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Shorty Peak Lookout

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After a devastating season of fires in the year 1910, the U.S. Forest Service sought to extinguish every fire by 10 A.M. the day after it was reported. This policy required the rapid detection of fires while they were still very small. Nowhere on earth ever had the density of lookouts that northern Idaho had during this time. The Selkirks alone had over 220 and in adjacent Washington, more than 90 percent of the mountains had a lookout. The lookout heyday only lasted a few decades before the use of aircraft and improvements in communications made other means of detection more efficient. Some strategically situated lookouts are still manned today, but most are now piles of weathered lumber strewn on almost every summit in the Selkirks.



Daniel, Keiran, Rachel, Ethan and Ira– September 5, 2013
Portland, OR


Dear Shorty Peak,


We hiked up in the dark, our second pitch-black, three-mile hike in as many days. Yesterday we hiked to Arid Peak Lookout which you know, assuming that you Lookouts are linked together through some kind of collective consciousness or tree-born rumor, because certainly forest trees can talk to each other from one branch to the next or through a shared root system or similar. What else are trees going to talk about but the comings and goings of various animals and humans right? You know the place, south a few hours by car and on the east side of the valley, up against Montana. Anyway, you’re a way cooler lookout and we should have stayed here last night too. Sure the hike up to you was steeper and longer but your trail was in better condition, and the digs, SO GOOD.


Oh yeah before I forget, this is kind of a funny story, by the time we made it to the top we were tired and kinda lazy from the hike and so as soon as we saw your squat, square bod in the near distance we started hiking the fall line, you know, off piste, that’s “french.” So that means we didn’t pass by the outhouse on the way up. And later, after we settled in, I looked around for it but I couldn’t find it because how could you if you hadn’t hiked past it on the way in, which (SAD FACE!) was a total bummer cause I had to poop. I like woods-pooping like nobodies business but dude, I was kinda freaked about the bear sitch. Anyway, the next morning—there it was, just kind tucked into some trees. Side note: What a view from inside, a real king’s throne!!!!!!


Anyway that night we made sausage, vegetables, and pasta for dinner, totes scrumptious. Immediately afterwards Rachel, Ira, and Keiran just kinda passed-out because they’re b-o-r-i-n-g but Ethan and I stayed up because we could see a storm blowing in from the south and we thought it was our civic duty to monitor meteoritical activities on account of us staying in US Forest Service fire tower lookout. At first we could just see lighting way off in the distance but otherwise it was kinda clear all over, you could see stars and everything—so bright!, I love it up here!!!! Okay so there we were  standing on the deck and leaning against the railing watching the storm and talking and Ethan is getting fucked-up on whiskey and altitude. Then the wind started picking up. And then we started hearing the rumble of thunder, and that thunder rumble! Dude, so loud!!!! And, true story, before you know it S H I T started to hit the old proverbial fan. First of all, no more clear skies, just dark, low clouds in every direction. And bro, the wind was gnar-gnar! Then it started to rain and blow something fierce. By that time we were totally counting the delay between the lightning flashes and thunder rumbles. At first it was like 20 seconds or more between the two, but soon enough the storm was so close, like only 3 seconds a way, which is like one kilometer which is like really really really fucking close.

And then we saw a lightning strike!!!!!!

I’m not even joking. It struck like right across the street from us, like on the hillside across the valley from our hillside. Instantly there was this vertical band of glowing light, it was all yellow and orange and blue and pulsating, like glowing. At first we kinda looked at each other all WTF-style, and then we looked back at the fire-glow-thing for a second, then back at each other, then at the glow, each other, glow, each other, glow, etc. Everything was quiet,  we’d forgotten that it was raining and windy and we just kinda stood there in this supernatural silence, and then boom reality kinda barged back into our brain-minds and we started shouting and postulating and wildly gesticulating and whatnot. The weird thing was the fire-glow-thing was pulsating real bad, like it would almost go out and then it would come back, even brighter and hotter than before. Thats when Ethan was all fuck this and he pulled out his phone and called 911 even though he was roaming real bad, like weird symbols bad. Some Canadian Mountie dude answered and he was all like “what’s up eh?” And Ethan told him to tell the US Forest Service that we witnessed an actual real life fire start, and that maybe they should come and put the fire out, question mark? Maybe it was going to become a legit wildland fire, but who knows, maybe not, but dude you’d hate to guess wrong. Anyway the Canadian asked him where the fire was and so Ethan told them the fire was  in the woods on a hillside across from the hillside on which Shorty Peaks exists, and he was all, “can I take your number and would you mind leaving your phone on, eh.” That’s when Ethan kinda got in argument with the mountie dude about leaving his phone on, cause he was roaming real bad. But anyway, he said he would. They never called back and the fire eventually went out for good. But like, close call right. So fucking apropos it was insane, I mean, like, watching a fire start from a lighting strike, in fire tower! What a rush.


