Pyromania

Three Fingers Lookout, Washington

Lookout

A lookout in Washington's Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest     Photo: Garrett Grove

The Northwest is home to some 300 fire lookouts, built between the 1920s and the 1940s, which offer views of thunder­ing river bottoms, razorback ridges, and horizons of old growth and glaciers. They make the lookouts of the East feel like nice little observation decks. They also make people do loopy things—Jack Kerouac famously lost his mind while manning Desolation Peak Lookout. The one that got me was Three Fingers. Located 60 miles northeast of Seattle, the one-room cabin stands atop a rock spire, its windows flush to 1,000-foot cliffs on three sides. My father and I first set off for Three Fingers in September 1993. After a roughly eight-mile approach, including an ascent through a drippy forest and a glacier traverse, the weather turned. We ended up bivouacked in a boulder field in a snowstorm. A year later we returned, this time with my mother. We ascended the last 100 feet of the obelisk via three wooden ladders and a fraying rope hanging from the front door. We hoisted ourselves hand over hand, the ladder creaking with Dad’s weight. When we reached the doorstep, we could see everything from Mount Rainier in the south to Mount Baker in the north. Dad whooped. Mom nearly cried, partly with joy and partly on account of the two pistol-toting strangers already in the structure. Me? I was hooked, and two years later I hired on to be a lookout at nearby Granite Mountain.

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