Montana Outdoors

October 30, 2016

KooKooSint trail

KooKooSint Ridge

The KooKooSint trail (USFS trail 445) starts about a mile north of the junction of the Thompson River road and Montana Highway 200 and makes its way up to the top of the western end of KooKooSint Ridge. In about two miles of hiking through eleven switchbacks on the primitive, rocky and rugged foot trail you climb about 2,000 feet to the ridge top from which this photo was taken looking to the east over the Clark Fork of the Columbia River. Somewhere near this point was where the Copper King fire started this past summer.


October 25, 2016

Inside the Copper King fire area ~ Part 3

After leaving the Big Hole Lookout, we hiked due west on the Bay State Creek trail (USFS trail 1268). The first two photos were taken of the trail in the first mile west of the lookout through what is still virgin timber that remains after the fire. The third was perhaps another half mile just before encountering the burn area of the fire where it crossed the ridge on its way north. There must have been a lot of retardant dropped along that edge of the fire, first noticeable when I saw my boot tracks turn red as they pressed the snow down into some of the remaining retardant.

Copper King fire 33

Copper King fire 34

Copper King fire 35

On one of the days in the early part of the fire the weather produced a very strong south wind that pushed the fire to the north across the ridge. Before seeing the area I had thought that we would encounter a huge burned area extending far to the west. Instead, there was a swath of no more than about a quarter of a mile wide that must have looked like a huge blow torch when he fire burned through. That wind may well have saved the lookout and a lot of devastation to the east of it because it must have pushed the fire through that swath so fast that it burned practically nothing on either side until it went over the ridge, sparing the forest on either side. The transition from untouched forest to completely burned timber was an area of only perhaps 30 yards. The next 7 photos were taken within that area.

Copper King fire 36

Copper King fire 37

Copper King fire 38

Copper King fire 39

Copper King fire 40

Copper King fire 41

Copper King fire 42

I took many more pictures as we walked through the burn, but they all looked the same. One last step in the severe part of the burn, then about ten more and suddenly we were in completely untouched timber again. The last two photos show the short transition from the burned area back to virgin forest to the west of it. At that point we had just enough time remaining to hike back to the trail head before dark. I still hope to be able to make one more trip up there before the deep snow comes just to hike a couple more miles to the west and see what the fire may have done that far west.

Copper King fire 43

Copper King fire 44

October 19, 2016

Big Hole Lookout

Big Hole Lookout 1

The Big Hole lookout sits on a peak a little southeast of Big Hole Peak at an elevation of 6,922 feet, having been built there to provide better visibility of the surrounding forest than would have been obtained from the peak itself. It is an L4 type cabin and has stood there since 1930. It has not been actively used since 1972, but it is an excellent example of the L4 type cabin.

The peak and lookout are on the northeastern corner of KooKooSint Ridge within the TeePee/Spring Creek roadless area in the Cabinet Mountains of northwest Montana and can be reached by USFS trail 368. It has long been appreciated by a whole lot of folks from the local area as well as many other visitors over the years. It has been under renovation for the past two summers and completion of the project was expected to be this past summer. However, that project was suddenly interrupted by the very close proximity of the Copper King fire which burned all of August and September and covered about 45 square miles of the forest just to the east and north of the lookout. When the fire broke out, a crew was sent up to wrap the cabin with fire resistant foil, but many people feared that it would still fall victim of the fire. I’m happy to say that it survived untouched by the fire and now will await the completion of its renovation (I assume to be) in the summer of 2017.

Big Hole Lookout 2

Big Hole Lookout 3

Big Hole Lookout 4

Big Hole Lookout 5

Big Hole Lookout 6

Big Hole Lookout 7

Big Hole Lookout 8

Big Hole Lookout 9

Big Hole Lookout 10

October 18, 2016

North-northeast of Big Hole lookout

Northeast of Big Hole

Photo was taken from the last part of the trail to Big Hole lookout

October 17, 2016

The other side of the ridge

Everyone sees the south side of the KooKooSint ridge: this is the north side.

North of KooKooSint

Photo taken looking north from the the Bay State Creek trail about a mile west of the Big Hole lookout

August 2, 2016

Copper King fire, western Montana

On Sunday, July 31 a wild fire started up at the west end of KooKooSint Ridge about 8 miles east of the small western Montana town of Thompson Falls at about 3:00 PM. In the first few hours it grew to 200 acres.

Meanwhile, a close friend was working with a contingent of volunteers on the restoration of the lookout cabin on Big Hole Peak which is located about three miles from the fire and directly down wind from it. At about 5:00 the restoration crew was evacuated from the lookout so my friend (who had hiked up to work in the morning) had the pleasure of another three mile hike back down to the staging area and return to the valley leaving most of his equipment behind.

On Monday morning the Forest Service sent a crew by helicopter up to the Big Hole Lookout to retrieve all of the equipment and wrap the cabin with fire resistant material. By then the fire had grown to 700 acres.  While we had nothing much else to do we decided to see if we could go get a good look at the fire, and made the drive up to the Eddy Peak lookout which is on the other side of the Clark Fork Valley about two miles due south of the fire. That lookout is manned and has a road up to about half a mile from the lookout itself. We arrived at the tower just in time to see an air tanker drop its entire load of retardant on the fire. I had barely enough time to change my camera to a telephoto lens before the retardant run began. It was a great opportunity for a few photos and a rare opportunity to photograph a big air tanker run from above. (The fire was at an elevation of about 5500 feet and the Eddy Peak lookout sits at about 7000 feet.) The photos of the tanker run were taken from the lookout tower.

The air tanker is a four engine jet I believe to be owned by Neptune Aviation in Missoula Montana and it’s a BAe 146 (#02) aircraft which carries a load of 3000 gallons of retardant (about twelve tons).

Photos from the base of the Eddy Peak lookout overlooking the Clark Fork Valley:

Clark Fork Valley from Eddy Peak

Clark Fork Valley from Eddy Peak

Clark Fork Valley from Eddy Peak

Clark Fork Valley from Eddy Peak

Copper King fire

Sequence of photos of the air tanker retardant run:

Copper King fire

Copper King fire

Copper King fire

Copper King fire


Copper King fire

Copper King fire

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