A Victory for Volunteers

Abby Propsom – Wilderness Ranger Intern

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota - Winona

Big Sand Lake

July 21-28

Clearwater National Forest

After only two days off, following the roughest hitch of our season, our crew (minus Jess who was sorely missed and was on a different hitch) was ready to go back into the wilderness with the help of twelve volunteers from the Sierra Club. We had people from all walks of life, of all professions, from teachers and doctors to students to self proclaimed “desk jockeys”, of all ages, from 18 to 74 and of all skill and experience level, some had never touched a saw or swung an ax.

We spent three days clearing the trail up to Blodgett Pass and in those three days, I saw some amazing changes. Not only were there huge changes in the trail, we were clearing and brushing, but there were great changes in the volunteers. They were really beginning to grasp what wilderness meant, how to use the tools, and they were just more and more excited everyday to get back to work.

The day we actually reached the pass was a big day for everyone. We were not only straddling a National Forest boundary but a state boundary and a time zone boundary as well. The views were spectacular and watching everyone’s jaws drop was equally as exciting.

Being in a group of sixteen rather than being in a work crew of five in the wilderness was a much different experience for me. There was less solitude than I’m used to but much more conversation and learning; not only on their end but on mine as well. I’m very proud of the work, mileage and positive attitudes that came out of Big Sand Lake this past week and I can’t wait to get back into the Selway for one final hitch!

Filled to the Brim

Justine Bright

University of Montana

Big Creek Volunteer Project

July 17-22

Every morning of the volunteer trip at Big Creek we crossed the spillway of the dam on Big Creek Lake. It was only about 20 feet wide, with water gently pouring over the brim.  The crossing was ankle-deep, just high enough to encourage most of the group to remove their socks and boots.  Just below the rim a waterfall cascaded down steep rocks and continued east through the forest and past our trailhead on the Bitterroot River. Each morning I sat in the same spot to untie my shoes.  Not any old stopping point, but a place with a view of glacier-carved granite peaks with mounds of snow still managing to hide in hollows and northern aspects.  It was here that I took my first deep breath of the morning as I braced myself for the burning cold of the water.  Every day I was surprised by a pleasant cool; the sun had warmed the surface of the lake, the water was not frigid, just abruptly cool.   

Not all of the projects I’ve been on this summer included volunteers, but this one did.  We came from all over the country, from different generations and different levels of trail work experience.  It was a first backpacking trip for one volunteer, while others were old pros and had been doing these trips for years. 

Each day, at the spillway we all assembled, in different stages of boot removal or lace-tying. I watched as everyone woke up to the sensation of the water and the magnificent view into the Big Creek drainage. The volunteers’ faces were always peaceful during these moments by the water; pausing in the morning and again in the afternoon after a day of pulling saws and clearing trail to Packbox Pass.  We cut sections of three-foot logs off the trail, laughed over molding pita pizzas, spotted moose in the woods, and bushwhacked up to a hidden lake and peak, all within earshot of running water.  It was unique, it was special, it was Wilderness.

I am struck by how quickly the season has passed. It is already mid-summer now, and every day is getting shorter than the last. The work days have been reflecting this change, passing more quickly all the time.  Some of my most inspired moments of the season took place during this hitch.  The spunky volunteers, lovely scenery, hard work, and infusion of awe made this experience a memorable one.  The abundance of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness filled us to the brim each day.

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St. Mary's Peak Volunteer Project

Talitha McGuire - Wilderness Ranger Intern

Cornell College (IA)

St. Mary’s Volunteer Trip

July 6-8

Bitterroot National Forest

“It’s all your fault,” I whispered, staring up at the gentle rise of St. Mary’s Peak. I was standing at the Stevensville Ranger Station Bunkhouse--my home for the summer--enjoying the peace and quiet of a July evening. As I watched the golden hour slide across the Bitterroot before me, I decided that the peak in front of me really was the one to blame: after all, it had snared me as soon as I saw it way back in December.

I ought to explain.