Anyway, after the fire went out for good we went back inside and fell asleep because the seventy mile-an-hour wind was blowing cold ass rain sideways into our faces and bodies, which sucked.


Andrea and Alex – July 4-5, 2013



HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! My girlfriend and I hiked over to the East Summit of Lone Tree Peak, just to the west. It took 45-50 minutes each way. We HIGHLY recommend it. There is a great view down up on your temporary home (Shorty Peak Lookout). It is about 200 feet higher than where you are sitting reading this. You also get some pretty spectacular views to the south, including a towering, narrow monolith that is hidden by arêtes (glacial peaks) from below. It looks like the monolith from the movie 2001. We gathered some snow in our Nalgenes where we made Sno-Cones with instant iced tea! Black tea and lemon with raspberries and black currant by Lipton. Super delicious, but I must warn anyone that overdosing on the iced tea mix will make you pucker like a three year old with their first Lemonhead. There was plenty of snow on the leeward side of ridge, as well as on top. Just dig down to get clean snow. My girlfriend even made iced coffee. We have been visited by American Crows, well, maybe they are illegal Canadian Crows, as well as several Golden Eagles. The benefits of wearing a red shirt!


We have also been visited this morning by little critters, ground squirrels probably, that left a pile of poop on the front doorstep of the top of the steps. Sunrise was spectacular and it is warming up fast in here. I am sooo in the mood for another Sno-Cone!!!! What an amazing place!!!!


Tom V., Lisa V., Unknown – July 21, 2013



Third time at Shorty Peak was going to spend the night with my party niece uncle and Eli, but work calls. Lisa and Eli, first time to the Shorty Peak, enjoyed the view and will be back. Melsie, uncle age 53, with both knees in braces, did alright. See you next year.


P.S.: Forest Service asked if we could bring up the clean mattress covers and bring back the dirty ones. Reason: US Government Sequesteration, no person available. Enjoy the clean covers.


Today is my first time at Shorty Peak. I am impressed. Perfect day, warm, breeze, clear sky. Great company with Eli and Uncle Tom making good family memories and living it up. My Uncle is a True Champion coming up with left knee, foot, leg limitations. Great views and great pictures. Happy day

My first visit to Shorty Peak but surely not my last. Truly beautiful views and truly a peaceful [illegible] experience. Excellent company and weather for a lovely day.


Keelan and Matt – August 7, 2013


Matt (38) and I (29) began our journey yesterday afternoon, hopeful that Shorty Peak would be all that we were expected. It did not disappoint. The trail was beautiful, and challenging at times, just like life, but was well worth it once you reach the summit of Shorty. We found fresh huckleberries along the trail. Delicious!! We made a fire, shared some wine, had dinner, enjoyed the sunset. We snuggled up in our sleeping bags and felt ourselves lost in the stars. The views are spectacular! The sunrise this morning was incredible! It started out like a tiny flame from a match that spread and lit up the entire sky. We are going to stop by the “spring” on the way down. I can’t wait to revisit this lookout. Well worth the travel. I bet it looks like Narnia up here. Best wishes to future travelers. Keelan and Matt.


Stephanie and Bandit – August 10-12, 2013

Spokane, WA


There is not much more that I can say that has not already been written. This is my fourth year here and I use it as my solo retreat to get away from the crazy world we live in, slow down, and renew my soul. I was visited by a few hikers and few scattered thunderstorms, but other than that the quiet chorus of the bugs was all that was constant. I wonder why there are no spiders up here. They would have a feast.11Reader’s Note: “There are, in fact, currently a lot of spiders here.” As I drove up here there were many Amber Alerts on the radio about the two kids kidnapped out of California. Last heard there were possible sightings in Southern Idaho. I wonder if the planes I see flying around are looking for them. I met a Border Patrol guy, I wonder if he is out looking for them too.

Oh, I just saw a little spider! He is small. He must be doing something wrong, because he should be big and well-fed with the grocery store he has here.


