A Day at the Mt. Tam Fire Lookout
November 4, 2012 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Gary Yost is a volunteer fire spotter at the Mount Tamalpais fire lookout. He made a beautiful video of "a day in the life" which has gone viral--somehow didn't make it to Metafilter yet.
posted by agatha_magatha (28 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Beautiful timelapse footage of the SF Bay Area from high above Marin. What's not to like?
posted by pkingdesign at 10:07 PM on November 4, 2012

Wow, thank you, agatha_magatha. I live in Marin and missed this. Mt. Tam is a special, beautiful place.
posted by imalaowai at 10:11 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

In 2011 my boyfriend and I hiked up to the top of Mt. Tam from the watershed to watch fireworks on the 4th. It was about 7 miles each way. We thought it was going to be awesome and secluded and all of that good stuff. It was most of that. Except we didn't realize that there was a road to the top that you could just drive up (I was a hiker who lived in SF without a car, he had only cycled there or hiked with me). So it *was* completely awe-inspiring, seeing all of the bay and so many different fireworks displays from different cities (somewhere around 13 or 14 I think?)...while being surrounded by drunken teenagers. And then hiking back down in the pitch black and going to work the next morning (work being Alcatraz, thanks to which I had spent the previous 3 years watching fireworks from the deck of the USS Pampanito. The Bay Area is totally bizarre).

I now work for State Parks in the same district as Tam. I am completely awed and sort of ashamed that I get paid to do what I do yet this guy is a volunteer.

I took my mom out to Tam last week when she was here visiting. It was so clear that we could see the Farallones, and since I have a small life dream to someday step foot on them, it was an great extra treat while being at an already amazing place.

Mt. Tam is seriously fantastic.
posted by primalux at 10:31 PM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

That was stunning. Amazing editing, amazing timelapse. Perfect score by The Cinematic Orchestra.
posted by gen at 10:33 PM on November 4, 2012

Suddenly I no longer feel so bad for Ranger Gord. (But perhaps the view of Possum Lodge doesn't quite compare).
posted by ~Bert at 10:37 PM on November 4, 2012

When I was a youth, my father was the Scoutmaster of the local troop, and we went on sunrise hikes up Tamalpais a number of times.

It was kind of rough; you had to wake up at something like 2 or 3 in the morning, and then drive out there, park, and then climb up the mountain in the dark. The first time we did it, my father hadn't done it in over twenty years, and we got a little lost trying to find the fire road up the mountain, and ended up scrambling up a steep hill for several hundred yards until we found it. (it actually joined the parking area to our left, and then bent sharply right, and climbed steadily upward.) So we caught it on that first straight segment. It was pitch dark, so we didn't know any of that until we got back.

It's a fair hike to the peak, I think about five miles? Maybe? I'm honestly not sure anymore. It's much easier than you would think, because it's a nice dirt road, one that cars aren't allowed to travel on. The gradient is never that bad, and it's wide, safe, and easy to navigate by just starlight.

So you walk and walk and walk, it just goes on and on, and eventually, you run out of road, and there's another tiny parking area for a couple of cars, and I think maybe an outhouse (I'm not sure, it's been twenty years now for me too!) and then a skinny trail wending into the rocks. You'd follow the trail for, um, maybe a couple of hundred yards, and eventually, you got to a really large, overhanging rock that was just wonderful for sitting on, quite near the peak. If you were adventurous (and we youngsters always were), there was another rock even higher up, another forty or fifty feet, that gave even a slightly better view, but it was a bit of a scramble, so the adults usually didn't bother with that last little bit.

Every time we got there, it was foggy. Sometimes the peak itself was enshrouded, sometimes the fog didn't quite get all the way up. You could never see a darn thing. The first time we went up, we were all really disappointed, because we thought we wouldn't see the sunrise.

Well, Mother Nature seems determined to give you a great view of the sunrise from Tamalpais, because every single time we went, somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes before the sun rose, the fog would blow away. Often, it would blow away all the way down into the deep valleys. I never did really figure out what happened to it... it just blew away into nothing. Every time we went, it looked like it was going to suck, and every single time, it cleared up like magic and was spectacular.