Back in December, I had been searching for internships. I used all the search engines and all the websites--I was confident that my keywords were primed and destined to pull up something extraordinary, the best kind of an adventure that would make a great bullet point on a resume. But, after weeks and weeks of finding dozens of great opportunities that just didn’t seem quite right for me, I was tired. Yes, I wanted to find an internship with conservation experience… but also, I honestly just wanted to be able to hole up somewhere with a good book, a nice cup of tea, and some sweet views.

When my mom suggested I consider being a fire lookout I basically thought my future was set. It sounded so perfect. I couldn't imagine anything better: who wouldn’t want to be stuck on a tower in the middle of the woods and possibly not see people for weeks?

I hit a new website, USA Jobs, to find my little mountain in the middle of nowhere. But, somewhere during that search, I came across the following photo:

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It made me pause for a second, and I don’t quite know why. Maybe it’s because it looked like home--the lichen-speckled rocks, the warm sun, the high-altitude brush and the wide blue sky all reminded me of my own home in Flagstaff, Arizona. The familiarity pulled at me--after spending my semesters of college in Iowa, I craved sunshine, dry air, and horizons that never seemed to melt away.

Besides, this lookout looked ideal for book-reading and tea-sipping. And the mules in the photo looked like honest working folk that I could get along with.

A few clicks later I found myself faced with an application, something about wilderness and trail work, and something else about Montana and Idaho.

I applied for kicks and giggles and a few months later, BAM, I was just below that lookout in Stevensville. Yeah, it was all the fault of St. Mary’s Peak alright, and I really do mean that in the best way possible. I had been eager to do a trip with volunteers for a while, and a trip to the very lookout that had landed me here felt special. I would finally be going to the place that started it all for me. That was climatic for me considering that in just two months I felt as though I had come a very long way. I had experienced so many new things in such a short amount of time, and, more importantly, I had begun to correct a long list of 'facts’ that I had before the start of this internship. Some of these pre-SBFC training/Hitch 1 ‘facts’ include:

  • Montana is a collection of small towns and Yellowstone National Park                   
  • Wilderness is a flashy catchphrase for ‘woods’ and is used by the government haphazardly    
  • Snow disappears in March if not April across the planet except for Alaska, the Alps, and Siberia (oh and the poles but that’s a given).                                               
  • All rangers wear khaki                                                                                                       
  • ’Trail Work’ is an abstract idea that involves hiking, but also… other… things        
  • 50 pounds is probably easy to carry or at least do-able                                              
  • A crosscut is a felling technique that involves making a cut shaped like a cross. Probably.

There were more preconceptions that I had but we won’t get into those--the basics will do. Now, I’d like to offer a revised list of facts that I discovered after a month of training and my first hitch:

  • Montana has small towns and Yellowstone BUT also other things                             
  • It’s July and there’s still snow                                                                                           
  • Most Rangers wear khaki                                                                                                 
  • Wilderness is a complex idea that is characterized by key several qualities (my favorite being opportunities for solitude)   
  • Trail work mostly involves cutting up trees but also includes moving dirt and rock and small shrubby things                                                                                     
  • 50 pounds can often feel like 80 pounds if your pack’s hip strap isn't tight enough                   
  • A crosscut is a type of saw that instantly makes you feel like some boss pioneer or Davy Crockett/Daniel Boone

There are still plenty of facts I have to revise, and I'm sure the rest of this summer will bring on countless opportunities that will further enlighten me. While all these facts highlight the major facets of my experience as a WRI, there is one aspect of this internship that I hadn't given a lot of thought to the volunteers. Now, volunteering isn't something that I've done a whole lot of--its one of those things that's always at the bottom of every 'to do’ list, the flyer that's been tucked away in that one kitchen drawer, the activity that every well-involved acquaintance is 'highly recommending’ you do. To me, volunteers were a nameless mass of matching t-shirts fueled by a burning love for 'The Community.’

That being said, I can now say that volunteers, at least the volunteers for SBFC that I met on this project, are hardly a nameless mass. They're so much more, and now, as cheesy as it sounds, I'll never think of volunteers in the same way. To explain what I mean, I’ll have to describe to you not the work these people did, or the conditions of the trail, or anything else, but instead the people themselves, the volunteers and staff of SBFC.

