Editor’s note: Ranger Rachel’s season shifted drastically when wildfires sprang up around the region. Read her account of what happens when fire takes over.
Today is September 30th. It’s been a few weeks since I went out on my last hitch. On the night of September 9th a large storm passed over Central Washington. Lightning strikes lit up wildfires throughout the region. The damage was quite devastating. The Entiat Ranger District alone had 30-plus active forest fires. Needless to say, the rest of our season out here has changed drastically. This blog contains the journal entries I wrote on my last hitch and the following week after I came out of the woods to head back west into the smoke.
9/7/12 Merchant’s Basin, hiked 4.5 miles, saw 1 mountain biker
The Basin is beautiful. The shrubs are showing their red and yellow leaves. The air is cold and crisp. Fall is definitely coming. I’m camped next to the little babbling creek that runs through the Basin, falling down from Sunrise Lake. I can’t believe that I only have 3 more hitches out here. Time has gone by very fast.
9/8/12 Sunrise Lake, hiked 2 miles, saw no users
I came up to Sunrise to check out a reported fire. I walked around the lake 3 times and have found no signs of any fire. I found a recently dismantled fire pit. I took pictures of that because nothing else was out of place. The hike around the lake is really nice. It’s just a tiny, barely visible trail and runs right along the lake. I hiked down to see the water empty out over a cliff which turns into the creek that runs next to my tent. I got a great view of the Basin from high up.
I’m currently in pika city on the far end of the lake. There are so many of these cute little creatures running around over here. My plan is to spend the day up here and talk to any users I might run into. Sunrise Lake is a popular spot out here so I figure I’ll see some hikers.
I’m back at camp now and to the south there is a storm rolling in. Large clouds with purples, grays, and browns. There is sporadic thunder and lightning. Bats are flying around over my head, marmots are meeping. It’s only 6:30 but the storm is making it dark out. Warm drafts are blowing through. I can see clouds coming overhead. A storm is definitely brewing. I think I will tighten my tent down.
9/9/12 Merchant’s Basin, 0 miles, saw no users
It did storm last night. My tent is awesome and did not leak. It was pretty crazy. I got up around midnight to use the ladies room, and the sky was clear. It wasn’t raining anymore. I could see the stars but the sky was still filled with lightning. My knees are achy so I’ll be staying around here, maybe see some people. I think this will be my last solo hitch so I’m soaking up this experience. It’s been a relaxing hitch. It’s an added pleasure that I’ve only seen one user so far. I’ve had this place to myself!
It’s later on in the day now and I’m seeing smoke up in the sky. There are constant transmissions on the radio. The storm last night did some damage. Fire crews are being dispatched all throughout the region. Several crews are heading to the Steliko fire. Steliko is the name of the lookout that is perched up on the hill above my house. I hope Adam and our roommate Wayne are okay. I also hope my house isn’t burning down. It’s weird being on the other side of Lake Chelan, up in the Sawtooths and see the smoke up in the sky coming from the fire that is burning around my house. Is everyone working on it? Mason, Randy, Forney, Cheyenne, Brett, Jim? I feel quite helpless over here. It’s a weird feeling knowing what is going on back home and being alone out in the backcountry, several miles away. The marmots, squirrels and pikas are comforting me. I’ll be listening to the radio well into the night to stay updated with the fires that are burning back west.
9/10/12 Foggy Dew Trailhead, hiked 4.5 miles, saw 2 motorcycles
VERY windy last night and today. It’s cold too. Heard on the radio that it’s now a red flag warning for fires, with 50 to 55 mph winds blowing in the higher elevations. Not good.
9/14/12 Put up trail closure signs at Pine Flats, Billy Ridge, Upper and Middle Tommy, and Lake Creek trailheads
9/15/12 Printed and laminated trail and road closure signs. It’s quite different than hiking around in the woods. Things are crazy here. Fires are everywhere. Burning from Lake Chelan over to the Mad River. They’re closing the Mad River trail system today. The Entiat River trail and all connected trails are already closed. Adam is out in Glacier Peak wilderness evacuating the remaining hikers. I couldn’t go because I hurt my knees. Looks like I won’t be going back into the wilderness again this season. That’s very sad. The North Fork trail system is on fire. I went out there at the beginning of the season and it has been one of my favorite hitches. The last night I camped there, up on Pugh Ridge, is where the lightning struck that started the fire. I feel lucky that I was able to hike every trail there before this fire burns everything. It’s such a beautiful place. It’s kind of depressing at the station. Everyone is trying to keep smiling but it’s not easy to do. How can you not be completely upset about this? The entire recreation side of the Entiat District is shut down. Homes are being evacuated. Hunting season isn’t going to take place. The high hunt starts today. Adam and I were expecting to go out and patrol the wilderness, filled with rowdy, excited hunters. Instead he’s evacuating people and I’m making trail and road closure signs. They are saying that the fires aren’t going to go out until snow falls. About 500 National Guards are coming in today to help because we are so low on resources. Our Hotshot fire crew that gets sent to the worst fires in the country are back home working to put them out here.
9/16/12 Put up road closure signs at Potato Creek Road, Preston Creek Road, and the Mad River junction the the 6101 Road
9/17/12 Delivered lunch for fire workers, fed horses and cleaned stable, patrolled the 5800 Road. The entire forest is now shut down. The fires are spreading so they pushed the road closure up to the boundary of with the Wenatchee National Forest. The entire valley is filled with smoke. Visibility is poor. They are saying the air quality in the town of Wenatchee, just 15 miles west of Entiat, has worse air quality than when Mount Saint Helen’s blew up.
9/30/12 I am typing this blog sitting up on top of the Tyee Lookout. I look out and see a few small fires. Since my last entry on the 17th, the fires have died down. Most are just smoldering now. Visibility is much better. I can actually see the mountains. It’s nice to breath in fresh air and see the sky filled with clouds. Trails possibly will be opening up tomorrow. We might be able to go back out on the trail before the season is over!