University of Montana
Big Creek Volunteer Project
Every morning of the volunteer trip at Big Creek we crossed the spillway of the dam on Big Creek Lake. It was only about 20 feet wide, with water gently pouring over the brim. The crossing was ankle-deep, just high enough to encourage most of the group to remove their socks and boots. Just below the rim a waterfall cascaded down steep rocks and continued east through the forest and past our trailhead on the Bitterroot River. Each morning I sat in the same spot to untie my shoes. Not any old stopping point, but a place with a view of glacier-carved granite peaks with mounds of snow still managing to hide in hollows and northern aspects. It was here that I took my first deep breath of the morning as I braced myself for the burning cold of the water. Every day I was surprised by a pleasant cool; the sun had warmed the surface of the lake, the water was not frigid, just abruptly cool.
Not all of the projects I’ve been on this summer included volunteers, but this one did. We came from all over the country, from different generations and different levels of trail work experience. It was a first backpacking trip for one volunteer, while others were old pros and had been doing these trips for years.
Each day, at the spillway we all assembled, in different stages of boot removal or lace-tying. I watched as everyone woke up to the sensation of the water and the magnificent view into the Big Creek drainage. The volunteers’ faces were always peaceful during these moments by the water; pausing in the morning and again in the afternoon after a day of pulling saws and clearing trail to Packbox Pass. We cut sections of three-foot logs off the trail, laughed over molding pita pizzas, spotted moose in the woods, and bushwhacked up to a hidden lake and peak, all within earshot of running water. It was unique, it was special, it was Wilderness.
I am struck by how quickly the season has passed. It is already mid-summer now, and every day is getting shorter than the last. The work days have been reflecting this change, passing more quickly all the time. Some of my most inspired moments of the season took place during this hitch. The spunky volunteers, lovely scenery, hard work, and infusion of awe made this experience a memorable one. The abundance of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness filled us to the brim each day.