Life at Cyclone Peak lookout

Halle Safier at Cyclone Peak Lookout. Photo by Michael Gallacher

The Missoulian has an article about what it is like to staff the Cyclone Peak lookout tower in the Flathead National Forest in northern Montana. Here is an excerpt:

Cyclone Peak is aptly named.

On this bald, unprotected mountaintop four miles south of Polebridge, the wind whips and churns from all directions.

When it does, the peak’s high-rise fire lookout sways.

“When it’s really windy, I don’t go out on the catwalk,” explained Halle Safier, who is working this summer as a fire watcher for the first time. “You get used to it, and really, it’s kind of exciting when it really blows because it gets really loud in the lookout, the wind whistles in my stovepipe and the place comes alive.”

Safier’s summer home and office in the Cyclone Peak lookout tower is perhaps the most breathtaking place in the world to live and work.

Supported by a giant wood scaffolding, this postage-stamp-sized lookout some 50 feet above the ground takes 65 steps of ladder-like climbing to reach and offers what is truly a bird’s-eye view of Montana’s greatest treasure.

Safier sees it all from her unique vantage 6,000 feet above sea level as she conducts her primary lookout duties: collecting weather data, tracking lightning storms, and scanning the endless slopes and horizons for smoke and fire.

“I never get tired of looking at it,” Safier said. “I feel so fortunate to be able to live up here in this comfy little house in the sky.”

The wind, a visit from an occasional eagle, and daily radio conversations with Kalispell Dispatch and five other fire lookouts stationed nearby in the park, keep Safier company during her mostly solitary 10-day shifts.

A 12-volt radio, tuned to National Public Radio, allows her to keep pace with news of the world beyond the glass hut and its covered catwalk.

To fill the days when the fire danger is low, Safier attends to a long list of maintenance projects.

This season’s priority is digging post holes and building a tie rail for the mule teams that help bring in supplies at the start of the summer and when it is time to board up the lookout for the winter.

The place is in need of a fresh coat of paint, and so Safier is tackling that project as well.

In this relatively wet summer, there have been few fires to report.

“When we are busy with fire, we are really busy,” Safier said. “You are always on the radio, the cell phone is ringing, and you are always updating the coordinates. It can get a little wild.”

The U.S. Geological Survey on their web site has a virtual 360-degree tour of the view from Cyclone Peak Lookout. The photos were taken with infrared film in 1935.

Thanks Dick