Some Memorable Miles on the Blodgett Trip

Matthew Hutchins – Wilderness Ranger Intern  

Christopher Newport University


July 13-17

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.

Finding Myself on Stanley Butte

Heather Morris – Wilderness Ranger Intern

State University of New York

Seven Lakes Hitch

July 11-16

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest

Coming from New Jersey I had no idea what to expect stepping off the plane in the “new world” that was Montana. I was nervous and excited for our upcoming training, meeting new people, and for the first time ever: backpacking. I honestly considered turning around a few times and going home and even wishing I had turned down this position. Overall, I am incredibly thankful I didn't. This past hitch was one of the most amazing times I've had this summer and probably going to be one of my favorite life experiences. 
This past hitch started out like any other– Silas and Will showing up at Powell to pick us up. We loaded up and headed out to drop some food off to get packed in later at Lochsa Historical Ranger Station. In a move typical of us, we realized we forgot a crosscut and some campsite inventory forms and had to turn around and go back to Powell. We finally arrived at our trailhead and headed up trail 220. This trail could be considered someone's own personal hell. The only words to describe this 4-mile stretch is up, up, and up. We finally arrived at our campsite, aka Cedar camp. Exhausted and thirsty we then proceeded to hand pump water for 30 minutes from a small trickling spring. The dinner pot was classically full to the brim and we were stuffed. Sleeping in our tents that night we got to hear the disturbingly eerie sound of a distressed elk right next to our tent and a few coyotes in the distance. Next day we decided to take a “nice stroll” and clear Huckleberry Butte. Up and up we went to the top and down, down, down we went till we finally cashed tools. Then it was the day to bump camp to the land of water; Lottie Lake. Up and down we went again until we got to Lottie lake campsite or Mosquito camp 2.0. The next few days following this trek was more of up and down hikes on ridges doing campsite monitoring and clearing trails. 
There was one day that really stuck with me this trip ( besides the almost painful 10 mile in 5 hours with heavy packs all the way down 2210 and boulder creek) was the day of water sampling. Forest Ranger Erika VanHavel (Treadnado) and I, started out on an 11 mile day up over one ridge to see a few alpine lakes then up again to Stanley Butte. We were about 7,000 ft up looking out on a 360 degree panorama view that included Shasta lake, the Crags, Rhoda point covered in smoke, and surrounding peaks. It was incredible. The hike up included really nice trail work, scenic views the entire time, and blooming alpine flowers. Standing up there is when I finally realized that even though the up makes you want to throw up and the down feels like your knees are screaming, I love being out here. I love feeling myself getting stronger and getting used to the pack. Since I compete in woodsman sports back in college I am now able to understand how woodsmen really originated and what it used to be. This has given me such a different view on the sport. Everything about backpacking is so rewarding. Some fond memories include laughing with Erika about failed elk bugle sounds, riding a horse around camp, bringing a scientific vessel (Walmart floaty) to do water sampling, Even the not so fond memories are worth it that included getting bitten by clouds of mosquitos and all the other “not shown on tumblr” events which are rewarded by great laughs and memories and beautiful sceneries all around. The fresh air, the beautiful views, and the being able to find yourself through the challenges is worth every minute of pain. This hitch is so hard to put in words but this was one of the best experiences I've ever had and challenged myself to do.

"This hitch is so hard to put in words but this was one of the best experiences I've ever had and challenged myself to do."

"This hitch is so hard to put in words but this was one of the best experiences I've ever had and challenged myself to do."

Colt-Killed Creek - Best Views, Rough Work

Silas Phillips – Wilderness Ranger Intern

University of Montana

Colt-Killed Creek

June 13-18

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest

Colt-Killed Creek! A drainage whose name reflects a place so inhospitable, Lewis and Clark had to kill a baby horse to survive there. Thankfully our SBFC intern crew found this locale far more nurturing than those who came before us. Last year the 6 mile access road to the trailhead was washed out, effectively preventing admission for trail crews and recreators alike. This situation was compounded by a fire in 2012, leaving us a trail ripe with charred and fallen timber. For 8 days we did what wilderness professionals do best– running crosscuts until we passed out. 

