Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Buck Rock Lookout

This past week I was privileged to get to stay overnight and ’staff’
Buck Rock Lookout, perched on a high granite dome at 8,500 ft. elevation
in Sequoia National Forest. I had a brief visit with Kathy Ball, who has
staffed the lookout since 1997 and is President of the Buck Rock
Foundation, an organization devoted to the preservation of fire lookouts
and their historical heritage, and providing the public with educational
The Hi Mtn. Lookout Project seems to work well within these foundation’s
goals. Visit the Buck Rock Foundations website, with photos and more
information about the lookout, at:
Just as I arrived in the early evening for my first time visit to Buck
Rock, after driving through Sequoia NP earlier in the day, Kathy was
unfortunately locking everything up and on her way home, because of a
dentist appointment the next morning. She made the nice offer to allow
me to occupy the lookout by myself, instead of camping out that night at
a local Forest Service campground as I had originally intended. I
climbed the 172 steps on the stairway clinging to the nearly vertical
escarpment, reaching the lookout catwalk just in time to take sunset
photos. The lookout is perched precariously on a granite pinnacle at
8,500 ft. elevation., with nearly vertical rock walls falling away on
all sides just a few feet from the lookout platform, and a dark green
canopy of montane coniferous forest lying hundreds of feet below. The
spectacular views include the High Sierra backcountry of Kings Canyon
and Sequoia National Parks, peaks of the Great Western Divide,
surrounding canyons and slopes down to the lower foothills, and across
the Central Valley the outline of the Coast Range in the far distance.
After dark, the city lights of the San Joaquin Valley glowed from Fresno
to Visalia. Mars rose in brilliance (as it is now approaching its
closest distance to earth in perhaps the last 60,000 years!) and a
quarter moon rose near midnight over the Sierran crest, nearly as bright
orange as Mars due to all the smoke from a large fire burning in the
mountainous wilderness to the east. Meteors streaked across the starry
night sky, and distant lightning flashes lit the sky to the north.
Scampering around the lookout- once bumping into my shoe on the catwalk,
then turning tail and running away- was a bushytail woodrat ( a “life”
species for me). It occurred to me I should go and close the lookout
door in case the large rodent got inside and started gnawing and
creating a commotion indoors all night long. Just minutes later Kathy
called me on the phone to tell me she forgot to tell me earlier about
the woodrat which would come inside if I didn’t keep the door shut!
I was awake the next morning to see the rising sun break the crest of
the Sierras. Visitors that morning included a young couple who live in
Guam, and some mountain bikers, all huffing and puffing their way up the
stairway. A visitor of note in September 2001 was Huell Howser, who
interviewed Kathy Ball and produced a 30 minute episode on Buck Rock
Lookout for his “California Gold” PBS television series.
That morning, before departing for a drive and a hike in the forest
among a Giant Sequoia grove, I studied the maps and practiced getting
compass bearings on geographical features through the sightings of the
fire finder. This is the original fire finder still in use since the
lookout was constructed in 1923. All in all, it was quite an experience
and privilege to get to occupy Buck Rock Lookout!
Kathy Ball has recently put in a lot of time and effort researching Hi
Mtn. Lookout and wrote up the nomination to list Hi Mountain Lookout
under the Forest Fire Lookout Association’s National Lookout Registry.
Kathy has been very supportive of the Hi Mtn. project and continues to
provide important advice and useful information from the perspective of
someone who has years of experience preserving and staffing an historic
fire lookout. Kathy also put us in touch with a forest service
contractor who has worked at Buck Rock and several other Sierra
lookouts, and is scheduling a lightning and safety consultation at Hi
Mtn. Lookout. We will be contracting his labor to get the much needed
work done soon
These connections between Buck Rock and Hi Mountain lookouts spans the
distance from the Sierra Nevada to the Coast Range, in our mutual
efforts to preserve, staff and use our historic fire lookouts in both
traditional and new innovative ways.
Steve Schubert
Volunteer Coordinator, Hi Mountain Condor Lookout Project