Last summer I had an experience I will never forget. No, it wasn’t death defying, altitude record-breaking, or a marathon pack trip. It was an encounter with a very unusual person. He goes by the name Lightning Bill and he ”lives” at the top of Goat Peak near Mazama, WA every summer. He is an artist, poet and photographer, but he is also the forest fire lookout for that peak. Along with his 2 dogs, he makes a weekly trip down the mountain to re-supply and touch base with friends and relatives for a few hours before heading back up to man his post as he has done for each of the last sixteen years. That’s right, day in and day out for 16 years, he has lived in the wilds, among the beauty of the tumultuous North Cascade mountains, spotting fires.

Lightning Bill
Mountain Meadow Panorama – Photo by Erika Klimecky

We hiked Goat Peak on the 4th of July. It was a busy day indeed for Lightning Bill, and he happily greeted each visitor and took their photo with his new digital camera. Once I had a look around, I walked the deck of the building in every direction, and studied the unfamiliar peaks revealed by the shifting clouds. The green quiet valley sits far below, and I followed the river with my eyes, trying to locate familiar buildings until the sharp cold wind, pulled tears across my cheeks. Snow was still plentiful along the last bit of the trail and the larch were still in the process of leafing out. All around, avalanche lilies and other early alpine flowers in pink, white and yellow drifted across the meadows between the snow patches and granite.

Lightning Bill
Goat Peak Lookout – Photo by Erika Klimecky

As I often do when I meet someone with an amazing and interesting life calling, I pummeled him with questions. How long, how many, how much… and the lightning questions. My imagination ran wild and I was transcended for a moment to being in his place during a storm, or a fire, or a most perfect of clear summer days.  The view all around, even on the mostly-cloudy day we were there, was spectacular, breathtaking and very well worth the 35 degree temps in July. My eyes rested on the Methow Valley below and the river and still-small settlements nestled within it. In every direction lay a fabulous mountain view of the east slopes of the North Cascades, and Lightning Bill can tell you with his eyes shut which is which.

Goat Peak sees 1500 visitors every year. This keeps Lightning Bill company, and he says one of the things he enjoys most about his job is meeting the people who come to visit. His firefighting history is long and deep, including helicopter and ground crew work as well as reforestation. While Bill is there, he spots on average 10 fires each summer. When I asked if the building had ever been hit by lightning, he said “Oh yeah, it happens every year.” Yes, really. Lest you think he is a complete anomaly, there are over 100 fire lookouts still standing in Washington and 30 of them are actively manned each summer, the height of forest fire season.

His pot-belly wood stove provides heat and a cooking surface and the 15 foot square L-4 timber lookout building holds his bed, camera, table, water cooler, books and treats for the visiting kids and dogs. There are stickers and emblems and certifications of fire lookout authority, and the building itself is on the National Historic Lookout Register.

Lightning Bill
Lightning Bill Answering all those questions

Lightning Bill gets asked a lot of questions. Does he get lonely? I asked what he does when he isn’t graciously greeting visitors. Is he bored up there sometimes? “No – there are so many natural highs and so much to learn like the country and such on Goat Peak there is no time for boredom.” He enjoys eating lots of fruits and veggies and the occasional treat of baked goods or ice cream, often toted up by visitors. His surroundings inspire him to be artistic. He writes poetry and makes art and photography. You can see some of his work here: www.lightningbill.org <- Website appears to be off line on or before 2-9-2013

Lightning Bill
Back down the path

Goat Peak is 15 miles NW of Winthrop WA. From June to October, 5 to 6 days a week you can find Lightning Bill up at the Lookout. This coming summer will be his 17th at Goat Peak and his 21st working with fire lookouts. If you go, say hi for me.

Lightning Bill

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply