground wires running from each corner of the roofline to the rocks below the foundation, such that electrical currents from frequent lightning strikes will be diverted away from the living quarters. Despite their small size, they're beautiful little structures with wraparound paned windows, & combined with their cool history, they provide a nostalgic link back to the West's rugged past. They also figure prominently in Western lore, having been made famous by the likes of Jack Kerouac (in Desolation Angels & Dharma Bums), in the poems of PNW-raised Gary Snyder, & in the writings of Ed Abbey. 

Here are a few pics from an Indian Summer overnighter to a Fire Lookout in the Wild Sky Wilderness here in Washington. Enjoy!

Up early to appreciate the colors of dawn

Looking S toward Mt. Rainier while Henry Dog looks east toward sunrise

Waking up on top of a mountain & sipping coffee in the sun has to be one of life's greatest little pleasures

Naturally, the Hobo Tote is the perfect choice for a day hike!

Of course, part of the draw of the Fire Lookout is in the wide open alpine views that you can usually only get by climbing above treeline. 

Road Trip Part 4: Zion to Big Sur

The final installment of coverage of my giant west coast roadie begins where I left off -- in the middle of the desert -- where after many, many hours of driving, I'd finally come to rest in the middle of a lonely desert road just shy of Utah's Zion National Park.  I slept deeply, waking up at first light in the same exact position i fell asleep in. Anxious to check out my surroundings, & also knowing that the desert colors would be at their most spectacular in the early morning light, I crawled out of my comfy sleeping bag & forced myself out of the tent. It was worth the strife, as the rising sun brought the ROY G BIV to it's full splendor. I'd broken my Aeropress the week before at camp in Crested Butte, so I had to put making & drinking coffee out of my mind for the time being.  Few things in life are as enjoyable as sipping on an excellent, freshly-pressed cup of coffee while sitting in a camp chair, under the glory of a desert sunrise.  So i just walked around & took a lot of pictures of my tent instead.

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Once the sun had fully come up & my will to go any longer without coffee had been crushed, I left my perfect little dead-end road camp & made my way to Zion. This would be my first time checking out the park which i'd heard so much about for so many years. Sadly, I only had about a half a day to spend in the park, before having to hustle the whole way out to LA for work. 

Was really looking forward to shooting on my little film camera here, but i'd already burned through all of my rolls of color film on the trip .. so I switched over to a roll of T-Max black n white for the remainder of my journey.  I was bummed that I'd be shooting bnw in a place as color-saturated as Zion .. but once I got the scans back late on, I was pretty stoked on the results.

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Clearly I didn't have the time to really explore or get to know this national treasure. All of the shots above are from the road or just off it. But i still managed to pull off into nearly every dirt turnout to take pictures, went for 2 short hikes, & even pulled on my climbing shoes for a quick bouldering session near the West entrance.  

Much as I was enchanted by Zion, by mid-day, i was getting antsy knowing that I had to be in LA that evening. I had those fresh chiles on ice in my truck & it had gotten really hot out, & the tourists were swarming all the super obvious spots. It was time to move. I stopped briefly at the Wal-Mart in St George to pick up a power inverter & more ice. That was a cultural experience. I'll leave it at that. 

I flew across NV on a steady diet of pedal steel twang provided by Gram Parsons Pandora channel, & took note as the lonely mountain & desert byways of the previous days gradually built up to a feverish crescendo of rush hour madness as I approached the greater LA area.  I couldn't have timed it any worse. By the time i hit San Bernardino'ish, i knew I would be in for a couple hours of hell before it would release me from its grip & deliver me safely on Andy & Dana's quiet South Bay street. My brief time in LA was a whirlwind of amazing friends & okay surfing & an awesome day/night of work. 

Surf check: chopped up wind swell & thick marine layer

Surf check: chopped up wind swell & thick marine layer

Of course we got wet anyway! Turned out to be pretty fun, & the marine layer burned off. 

Of course we got wet anyway! Turned out to be pretty fun, & the marine layer burned off. 

Nostalgia & the expected Hwy 1 surfmobile

Nostalgia & the expected Hwy 1 surfmobile

My only other major objective on this endeavor was to catch a couple nights of camping & maybe also a couple waves along the magical Big Sur coast.  The drive up from Santa Barbara always takes well longer than I think it will, yet I never seem to remember that when it counts ..& anyway it's mostly a gorgeous drive without traffic misery. I finally rolled into the Maiden Tavern at 10 or so, kind of delirious from the dark twisting drive in, very thirsty for a beer, & without much of a plan for where I'd actually spend the night. I like to keep things loose, apparently. The nice folks at the bar said I could just kick it in the back of the parking lot, back-of-truck style, but I opted to scrounge up some someplace a bit less public. 

