My love of fire lookouts began in 2014 while living in the Methow Valley of North Central Washington State. During a low snow year with challenging skiing, I learned that Okanogan County has the highest number of fire lookouts still remaining in the State, and the Methow Valley Ranger District is home to eight of those. That winter I began “peakbagging” to some local fire lookouts and it didn’t take long for my ambitions to grow. In 2017, I began visiting lookouts across the state in earnest and on July 1, 2019, I climbed the ladder to the summit of Mount Pilchuck, becoming the 3rd person, and 1st woman, to complete the “Standing Lookouts of Washington” (aka SLOW) peakbagger list. You can read more about my journey and also check out my field guide to Washington State fire lookouts with lots of historical information and photos.
In 2020, I began partnering with the Methow Valley Ranger District to aid in the preservation of our local fire lookouts, founding the Methow Valley Forest Fire Lookout Association in 2022 with the help of the national Forest Fire Lookout Association and Methow Valley Ranger District.
Through my involvement in lookout preservation, I was offered the opportunity to staff and reopen Goat Peak for the 2021 fire season. I had no idea that merely a few days after opening, I would call in five fires and watch the Varden, Cedar Creek, and Cub Creek 2 fires take hold. After only 16 days of service I was evacuated, but I was hooked on the experience.
View of Varden fire from Goat, July 11, 2021.Goat Peak with Cedar and Varden fires, July 11, 2021.Final view of the Cub Creek 2 fire from Goat before evacuating for the season, July 17, 2021.
Staffing Goat Peak that 2021 fire season would change my life. During my first week, I enjoyed stunning sunrises and sunsets while engaging with hundreds of visitors who asked about fire lookouts and their history. I pointed out the mountains, drainages, and landmarks around them.
I knew I had found something extraordinarily special at Goat Peak, a place to engage all my senses. An intimate perch to watch the weather and nature all around us and to simply observe the beauty of it all while helping visitors do the same. A place where I could assist in relaying critical weather and fire information to wildland fire and backcountry crews in an area where mountains create communication challenges.
Photo: Jack McLeod. Watching the Cedar and Varden Creek fires in 2021 from Goat Peak.
I’ve always been an advocate for staffing fire lookouts, and this experience has convinced me even more that technology can never replace a person sitting high atop these historic structures. Fire lookouts are not only used for early fire detection, but also for communication as well as building a deeper connection to both the surrounding nature and the local community.
After a very short season in 2021 due to surrounding fires, I returned again to Goat Peak in 2022, reporting two fires and experiencing my first lookout lightning strike. I’m still here! My recent 2023 season was perhaps my busiest yet. I reported five fires and was a critical radio relay for recreation crews working in the Pasayten and fire crews staffing the Blue Lake fire.
August 31 9:00. Smoke plume from the Parks fire near the US/Canada border.September 8, 2022. Unbelievable smoky sunrise.September 13, 2022. Lightning activity over Delancy Ridge.August 18, 2023. Crater Creek Fire in BC from Goat Peak.September 14, 2023. Northern Lights from Goat Peak.September 15, 2023. Airplane Lake fire in Glacier Peak Wilderness.September 18, 2023. Northern Lights from Goat Peak.August 15, 2023. Crater and Gillanders Creek Fires in BC merging overnight.
Every season I’m overwhelmed by gratitude to see the central role Goat Peaks plays in the Methow Valley community. I hope to return again in the 2024 fire season to watch over the place I call home and the community and surrounding country that I’ve gotten to know more intimately than I ever imagined.