Our volunteer trip leader, Kate the Great, was ready to lead her first volunteer trip for SBFC.  I can now confirm that Kate is one awesome leader. She's encouraging, calm, and able to critically think about how to tackle the trail, all while having a great sense of humor and phenomenal enthusiasm for the work.

Sally, SBFC’s Executive Director, annually comes on the St. Mary's project and has developed SBFC into a really incredible organization within the past years. She's kind, incredibly intelligent and hard-working, and the best possible person SBFC could have running it's major operations.

We were also so lucky to have Sue with us! Sue is SBFC’s PR person--she’s our behind the scenes magician who posted this blog post, lets the world know about SBFC, and documents the work we do. She also is a complete boss when it comes to trail work--on this project, her first hitch, she saved the stock portion of the St. Mary's trail from 75 saplings that were taking over the trail!

Beyond staff, we also had our volunteers:

Sam, a 2017 WRI for SBFC, came out to not only volunteer and clear trail but also to offer some pro tips on the crosscut! His clear pointers helped our whole group learn how to use the crosscut safely and effectively and his humor kept everyone in high spirits!

Daneel, a local Montanan, also came out to volunteer with us. As one of the fastest hikers I've ever seen, Daneel cleared over 50 drains, front kicked a tree in half (it was amazing) and baked the most delicious 'power cookies’ that I'm certain are the key to her invincible strength. Oh, she also lifts because what can't this 73-year-old do?

Catherine was another volunteer who came all the way from California to do this project! She was a real go-getter and boldly tackled her first hitch ever with a calm cool and some sweet sunglasses that definitely make her the most fashionable person to wield a pickaxe ever. Her hard work helped us crosscut our way up the St.Mary’s trail and brush through the stock trail!

Karen drove 6 hours from Idaho to be with us! As a frequent volunteer of trail work, her comfortability with the Pulaski and the hard work of the trail made her a total joy to work with! She always had a positive attitude and took to the crosscut like a pro!

Sheryl worked professionally on trail crews over in the Bob Marshall wilderness and will be up at the St. Mary peak as a lookout later this summer! She's one tough cookie who knows her way around trail work and was so helpful to have around through all the brushing, crosscutting, and drain clearing of our project. Her knowledge of the area’s history also made for a great mountain-top afternoon! There's nothing like looking down at the Bitterroot Valley and learning its fascinating history.

Last but not least, we have our hosts!  The lovely Jay and Renee have been hosting SBFC's St. Mary's volunteer project for four years. They let us camp on their gorgeous property right under the peak and even cooked us a delicious (my mouth is watering just thinking about it) dinner! Renee also joined us to clear drains and brush out the trails which was super awesome. They're also incredible hosts and it was unbelievably fun to kick back and relax with them after a hot day of trail work.

With these awesome people, I'm proud to report that SBFC has once again cleared another rad Bitterroot trail. With a total of 4 crosscut trees, 113 saplings, and 233 drains, our weekend of work will help stock and people safely navigate the breath-taking trail up to the St. Mary lookout. We had so many incredible moments and considering that it was one weekend, we got a lot of work done. And, luckily enough for me, I have another fact to add to my growing list: volunteers are not a nameless mass. They're people. Incredible, unique, passionate, hard-working people. They’re out there sacrificing their precious free time to do hard work for the community, for the wilderness, for the trail, and just because. It's amazing. The sincerity, dedication, and kindness of the people I met this weekend was so inspiring and empowering.

