The Ranger Rag | SBFC Blog
Keep tabs on the SBFC through our field blog, “The Ranger Rag.”
August 29, 2014
Andrew Bushnell – Blog Post
Most of us will never be a Merriwether Lewis or a William Clark. We will never have the chance to forge a path through unexplored territories (unexplored by the white man), to make contact with unknown cultures, and to describe new species. The Corps of Expedition and the men that lead that group are the classic explorers, and have the classic adventure story. After reading Undaunted Courage, the story of Lewis and Clark, I found myself to be slightly depressed by my own experiences and adventures. Things that I had considered adventuresome like hiking and camping now seemed like a walk in the park compared to the trials and tribulations of Lewis and Clark. Just to keep their energy levels up they ate 9 pounds of meat a day. How can I compete with that? For weeks I thought about how its unfair that every place we venture to has pretty much been seen, been documented, been explored. Spending days in the Frank Church Wilderness, I found signs of humanity in the rusty cans, fire rings, and ropes you inevitably find in some camp. To me, these things were just another sign that I was not on the level of these old time adventurers. My adventure was not as new, not as groundbreaking. Everything that I was seeing had already been seen. People had been in these places, and I thought this made my modern day adventures less meaningful. One night though, as I lay in my tent, a wolf howled. For forty-five minutes, I listened to its somber chorus. Across the riffles of Indian creek, just 100 yards from where I slept, it moved up the ridge until it faded off and sounds of the creek were again the only noise in the night. Lying there, I came to a realization. I can never be a Lewis or Clark. I can’t paddle across the continent on undammed rivers, and I certainty cant hunt grizzly bears that roam the plains. Those adventures are past. Being in the Frank Church Wilderness all summer taught me a new kind of exploring. The exploring that comes from seeing a new place for the first time. Yes, someone else has probably been there and seen it before you, but no one has seen it from your eyes. No one before me has heard that same wolf howl in that same spot in that same instant. No one has seen that riffle in that sharp evening light the way you see it. No one has seen that meadow after the storm that just rumbled through. And no one can see and experience the things you encounter the same way you have. This in its self is like discovering places for the first time. Exploration is not dead. Adventures are still to be had. Just not in the flagpole planting kind of sense. We can’t be Lewis and Clark, and that’s ok. A summer in the Frank taught me this. In these wild places, the exploration and adventure is in the uniqueness of our encounters with the landscape. Each time we go out, we see something different and experience the land in a way that no one has before. The age of adventure and exploration lives. Its out there. Its in the ever changing landscape and features of the wilderness, and its in the way we see these places. Each time new, because each time experienced through new eyes.
I stood there with my small day-pack with a sandwich and water, and I felt as if I should be carrying 20 more pounds just to fit in with the group. To provide some assistance as we headed up the trail, Zia carried the crosscut saw, affectionately named Tinkerbell, and I carried the shovel. We figured if they had to carry these tools for five days, we could at least carry them for half a day. Not too long after we began hiking beneath towering pine trees along the cool air from Lolo Creek, we encountered our first barrier along the trail – a fallen log. Julia and Erica gratefully put down their packs and evaluated the situation. Eager to help, Zia and I began sawing off the small branches while the girls put the handles on the crosscut saw.
Once the log was ready, Julia and Erica began sawing the log first from the top, and then from the bottom in order to finish the cut. After the triumphant snap echoed through the woods, all four of us worked to pivot and roll it off the trail so that all users would have easy access.
Further down the trail, Erica and I chatted as we hiked. I didn’t even realize that we had stepped over a small log until Julia called out to Erica to make sure she was stopping. As an everyday hiker, I was shamefully unaware of the trail condition and how it not only affects me, but other users. As Wilderness Rangers, Julia and Erica were constantly checking for obstruction on the trail or any barriers users might encounter. With the second log removed, we continued up the trail and found an undeveloped campsite to inventory. As the Wilderness Interns trek through the forest, they take an inventory of each campsite noting its location, status, amount of use and then decide to either demolish the site or adapt for healthier use.
While the group spent about 20 minutes inventorying and maintaining the campsite, I couldn’t help but think of the scale of the Wilderness System as well as the National Forest System. There must be thousands of undeveloped campsites across the country that may or may not ever be recorded. And while that may be daunting to some for some, it only instilled wonder at the amount of work and dedication that the Forest Service and hundreds of organizations devote to these special places. After ascending on the trail a good ways later, we found a fine lunch spot. Before we ate, everyone used a small tool to help cut down small trees along the trail corridor that would otherwise grow to be a nuisance.
Huckleberries literally sweetened this task. Each time we crouched down to cut or snip a small tree, big, blue and purple berries greeted us. Soon we all were saying, “I’m too distracted by the huckleberries!” Zia and I quickly decided that we needed to eat all of our lunch so that we would have containers to fill with huckleberries on our hike down.
