Pleasure in the Pathless Woods

Kate O’Connor, Program Support

Heidelberger Crew – South Fork of Big Creek Trail

July 25-30

Bitterroot National Forest

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods”, said Justine one morning while sipping her tea, reading one of the many inspiring quotes attached to her teabags. The quote struck me, I had to read it for myself. How serendipitous for this hitch and the work we were completing.  An aggregate of everything I felt leading up to this moment, summed up on a little tea bag.

This being one of the few volunteer hitches I’ve lead while working with SBFC, I was unsure how things go.  There’s always those pesky unknown variables, similar to the unpredictable pathless woods. However, the group of nine volunteers exceeded my expectations. Each brought a spunky attitude, which proved to be a fun and giggly dynamic. There was a range of ages and trail knowledge.  Some were seasoned backcountry veterans, while others were newbies, the combination created a concoction of eager teachers and learners.

Our work consisted of attempting to open the trail up to the South Fork Lake. I say attempting because this trail was left untouched by the Forest Service for sixteen years! Yes, you read that right, sixteen! Each day we hiked along the beautiful trail, surrounded by beautifully carved canyons to our work site where we set to clear huge old growth trees from the trail. Our work was rewarding, who doesn’t feel like a boss when successfully removing huge trees from the trail.  Then we hit the unknown – game over.  Sixteen years of no maintenance does quite a number on a trail when Mother Nature is left in charge.  Needless- to-say, we lost the trail.

It was in this wondering and exploring, in this pathless wood, that we grew closer.  We learned to effectively communicate and work together to find our way. To some degree we all became Lewis and Clark, on a clear mission, driven to navigate and clear a path. We were able to combine our brains and formulate somewhat of a plan, allowing us to successfully clear two miles of the three-mile trail, while creating a route to connect the trail to the lake. The commitment and perseverance by our group of nine hardworking volunteers, along with the guidance of Talitha and Justine, allowed us to put a dent in the rough trail and successfully complete our work. It is safe to say we can all call ourselves explorers.

It is in situations like this, surrounded by the wild backcountry, that one develops a strength and certainty of self. For myself, and hopefully for Talitha, Justine and the other volunteers, we all learned something new about ourselves and each other; something that can only be learned when immersed in Willderness.

Lord Byron said it best, over 200 years ago:

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”