Looking back at it, it's almost funny to me, because I’ve come to realize that it's the people, the volunteers especially, that really made this project so special for me. When I was back in Stevensville at my bunkhouse, looking up at that lookout, I kept imagining how cool it was going to be to go up there, to walk its decks and pretend I was all alone up there with tea and a good book. But the reality of it is when I reached the top of St. Mary's peak, the allure of solitude and even a good book couldn’t match the fun I was having with the volunteers and staff on this project. I feel so grateful now that for my whole summer I get to interact with such amazing people, especially the volunteers. They're superheroes, each and every one of them, and now, when I think of volunteers, I won't picture a mob of matching tee shirts who are out there somewhere championing some abstract idea. I'll think of Sam and his crosscut, or Karen and her Pulaski. I'll think of Daneel kicking a tree in half and Sue and Sheryl sawing through a thick ponderosa blocking the trail. I'll think of Renee and Jay cooking a delicious meal and laughing with us after a long day of hard work. I'll think of Catherine coming all the way out here to do something she's never done before with a positive attitude and the hard work to match it. I'll think of Sally tackling invasive weeds with an unrelenting energy in the heat of the day and I'll think of Kate coordinating this trip and effortlessly directing us all while clearing sand-buried drains and trail corridor. I'll think of the wonderful people I met on this project and how they, the volunteers, are exactly what this world needs.

Looking back, when I knew I would get the chance to write this post, I knew that I wanted to explain the experience, the trail, the work, the jokes and all the stories at lunch breaks, and every little detail of it… but now I see that it's impossible. Wrong even. For me to try to snare this whole project in a sentence or a paragraph would never do it justice. And besides, it really was indescribable. So, instead of that detailed, play-by-play post I thought I would have, instead, I'm left here with this wonderful feeling in my chest and not enough words to describe it.

There’s really only one thing left for me to say:

Thank you volunteers!

Diverse Wilderness Experiences in "The Frank"

Zach Moss—SBFC Wilderness Ranger Intern

McCall Outdoor Science School, University of Idaho

Middle Fork Trail Volunteer Project

June 26 – June 30, 2018

Salmon-Challis National Forest

“Thanks so much for all you guys do! Can I get you a beer as a way of saying thanks?” Sitting chest deep in a 104 degree hot spring pool, I politely declined the offer from our new friend, who had rafted in with about twenty of her friends earlier that afternoon. Anyways, my belly was still full from the pulled pork and baked beans we had for dinner. I sank deeper into the pool until the warm, mineral-rich water washed over my whole body, exhaled, and reflected on my experience working along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

When I think of “capital W” Wilderness, I think of solitude, silence, challenges, hunger, and sore muscles. However, this hitch didn’t include very much of those things. Although we were camped seven rugged miles past the Wilderness boundary, I felt at many times that I was living in luxury in the Frank’s equivalent of the Hilton. We had stock support from the Treasure Valley Backcountry Horsemen—we didn’t have to carry most of our gear, and all our food (including perishables like meat, eggs, and produce!) was carried and prepared by these wonderful people. Not including the thirteen people in our group of volunteers and SBFC employees, I probably saw anywhere from thirty to fifty new people each day rafting the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Salmon River parallel to the trail we were working on. Additionally, with camp being nestled between multiple busy backcountry airstrips, I got accustomed to the seemingly-constant buzz of the propellers of low-flying airplanes during this hitch.

As if we didn’t have it easy enough already, blue skies and sun smiled upon us each day of the hitch, keeping us dry, energized, and positive! On the last day of trail work, the group made it to Joe Bump Cabin—a remnant of a pre-Wilderness time when people had tried to domesticate the Frank and extract resources from it. How did they survive out here? A little further down the trail, a grave marked, “Elmer ‘Set-Trigger’ Purcell, prospector-trapper, Died 1936” reminded me of the posterity of the challenges, ruggedness, and wildness of this place.

This hitch was a great reminder of the social aspect of Wilderness. While I do enjoy solitude and self-reliance, I also enjoyed seeing the way this place brought people together in ways that aren’t easy to come by in the front country. I loved the sights and experiences I was able to enjoy, but they were not mine alone to behold. This public land was designated for everybody to experience. Whether you’re in your teens or your eighties, this unique area allowed opportunities for all different kinds of people to immerse themselves in Wilderness in many different ways. Wilderness experiences in the Frank can be as diverse as the ever-changing landscape.

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The group posed for a picture while taking a mid-afternoon snack break. Pictured from left to right: Steve, John, Larry, Betty, Josh, Bill, Keith, Sally, Howard, Allison, Dave, Ben, Zach.

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Looking up the River of No Return from a rocky point above the river.

