Harmon’s Histories: Sex Peak Lookout a hidden, albeit infamous, gem of NW Montana
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
It was located right in my backyard – where I grew up – yet, I'd neither heard of it nor the story associated with it.
Following the devastating forest fires of 1910 (the "Big Burn"), mountaintop lookouts were established as an early warning system.
One of them, in the Kootenai National Forest (my backyard, as I grew up in Libby), acquired a rather infamous name in the 1960s: Sex Peak Lookout.
I stumbled across the story during a search of documents associated with the Big Burn.
Those fires burned nearly three million acres on August 20 and August 21, 1910. An estimated eight billion board feet of timber were destroyed. Much of the town of Wallace, Idaho burned. Other north Idaho towns, including Mullan and Avery, were threatened.
It's believed that as many as 85 people may have died in the fires, most of them firefighters.
Backburns (purposely burning areas in front of threatening blaze to reduce or eliminate fuels) likely saved many lives and added to the "tools" used in modern firefighting.
The article, written by Mariah Leuschen and Rose Davis, was titled, " The Great 1910 Fires of Idaho and Montana Day Trip Guide to Historic Sites in Idaho and Montana." Among the suggested sites: Sex Peak Lookout.
Sex Peak Lookout, at 5,798 feet elevation in the Cabinet National Forest (which later became part of the Kootenai National Forest), was named by a couple of foresters, I. V. Anderson and Harry Baker. Baker was Supervisor of the Cabinet National Forest.
Why the name? “The rumor most widely believed is that it was named after the topic of conversation between the two foresters that day.”
Much later, in the 1960s, a pilot of a patrol plane “buzzed” the lookout and “observed two lovers stark naked on the rocks.” That solidified the name!
The Sex Peak lookout was “built in the early 1920s and rebuilt in the 1940s” according to Leuschen and Davis.
It was “refurbished and placed on the Recreation Rental program in 1986, and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.”
Here's the description of the amenities for those thinking of renting: "The 14x14-ft. lookout has windows on all sides and is encircled by a catwalk. The cabin sleeps 4 people and is equipped with 2 twin size beds with mattresses."
"Other amenities include a table, chair, bench, a wood stove for heat, broom and dustpan. Firewood is provided. An outhouse with vault toilet and a campfire ring are located outside."
"The lookout does not have electricity or water. Guests should being enough water for drinking, cooking and washing. Items such as a cook stove, cooking gear, bedding, lanterns or flashlights, matches, extra toilet paper, first aid supplies, trash bags, dish soap, towels and an ice chest are not available. Guests are expected to pack out their trash and clean the cabin before leaving."
Sex Peak Lookout is accessible by car, “but you must take your time getting there and be alert for logging or visitor traffic.” The authors of the article urge “extreme caution should you wish to visit the site, as the roads to Sex Peak “are narrow and winding in some spots, so caution is advised!”
To get there, take Montana Highway 200 and “turn south onto Forest Service Road 1740 or locally known as Faro Road. This turnoff is between mile markers 37-38.”
“Faro Road intersects Beaver Creek Road (Forest Service Road 152). Turn right at the stop sign and follow Road 152 for about ten miles to Forest Service Road 2222 (on the right). This road will wind up the mountain and once at an intersection continue on the “middle” Road 2222.”
“Road 2222 will intersect with Road 2222B and the gate to the lookout. If the gate is open, you can drive to Sex Peak Lookout.”
The lookout is now part of the Kootenai National Forest lookout/cabin rental program. “If renters are present the gate will probably be locked,” advise Leuschen and Davis.
After all, who knows what might be going on.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.