Samsara Welcomes Us to Lookout; Views Galore; Marmot Madness
The thought of reaching the fire lookout to visit with friend Samsara kept us going all day, a day that started at 5:15 a.m. with us getting on trail by 7:35 a.m. We wanted to go uphill before the heat of the day and we did. We welcomed Jaye, a new member, to our group. She picked a tough first hike, but had been going on trips with MWA all summer.
It was a very chilly 31 degrees, so we raced over the first 2.25 miles of mostly flat to keep ourselves warm. Many of us pulled out the mittens and warm hats/hoods on this stretch of our journey. Then it was time to don our sandals and crocs to cross Straight Creek, a cold 30-yard dash that had some of us howling in pain as our feet numbed in the freezing water.
But our coolness didn't last long as the climb starts the minute we put our boots back on. So we started the punishing uphill and kept a steady pace. Along the way, Catherine spotted a huckleberry patch, which was fortuitous since Raye had wanted to see and taste them for the first time.
We reached honeymoon basin around 11:30 for a break and a snack before the final ascent of another brutal mile to the top of Patrol mountain.The basin had a wonderful display of flowers, particularly Indian paintbrush and various vetches. As Catherine ate a snack bar, a holly blue butterfly landed on it and then moved to her hand.
On the last mile, we could see the lookout most of the way, giving us hope and keeping us going even though it was deceptively still far away. Just before we reached the structure, we faced the narrow saddle, with steep drop-offs on either side, but this section didn't intimidate anyone this year, unlike prior groups.
About a half mile away, we heard marmots and a pika calling as well as Rye, Samsara's blue-healer cross, barking at us. Rye greeted us as we approached the porch and settled down, licking those who offered their faces. She also gladly took a bit of our lunches, with Sam's blessing.
After we dropped our packs, had a quick bite and Sam oriented us, we went inside as it was getting windier, and it was still chilly, only 48 degrees, according to Samsara. Inside, Sam told us about her work, how she scans the hills every hour for 15 minutes, unless it is raining or very wet, how she calls in fires, uses her Osborne firefinder and informed us about the fires she has already seen, including one on a ridge next to her where we could still see the fire retardant orange between the trees.
The gals all had questions, especially about her safety being alone in a lookout. Sam said she has only once in 20 years of manning the lookout felt uncomfortable with a visitor, a man who kept violating her personal space. She also explained how she could contact the other lookouts for a safety check. She also said she doesn't have a gun or feel comfortable with one but she does have bear spray and a pulaskii. And her dog, Rye. The forest service allows one dog, so she can't bring her other one.
Rye is 15 and showing her age, so Sam can't do as much hiking on her days off as she used to. She has Mondays and Tuesdays off and occasionally goes into Augusta, making the long trek down the mountain and back.
She also told us about her resupply, how she can call in what she needs and her packer purchases it for her and brings it up. She is busy making a sweater for her husband, but two years ago knitted one for her packer.
Her husband visits occasionally (he is a smoke jumper) and this past trip brought her some flowers and makings for pizza, something they love to make together on her wood stove. Her other visitors are hikers like us and animals. She has seen several weasels and even a wolverine, a black bear with twin cubs, and her friendly marmots, who were eating all of her pretty purple penstemons.
Before we left, Jaye brought out a dark chocolate bar and passed it around but left the majority of it for Sam.
It was bittersweet to leave Samsara and the glorious views, but we did need to get down the mountain as clouds were rolling in, and T-storms were predicted for late afternoon.
The downhill was uneventful, except for the high-pitched whistle of the marmots, the gorgeous stroll through honeymoon basin with all of the flowers and our recrossing of chilly Straight Creek, which felt good on our tired feet this time across.
It took us nine hours and nine minutes to complete our 12-mile hike, a full hour and a half faster than two years ago.
Then it was on to Augusta for dinner after a quick stop at Lattigo and Lace, a boutique with handcrafted and other items. The owner informed us that the Lazy B cafe had a malfunctioning exhaust fan and could only serve pizza, so we opted to go to the Buckhorn bar instead for a bite to eat. However, even though the food was good for bar food, it took over an hour to get our grub, and we were starved! The wait was perhaps the most painful part of the day.On a side note, we ran into June at the Buckhorn. She had just come out of a five-day, four-night trip into the Bob. She visited Samsara's father on Prairie Reef.
After dinner, an hour's drive saw us back in Great Falls by 9 p.m., an hour earlier than expected. All in all, a super day and a fantastic hike and visit with Samsara.
Who went: Catherine, Roni, Deb, Jaye, Brenda and Katie