Our cohort of 5 has been paired with a wilderness ranger by the name of Erica. During our tenure at Colt-Killed she blessed us with the presence of her 11 year old golden retriever, Andy. Having a dog on hitch is a constant morale boost. Though every day brought beating sun and hellish swarms of skeets and no-seeums, this creature maintained the disposition of a rainbow gumdrop. Getting some love from Andy at the end of a 10 hour, half mile day of cutting curbed the majority of any ailments we had. 

It was a privilege to experience the landscape that this trail winds through. Fire scarred areas are often considered in a negative light by outdoors people, but we found this vast burnt drainage to be increasingly gorgeous. Vistas once impeded by foliage were completely accessible to the gaze. The river valleys and rocky hillsides characteristic of the Selway revealed themselves openly. The drainage turns east toward the Bitterroot mountains, and their granite peaks grew as we slowly worked our way towards them each day. Sky Pilot Peak was the dominant feature rising above us at the end of the week– our perspective of it always bisected by burnt snags. 

The Powell interns found a sense of fulfillment during this week of hard cutting. It's the most tangible form of trail work in my mind– our contribution to the wilderness immediately recognizable and beneficial. Additionally, our crosscut saw skill set is completely dialed in, and probably was after the third day of heavy cutting. We didn't (and really couldn't) finish clearing the entirety of trail 50 on this hitch, but we paved the way for future pushes up Colt-Killed Creek later this summer.

Thank You National Forest Foundation!

We could not do our work without our amazing partners!  We just completed our first Frank project.  Two more are scheduled for July and August.  Check out the projects and register at  http://www.selwaybitterroot.org/2017-volunteer-trail-work.  

July 12-18 Marble Creek     August 23-28 Middle Fork Trail

Respect for the Volunteers

Riley Hunter – Wilderness Ranger Intern

Utah Valley University

Upper Yellowjacket Volunteer Project

June 14-20

Salmon-Challis National Forest

I was told, ever since my early teenage years, that my love for the outdoors was going to lead me to a job with the Forest Service doing trails and backpacking around as a Wilderness Ranger. To be honest, I never truly believed them and I still don’t know that this field is where I will end up. I don’t know what my passions are, or what I can truly dedicate my time to.

But my first hitch taught me a whole new level of passion and working to preserve what you believe in. We worked on the Upper Yellowjacket Trail with three amazing volunteers. I personally have never been one for volunteering, but watching these three individuals with different backgrounds and experiences come together for their love of Wilderness got to me. They all worked so hard and for free. We ended up clearing out fallen trees, creating French drains, cleaning up the the trail with retread, digging some new tread, and brushing up the sides of the trail. The fact that these people would willingly dedicate their free time to digging in the dirt and mud, chopping up roots, hauling heavy buckets loaded with rocks, and cutting down trees -both in the cold rain with heavy, wet boots and when it got hot in the afternoons- allowed me to understand what it is really like to be passionate about something.

At one point, we talked about how friends may think you’re crazy for dedicating your weekend to doing hard labor all for the sake of access to good trails. There are people out there who truly care about our Public Lands and the idea of Wilderness. To maintain access to these areas for all to enjoy, even those who don’t fully appreciate or understand the concept of Wilderness, takes a lot of effort. What is your level of dedication to the trails you use? Are you willing to take the challenge and volunteer your free time to help keep access to your favorite trails open and experience the bliss of solitude of independence of the back country?

Here's a shout out to our volunteers Larry, José, and Miranda! Thanks for all of your hard work this past week!! You have my respect.

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

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. 

First 8 days Prepared and Ready

The first week as Wilderness Ranger Interns was gory, stressful, and hugely educational. I wrapped moist gauze about the avulsed eye of a grizzly-mauled man, at once knowing that his chest trauma, a flail chest, two or more ribs broken in two or more places, was the more life threatening of his worries.  Thankfully, after all the appropriate dressings were applied and trauma treated, Jeff stood up, ripped the rubbery dangling eyeball off, rubbed out the fake blood from the grizzly claws, and waited by the fire pit as we finished the scenario to critique our patient care.  This training has never been tested in the 8 years of the SBFC, but nevertheless, prepared we are.