I imagine if you were to poll a hundred of the tourists twisting their way through Big Sur on Hwy 1 as to what makes the place so special, you'd might get 95 real similar answers about the sweeping Pacific panoramas & the turquoise sea smashing itself into explosions of white foam & mist on the rugged yellow seacliffs. Maybe you'd get a couple people who talk about the hikes or a specific beach that they're attached to, but most people only see Big Sur from the passenger seat, & then again as arm-out-the-window photo memories on the screens of their iPhones. And they're right, the place is all in-your-face sea vs. mountains drama. And I'm not saying I'm not one of them, either. I've been to BS a bunch of different times but have never actually spent real time getting to know the place at all. And so for me, the thing about BS is as much to do with what you don't see, as it is about what you do see. Every dramatic vista reveals, for me, a hundred mysteries, in the form of hidden-from-view coves & beaches & overlooks. And then there's the barely accessible highlands, with twisting gulches shaded by ancient towering redwoods ..which actually makes up the vast majority of the BS acreage. To really get to know BS takes effort, & time.  Can't say my 2 days of exploring netted me much in the way of deep knowledge of place, but I did get some good hikes in, 1 super fun surf session, a couple dirt road rambles, an up close & personal Condor confrontation, & 1 persistent case of poison oak resulting from draping my wetsuit inside-out over an infested rock face. Here are a couple pics I snapped along the way. 

Bunch of fun ones with only 2 dudes out at this spot. The water clarity was unreal. 

Bunch of fun ones with only 2 dudes out at this spot. The water clarity was unreal. 

Way up high watching as the marine layer slowly creeps in & overtakes the coast

Way up high watching as the marine layer slowly creeps in & overtakes the coast

Rounded a corner way up high on a jeep road & came face to face with this California Condor. She looked totally prehistoric, & was close enough off the front of my truck that Henry Dog was growling at her. The bird was huge & seemed pretty unconcerned that I'd stopped the truck right next to her.  The tag on her wing says "69". More on this in a moment ..

Rounded a corner way up high on a jeep road & came face to face with this California Condor. She looked totally prehistoric, & was close enough off the front of my truck that Henry Dog was growling at her. The bird was huge & seemed pretty unconcerned that I'd stopped the truck right next to her.  The tag on her wing says "69". More on this in a moment ..

A couple dirtbikes approached from the other direction & that spoked her into flight. She rose off the thermals coming off the ridgeline & circled overhead for ten minutes or so, seemingly with her eye on HD as a possible snack. Later that day I talked with a local about the sighting, & she said to check out the Ventana Wildlife Society for more info on their reintroduction efforts of this once nearly-extinct species. I sent them the images above & got in return a super nice email explaining that the black tag #69 is actually number 569 & they even provided a link to a profile of this exact bird. Her name is "Phoebe the Forager" & she was born on Apr 28, '10, & she's mostly "bouncing between the Big Sur coast & Pinnacles National Park" these days. 

A couple dirtbikes approached from the other direction & that spoked her into flight. She rose off the thermals coming off the ridgeline & circled overhead for ten minutes or so, seemingly with her eye on HD as a possible snack. Later that day I talked with a local about the sighting, & she said to check out the Ventana Wildlife Society for more info on their reintroduction efforts of this once nearly-extinct species. I sent them the images above & got in return a super nice email explaining that the black tag #69 is actually number 569 & they even provided a link to a profile of this exact bird. Her name is "Phoebe the Forager" & she was born on Apr 28, '10, & she's mostly "bouncing between the Big Sur coast & Pinnacles National Park" these days. 

No Big Sur blogging would be complete w/o the obligatory Bixby Cr. Bridge photos..

No Big Sur blogging would be complete w/o the obligatory Bixby Cr. Bridge photos..

Everyone takes pics of this bridge for a reason .. it's incredibly beautiful in every lighting condition.

Everyone takes pics of this bridge for a reason .. it's incredibly beautiful in every lighting condition.

I think I'll call this trip report a wrap. I'll spare you the details on Bedbug Scare '14 (I'm looking at you, Klamath Falls..) & sweet-talking my way out of a speed trap incident (again, Klamath Falls, what's up with you??).  Til next time .. keep your eyes on the horizon but don't miss the good stuff that's right in front of you! 

