First Hitch in the Bitterroot proves Bittersweet

Matthew Hutchins – Wilderness Ranger Intern

Christopher Newport University

Rock Creek & Little Rock Creek Volunteer Project

June 13-18

Bitterroot National Forest

Our adventure to the Bitterroot Mountains was full of surprises for me and SBFC Intern, Ethan Spoerry. We started our first three days on Little Rock Creek Trail, which was a stunning walk into the woods above Lake Como. It was the beginning of a long summer full of hard and dirty work. I had been well prepared by my training, and I was ready to get to work. The first day came and went having done a few miles of trail clearing. The first night we camped less than a mile from the lake, our spirits were high from our first day on the job. The next day we cleared all the way to the lake and spent most of the day campsite monitoring as well enjoying the stunning lake in the mountains. The final day we spent clearing a few more miles of trail and began to get a better handle on the axe, crosscut, and silky.

After a welcomed night in a warm bed, we set out for another mini trip on Kootenai Creek trail hoping to spend the last five days of this hitch clearing the trail to the lake. That plan quickly changed as the weather got progressively worse as the day when on. What started out as a sprinkle, ended as a deluge. We had only hiked about 5 miles in the rain clearing only 15 trees.   Our spirits were tested due to most of our stuff getting soaked. I began to question the reason I had come out here and how willing I was to deal with the rain and pain. The morning did not bring much hope as we packed our wet gear in the rain and set out for the lakes. The weather started to clear up a bit but we soon encountered a stream with unseasonably high flows, too dangerous to pass. For a couple of tense minutes we debated about attempting to cross the stream, but finally decided to not take the risk.  We turned around and hiked the long 6 miles out, frustrated that we had only cleared a few trees along our way.

Another night in our bed did not seem deserved, but we made a plan for Cheifman trail for the next day. We started in the morning facing a large log not far from the trail head, a foreshadowing of the day ahead. We hiked only about 2 miles the whole day clearing 80 trees. This day was one of the best, we felt great the whole time and felt as though our work was making a dent in the trail. The second day was a bit tougher; we reached the lake but not after many sore muscles and many bumps and scratches on our bodies. My bones were beginning to feel all the work that we had been doing the past week.  That night we camped at what seemed to be the only two spots that weren’t covered in snow. The next morning we woke to beautiful weather and soon learned that we had not camped at the lake, but camped at the Cheifman Lake overflow. We decided to try and find the second lake by hiking 500 feet up in less than ¾ of a mile with much success.  Most of the trail was under snow and impossible to find, we made our way to one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, Knack Lake, a powerful sight.  We took some pictures but campsite monitoring was impossible due to snow still covering the ground.  We turned around and headed down the trail. After clearing another 30 some trees on the way back, we ended our first hitch in our favorite burrito shop in town just trying to refill our belly with fresh, tasty food.  The feast was well earned after a difficult but wonderful beginning of our summer.

Thank You National Forest Foundation!

We could not do our work without our amazing partners!  We just completed our first Frank project.  Two more are scheduled for July and August.  Check out the projects and register at  http://www.selwaybitterroot.org/2017-volunteer-trail-work.  

July 12-18 Marble Creek     August 23-28 Middle Fork Trail

Respect for the Volunteers

Riley Hunter – Wilderness Ranger Intern

Utah Valley University

Upper Yellowjacket Volunteer Project

June 14-20

Salmon-Challis National Forest

I was told, ever since my early teenage years, that my love for the outdoors was going to lead me to a job with the Forest Service doing trails and backpacking around as a Wilderness Ranger. To be honest, I never truly believed them and I still don’t know that this field is where I will end up. I don’t know what my passions are, or what I can truly dedicate my time to.

But my first hitch taught me a whole new level of passion and working to preserve what you believe in. We worked on the Upper Yellowjacket Trail with three amazing volunteers. I personally have never been one for volunteering, but watching these three individuals with different backgrounds and experiences come together for their love of Wilderness got to me. They all worked so hard and for free.We ended up clearing out fallen trees, creating French drains, cleaning up the the trail with retread, digging some new tread, and brushing up the sides of the trail. The fact that these people would willingly dedicate their free time to digging in the dirt and mud, chopping up roots, hauling heavy buckets loaded with rocks, and cutting down trees -both in the cold rain with heavy, wet boots and when it got hot in the afternoons- allowed me to understand what it is really like to be passionate about something.