As mid-afternoon approached, Zia and I said our said goodbyes to the team and wished them well for the remainder of their last hitch. The NFF supports work on National Forests through local organizations across the country. Unfortunately, we are unable to visit each grantee. More than time in the office ever could, our time with SBFC reinforced first-hand why we do what we do.
Solitude in the Selway
I have never had a summer like this before and I enjoyed every aspect of it. This past hitch to Moose Creek was amazing! It was the longest time that I spent away from the front country and it was nice to escape the pressures from it. I really enjoyed all of the solitude I had on this trip. However I also enjoyed working within small groups and getting to know one another on this hitch. I had to remind some people and even myself sometimes that we can start focusing on what we are missing out on back home, that we don’t realize what we are missing out on at that very moment! All of these experiences in the wilderness are so very few and special. I am just honored that I have had the opportunities to be part of them.
While I was in the Selway, I got to hear a Wolf howl and I was so excited to hear it! It was so primitive to hear that and it made me think that wilderness policy is on the right move towards the future. Wolves are so essential to the ecosystem and it is great to know that they are part of the wilderness. I hope that over time all of these elements in the wilderness can come together and preserve not just the lands, but the wildlife within the wilderness as well.
See everyone soon!
On June 16th the Powell Rangers united at last at their base in Powell, Idaho. Still getting to know each other, they knew that they were at their weakest point. They didn’t know each other’s powers or strategies yet. Within hours they got a call to do their duties as top of the line wilderness stewards. They geared and suited up to help save the wilderness. It was a tough job at first clearing trails, monitoring the areas, and covering long miles, but they did it. They soon learned that they did indeed have different powers and strategies, but they also shared some. They often found themselves being goofballs, quoting movies, and drinking sugar water to keep the momentum going. It didn’t take the Powell Rangers long to become strong. Nowadays I would say that the Powell Rangers are quite good friends, if not best friends. The amount of powers they have gained this summer have been incredible when they are out protecting our wilderness areas. It makes a huge difference sharing and learning around these parts and I believe the Powell Rangers have the ability to tackle whatever comes their way…Keep it up guys, for WE ARE the POWELL RANGERS!!! – Ben Palladino
Susie Irizarry Blog Post: SBFC Wilderness Ranger Internship
7/17/2014 Camp at Monumental Ridge Creek / Lookout Mountain Ridge Junction
Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness
Day 3, Hitch 3, 8:41 p.m.
The Frank Church is a mysterious place – a place that I have yet to figure out, and a place where I am not quite at ease. Having worked in the Sierra Nevadas for the past three field seasons, I grew comfortable seeing hundreds of people a day, and felt the jagged granite peaks rising to the sky were a cradle for my wilderness adventures. In contrast, the area of the Frank Church in which I am working this summer has a more subtle landscape, and while the mountains of the Frank might appear to lack the razor sharp flakes of the granite Sierras, I have learned that these mountains contain a mysterious ferocity that can shake even routine wilderness adventurers. Today showed me a glimpse of that mysterious ferocity, a look into the powers that have molded the Frank’s landscapes. This morning my crew hiked from our camp at the East Fork of Holy Terror Creek toward Lookout Mountain, continuing to look for the section of trail which we were assigned to reroute. We also walked in search of water, as the East Fork of Holy Terror Creek was the last easily identifiable water source for the rest of our hitch. From today on, we are relying on locating natural springs and small creeks off trail, hoping to find a drainage that is not quite dry this late in the season. The scarcity of water today really made me anxious – particularly when the first potential water/camp site did not pan out, and we had to keep hiking with full weight for another five miles. Moreover, I had in hubris, made the decision to only carry 2.5 liters of water for the day, banking on the availability of water at the first camping spot. The next five miles were full of anxiety about water – ranging from thoughts of mild dehydration to heat exhaustion. On top of the nagging unknowns regarding the next water source and my lack of drinking water while hiking, smoke from a fire near Big Creek began blowing in mid-hike exacerbating my asthma and adding to my general state of unease. Today, for the first time all season, I felt really vulnerable in the Frank Church. I felt that the Frank was trying to shake me out of the comfort zone developed during my previous hitches. The Frank was reminding me that I was but a visitor on its vast landscape, and that the gifts of nature ultimately control my fate out here. Eventually, we found water about a half mile off trail by following what looked like a promising drainage from the map. I am proud to say that my field partner, Diane, and I located the headwater spring of Meadow Creek by following our instincts.