Road Trip Part 3: Salida to Z

After that Monarch Crest ride -- my fourth consecutive day in the saddle -- I was sure my body would be begging for a break. But to my surprise I woke up in the morning feeling refreshed .. & unsurprisingly, also very hungry.  JP had already headed back home, so it would be just me & The Prof on my last ride & last full day in Colorado. He had a route in mind, one which was, according to some of the hard locals, rated high for aesthetics & low on "radness" .. which sounded right up my alley.  I'd be just fine with the radness achieved by taking down another giant breakfast burrito -- smothered -- plus a cinnamon roll .. & then a leisurely pedal in the Sawatch Range near Buena Vista to check out some old mining ghost town remnants & the yellowing aspens set against bluebird skies.  Starting just downstream of the old mining hamlet of St. Elmo, up the spectacular Chalk Creek Canyon, we started our climb on a FS road, before gaining a rail-trail .. all the while gaining elevation almost imperceptibly.  

Decent start/finish line amongst the changing aspens

Decent start/finish line amongst the changing aspens

We missed a turn somewhere, or else we simply started out the wrong way, because after a while we ended up on some rugged-ass singletrack that was more like a game trail, & which eventually came to an end in an upland swamp.  Backtrack. Then a wee little hike-a-bike up to the wheezy lungs zone.

To the top!

To the top!

I think maybe we were supposed to have approached via that road down there ..

I think maybe we were supposed to have approached via that road down there ..

Once we had gained the ridgeline we were able to get our bearings a bit better. We came up the wrong valley, NBD though, we were here in this awesome spot with more miles ahead of us. The trail continued to climb (c'mon legs, you got this!) up to Tunnel Lake, into insane alpine scenery .. & continued on up to a pass from where you can look westward down into the Tincup / Taylor Park area. We took quite a few breaks up here just to take in the expansive views. Trails coursed the landscape in every direction. With The Prof riding his "fat bike" setup -- which is ideally suited for self-support bike-packing / touring in this sort of terrain -- it was easy to daydream about spending a full week up here in the alpine on a setup like that. 

rollin' deep through the alpine meadows, only a little bit concerned about the storm clouds gathering on the high peaks

rollin' deep through the alpine meadows, only a little bit concerned about the storm clouds gathering on the high peaks

looking west .. the trail guts this meadow & climbs the next ridge

looking west .. the trail guts this meadow & climbs the next ridge

Like pretty much every ride I'd done since getting to CO, this one ended up going on a lot longer than anticipated. It felt like we had gotten ourselves in pretty deep at this point & we found ourselves doing a little bit of route-finding. It all resolved pretty quickly as we bombed down off the alpine & into a million switchbacks through an old-growth forest. It was another spectacular bit of CO singletrack.

downtime

downtime

We connected with another FS road, as planned, & before we knew it, were in "downtown" St Elmo admiring the Victorian-era architecture .. & even digging thru a rando stack of old records in the general store (nothin' worthy).  

Welcome to St Elmo, Colorado

Welcome to St Elmo, Colorado

bout what you'd expect .. Captain & Tenille, Conway Twitty, etc. Always worth a look tho.

bout what you'd expect .. Captain & Tenille, Conway Twitty, etc. Always worth a look tho.

Finish line scene

Finish line scene

We each inhaled a couple pounds of chips & salsa, & a half a beer apiece, before heading our separate ways.  I wanted to make it to a recommended meal/hostel situation all the way over in Ridgway before the kitchen closed, lest I end up reduced to the rural gas station gourmet meal that sometimes must suffice on trips like this.  It all worked out & in the morning i was up early & headed up Red Mountain Pass with my second cup of coffee in hand .. & with a plan built roughly around procuring some freshly roasted green chiles from a roadside vendor, somewhere .. & then making it to somewhere near Zion National Park by nightfall. It would prove to be a big day. 

Light up gold.  The aspens were at peak around Silverton .. spectacular. 

Light up gold.  The aspens were at peak around Silverton .. spectacular. 

These are my dudes & those are my chiles.  The sweet smell of green chile success stayed with me for the whole rest of my road trip. There's nothing quite like that smell.  Damn, now i'm hungry. 

These are my dudes & those are my chiles.  The sweet smell of green chile success stayed with me for the whole rest of my road trip. There's nothing quite like that smell.  Damn, now i'm hungry. 

I pushed onward, past Cortez, past Ship Rock, into the Ute rez & the Navajo rez where the colors all went from orange to red to pink to purple to indigo .. past Page, AZ, where i flipped the bird to the Glen Canyon Dam .. & finally came to a stop way back on a BLM road just shy of Kanab, UT.  At the time i was delirious & wasn't at all sure that the road I turned onto was actually BLM. I took it until it ended in a big pile of red dirt, took that as a sign that my day's journey was over, then set up camp right in the middle of the road & under a million desert stars. Sat & drank a beer & listened to the coyotes cackling all around me in the distance .. & thought about how amazing it was that i could have started my day in the rugged alpine environment on Red Mt Pass -- so incredibly different & differently beautiful -- than where i came to rest that night in the soft red sand in the middle of that middle-of-nowhere road. 