At one point, we talked about how friends may think you’re crazy for dedicating your weekend to doing hard labor all for the sake of access to good trails. There are people out there who truly care about our Public Lands and the idea of Wilderness. To maintain access to these areas for all to enjoy, even those who don’t fully appreciate or understand the concept of Wilderness, takes a lot of effort. What is your level of dedication to the trails you use? Are you willing to take the challenge and volunteer your free time to help keep access to your favorite trails open and experience the bliss of solitude of independence of the back country?

Here's a shout out to our volunteers Larry, José, and Miranda! Thanks for all of your hard work this past week!! You have my respect.

Challenges and Rewards in the Backcountry

Avery King—Wilderness Ranger Intern

University of Idaho

Boulder Creek Trail, June 13-20

Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forest

Heading into my very first hitch of trail work ever, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been backpacking plenty of times before, but I’ve always been a fan of packing as light as possible. Carrying all the extra gear (and weight) that comes with trail work—hand tools, helmets, and crosscuts—was a huge change from what I was used to. Plus, I didn’t feel like I really knew how to use the tools I was carrying. The nervousness I felt seemed to add to the weight on my shoulders.

It didn’t take long, though, for the nervousness to ease away as I hiked those first few miles and remembered what I love about backpacking: the challenges your mind and body must overcome. Part of the challenge is facing the unknown, and even though it is scary, it can be pretty fun. After a week of slowly familiarizing myself with the world of trail work, I feel much more comfortable wielding an axe, running a crosscut, and pushing my body through long days of hard work. It makes me pretty excited to keep improving throughout the season!

The fourth day of our hitch was a day filled with both challenges and rewards. We woke up to a steady drizzle, and despite our hope for a dry break, the rain remained consistent for the entire workday. Within the first hour, the rain had soaked through my raingear and I was nearly drenched. But as a group, our spirits remained high throughout the day and we eventually made it to the top of the pass. Despite not being able to see the view we were promised because of the fog descending all around us, it was a beautiful spot that made the difficult hike more than worth it. As challenging as the day had been, I was satisfied to have reached our goal for the day and was extremely proud of my group for overcoming the obstacles we faced together.

PHOTO: Boulder Creek Trail at the Fish Lake Saddle

Fish Lake Guard Station Cabin Hosting - September 16-19, 2016

We headed out from the Wilderness Gateway trailhead along Boulder Creek Trail, just outside of Powell, Idaho, on a cool fall morning in September.  Chance and Sam (7 yrs.) rode Paintbrush and Ella Mae (5 yrs.) was solo on Poco, Bear (our 6-month old Chocolate Lab) at the heels, Kit and Ruby (Mules) stacked high with our backcountry supplies and gear, while mama (Jen) picked up the rear on foot.  I thought I was in for a real challenge with the pace everyone set for the first couple of steep miles of trail, as the animals were raring to go, and I was being left in the dust, literally.  But as I’d anticipated, a few miles in, the livestock and the trail steadied off to a reasonable pace and we maintained a consistent speed and started putting miles under our hooves.  We rode in to Horse Camp, which is about the half way point, shortly after noon for a quick break and to check packs.  The day brought us blue skies and sunshine, couldn’t have asked for nicer weather.  After a quick snack and leg stretch, we gathered back up and headed on, thoughts of a cabin at the end of the trail to greet us enticing us onward.  Late afternoon, when we were close to our limit and still several miles from our destination, we crested the saddle and had a glorious view of Fish Lake, the airstrip and the valley below.  The several mile final downhill climb led us to a quiet, peaceful camp in which to rest our trail weary bones.  Needless to say rest came easy to us all that eve. 

The weather the first week was overcast, cloudy and cool temperatures, with plenty of rain.  The moisture prompted Fish Lake Creek to flow again, as it hadn’t been running since July.  We quickly established a daily routine which included gathering several wheelbarrows of firewood (most of which we burned daily to keep warm), collecting water from the creek, schoolwork, journaling, reading, cooking and cleaning. 

Our main tasks throughout the trip included cabin cleaning, maintenance and inventory; stockpiling wood; some trail maintenance (cutting downed trees); repairing the hitching post; as well as recording and welcoming visitors. 

