Matthew Hutchins – Wilderness Ranger Intern
Christopher Newport University
Bitterroot National Forest
This Blodgett trip was full of twists and turns in the road and on the trail. I showed up the morning of the first day ready and excited to get back to work after a few days off. The trip started on Thursday the 13th and was scheduled to last until Wednesday the 19th. The six volunteers arrived with all their gear, I introduced myself to each of them and got a feel for the each individual’s level of backcountry experience. We had some people who had years of trail work experience, and others who had never backpacked before. The varied experience levels made the whole trip so much more exciting. Each volunteer required different training and instruction which was both the challenge and the opportunity. I left my stuff for the packers to carry into our camp and hiked in front of the group and packers with Adam Washebek, USFS to make sure that no trees were going to block the stock from making it to camp.
Camp was seven miles out and the hike was a “walk in the park” because the mules were packing the food, and for that I will be forever grateful. We got to camp on the first day about an hour before the packers and an hour and a half before the rest of the group. We set up camp once everyone was there and did a little bit of clearing trail that day. Day two was going to be the day we tried clearing to the lake, much to our surprise by the afternoon we were at the lake having cleared only 12 trees total. Adam had taken a group up the pass along the trail and Ethan (the other Intern) and I took the rest of the group to Blodgett Lake. The lake was welcomed sight, plus it was an easy hike in. Because there was not much work to be done around the lake it meant we had to change our plans for the rest of the trip. We were scheduled for one more day with volunteers and three more days for just Ethan and myself.
Once we had gotten back to camp we ate a good meal and planned Saturday’s project. Saturday morning Ethan woke up with only one hour of sleep due to migraines and wasn’t going to be able to work that day. One of the volunteers also woke up with severe blisters on his feet, to the point where is feet were almost raw; he was out for the day. Consequently, we were down two men but we decided to clear a bit of the lake trail a mile from our camp off the Blodgett trail. We knew we wouldn’t be hiking much because we knew the trail was a mess from last year’s intense storms. Once we arrived, our predictions were correct. About .1 miles into the trail there was a pick-up-stick pile of 30 trees all intertwined with one another. We couldn’t even find the trail so we cut the least number of trees to reconnect the trail. We made about 50 cuts that day and were nearing the end of our work day when our trajectory abruptly changed.
One of the volunteers tripped and injured both of her ankles to the point she was unable to walk and was in a lot of pain. I knew exactly what to do because of my Wilderness First Responder training at the beginning of the season, and quickly went back to camp to grab a few “medical” supplies. While back at camp we asked Ethan, who had been catching up on sleep all day, if he could help with the volunteer. We went back to her location and taped her ankles. She was unable to put any pressure on her left ankle and could barely put pressure on her right. Adam and I had planned to get her back to camp on our shoulders. From camp she could ride out on horseback the following day. We started to help her down the trail and quickly realized that our plan to transport her would take an estimated three very painful hours. Ethan who is 6’6’’, 315 pounds and a college football player offered to carry her on his back. WHAT A HERO! We all were very grateful for Ethan’s brawn and people-pack ability. He turned a three hour, very painful, trip into only 40 minutes.
The saga continued……………….
The next morning, a few hours before the horse was to take our patient down the trail, she surmised that putting her feet in stirrups would be too painful for her injured, more tender and now swollen ankles. The only other option was a helicopter. Adam quickly got on the radio and called in a helicopter from a nearby location to pick her up in the meadow right next to our camp. The patient was relieved. Thirty minutes later a helicopter landed in the meadow picking her up and taking her safely into town. Our local Forest Service contact then transported her to the ER for treatment and release. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me to see a backcountry helicopter rescue in action. The crew was swift and efficient.
Later that day, the pack string arrived and the volunteers hiked out. Ethan and I had to finish up some paper work down the trail looking at campsites. The next day we cut more tree at High Lake only making a small dent in the trail. We hiked out Monday night, a few days before we had planned, but that’s the way trail work works. You never know what you are going to get, but this trip I will remember.