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I woke up at 5:00 one morning for a sunrise soak in the hot spring pool near camp.

Wilderness Blowout

Natalie Stockman

Nez Perce-Clearwater Trail Crew Member

Eagle Rock

June 26 – July 4

Nez Perce-Clearwater NF/Selway-Bitterroot

I began my first hitch with the rest of SBFC trail crew at the wilderness gateway campground in Kooskia, ID. We had met before hand to look at the map and plan our route but the hitch was still full of mystery. Especially after realizing that the maps are, in some cases, a rough idea of what the trail will look like. We set out to clear from the Huckleberry Butte trail head to the Seven Lakes then out Lone Knob. We climbed up the Huckleberry Butte for the first day with day packs and tools to see how much clearing we would need to do.

After hiking a few miles short of Huckleberry Butte we returned to camp, only to hike up again the next day. We promptly hit impassable snow once we came within a half-mile of the peak on the second day. It was clear we wouldn’t complete the loop as planned so we looked at the map and decided to camp at Stanley hot springs. Considering the state of our bodies after what would be three long days of hiking we were in unanimous agreement about camping near the hot springs.

For the remainder of the hitch we had a mix of beautiful cool sunny days and cold rainy days, but coming back to the hot springs every night was a special treat at the end of the day. Similar to a square of dark chocolate you forget about in the bottom of your food bag. One day in particular stood out as my excitement began to grow for the adventures to come. From the Hot Springs we cleared trail #222 to Rock Lake. The day was perfectly sunny and cool for working. Although the trail was impressively steep in some places, it periodically opened up to small meadows where the view looking into the vastness of the Selway consumed me.

Moments like those on our first hitch reminded me of an exercise we did during the Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills institute just a few weeks earlier. We participated in a presentation by Sue McDonald, an experienced wilderness interpreter from the Arthur Carhart center. She laid out a series of images centered around outdoor recreation for the most part and asked us to silently choose one that represented wilderness in our lives. I chose a photo of a sunset over an expanse of mountains. For me, wilderness means feeling small. In those moments where we hike above tree line or the trail weaves through open meadows I am warmly reminded of places that make me feel small. Places where I can see and experience the grandeur of the landscapes we visit.

“We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.” 
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

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Things are Looking Up!

Nolan McNamara

Maryville College (TN)

Storm Creek

June 26 – July 3

Nez Perce-Clearwater NF/Selway-Bitterroot

Our second hitch on the Storm Creek loop was another success thanks to the leadership of our awesome crew leader Will and the grit of my crewmates. After our time off everyone was excited to get back out into the backcountry and back to work together. The weather was on our side most of this hitch with only a slight bit of rain, which definitely helped our progress and morale. We base camped at the junction of trails 77 and 99 for the first few nights. The most difficult day was Day 3 when we cut through an old burn area that burned in 2012. We cut over 250 trees in less than half of a mile, but we kept plugging away and made it to the creek crossing before returning to camp that evening. The following two days we worked up towards Siah Lake. This was the first alpine lake I had ever seen, and words cannot justify the purity and power of this landscape.

The views surrounding Siah Lake, snow-capped peaks and glistening lake water, made it a little bit easier to crawl out of our toasty sleeping bags in the mornings to start work in the stinging cold wind.  At the end of Day 6 we took full advantage of the lake when the sun was beating down over the crystal-clear water. James was able to practice his fishing, Will took a quick swim, and I did some sunbathing on a fallen log that extended over the water.  This relaxing break offered some much-needed meditation time as some personalities began to naturally clash after a week of working and living in close quarters.

I am extremely grateful for the patience and understanding the crew continues to show each other, even on some of our hardest days. Despite our occasional quarrel there are no other individuals with which I would rather face the trials of the elements.

As we jokingly reminded each other towards the end of the hitch when it seemed mother nature was kicking us while we were down, “Things are looking up!”

Embracing the "What"?