Last year there was a Freddy Kruger-like hand carved out of wood left here by its creator. It was creepy. The hand is gone, but the stand it was in is still here. The “handyman.” Someone had the smarts to get rid of the hand. I would NOT touch it!!! Someone told me there was an article in Outside Magazine about the forest lookouts recently. They thought Shorty was highlighted. What a shame if it was, as this little secret will be out of the bag. On the other hand, maybe if everyone had a place such as this to visit, we would have a more peaceful world.


Well, it’s time to go. Back to the kiddos, back to the hubby, back to the work. What a blessed life I lead!


Debbie, Silver and Pumpkin – August 19-23, 2013

Priest Lake, ID


Year number 16 for me. Must be some kind of record. I do it because Shorty is such an amazing place to unwind and renew the soul. Weather was great until today, but now the clouds are moving in as I prepare to go. It’s all good and special. The hike up brought up memories of past trips and anticipation to be here this year. Spooked a bull elk on the way up. Found lots of huckleberries the entire way. Tasty ones too. Not so tart like many can be. When I arrived at the tower the squirrels went quickly into hiding as Silver and Pumpkin did their duty to keep them in their rock nests.


Settled into reading a book, easy to get lost in one up here without the distractions of home.


A gorgeous sunset tonight. I hope my pictures turn out. A trip to the spring on Tuesday, seems less water than in years past, yet plenty of spots for me to filter water and for the dogs to play in. Why do they always want the same spot I pick!?? The afternoon brought a flock of about seven ravens playing in the thermals to the south. They worked their way up in circles, drifted around, then left altogether, drifting to lower elevations. The bees are HORRIBLE this year. As soon as it warms up in the morning they started b-lining for the inside of the tower, so I had to keep the door shut and I either stayed in or I found a few nice rocks to sit on with my Therm-a-rest and read outside. Some grouse are hanging around, probably the mom and grown up chicks mentioned by others. Other birds would come by in the evenings and I enjoy listening to them sing. Thursday morning after I got back from the spring and berry-picking, there had been a fly hatch. Small, translucent wings, they were everywhere and would swarm into the tower as soon as I opened the door. This brought the birds in for a feast. The flies seemed to die quickly. It took several sweepings to remove them from the tower. My last night brought the singing window. If the windows and wind are a certain way, you receive a special concert, like Kokopelli himself playing! A mysterious flute… Until next year.



Born in glaciers and flowing through a rugged landscape of mountains and valleys, this river drains an isolated and sparsely populated region of the Pacific Northwest. Between the highest headwaters and the Columbia River, the Kootenay’s elevation dips by over two kilometers. Although comparable by length, watershed and discharge to the Columbia above where the two rivers meet, the Kootenay is of a very different character. Its dramatic drop, caused by a steep gradient, results in the formation of many rapids.

