Fire lookout towers remain a part of the Park’s landscape in one way or another. Lookout towers are not only important for fighting fire, but also a meaningful contribution to the history of Glacier. At one time there were seventeen active lookout towers within park boundaries. Today, nine stand and four remain active. Heaven’s Peak Lookout is no longer active but stands strongly on its foundation.
Some friends planned a trip to Heaven’s Peak Lookout and asked me to join. The trek would be challenging, it climbs over 3600’ in about three non-trail miles. Despite the challenge, I was excited for the opportunity to experience this bit of Park history where it stands.
Photo courtesy of: Flathead Living
As we headed down the well-beaten path, I felt confident. My legs felt good, the scenery was spectacular and the weather was perfect. The forecast projected a high of 81 in the valley and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The crisp fall air gave the forest a renewed energy. The foliage on the thimbleberry and snowberry was beginning to turn yellow and the huckleberry bushes had already turned a deep burgundy. The color palette was ideal for a scenic walk in the park.
After three miles, the route crosses a creek and turns off the trail. The area we were about to enter is in the Trail Creek Fire perimeter. Trail Creek fire occurred in 2003, arguably the most significant fire year in Glacier Park to date. Our route was densely covered in alder, fools huckleberry, thimbleberry, devil’s club, and downed trees, lots of downed trees. The downed trees are charred black from the fire with branches sticking out everywhere.
Each step past the first hour became excruciatingly harder and harder. My footsteps became heavy as I climbed over log after log. Eventually, my legs became so tired that I began to lift them up by grabbing one with a free hand and tossing it over.
In need of a rest, we found a lunch spot, peeled off our shoes and socks that were now full of leaves, sticks, and rocks. We lunched for longer than we should have but after lunch we found a creek bed that had dried up and was brush free! Moving quickly now, we reached the top of the creek bed and broke into the open. A boulder field lay out before us.
The stromatolite covered rock was no obstacle to us. The fossil creates a razor sharp layer providing a rough surface, perfect for gripping onto. Even at a steep angle, the stromatolite provided sturdy footing.
We climbed quickly up and out of the boulder field and the lookout began to seem attainable. From our vantage point, it looked like a quick jaunt across a gently sloped meadow and a scramble up to the door. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as that, but it could have been worse.
Finally, we had made it! The lookout stands towering above Glacier National Park like a castle above its kingdom. The 360 degree view is worth the pain of the journey.
The pack trail was used to resupply the lookout. This is also how building supplies were delivered in 1945. The trail is so steep, it’s a wonder horses, mules, and packers were able to bring anything up it at all. Stock packstrings are still the most common way supplies are delivered to lookouts in the Park today.
An ironclad catwalk and foundation of rock protects the lookout from falling off the cliffs to the valley below. The lookout is completely boarded up but a visitors log hangs from the doorway. The log shows evidence of visitation and talks about the recent restoration project.
Photo Courtesy: Gary Ludwig(left),Kyle Stetler(right)
Before 2012, the lookout was barely standing, now it stands proudly with a roof and four functioning walls. The restoration project was funded by the Glacier fund, the Mennonite community, and other private donors.Interestingly, the crew who provided most of the labor for the restoration are relatives of the original group who constructed the lookout seventy years ago. Their work is solid and the lookout is beautiful.
As my friends and I took in the beauty that the lookout provides, we didn’t talk a lot. I think in part because we knew we still had a big day ahead of us, but also because we were paying the moment respect. The wall’s on this remote structure hold both the history of those who staffed it and the hard labor of the family that built it seventy years apart. I felt both inspired and emotional.