In 1943 the Packwood district forest service, located just south of Mt Rainier National Park, assigned their first lady lookout to Tatoosh Ridge. A Seattle school teacher named Martha Hardy spent that summer in the lookout watching for fires, keeping the lookout fixed up and tidy and befriending a ground squirrel. Back then they couldn’t leave the lookout without permission for the entire summer. She asked to go run a new telephone wire to the pole outside so that she could frolic in the avalanche lilies just a little bit. She wrote a book about her summer as a lookout and doesn’t shy away from sharing her fears, mistakes and loneliness during her time on Tatoosh. In fact, the first fire that she called in ended up being just a waterfall. She was horrified, but she eventually became friendly with the receptionists and the forest service men below and her mistake turned into a cherished and funny memory.
“Without my willing it or knowing how it came about, I was a rock with the rocks, a bee with the bees, a flower with the flowers. My ears drank in the murmur of the wind, my skin the sunshine, my eyes the flutter of a small blue butterfly over a mat of lavender phlox. I was part of all I saw and heard and felt.” – Martha Hardy
So naturally, after reading about this spunky local trailblazer, I had to go follow in her footsteps. I enlisted a hiking buddy and last weekend we headed to Tatoosh. The lookout itself is long gone and the trail is listed as “endangered” in the hiking guide book with little foot traffic these days. We knew the road was washed out before the trailhead too so we were ready for a bit of an adventurous day. We parked at the washout, headed up the last bit of road and found the trail abruptly rising through the forest. We strangely but happily snacked on ripened huckleberries and blueberries along the trail, which is usually a late August luxury, and finally broke out into the high meadows. Radiant fireweed painted the hillsides a deep magenta and we stopped to marvel at the variety of wildflowers on the trail although they were a bit past their prime already.
Once we were high on the ridge we started looking for a trail heading up to our left and found one after a short time. We made a last push on a fading trail to the summit on a small landing overlooking Tatoosh Lakes below. We were blown away by the views of Mt Rainier. I wandered around looking for any traces of the lookout (their weren’t any) and we celebrated with some gingerbread that I made in honor of Martha Hardy. When she had guests at the lookout she would get so excited that she would cook a massive amount of food for them like spaghetti and meatballs, chicken soup, biscuits and gingerbread. I found an old war time recipe that I thought may be similar to what she made. It was pretty good, but we made a list of ingredients that we thought would make it better like dried fruit, raisins and chunks of ginger. After a long time imagining what it would have been like spending every day right at this spot we got out the map to identify the surrounding peaks. Then we figured out we were on the wrong mountain.
In retrospect it was quite obvious that we were in the wrong place. The first thing I said at the top was, “huh, I wonder why they didn’t put the lookout on that bigger ridge over there,” while pointing to the actual lookout spot. And my trail buddy was wondering why we couldn’t see the smaller lakes we knew were below the lookout site. Also, it didn’t seem like we hiked far enough to be there already. After a closer look at the map we determined we had about another mile and a half to go. We laughed in disbelief and then decided to go for it the rest of the way over to the real lookout site. We hustled along the mostly flat trail while I kept exclaiming, “After all that, I can’t believe we went to the wrong mountain! Ahh!” The tread worsened along the steep ridge and after we turned a corner we found we were still pretty far away and significantly lower than the top of the ridge. We checked our water and energy levels and decided both were pretty low. We reluctantly decided to save it for another time. I was sad that my master plan was thwarted but as we hiked down the steep trail we came up with a plan for an improved return trip. We would come back when the wildflowers are in full bloom and with a new and enhanced version of gingerbread.
After what seemed like forever we were back at the car. On the way home we talked about how beautiful the little-used trail was and we were already looking forward to returning. We now knew what we were getting into and would not make the same mistake again. But like Martha mistaking a waterfall for a wildfire, our misguided effort turned into a great story, one that we will not soon forget. It was still an incredible hike and I will just have to dream about Martha Hardy’s little slice of paradise for another year. Next summer I’ll re-read the book while perfecting my gingerbread recipe in anticipation. And sometimes the anticipation is the best part.
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup molasses
1 cup boiling water
1. Sift flour, measure; sift again with baking soda, salt and spices.
2. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, vegetable oil and molasses; add boiling water; stir until well mixed. Add dry ingredients gradually, beating well after each addition.
3. Add well-beaten eggs.
4. Bake in well-greased 8 x 8 square pan at 350˚F for 40 minutes or until gingerbread is done.
Bonus Camp Read!
Tatoosh by Martha Hardy
Martha Hardy’s writing really makes you feel like you are there on the lookout back in 1943. This book is so different from the lookout accounts I featured in the Camp Reads: Lookout Edition. Being a lookout in the 1940’2 was hard work. She was one tough lady to do what she did back then, but she didn’t think that she was different than her male counterparts and just did her best to perform her duties. Her story is funny, real and incredibly entertaining. It now has a special place on my bookshelf.
Car Camp, Day Hike or Backpack? Backpack
My old worn used copy of the book was so close to spending time at it’s origin place! I suppose it will have to get a little more worn before it makes it the whole trip and I wouldn’t have it any other way… Find your own copy, which is admittingly a little difficult, and follow in her footsteps to the old lookout site.