Ethan Furniss and his bike on the County Road 45 bridge over the Kootenai River.
Historically the Kootenai (Kootenay in Canada) was called the Flatbow or Swan.
Approx. 65 feet.
Born in glaciers and flowing through a rugged landscape of mountains and valleys, this river drains an isolated and sparsely populated region of the Pacific Northwest. Between the highest headwaters and the Columbia River, the Kootenay’s elevation dips by over two kilometers. Although comparable by length, watershed and discharge to the Columbia above where the two rivers meet, the Kootenay is of a very different character. Its dramatic drop, caused by a steep gradient, results in the formation of many rapids.
The Ktunaxa, for which the Kootenia River is named after, were semi-nomadic people and inhabited a large area of the Kootenay valley from the headwaters to Kootenay Lake. Four villages provided their shelter in the winter, while in the rest of the year, they traveled between fishing, hunting and berry-picking areas. The northern Ktunaxa hunted buffalo, while the southerners mainly fished.
A wheat field. The lower Kootenai River watershed of Northern Idaho in the Idaho Panhandle encompasses 800,000 acres in Boundary County, including more than 400,000 acres of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. This unique area extends from the high crest of the Selkirk Mountains in the west to the Cabinet and Purcell Mountains straddling the border of Idaho and Montana to the east. It is renowned for its remote forest settings and its steep, high relief watersheds that drain out of the Selkirks into the low elevation of the Kootenai River Valley, and then flow north towards Kootenay Lake in Canada.
Rachel and Ira preparing for same. We whistled a lot. We also sang songs e.g., Time After Time, Cindy Lauper. We also told jokes like one that goes—The Park Ranger at Denali park is advising hikers to be alert for bears and to take extra precautions to avoid an encounter. Park visitors are advised to wear little bells on their clothes to make noise when hiking. The bell noise allows the bears to hear the hiker coming from a distance and not be startled by a hiker accidentally sneaking up on them. This might cause a bear to charge. Hikers should also carry pepper spray in case they encounter a bear. Spraying the pepper in the air will irritate a bear's sensitive nose and it will run away. It also a good idea to keep an eye out for fresh bear scat so you'll know if there are bears in the area. People should be able to tell the difference between black bear scat and grizzly/brown bear scat. Black bear scat is smaller and will be fibrous, with berry seeds and sometimes grass in it. Grizzly/brown bear scat will have bells in it and smell like pepper. And the one that goes—Two campers were hiking in the woods when they stumbled upon a brown bear. One camper reached into his backpack and quickly pulled out a pair of tennis shoes. "What are you doing" said the one camper, "you can't outrun that bear." The other camper replied, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!"
Ethan, motivating before hiking for three miles in the dark straight-up into an Extreme Grizzly Bear Habitat.
Washing is a method of cleaning, usually with water and often some kind of soap or detergent. Washing both body and clothing in rainwater collected in a bucket is an essential part of good hygiene and health.
Coffee in the right, oatmeal in the left.
Mixed moist forest are the most common in this area. Prior to modern settlement, intervals between severe fires in mixed moist forest types were long, making the effects of fire exclusion in these forests most obvious. The exclusion of low and mixed severity fires over the past century has reduced landscape scale ecological diversity leaving these forest dominated by stands of similar size, age, denisty, species composition and structure. This more homogenous landscape is at higher risk to large, severe fires and less resilient to the expected effects of climate change.
At higher elevations mixed conifer forests give way to forests of Englemann spruce and subalpine fir. These species can also be common at low elevation flats where cold air accumulates. In the highest forests, subalpine fir and whitebark pine dominate.
The outhouse.
The outhouse view.
Historically, wildfire was a significant factor in the Selkirk landscape. Seral tree species that grow back in open conditions after disturbance are present in almost all areas indicating that most of the range has had a fire history. Serial species such as white pine and larch that can live for hundreds of years are present in the older forests, indicating that even those have been periodically renewed. The Selkirk Mountains are noted in fire circles for being the site of one of the worst wildfires in modern history. In 1967 the famous Sundance Fire started on the slopes east of Priest Lake and eventually made a 16 mile run towards the town of Bonners Ferry in the Purcell Trench. During the blow up, the fire burned at a rate of 100 acres per minute for over eight hours. Burning embers rained out of the sky across the Purcell Trench miles in front of the fire. When it was done, approximately 57,000 acres were charred. The burn area is still evident today extending from the lower slopes of Sundance Mountain, east across the Pack River canyon and over the southeast arm of the Selkirks near Roman Nose.
An exceptional fire pit.
The 360° unobstructed vista from Shorty Peak Lookout is exceptional, with views of Kootenai Valley, U.S. and Canadian Selkirks, Smith Creek and Cow Creek drainage areas, Red Top Mountain, and the higher Lone Tree Peak a mile to the west.
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The area contains a mix of moist, dry and subalpine forest types. Mixed moist forests are the most common. These forests are a mixture of conifer species (western red cedar, western hemlock, western larch, Douglas-fir, grand fir, western white pine, lodgepole pine, etc).
The most significant development in the Selkirk Mountains came around the turn of the century after the railroad arrived and allowed a means to transport timber out. Another significant, but short-lived event that shaped the Selkirk Mountains as we know them today was the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. Work camps were quickly established throughout the West, including the Selkirk Mountains. The work projects built by the program’s participants included hundred miles of trails and roads and many structures. Most of the trails used today were built by CCC workers during this time period.
Picking and eating Western Huckleberries is a delicious diversion from hiking, and an exhilarating opportunity to compete for resources with the estimated 30-65 Grizzly Bears cruising the area.
The southern end of the Selkirk Mountains is home to the only extant woodland caribou population in the contiguous United States. This area, some of it protected in Washington's Salmo-Priest Wilderness, is also home to mule deer and white-tailed deer, elk, black bears, cougars, bobcats, red fox, bald eagles, golden eagles, osprey, great blue heron, porcupine, badgers, coyote, martens, bighorn sheep, gray wolves and moose. Although rarely seen, grizzly bears are also known to roam through this region.
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