A Fresh Perspecitive on the same Mountains

Justine Bright – Nez Perce-Clearwater Trail Crew Member

Big Sand/Frog Peak/Hidden Lake hitch 

Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest

It’s our third hitch- in some ways I feel like I am getting my hitch systems dialed in, and in other ways I feel like I am constantly working on myself and being worked on out here. And a lot of the time that’s all I want, to feel my limbs getting worked by that climb up to Frog Peak, or my skin worked by the sun at Hidden Peak lookout, or my face frozen into a smile on a cold hike out of camp in the morning, pants already dripping with dew. Other times on this hitch all I wanted was a break from the mosquitos, or to have dry boots for just a day.

This has been a full summer, following fast on the heels of a busy spring. I feel short on words in spite of how satiated I have been, and at times over-full with it all. It’s hard to describe how right it feels to come back to SBFC, the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness, as a staff member. I’ve graduated from the University, and countless things have changed in my personal landscape; people close to us are gone, and others who have been far away have suddenly arrived in our lives. And the wilderness is just as stunning and humbling as ever. This summer I’m on the west side of the Divide, in the moist cedar forests and rolling peaks (and plenty of hot burn areas as well). All the trails and trips I dreamed about last year while I worked on the east side of the Divide are my hitches this summer.

I remember last summer asking Jack Ader, the wilderness ranger out of the West Fork of the Selway-Bitterroot, what his favorite trip in the wilderness was. After some thought, he named the loop we just cleared on this hitch. It has been magical to see a totally different side of the mountains. I’ve always thought the Bitterroots had a sort of nurturing feeling, compared to other mountains. I think it’s something about the lush ecology, and the inviting topography. How you can look at a peak, decide to head towards it, and usually find some way up. But there is a familiarity too, after a couple of seasons of work and lots of exploration in my off-time. I feel so grateful to have that space to think over things in my life. To feel totally physically exhausted, and quiet in my mind.

This hitch we got to cover a lot of unique miles of trail, and climb various hills up to stunning views. Hang out by lakes and look out through burned areas. Still, I would not feel nearly as taken care of and delighted out there without my amazing crew. There have been so many moments in camp and on the trail that I have had to stop and smile, just seeped in appreciation for those guys. Each of them are trail-clearing machines, but their steady friendship is truly and constantly impressive. I feel such relief and happiness when I see Will waiting for me at a stream crossing with a question about the catkins on the alder trees. I feel comforted in camp at night during a storm when the snags are creaking and I hear Trevor blow his nose, making a noise just like a startled deer. And I doubt I have met anyone so ready to help with anything that could come up as James.

Though I come back to town ready to sleep for a day, I feel so energized by the time I spend with such incredible humans in the Selway-Bitterroot.