We explored the trails north and east of Fish Lake, the Wounded Doe Ridge Trail, the Fish Lake Saddle Trail and the rocky crags north of the cabin, as well as the boggy flatlands south of the cabin.  We caught several meals of cut throat trout in the lake.  We saw tracks and scat from Elk as well as white tail deer. 

Anna Bengston, the Wilderness Ranger, came in with her horse and two mules, to resupply us the first Wed in and stayed for a night.  She contributed sausage and morels to our rice and lentil dinner, which was much appreciated.  Sam had worked on his Junior Wilderness Ranger Badge and was sworn in by Anna during her visit.  Before the trip was over Ella Mae would also earn her badge, doing some wilderness study and sketching in lieu of some of the more advanced activities.  They were both proud badge recipients.  We enjoyed visiting and getting to know Anna better during her stay. 

We appreciated reading the cabin record, which mentioned that our retired Forest Service mules, Ruby and Kit, had been in a dozen or so years earlier to mow the air strip.  We were glad to be bringing them back in for a pleasure trip.

Late in the second week when the weather broke and the blue skies returned a group of 6 hunters set up camp on the west end of the runway near the cabin.  We also had a number of people land for brief stays on the strip (206, 185, 182, 180, super cub).  Sam was our official recorder and would head out to collect tail numbers of the airplanes for our records.  Everyone was friendly and we shared good conversations with all visitors, assisting as needed.

A stormy weather system was moving in on our last weekend, so Chance came a couple days early to pick us up in his 182 and we flew out.  He would need to make two trips, one with people and one with gear.  Leland, a commercial pilot for Choice Air out of Hamilton, was bringing in some clients to fish and offered to take our gear to Moose Creek for Chance to come back to pick up so he could avoid any bad weather issues coming into Fish Lake.  We were sad that our time went so quickly and we enjoyed our stay and hope to return again in some volunteer capacity in the future.  

From the top of Big Fog Mountain to the bottom of Three Links Creek

Stephanie Wright - Trail Crew Leader

This hitch (9/6-9/14) we cleared from the top of Big Fog Mtn 693 to the bottom of Three Links creek. We cleared over 200 trees 7 of which were over 25 inches in diameter. We also dug 250 feet of tread in sections of the tread that were unpassable. We also cleared drains from the junction of 405 to the bottom of 693. Total trail maintained: 12.2 miles.


About a mile past the junction of 405 and 693 going towards three links, a tree fell and its root wad, which was under the trail at the time lifted, destroying a 75 ft section of the trail. Its not passable where the trail was, but its fairly easy to walk on the uphill side. See attached photos for details.

Late Season Trail Work Progress

Stephanie Wright - Trail Crew Leader

PP16- Trail Crew spent the first hitch (8/9-8/18) of our back to back time at Fish Lake working on trails 39, 263, and 465, to the junction of North Moose Creek. We cleared 316 trees (not including USFS crew) cleaned 80 drains, brushed 2 miles of trail and rocked 3 miles of trail and 700 feet of re-tread. We also spent the last day of the first hitch clearing trail 211 from Fish Lake Cabin towards McConnell Mountain.

Trail 263/465 could use approximately 2 miles of on-and-off re-tread. Everything is passable, but the trail itself is uneven and slowly creeping downward. It is also slightly brushy… another thing a crew could do out there if they finished the re-tread.

PP17- Our second hitch (8/21-8/29) we cleared 211 from Fish Lake Cabin to McConnell Mountain (trails 213, 60, 211) After finishing that loop we worked 3 miles up 917. There were 139 trees total, 50 of them were in one blow down above wag meadows. Hiking a total of 66.5 miles and rocking 3 miles of trail. The trail was lost hiking north down McConnell Mountain—retread would help with that (it’s also an old burn, and a secondary trail).

ICT Work @ Marble Creek

Hitch #4 Blog Post by AJ Baeseman - 2016 Wilderness Ranger Intern

On a hot, sunny day in July, volunteers and SBFC members met up in Yellow Pine to take on the most famous section of the Idaho Centennial Trail, Marble Creek. Everyone had different motives for giving their time off to do work improving our trails; some were avid ICT hikers trying to make the trail more accessible, others to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the RIver of No Return, and others still who just love to roll up their sleeves and move some logs.

Lida Wise, Payette Lead Steward (above), lining out the plans for the week with the crew.