I didn't "camp" here

I didn't "camp" here

EZ sleepin' out here

EZ sleepin' out here



Road Trip Part 2: Crested Butte to Salida Pics

Picking up where we left off earlier ..

It was hard to leave Crested Butte that Monday. It had been more than 10 yrs since I'd last been there, & the couple days spent up in the woods outside of town was spectacular, but didn't even come close to scratching that itch to explore more. It didn't hurt that the weather was PERFECT & the aspens were on the cusp of painting entire mountainsides in shades of yellow & gold. I could've camped out in that spot for another week, easy. Just the same, N & M hit the road for Golden to get back to their real lives as parents & worker bees, while JP & I set up shop at Camp 4 to get a little work done before setting sail. The fact that anyone from the sprawling & crowded Front Range could easily replicate our amazing weekend, basing out of any one of a dozen or more charming little mountain towns in CO,  & disappearing into the wrinkles of the Rockies, is an incredible attribute unique to CO & is something that the PNW can be justifiably envious of.  

Anyway, JP & I were headed back over the hill to another great little mountain town to meet up with friends & get just a couple more miles of high-altitude singletrack under our belts .. a plan that was hatched the week before in Fort Collins, as many a great adventure are:  late night, in a dive bar, deeply under the influence.  The Prof gently twisted an arm & got us to agree to meeting him in Salida, an easy drive from CB, to ride the Monarch Crest on Tues.  But first .. a couple more images from CB.

W side of Monarch Pass p-break, with the Monarch Crest barely visible & in the background & JP barely visible in the fore. 

W side of Monarch Pass p-break, with the Monarch Crest barely visible & in the background & JP barely visible in the fore. 

We arrived in Salida to a warm welcome, beds & showers -- & a newborn! -- at our coworker's & her husband's beautiful little house near downtown. A big dinner & beers with friends & the fam. A lot of belly laughs. A couple impressively firm handshakes from the new grandma. Then off to sleep, in a real bed no less, with that fun mix of physical exhaustion & nervous energy of anticipation for the next morning's adventure. 

Porch monkeying at our friends' place in Salida

Porch monkeying at our friends' place in Salida

Bartles & Jaymes, exhibit A

Bartles & Jaymes, exhibit A

In spite of the overall length, the elevation & my relative out-of-shapeness, it seemed like inertia was pulling us in the direction of Monarch Crest. But first, breakfast. CO has always rated highly in my estimation for breakfast options .. seems like every breakfast cafe offers green chile on everything + bomb cinnamon rolls done the right way.

Bartles & Jaymes, exhibit B 

Bartles & Jaymes, exhibit B 

With full bellies we drove up to the trailhead at the summit of Monarch Pass, where the climbing had just begun. There's a bunch of different ride configurations. We opted for the full meal deal - about 40 mi all told - with a plan to wrap at the little local brewery way back down at the bottom of the pass. 

Commence the climbing .. alpine bound

Commence the climbing .. alpine bound

alpine panoramas for days up here..

alpine panoramas for days up here..

As promised, the ride went on & on.  And on .. & on. At several points i caught myself congratulating myself on how well i was riding & handling the elevation & length. Foolish pride. At about 12 mi out from the end of the ride I started bonking. A bunch of short steep sections in rapid succession forced me off my bike & my energy reserves bottomed out shortly after my food reserves did. The final long, steep descent down to the highway was technical & demanded full attention. I can usually bomb that stuff real fast, but I was on my brakes the whole way down. I barely made it out of there on my bike. One thing that was made abundantly clear is that the Salida locals are badasses. It's normal for some of these guys to add the climb UP THE PASS to the ride, adding several thousand vertical to the day.  Respect.  Anyway, all's well that ends well, & a whole pizza to myself expedited that "ends well" part. As for the Monarch Crest, I'd go back & do the exact same ride again tomorrow given the chance. 

3 .. 2 .. 1 .. .. Liftoff!

