Thoma Lookout ...

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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby pitamakan » Mon Feb 03, 2014 3:14 pm

joybird wrote:Needless to say, I immediately put aside the drudgery of this afternoon's job-related paperwork so that I could watch the film. 8)

One factoid that he mentioned which I found interesting was that there are still 500 lookouts working in the West. I hadn't realized there were still so many. Very cool.

Always happy to help provide a diversion from work. :)

I think the 500 lookouts figure is open to question, though ... Leif is definitely a fire-lookout expert, but I think he meant that there were 500 lookout buildings still in existence. My guess is that the number of currently-staffed lookouts is far smaller than that. I believe there are fewer than two dozen staffed lookouts in Montana these days, for example ... and northwestern Montana has one of the highest concentrations of fire lookout towers in the West.

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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby joybird » Mon Feb 03, 2014 7:11 pm

pitamakan wrote:Always happy to help provide a diversion from work. :)


Why am I not surprised? :wink:

pitamakan wrote: I think the 500 lookouts figure is open to question, though ... Leif is definitely a fire-lookout expert, but I think he meant that there were 500 lookout buildings still in existence. My guess is that the number of currently-staffed lookouts is far smaller than that. I believe there are fewer than two dozen staffed lookouts in Montana these days, for example ... and northwestern Montana has one of the highest concentrations of fire lookout towers in the West.


Hmm. I just listened again and I don't think he meant buildings. 12 or 13 minutes in, he is contrasting the very specialized technologies which some places use vs the more integrated responsiveness that humans can offer and he concludes, "those technologies are not going to handle that. Because we're the quietest aspect of fire, we're not as present in the everyday for people in the Valley. There's 500 of us in the West right now and we're still here doing the work when people are thinking other things are going to replace us."

So, I have no idea as to whether 500 is correct, but it would seem that our mutual surprise at how large his number is, just goes to support his point that the lookout guys are pretty invisible to most of the world.

Out of curiosity, I just tried googling how many manned fire lookouts there are, and although I ran out of steam (or rather, got distracted running down way too many interesting rabbit holes!) before I found what I was looking for, I did come across this August 2013 article in the Flathead Beacon:
http://www.flatheadbeacon.com/articles/ ... ning/35209

"At one time there were more than 600 fire lookouts in Montana. Now that number has dwindled to 130, only about 40 of which are staffed."


Again, I have no idea how accurate these numbers are, but the downward trend is pretty striking and sure suggests that it's only a matter of time before Leif and the others will be replaced by satellites and drones and computers.

I realize that I'm probably romanticizing the job some...nonethless, losing the lookouts seems a shame to me. :(
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby pitamakan » Mon Feb 03, 2014 8:53 pm

Oh, I definitely romanticize the job, too ... I'd seriously love to do it for a summer.

Anyhow, this has all gotten me curious, so it calls for some research! (I actually belong to the Forest Fire Lookout Association, so will do some digging with a couple of folks there.) Here's one thing that I do have in my files -- a recent article about Thoma, that puts the number of remaining staffed lookouts at 250:

http://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/leif-haugen-fire-lookout/

And I'm sure you know this, but there are several fire lookouts in the Glacier area that are now available for overnight rental -- it's a very cool experience. I've stayed overnight at Hornet (near Polebridge) and Garver (in the Yaak), and can highly recommend them both. You should book a night as part of your 2014 Glacier visit. :)

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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby joybird » Mon Feb 03, 2014 10:04 pm

pitamakan wrote:Oh, I definitely romanticize the job, too ... I'd seriously love to do it for a summer.


Yup. I hear ya. (Though I imagine the fire spotting/reporting stuff would feel pretty stressful to me: that's some serious responsibility there. Definitely not a job one would want to screw up....)

I wonder what kind of training it takes?


You should book a night as part of your 2014 Glacier visit. :)


Hmm. I think you may be right... :)
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby teapot57 » Thu Mar 20, 2014 7:51 am

Here's a recent article from the Flathead Beacon about Montana fire lookouts:

http://www.flatheadbeacon.com/articles/ ... out/38386/
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby poky5mom » Sun Mar 23, 2014 11:09 am

That was a very cool movie! Makes me want to get to Glacier! :arrow: :arrow:
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby Stmarypete » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:10 pm

We were up to the lookout on top of St Mary mountain, near Hamilton Mt about two years ago. There were multiple fires burning to the West in Idaho and the guy stationed there seemed happy to have something to do. He also was pretty glad to have someone to talk to. I think they get pretty bored.
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby Selkie » Thu May 01, 2014 4:53 pm

There seem to be other lookouts and trailed peaks (likely trailless as well) worth visiting in the Whitefish Range, which is the other side of Polebridge Rd from Bowman L, Kintla, etc.
Here is Hornet Peak with a rentable lookout, 1 mile from trailhead:
http://www.summitpost.org/hornet-mountain-and-lookout/741982

Apparently there is a campground at Tuchuck, south of Canadian border.
I am just beginning to explore this area online.
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby BCD » Tue Aug 05, 2014 11:08 am

Spectacular video. Will be up there in N Fork roaming this Mon. You've whet my interest. Just found the lookout on Google Earth.
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby Jen » Fri Aug 15, 2014 7:37 am

What is the drinking water situation on the hike up to Thoma?
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby pitamakan » Fri Aug 15, 2014 7:54 am

Jen wrote:What is the drinking water situation on the hike up to Thoma?


The trail to Thoma from the west follows a small stream nearly the whole way up, to within a mile of the lookout. It's the water source used by the guy who staffs the lookout in the summer.
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby Jen » Fri Aug 15, 2014 9:07 am

pitamakan wrote:
Jen wrote:What is the drinking water situation on the hike up to Thoma?


The trail to Thoma from the west follows a small stream nearly the whole way up, to within a mile of the lookout. It's the water source used by the guy who staffs the lookout in the summer.


Thanks, Mark.
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby toddnick » Fri Aug 15, 2014 9:18 am

I'm psyched to do this hike on 9/2 and maybe add on Mt. Baldy to make it a full day!!!! :D
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby pitamakan » Fri Aug 15, 2014 9:51 am

With a little luck, I may be able to give you guys a status update on the trail in a couple days. :)
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Re: Thoma Lookout ...

Postby pitamakan » Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:49 am

Joybird and I made it up to Thoma yesterday, a great hike despite some cloudy weather. (We made good time, probably because of the Polebridge huckleberry bearclaws we used as fuel!) A good conversation at the top with Leif, the Forest Service employee who staffs the place and has done an amazing job with its restoration. Didn't make it to Hefty, but ... next time. :)

Trail was in good shape, a little brushy in spots but not at all bad. The stream has water in it intermittently -- surprisingly, the lowest streambed crossing is dry, but there's water in it higher up, and there's a very small pool just above the last crossing where you can refill bottles.

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