Challenges and Rewards in the Backcountry

Avery King—Wilderness Ranger Intern

University of Idaho

Boulder Creek Trail, June 13-20

Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forest

Heading into my very first hitch of trail work ever, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been backpacking plenty of times before, but I’ve always been a fan of packing as light as possible. Carrying all the extra gear (and weight) that comes with trail work—hand tools, helmets, and crosscuts—was a huge change from what I was used to. Plus, I didn’t feel like I really knew how to use the tools I was carrying. The nervousness I felt seemed to add to the weight on my shoulders.

It didn’t take long, though, for the nervousness to ease away as I hiked those first few miles and remembered what I love about backpacking: the challenges your mind and body must overcome. Part of the challenge is facing the unknown, and even though it is scary, it can be pretty fun. After a week of slowly familiarizing myself with the world of trail work, I feel much more comfortable wielding an axe, running a crosscut, and pushing my body through long days of hard work. It makes me pretty excited to keep improving throughout the season!

The fourth day of our hitch was a day filled with both challenges and rewards. We woke up to a steady drizzle, and despite our hope for a dry break, the rain remained consistent for the entire workday. Within the first hour, the rain had soaked through my raingear and I was nearly drenched. But as a group, our spirits remained high throughout the day and we eventually made it to the top of the pass. Despite not being able to see the view we were promised because of the fog descending all around us, it was a beautiful spot that made the difficult hike more than worth it. As challenging as the day had been, I was satisfied to have reached our goal for the day and was extremely proud of my group for overcoming the obstacles we faced together.

PHOTO: Boulder Creek Trail at the Fish Lake Saddle

Dagger Falls – Thoughts on Wilderness

Dagger Falls – Thoughts on Wilderness

I’m currently sitting at Dagger Falls Campground, on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The Middle Fork is a Wild & Scenic River and a premier destination for floaters in Idaho. The falls are absolutely stunning, our campground is covered in Mariposa lilies, and the air is filled with the scent of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir. 

New Turnpike for the Yellowjacket Project

New Turnpike for the Yellowjacket Project

We began our journey by meeting our first 5 volunteers and 4 Forest Service crew members the night of June 20 at Yellow Jacket Lake Campground where we made introductions over our first dinner together. The next morning we began with our daily yoga stretch after a good breakfast and then made our way 2 miles up the trail to base camp where we would be working for the next four days. 

Warm Springs Creek Trail, Wind Lakes, Grave Peaks Lookout

Warm Springs Creek Trail, Wind Lakes, Grave Peaks Lookout

Well it’s already the end of hitch two. Greg, Ben, Taryn, Jake and I started out hiking the Warm Springs Creek Trail on day one. The weather forecast predicted this hitch to be a hot and dry one; it wasn’t wrong in the end. We were sent to cover a lot of miles this hitch and so we split into two separate work forces and then met back up towards the end of the hitch.

Overnight Project Sets the Tone

On the morning of June 22nd, the Bitterroot National Forest wilderness intern crew hiked up the Sweeney Ridge Trail. We hiked up in a quite literal sense: gaining 1,800 feet in the first 2 miles, and then 500 in the last half mile. They were long 7 miles, during which we Silkied and crosscutted our way toward the campsite at Duffy Lake. 

Wilderness FR Training continued

Our Wilderness First Responder Training stretched us.  We were required to respond to various situations, all crazier than we will ever have to deal with (hopefully).  The very first day we jumped into life threats such as punctured lungs and arterial bleeds.  I learned about many traumatic injuries that I had no idea were even possible.