From Prairie to Peaks

Kris Mueller

Iowa State University

Wind Lakes / Grave Peak

July 10 – July 17

Nez Perce / Clearwater National Forest

Iowa summers can be much different than those here in the Selway. Hundred-degree days with so much humidity in the air one can sweat within minutes, hiking through deciduous trees on public state or county land, and fields of corn that outnumber forests by a factor of more than ten. It is unsurprising that a group of Iowa high school students (one group, sometimes two, of Iowa high school students make the journey to the CNF each summer/inspired by Connie Saylor Johnson so many years ago) and myself would want to spend time away from the Midwest in one of the largest areas of Wilderness in the lower 48.

For some of us, our first time in the Wilderness can be overwhelming at first; seeing, for miles, nothing but undeveloped and primitive forest. Where hillsides are spotted with burned areas and young lodgepole stands wait to see their time come. Where water in creeks and lakes is so clean, we can’t imagine a place like it aside from the public pool. Where even the sound of a passing plane sounds like something from a distant land.

At over 8,000 feet Grave Peak is not a walk through the prairie to ascend the peak although a sense of pride overcomes us as we finally reach the top. As Sherpas we helped carry restoration supplies to the historic lookout, no longer in use, but available for anyone to appreciate. Our sweat becoming cold as the winds got stronger climbing up the sides of the mountain and blowing over the top trying to bring us with it.

Looking down at upper Wind Lakes makes us only hope that the sun will be shining during a cold afternoon swim at camp. The next order of business at camp was to start a fire to set at bay the clouds of mosquitoes that call this area home. Though bugs may be annoying at times the mind is only temporarily distracted by discomfort. Whether while working on clearing a trail, monitoring campsites, or attempting to move large rocks out of a narrow ridge trail, we can only feel appreciation for the opportunity to serve in such a wild place.

We experienced a rather strong summer storm overnight about mid-week not too different from Iowa storms as they roll across the plains. Flashes of lightning every five seconds shortly followed by loud cracks through the mountains accompanied the whipping rain and wind against the tent fly. As for someone who has never seen an active forest fire it was exciting to hear the talk of potential fire starts on the radio the next morning.

Everyone may find a different meaning in Wilderness and some may take longer than others to find it, but one thing is for certain; we need Wilderness, but Wilderness not does not need us.

Grave Peak Lookout after a morning hike to the summit

Grave Peak Lookout after a morning hike to the summit

A view of Wind Lakes from Grave Peak

A view of Wind Lakes from Grave Peak