James Myers- Wilderness Ranger Intern                                                                                  Appalachian State University                                                                                                    Training/Boulder Creek Trail 211                                                                                              15 May - 4 June/June 12-20                                                                                                        Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forest

TRAINING May 15-June 4                                                                                                          I arrived at orientation with several emotions running through my body. I was super excited to begin my summer and start a new adventure, I was also worried because I had no Wilderness experience and wasn’t sure how behind the curve I would be. We jumped right into training on day one and my worries quickly vanished. Getting hands-on experience with the crosscut and practicing the various types of trail work, such as re-tread, left me feeling more confident and prepared for my first hitch. The Wilderness First Responder course gave me additional confidence knowing my teammates and myself would be able to properly respond in the event of an emergency.

BACK COUNTRY TRAIL WORK June 12-20                                                                          Our first day started off with an eight-mile hike clearing Boulder Creek Trail 211 to Horse Camp.  I was still a bit nervous going into this hitch because it would be my first official time doing trail work, but as we settled into the journey and began getting our hands dirty my feelings calmed. The following three days were long working days, we set up a gravity water system for the stock animals.  The stock carried our group dinners for the hitch. I will be forever grateful for Erika, the Forest Service Ranger, that provided us with pack support and helped us clear Trail 211.  We were able to clear up to Fish Lake Saddle.  At that point the snowpack became too deep for us to continue trail work.

Day four we woke up to pouring rain with no sign of clearing.  Being a US war Veteran, I’d packed my motivational t-shirt (just for such an occasion) with “Embrace the Suck” written across the front.  Wearing the shirt is a morale boost for me, I put it on that morning – I needed it.  I also hoped that the shirt would be motivation for the group. 

We set out to clear Long Lake trail in the pouring rain – yep, “suck”. We tackled a huge mess of downed large and medium-sized trees for our first task of the day, by that point we were all nice and wet with thoroughly soaked boots. Despite the curveball Mother Nature threw at us, and all the downed trees that needed to be removed, we prevailed and remained in high spirits and cleared most of the trail that day and finished Long Lake Trail the next day. The team pretty much stayed wet for the remainder of the hitch, but as conditions worsened our teamwork grew. We fed off each other’s energy and accomplished the objectives of the hitch. The smiling faces and thank-you’s from hikers using the trails made every second of the “suck” worth it. I’m excited to continue working with my teammates and can’t think of a better crew to “Embrace the Suck” and enjoy this magnificent landscape with.

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Back to Dutch Ridge

Joey Hudek - Nez Perce-Clearwater Moose Creek Trails Liaison

Dutch Ridge Trail #2150

It was going to be an amazing hitch! There had been talk of it all season and the time had finally come. I, along with the FS trail crew and an MCC crew, were going to reestablish part of Rhoda Creek trail #620 that had been lost. This was the last section of the Idaho Centennial Trail that needed to be opened. We were in charge of driving the golden spike in one of the most remote areas in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. I was excited to get deep into the wilderness.

That excitement was short lived as I found out plans had changed because of wildfire. The MCC crew was evacuated and we were all in need of somewhere to go. And there was somewhere else to go, but it was not the amazing wilderness experience I was hoping for. It was actually a trail that I was hoping to not go back to. Dutch Ridge trail #2150. A steep, non-Wilderness trail that accesses Gold Hill trail #247 in the Wilderness. It badly needed to be opened and brushed. So off we went with power tools in hand to work up Dutch Ridge. The trail starts by fording the Lochsa River, which isn’t too bad at this time of the year. With boots and pants off, multiple trips were made to shuttle all of our gear and tools across. Then we spent the next 2 days slowly humping our gear about 5 miles up the very steep trail to an old outfitter camp. Over the rest of the hitch, we completely opened the trail and brushed at least 3 miles of it to spec. Surprisingly, this was done with smiles on all of our faces. I think we all took pride in bringing this trail back to life. I know I did. Dutch ridge hadn’t been opened since 2012, and who knows when it was last brushed.

This hitch was not at all what I was hoping for, but I still really enjoyed it. Getting to work alongside MCC is always great. It takes me back to my trail work roots. Even though, we weren’t working in the Wilderness we were still supporting the Selway-Bitterroot. The Dutch Ridge trail #2150 is just another access point to this amazing place. And I know someone is excited about our work. After we hiked down the steep ridge and forded the Lochsa for the last time we found a thank you note from an outfitter on our rig.

