The Mountain Goat Gallery

Summer on Mt. Sheridan in 1959

Posted by Jim Steele on October 8th, 2012 filed in Yellowstone National Park

Occasionally people reach out to me with some personal experiences after reading one of my articles. Earlier this summer I got an email from Erling Brendalen, who spent a summer on top of Mt. Sheridan more than 50 years ago and saw this article about the long trip to the summit. Receiving his email was a treat! He gave me permission to post it on The Mountain Goat.


I spent the summer of 1959 as a fire lookout on Mt. Sheridan. In mid-June with my packer and a pack mule and astride two horses we made the trip up to the lookout cabin plowing through a snow bank before the trail switched to the south side of the ridge. We made the trip straight from the trail head near Lewis Lake. In 1959 there were four manned lookouts in Yellowstone: Mt. Holmes, Mt. Washburn, Mt. Sheridan and Old Faithful along with a few unmanned lookouts that became manned for the times when the fire danger became very great; they were not manned that summer. I have noticed that no mention of the Old Faithful lookout is made at the present time. Maybe it burned down during the summer that fires almost engulfed Old Faithful Inn.

Contrary to what you might think, being a lookout on Mt. Sheridan or Mt. Holmes was not a romantic endeavor. There was intense boredom. The views were fantastic, especially the Tetons, but I remember times when I thought that an hour had passed and looking at the clock only 10 minutes had. We had a telephone and a Motorola two-way radio that had only a reach of 5 miles. I also had to operate a weather station, of which the small white building is most likely missing. I called weather reports into Mammoth Hot Springs every morning. I would guess I called in five fires. I saw a DC-3 drop smoke jumpers on one of them. The packer by the name of Dave brought me food and mail once a week, by the means of a horse and faithful mule. Oddly the horses walked close to the mountain side of the trail and the mule walked on the cliff side of the trail. I guess that was a learned response from hitting the pack on the trees on the mountain side.

Lighting was Coleman lanterns and we had a wood stove for cooking. Water came from a permanent snow bank. The altitude precluded cooking potatoes.

There was excitement in the middle of August when the Hebgen earthquake occurred. It happened in the middle of the night and shortly after I received a phone call from headquarters to find out if I had slid into the valley below or was still on top of the mountain. I felt a shock the next day and slept uneasy the rest of the summer.

I left at the end of August to enter my junior year of college.

I enjoyed your article in The Mountain Goat. I was excited to see pictures of where I spent my summer, but was disappointed to learn that there were no longer any stationed lookouts.

Thanks again!

Skidmore, TX

Erling Brendalen

I emailed Erling back to ask for permission to post his email and to ask what had brought him to Yellowstone. Here was his answer:

What brought me to Yellowstone from Clearbrook, Minnesota, was that I was putting myself through college and needed the money. I worked there two years, 1958 and 1959, the first summer as a fire guard and the second as a fire lookout. I had a GS rating of something like three. In 1958 we had to repair the telephone wire from Snake River Ranger Station to Bechler Ranger Station. In those days they had a 1930s telephone system some places in the park. A single wire was strung from tree to tree and a crank telephone was used to ring the other end. Those wires had to be repaired every year due to falling trees during the winter. I also fought a small fire for a few days on the Pitchstone Plateau very likely close to the area of your hike from Bechler to Old Faithful.

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