Monday, February 25, 2013
Up Up Lookout, MT (plus a video!)
Montana ended up in the top list of our favorite states. We had high expectations based on recommendations from a friend who goes on MAN-cations to MAN-tana. We fell in love with the vast, untouched, and pristine wilderness, and our first stop in the state definitely set the stage for the rest of our time in Montana.
Gearing up for our six month adventure, we learned that the US Forest Service rents out unused Fire Towers to visitors. We also learned that these fire towers are very popular and typically sell out at the beginning of the season for the entire summer. We were shocked and thrilled to find out that a fire tower called Up Up Lookout in Montana's Lolo National Forrest was available for one night in-between other reservations, and that one night matched up perfectly with our arrival to Montana.
Let's set the stage here: to get to Up Up Lookout, we had to drive 14 miles on a narrow, twisty, unpaved forest road - I think it took us almost an hour. At one point, we had to unlock a gate with a combination lock, drive through, and lock up behind us. This is true wilderness. Of course, no cell reception for miles. The 40-foot tower was built on a hilltop (elevation 5,969 ft) allowing for incredible 360-degree views. In the olden days, firemen would use this tower to identify the locations of forest fires and coordinate containment efforts. Modern technology leaves these types of fire towers almost permanently vacant, and travelers like ourselves take advantage of the very unique lodging opportunities.
We arrived a bit before sunset and had time to lug our gear and supplies up to the tower, cook a simple dinner, and enjoy a beer while dangling our feet over the balcony's edge and taking in the views. It was the last week of June and the sun didn't set until after 10:30 - so awesome! We had some deer and elk come visit our house, and heard rumbling in the bushes later from an unidentified beast. Bear warnings were all over the tower, so we were a bit anxious.
A bit more about the tower - it was retrofitted with a gas line running from the tanks downstairs all the way up to the top. We had a gas heater and two gas lanterns to keep comfortable. In the center of the tower, there was a gadget used to locate and pinpoint locations of fires visible from the tower. There were instructions not to mess with the equipment, which is still used in rare emergencies by the Forest Rangers. If such an emergency were to occur, the Rangers would take over the tower and would ask the occupants to leave. The only bathroom was an outhouse on the ground and about 50 yards away from the tower. Needless to say, there was no way we'd be climbing up and down the stairs and wading through the woods in the middle of the night. That's where a collapsible camping bucket comes in handy. Enough said. Last, I'll mention the gusty winds overnight rattling the windows and swaying the tower side to side. Makes for a VERY restless night of barely staying asleep. But the cool-factor was totally worth it!
One of the coolest things in the tower was a visitor book. Amanda called it a "paper blog." Tons of people sleeping here for the last few years would write notes, stories, share their thoughts and feelings, etc. We read the whole thing cover to cover. Some entries were funny (9-year old's recap of the visit) and others were hard to decipher (stoner weekend in the tower). People wrote about hiking to pick huckleberries nearby for breakfast and of bears trying to climb up the tower - we didn't have the pleasure of either experience. And almost everyone had a story to tell about the packrat... I guess you'll have to go stay at Up Up to understand this one for yourself.
Tip: if you ever sleep over in a tower, keep your car keys on you while making trips up and down. I totally ran all the way down the stairs and to the car before I realized the keys are on the kitchen table, 40-feet up. I'm not the only fool to do this, as evident from the poetry in the visitor book (see below).
PS - check out the video at the end of the post for a little tour of the fire tower and to see the panoramic views!
See other camping posts here and read about more adventures here.
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