Hitch report:

# of crew members (SBFC, MCC, and FS): 10

Miles of trail opened: 7.6

Years since opened last: 5

Miles of trail brushed: 3+

# of times fording the Lochsa: 3

# of bee/hornet stings: 2

# of happy outfitters: 1

 

On High Alert!

Connor Adams - Selway Trail Crew Member

Selway River Trail #4.3

Bitterroot National Forest

Despite a canyon full of smoke, several active fires in the area, and dozens of rattlesnake encounters, the SBFC Trail Crew has another hitch worth of solid trail work on the books. The hitch was ended two days early due to changing fire weather, but the trail crew and Will Merritt – the Powell Liaison – were able to swing a few tools for the betterment of the Wilderness.

The work this hitch primarily focused on deferred maintenance on the Selway River Trail north of the Paradise Trailhead. In all, 3.5 miles of trail were maintained between Running Creek and Goat Creek, with over a half a mile of retread done in problem spots. A heavily used trail for hikers, stock users, and hunters alike, the tread was a few years overdue for some love. Trail #4 winds along the steep canyon walls for much of its length, and in spots failed retaining walls and gravel slough have caused dangerously skinny benches and blowouts on the downhill side of the trail. We repaired many of these blowouts, widened the bench along the steep sidehills, and dug the sloughed gravel off the trail. In addition, we cleaned out drains and water bars and performed some spot brushing.

The trail was practically crawling with wildlife during our time on it. The fire activity seemed to confuse the creatures of the dusk. The smoked-out sun encouraged the crickets and night birds to sound off in the middle of the day, and the rattlesnakes were sluggish, though still very prevalent. We saw a minimum of one per day on or beside the trail, and on our last day of work had no fewer than eight encounters. In addition, we spotted a few Western skinks and an adorable pygmy owl. Trail #4 north of Paradise, despite the heavy traffic and private inholdings, is a haven for critters.

The fires are still burning heavily on the Forest, though the smoke had generally cleared out by the last days. The first signs of fall (minus the rain, of course) began with the changing colors and falling needles, as well as much colder temperatures at night. The trail, however, is in much better shape. Once the fires die down, it will be ready for use!

Fires changed our course but not our objective

Trevor Fero – Nez Pierce-Clearwater Trail Crew Member

Hitch #6 – Selway #4

Bitterroot – Frank Church Wilderness

As we say goodbye to the interns, it’s time for the rest of the staff to focus on the remaining 4 hitches of the season. Because there are so many forest fires on the Nez-Pierce-Clear Water National Forest, the trail crew and I (along with Courtney, Will and Betty the dog) have been moved south to the West Fork Ranger District of the Bitterroot National Forest to work in the Frank Church Wilderness. While in the Frank, we were tasked with deferred maintenance on the Selway River Trail #4. The first three nights we worked out of Magruder Cabin and then base camped four and a half miles down from the trail head. All season we have been cutting and running but with new territory comes new responsibilities. Our job on the Bitterroot National Forest was to spot re-tread, brush, remove rock from the trail, and do a bit more rock work. We did spot retreading for three quarters of a mile, brushed three and one quarter miles, and did forty-five feet of rock work bringing us to a total of ten miles worked down the Selway River Trail all the way to Sweat Creek.

It was a pleasure being on hitch with Will and Courtney (and Betty the dog) because they brought new and exciting energy to the trail crew.   It is always great working with new people because there are always new things to learn.   I learned new meal options, specific ways to improve posture while digging tread all day, and how to create a rock retaining wall to improve trail stability. Good company also helps turn negative situations into positive situations… On our last day driving out of the back country our rig, (affectionately named “Deer Hunter”) broke down at the Stevensville Ranger Station causing us to arrive 3 hours later than expected to Missoula. Because we had each other as company, the wait for help from AAA seemed to fly by.  Courtney and Betty were also nice enough to give us all rides back to Missoula from Stevensville.  All in all the beautiful location and wonderful company made for an amazing hitch.