During the week, our fantastic packers, Bill and Joe, shuttled our kitchen and extra gear to our camp. A few volunteers even got to work on their horsemanship skills.

 

Bill shows Hannah some riding skills. The most technical and strenuous work, however, started about 6 miles in when the crew collided with the renowned marble creek log jam. A combination of beaver architecture and avalanche behavior, the log jam was a formidable obstacle for both hikers and trail dogs alike.

Bill shows Hannah some riding skills.

The most technical and strenuous work, however, started about 6 miles in when the crew collided with the renowned marble creek log jam. A combination of beaver architecture and avalanche behavior, the log jam was a formidable obstacle for both hikers and trail dogs alike.

Lida and Dave assessing the situation on the far side of the jam The very real challenge when dealing with log jams is that everything is connected. Moving one log has consequences that can be far reaching and interfere with the disposal of other logs, or even create more danger for the crews working there. Every cut made has to be carefully thought through, and even when you have the perfect plan, proper execution can be challenging. Trees can be very heavy and unpredictable.

Lida and Dave assessing the situation on the far side of the jam

The very real challenge when dealing with log jams is that everything is connected. Moving one log has consequences that can be far reaching and interfere with the disposal of other logs, or even create more danger for the crews working there. Every cut made has to be carefully thought through, and even when you have the perfect plan, proper execution can be challenging. Trees can be very heavy and unpredictable.

A hard earned lunch time Everyone put a huge amount of effort into making Marble Creek a better trail, and for that we thank you! However, there still is a lot more work to be done and Lida will be returning with another group of volunteers in late August to try and finish what we have started (some brave souls are returning for the second trip!)  

A hard earned lunch time

Everyone put a huge amount of effort into making Marble Creek a better trail, and for that we thank you! However, there still is a lot more work to be done and Lida will be returning with another group of volunteers in late August to try and finish what we have started (some brave souls are returning for the second trip!)

 

Smiles for Miles

Hitch #5 Blog Post by Jesse Bergeson - Powell Trails Liaison

The Selway intern crew spent their final field days working the beautiful Walton Lakes Trail.  We are happy to report that the trail is clear from the Walton Lake TH all the way to Savage pass.  They were lucky to have beautiful fall-like weather while they cleared fallen trees in this lovely (unburned) area.  

The crew was not alone as they enjoyed warm sun, they also witnessed a marmot defend his rock crag home with high pitched chirps and warning calls.  The lakes are a popular overnight trip or day hike for fishing.

Huckleberries can still be found if you know where to look, with some green ones still on their way to sweetness.  

Get out and explore the area during this great time of year!

A Legacy of Self Reliance

Hitch #4 Blog Post by Lida Wise - Payette Lead Steward

As far as the eye can see for 360 degrees -- mountains.  Not a single road or roof in sight.  Standing on top of Lookout Mountain in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, I slowly spin around and around, soaking it all in.  I’ve had a tough past couple days, and this vista was just what I needed to reaffirm my desire to be out here.  I remind myself, Wilderness is not supposed to be easy.  If it wasn’t challenging at times, it would not be wild.  And that’s exactly one of my reasons for coming out here - to overcome the challenging times so I know how strong I can be.  I lay under a pine, close my eyes, and listen to the soothing sound of the wind in the needles.  The breeze is a welcome respite on a hot day.  I watch a cloud shift shapes - just a bunch of dust particles rolling around itself.   These simplicities bring me back to center.  I am content.

Later, we fix dinner on the remains of a fire lookout tower.  Who lived here before?  What was their story?  More than ever before in my life, I feel a part of a legacy.  With no signs of recent human activity and very rare visitor contact, we are always surprised to come across such permanent-seeming signs from the past quickly vanishing back into scree and soil.  Besides the old concrete lookout foundation, we come across telephone insulators, rusty tin cans, an old game of horseshoes.  Humans have forged into remote rugged areas for years before I’ve been around, and it hasn’t been easy.  I like to think that I am continuing the legacy of self-reliance in Wilderness.  Like the lookout who occupied this mountaintop before me, I am living devoid of modern communication, technology-dependent entertainment, and easy access to food and water.  It is not always a stroll through a green grassy park - sometimes the trail is steep and hot and dusty and you take it one grudging step at a time.  But inevitably, you emerge a more resilient individual, more capable of appreciating simple things, and with a respect for the legacy of self-reliance in the Wilderness.