Friday, July 21, 2017

Back in a Fire Lookout!

For the previous four summers, I have worked with Alberta Forestry in a variety of capacities, including air tanker base, fire camp manager, detection aid, and lookout observer.  I spent time at Fort McMurray for the big fire last spring, as well as lookout time in the Lac la Biche, Slave Lake, Peace River, and Grand Prairie areas.  But all this employment was cutting into my free time and I was getting a bit bored being in the fire camp most of the time, so I decided to turn down their recall offer this spring.  I did tell them that I would be willing to help out if they were really short-handed, but was pretty sure my time with them was done.  So I was quite surprised to arrive home after my latest road trip and within 24 hrs, get a call requesting me to show up for work on Monday morning!

Since I hadn’t yet planned my next trip, I agreed to go for a week.  By Monday morning, I was once again a Forestry employee and Hailey and I were catching a ride up to a scenic mountain-top lookout.  This one is road accessible most of the year, so Hailey did not increase her helicopter count past 8.

Lots of smoke coming into the area from the big fires in BC, so visibility is somewhat reduced.  Of course, sometimes the clouds are right down on the deck (literally), and you can’t see more than 50 feet.

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Those mornings, once the weather readings are out of the way, its time to pour another coffee, kick back and read another chapter or two.



We’ve worked at this lookout a couple of times in the past, so Hailey has some friends that come by to say hello.



It’s a popular spot for communications towers too.  There are at least a half dozen other installations to share the mountain top.



On nice days, with high hazard there is a lot of time spent enjoying the scenery while watching for smoke.


Between naps, Hailey comes out for a look as well.


The mountain top is a popular destination for both ATV’s and hikers.


Sometimes, you are pressed into public relations service as a lookout tour guide.



Downtown Nordegg, as viewed with telephoto from the lookout.IMG_3005

One of the neighbouring lookouts is on the mountain in the centre of the photo below.IMG_3004IMG_3003IMG_2987IMG_2986

Now that I am officially an ‘employee’ again, I may have other opportunities to travel around the province if there are other vacancies.  If not, Hailey and I will be happy to enjoy the time traveling on our own dime!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and back home to Alberta.

My last blog post was a bit rushed, as I hurried to unpack, and re-pack for my next adventure.  As a result, a lot of photos and commentary were skipped over.  Now I have plenty of time, so will attempt to get caught up a little bit!

More photos from Twin Falls Lodge that missed the last post … it seems that I missed any photos of the new cabins!


Hailey and I had just caught us a boat ride from Twin Falls Lodge back to Stanley Mission.  From there we headed south past La Ronge when we came to a junction with highway #165.  After pondering the map for a while and flipping a few coins, it was decided to take this 97km shortcut across to join up with highway #106 (Hansen Lake Road).  Originally from Saskatchewan, I guess I have been spoiled by living in Alberta for a long time, where a much higher percentage of the roads (and all highways?) are paved.   So off we headed down this ‘highway’ trying to convince ourselves to keep going in spite of the ruts, potholes, and rough spots.  Now, there is nothing wrong with a properly maintained gravel road – except perhaps dust, but the key word is ‘maintained’.  This road is on the provincial map, but clearly not on the maintenance schedule. There were three or four brand new bridges along the way, each with a 100 feet of pavement.  After a while, you feel committed, not wanting to endure the road already behind you again, so you push on, hoping for better.


There were a couple of grouse along the road that acted like they had never seen a vehicle before and perhaps that should have been a warning!  There was also a pair of Sandhill Cranes with the same reaction.


I think they hire out of work comedians to work for the highways department.  Many of the curves had ‘advisory’ speed limits of 60km/hr posted.  Since I was often only doing about 40km/hr, I found it tough to speed up enough for the corners!  In the entire 97km (60 mile) section of road, I met only two other vehicles, so I guess the word is out.

I don’t think I’d ever driven the entire Hansen Lake road before, or if I had, it was decades ago, so we put Flin Flon, Manitoba into the GPS and headed north-east again on the thankfully paved road.