That video captures the feel of the place well, but I think the closeups of traffic and the Golden Gate might be through a telescope, because we certainly couldn't see anything of the sort. We might have been on the wrong peak of the mountain, though, or facing the wrong way. Regardless, it is bloody incredible to first watch all the teeny tiny city lights, and then watch the light sweep across the ground, and whole banks of streetlights start to turn themselves off automatically. It's absolutely magical -- thinking about it now, I'm reminded of the feeling you get when watching those Miniatur Wunderland videos from Germany. Only, better, because it's real. It's a view as good you get from many airplanes, but you can sit there, looking at the same thing for as long as it interests you, not captive to the plane's fast movement.

Eventually, once the sun was well up, we'd hike back down. The trail and road would seem totally different when we could actually see more than the road itself. And, of course, it was gently downhill the whole way, so it was super easy, even with tired legs from the climb. And once we got all the way back to the parking lot, we'd have a huge pancake breakfast, and eventually pack up and head for home.

After that first hike's confusion, we looked at where we'd climbed up instead of taking the road, and we couldn't believe how steep it was. It started out not too bad, but the darn thing got to probably a 70 degree angle, and we could have gotten really hurt if anyone had fallen. It was a poor enough path choice that it was actually dangerous. We'd never, ever have tried that if we could see what we were getting into.... but in the middle of it, it really didn't seem that bad. It was work, but it wasn't that hard, and when we got back we were just curious about it. Once we could see it, well, then we got kind of scared. ("We climbed THAT? Oh, god.")

All we had to do was go a few hundred yards to our left, and we could have followed the road the whole way up. But it was dead dark when we first got there, so we didn't realize the fire road hooked into the parking lot.

If you live in that area, you should go. It's one of my strongest memories of the outdoors in my youth. Watching the sun rise from Mount Tamalpais takes some effort and planning, but it's an experience like no other.
posted by Malor at 10:42 PM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

Fire lookouts are special places. The necessity of panoramic views means they are almost always located in places with incredible scenery. Every lookout I've been to has been worth the trip just for the view.

Growing up near Mt. Rainier meant that there was no shortage of amazing Cascade hikes within easy driving distance, but the hike up to High Rock Lookout was the one we did the most. It's not too difficult but it's steep enough that taking friends who never did much hiking gave them a genuine sense of achievement when they got to to the top, and it never got old no matter how many times I went up. There are even awesome snow fields if you go in the Spring. There are really no words to describe the feeling of emerging from the trees at the top of the rock on a hot day after sweating for an hour and being simultaneously treated to these views and the cool breeze at that altitude.

As a side note, High Rock was also the site of my worst hiking experience ever. My family went in early August, and as we later learned from the (gone for supplies) lookout's logbook we were lucky enough to come for the 1-2 days every year where all the flies were swarming. The entire trip up we were covered by flies attracted to the sweat that we quickly gave up brushing away, and I was lucky enough to get my first horse fly bite (and seriously, FUCK THAT).
posted by edeezy at 10:42 PM on November 4, 2012

This is beautiful. When I visited a friend in Marin County, she told me that some of her best memories growing up were of riding her horse on Mount Tam.
posted by Anitanola at 10:44 PM on November 4, 2012

They missed the part where he punches in, and says, "mornin' Ralph".

Seriously though, I couldn't figure out the shift, or why he never passed another guy relieving him, or being relieved by him.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 11:24 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

So on Friday I politely listened to a guy whine about how California was too expensive and taxes were too high so he was moving his family and business to Austin, TX. Inside I shuddered. What price for a perfect climate? What price for a place like this? There is none. I rejoice every day that I live is such a place. Wealth beyond counting.
posted by Long Way To Go at 11:36 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I couldn't figure out the shift, or why he never passed another guy relieving him, or being relieved by him.

There may not be a continuous shift- as it is staffed by volunteers.
posted by gen at 11:57 PM on November 4, 2012

Which, if true, would be another mystery: If they need someone up there at all, how can it not be every day (in season)?