Well, hello there. If you've landed on this page, chances are you're a family member or friend of one of the 3 folks behind this little project.  This day has been a long time coming. We secured our domain name forever ago, & have been slowly chipping away at this site &, more importantly, refining our actual products ever since.  So it's with much excitement that we flipped the switch & are officially an online entity!   I imagine we'll be passing the mic back 'n forth between us when it comes to posting to this blog, as that's how we've handled the Social responsibilities thus far (Instagram, mainly), & because we have 3 different & hopefully interesting perspectives to share. In any case, this is Todd, & on behalf of Hil & Chris, I thank you for cheering us on as we merge Pack Northwest onto the Information Superhighway. We'll be hanging in the slow lane for the foreseeable future, as we're each managing full-time jobs "on the side", but we intend to keep our eyes on the horizon & our foot on the accelerator to see where this road can take us.

Speaking of roadtrips, I recently did a giant one wherein i spent at least a little time in EVERY Western state in the Lower 48, even if briefly passing through (ID, AZ, NM).  It was part work & it was part vacation. I brought with me my dog Henry, my camping gear, my mountain bike, my road bike, my climbing gear, my surfing gear, a bunch of beer, 3 cameras & a dozen rolls of film (yes, people still use that stuff).  I made it a point to visit lots of old friends along the way, to ride bikes as much as possible, to camp as much as possible, and to document the whole thing in photos. On top of being a great way to use our products & show them off to lots of people along the way, it provided plenty of opportunities to make my friends pose awkwardly for product shots to be used on the site.  And beyond that, the trip as a whole sort of embodies the spirit of Pack Northwest lifestyle, what we're all about, what motivates us, what we live for. Below are some of my favorite moments from the first half of my trip. 

I always try to take the backroads when i can. The less time spent on an Interstate or freeway, the better. That way when you or the dog requires a P-break, it's as easy as pulling off the road. This is Hwy 287 near Ennis, MT, en route to Jackson, Wyo. This route takes you through the Madison River Valley & into West Yellowstone .. world-renown trout streams & giant lifted pickup trucks everywhere.  

Made it to my good friend's house in JH in one big push from Seattle. Stayed awake long enough to catch up over one beer, & in the morning I made him pose with the Hobo Tote in the Park.

After an all too brief (approx 12-hr) visit in JH, the next stop would be Steamboat, CO,  to meet up with a couple old pals for a weekend of camping & mountain biking. In spite of all the radio warnings of severe thunderstorms & heavy rains in the area, i was welcomed to the colorful state with nothing but fair skies & smooth sailin'

In the morning we headed up Rabbit Ears & rode many miles of scenic, buttery singletrack on the Wyoming Trail.. I'd been in CO for all of 12 hrs so this 30-mi trail ride at 10K feet was hell of a way to get acclimated. 

Lots of amazing scenery on the Wyoming Trail including rolling alpine meadows, lakes, & several overlooks with sweeping panoramas of the Yampa Valley. Here, my amigos are content to wait for me as I drag myself up & up into the increasingly thin air. I could've sat on that outcropping for the rest of the weekend .. & nearly did.

I left Steamboat on Sunday evening & headed down to the Front Range for a week of work. I'll spare you photos of that!. End of the week, I rallied  out to Crested Butte, racing to beat nightfall because i was following sketchy directions to a very specific camp spot way out the Schofield Pass FS road. The directions said the camp may or may not be occupied already, & had even sketchier directions to backup options. The responsibility was mine to establish a rad camp spot for the rest of the crew who'd be showing up late night & staying through Monday.  Predictably, I rolled into town late (I stop to take a lot of pics),  & so was headed out of CB up toward the old silver boom town (now quasi ghost town) of Gothic at well after dark. To everyone's surprise, I homed in on the exact right cluster of old-growth evergreens on the exact right bend in the road, & found not a sole around. Success.. In the morning I'd get  to discover for myself CB's classic trail riding that I've heard about for so long.  Look carefully at the pic above & you'll see  the crew climbing past Emerald Lake, up to Schofield Pass between CB & Marble, CO. At the top of the pass is the trailhead for the uber classic 401 Trail. So nice we did it twice. 

401 Trail. Everything's glorious, all of it. 

Our lovely base of operations, upstream of Gothic, CO

Doc's Park Trail had one of the longest & most fun descents I've ridden anywhere. Throughout the duration of my trip the Aspens inched ever closer to the full-on autumn gold splendor that they're known for. Toward the end of my journey I was able to catch just one day where giant stands of aspens were fully in their prime. 

High on Doc's Park, rolling through beautiful meadows with Henry Dog in tow. We tired him out pretty good on this day.

We wrapped up in Crested Butte after a long weekend of great times around the camp & many, many miles of amazing singletrack.  Might have to make CB an annual destination.  The crew went separate ways but my trip was far from over. I'll post pics from the second half of the trip in a couple days.