Upon approach to the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border at Creighton/Flin Flon, we could see the smoke stack of the big mine/smelter (?) there.  It brought back memories of a summer long ago when I was working out in the bush and various lakes in the area.  We never got out of the bush for the entire summer – courtesy of the Govt. of Sask – but every week or so we would get up in a float plane to change locations, and sight of the distant smokestack proved to us that ‘civilization’ still existed out there somewhere!

After perusing the border towns for a bit, we headed south in Manitoba towards The Pas.  There are some beautiful and popular lakes along that drive – in the Canadian shield – which means lots of rock outcrops and islands.  Stopping for fuel in The Pas was another ‘first’ for me. I was asked if I had a ‘treaty card’!  Status Indians get cheaper fuel, but unfortunately, I don’t have a treaty card ;-(  I guess it’s similar to getting asked for ID when purchasing liquor in some US stores.  ‘Everyone’ gets asked, no matter how ancient they may look Winking smile.

I suspected that my good neighbour at home would be stuck cutting my grass at home yet again if I didn’t make an appearance, so from The Pas we headed back for the Saskatchewan border.  It was no big surprise, but the pavement ended abruptly at the border …

This road was in much the same condition as the other one described above, so I decided that the prudent course of action would be to start a GoFundMe page to purchase a road grader for the province of Saskatchewan. 

It was either that, or send them some reviews of the cutting edge technology being tested all over the rest of the world – called PAVEMENT!  

The road was rough enough that previous accumulated dirt had begun to chip off the sides of my truck.


Well imagine my surprise at what I encountered next!


Not just one grader coming at me, but BOTH Saskatchewan graders were smoothing the road – just for me.  What an honour.  I felt special. 


That feeling might have lasted, had I continued on south to Hudson Bay (the town), but I turned off towards Nipawin, and was soon back to complaining about the road again.  

Luckily, those out of work comedians were at it again.  There was a short construction zone in the middle of nowhere and the speed signs said the limit was 50km/hr, and that fines were tripled in that area.  I was doing about 40 again, and would bet dollars to doughnuts that the last RCMP to patrol this road would have been years ago?

Getting to the Shoal Lake junction I was thrilled to see that Sask Highways apparently had a ‘test section’ where they were testing some of that new-fangled pavement stuff.  To increase coverage, it was spread very thin, so you can imagine how well it was standing up.  Then I came across this joker sign!!  NINE km?  You don’t know how tempting it was to get some black tape and alter that sign to read something like 399 instead of 9!  Not sure why the sign was put up here, the road was bad both sides of the proclaimed zone.  And if I slowed down anymore, I’d be stopped!


Then I overtook a couple of highway workers with a small truck filled with ‘cold mix’, and with a shovel, randomly filling the occasional small hole in the pavement.  I’m not sure if they were amused when I suggested politely, if they had time that afternoon, that they could pave the entire road back to Manitoba!

After a short visit with a friend at Candle Lake, it was back to Prince Albert National Park to re-group for a bit.


There was time and nice weather to inflate the kayak and go for short paddle, and a swim at a secluded beach.


A nice bull elk checked us out, then later hit the beach and waded at least a half mile down the shoreline either trying to stay cool or avoiding deadfall or swamps onshore.


The fox was also back, checking out the beach area for snacks.  He was digging something out of the sand, but I don’t know if was human garbage or natural fare?



After the beach time at Waskesiu, we headed home, but not before the good neighbour had cut my 2 acres of grass, not once, but twice!  I fired up the mower for a bit when we got home, but there wasn’t much left to cut Winking smile.  We had been home for less than 24hrs, when a call came from Alberta Forestry, which caused the rushed departure.  Even though I had turned down my recall this spring to work for them, they requested that I come back for at least a short while, and fill in at one of the mountain-top fire lookouts.  So, we unpacked, did laundry, packed up our gear, cat food, cat toys, and headed for the mountains!  But I guess that’ll have to be the next post!