(damn why can't I just watch things to enjoy them)
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 12:30 AM on November 5, 2012

"I now work for State Parks in the same district as Tam. I am completely awed and sort of ashamed that I get paid to do what I do yet this guy is a volunteer."

Please don't be, it won't stop me from being jealous, but work in State Parks is important and we absolutely owe you a living wage for it.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:15 AM on November 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

If they need someone up there at all, how can it not be every day (in season)?

Because not all needs are met. Towers go in and out of service according to budget availability all the time. It has zero to do with how much the tower is needed and everything to do with whether its upkeep and access can be paid for.

Additionally, you will note that Yost slept through part of his shift in provided quarters, so I'm assuming it's a 12 or 24 hour shift. With sleeping, that still isn't actually going to give you continuous coverage. That isn't even a achievable goal.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:41 AM on November 5, 2012

I've been running a giant novelty clocktower built to advertise a tranquilizer-laden hangover cure for a bit more than three years, and since it rises over the landscape of Baltimore, the view is not what this view is, yet, before my itchy feet send me off to my next career, I'd love to do something like this to capture some of what it's been like working in the grey cathedral of the clockworks or sweeping up bird heads from the rooftops to keep my scuppers clear.

The sunsets are impossible, the lights from below at night are magic, and the clockworks pick up speed as your monkey mind settles down and the whole majestic pace of the world draws you back to the speed of life unfolding.

I went from cubicle farming to building things to keeping the American Visionary Art Museum running just right to running the clocktower that my grandmother used to point out to me from the street below, explaining that the blue up top came from the bluebird of happiness, who lived there.

I have ruined myself for normal work.

I will almost certainly die alone and early, broke from working nothing but careers that served the soul rather than the pocketbook, and increasingly isolated from the habit of finding places like this to count out the hours. I'm not sure it's been a mistake, though.
posted by sonascope at 5:22 AM on November 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

Beautiful. Reminds me of the film - life in a day. If you haven't seen that film I really recommend it.
posted by sw1205 at 5:25 AM on November 5, 2012

HE also founded the company that made 3ds max for Autodesk as well as did work for Atari in the 80's.

Go Gary!
posted by Lord_Pall at 6:30 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tamalpais High (At About 3), David Crosby
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 6:40 AM on November 5, 2012

Aw jeez, I've wanted to spend a summer doing this ever since I read about it as a teenager in the Dharma Bums.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:28 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fantastic. Awe inspiring. Loved it.

The only thing missing. Where was the pile of wood... so he could light it to warn King Théoden and the Rohirrim in case of war?
posted by greenhornet at 7:54 AM on November 5, 2012

Beautiful timelapse video! In case anyone else was wondering, the device he was looking through is a fire finder.
posted by various at 7:58 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having spent 20 years of my life in the shadow of Mt. Tam, I feel like a little secret has been spoiled. But not really -- Mt. Tam and the area around it are stunningly beautiful, and I urge anyone who is able to visit to do so.
posted by allseeingabstract at 8:23 AM on November 5, 2012

This is Gary Yost of The Yost Group fame, and the "father" of 3D Max. I imagine he can volunteer to his heart's content.
posted by bz at 9:43 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I could watch videos of fog pouring over the hills all day long. Thanks for the post.
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on November 5, 2012

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout won this years National Outdoor Book Award. I read it and it's good in a literary way and what it's like to work on a tower in one of the most remote places in the lower 48, Gila National Forest. Sadly in June 2012, Gila saw the largest wildfire in New Mexico history.
posted by stbalbach at 11:38 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Beautiful film, beautiful area. Everytime I visit the Bay Area I try to get out on the trails of Mt Tamalpais. A bit of heaven on Earth.
posted by Rashomon at 12:43 PM on November 5, 2012

--somehow didn't make it to Metafilter yet.

Thank you or rectifying that.
posted by homunculus at 2:54 PM on November 5, 2012

Via Laughing Squid today: Flawed Symmetry of Prediction
posted by homunculus at 2:54 PM on November 5, 2012

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