Silas Phillips – Wilderness Ranger Intern
University of Montana
Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest
Colt-Killed Creek! A drainage whose name reflects a place so inhospitable, Lewis and Clark had to kill a baby horse to survive there. Thankfully our SBFC intern crew found this locale far more nurturing than those who came before us. Last year the 6 mile access road to the trailhead was washed out, effectively preventing admission for trail crews and recreators alike. This situation was compounded by a fire in 2012, leaving us a trail ripe with charred and fallen timber. For 8 days we did what wilderness professionals do best– running crosscuts until we passed out.
Our cohort of 5 has been paired with a wilderness ranger by the name of Erica. During our tenure at Colt-Killed she blessed us with the presence of her 11 year old golden retriever, Andy. Having a dog on hitch is a constant morale boost. Though every day brought beating sun and hellish swarms of skeets and no-seeums, this creature maintained the disposition of a rainbow gumdrop. Getting some love from Andy at the end of a 10 hour, half mile day of cutting curbed the majority of any ailments we had.
It was a privilege to experience the landscape that this trail winds through. Fire scarred areas are often considered in a negative light by outdoors people, but we found this vast burnt drainage to be increasingly gorgeous. Vistas once impeded by foliage were completely accessible to the gaze. The river valleys and rocky hillsides characteristic of the Selway revealed themselves openly. The drainage turns east toward the Bitterroot mountains, and their granite peaks grew as we slowly worked our way towards them each day. Sky Pilot Peak was the dominant feature rising above us at the end of the week– our perspective of it always bisected by burnt snags.
The Powell interns found a sense of fulfillment during this week of hard cutting. It's the most tangible form of trail work in my mind– our contribution to the wilderness immediately recognizable and beneficial. Additionally, our crosscut saw skill set is completely dialed in, and probably was after the third day of heavy cutting. We didn't (and really couldn't) finish clearing the entirety of trail 50 on this hitch, but we paved the way for future pushes up Colt-Killed Creek later this summer.