Finding water was a small victory, followed by challenges of heat, menacing afternoon thunder clouds, a rugged, rocky trail, and strong relentless winds. The Frank was not done with us yet, and my feeling of vulnerability fluctuated all afternoon. The Frank still echoes its powers even now, as I feel the wind whipping around my head and hear the rushing gusts over the Lookout Mountain ridgeline. Our camp tonight is just a speck on this vast landscape. As we sleep, the wind will continue to blow, the smoke will eventually settle, and the ants will continue to try to find a way into every foreign possession I have brought onto this landscape. Tomorrow I welcome the return to trail work after a day of hiking and unease, the return of opening the landscape to human exploration. I carry with me the lessons learned today – the hard earned humility and the reminder that the mysterious ferocity of the Frank Church will continue to prevail long after we hike out in five days. Today’s experiences have re-shaped my view of the Frank, shaking me out of my complacency with the landscape and reminding me that I am, indeed, working in the wildest place in the lower forty-eight.
Of all the object in a Wilderness Ranger tool kit, the backpack is by far the most important. Traveling and working in the backcountry would not be feasible without a sturdy pack to stuff all the items necessary for surviving unsupported in the Wilderness. On a typical hitch my pack contents include my tent, sleeping bag, bear can with food for 8 days, Steripen and iodine tablets for water purification, first aid kit, ½ lb of paperwork, journal, book for down time reading, fishing rod, all necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) clothing items, work gloves, hard hat, water bottles, and an assortment of trail tools.
This season my 85 liter Xena by Osprey has been my constant companion and burden. Walking down the trail I composed the following ode to my pack.
Ode to Xena
Oh Xena, my backpack, my friend and my foe
You fill me with gladness, amazement and woe
As down the trail I plod unrequited
Your molded hip straps have me quite excited
What padding! What comfort! I think with delight
Without such support I would be in a plight
For I work on trails and therefore I need
A pack large enough to hold tools, tent and feed!
Yet a ways down the trail, 5 or 10 miles or more
Despite your good structure I begin to feel sore
A little ways further and I start to protest
For the shoulder aches, and hip bruises are really grotesque!
But then just before I reach my wits end
I find my campsite and my spirits do mend
How cool that all I need can fit into this pack
I think as I pull you right off of my back
For now that I’ve made it, I’m done hiking, I’m here
My belongings you carried do fill me with cheer
The path is never ending and this just the start
Happy trails and sunny days lie ahead if we’re smart
So onward and upward there are things still to see
Together we’ll do it, me with you and you with me.
Five miles from the trailhead and a mere twenty feet into our first full day of trail work we reach our first log laying haphazardly across the trail.
Eric: “So, who has the saw handles?”
Susie: “Not me. Diane?”
Me: “Er… nope…”
Perhaps Eric and Susie thought I volunteered to jaunt the five miles back to the truck to collect the forgotten saw handles out of the goodness of my heart (or perhaps out of guilt, as I was the last one to have seen them). But truthfully, it was more of a selfish offer. You see, while Eric and Susie huffed up the trail with the other tools, I enjoyed a peaceful 3-hour hike along the beautiful Salmon River – no tools (except for the recovered saw handles on the way back), no people, no worries. Just me and my thoughts.
What should I make for dinner tonight? What if a mountain lion attacks me? What if the saw handles aren’t in the truck? What if I drove away and went to get a hamburger instead? And some more serious contemplations. What place does Wilderness have in the modern world? How do we preserve wild places in the face of growing populations and resource demands? How will I contribute to the preservation of these lands and their histories? How will I find my own path moving forward in life? And how lucky am I to be spending my summer in a place like this!
With the saw handles safely back in the presence of their other half (our beloved cross-cut, Peach) our three-person team kicked into action – literally, at times sitting on the ground to jointly push a log out of the trail with our feet. In keeping with our false start, the rest of the hitch was full of highs and lows – from staying down in the canyon at the swanky (by backcountry standards) private inholding at Campbell’s Ferry (think historic homestead with soft beds, a warm outdoor shower, cherry trees, and chilled drinks in the stream) to pushing camp to above 6,500 feet (12 miles, 40 switchbacks, and 7 grueling hours above the comfort of the homestead) where a bear proceeded to ransack our site, leaving his paw, bite and claw marks on our tents and stoves (but luckily not our food – thank goodness for bear canisters!).
The bear incident reminded me of an old newspaper column I had read during our first night in the cabin at Campbell’s Ferry, one of many written by long-time homestead resident Frances Zaunmiller chronicling her life in the Salmon River canyon. During her 40 years writing for the local newspaper, Frances wrote of curious bears and salmon fishing, of the installation of telephone lines and the weekly mail deliveries, of debates over the Wilderness Act and smokejumpers “invading” the ferry home and sleeping in the parlor (Frances writes, “For Pete’s sake, do be careful with your cigarettes and matches. There is no time for the Forest Service to be bothered with man-caused fires this summer.”) Reading Frances’ articles was like stepping back in time and like reading yesterday’s newspaper at the same time – her writing possesses the unmistakable tone of a bygone era, yet many of the wilderness issues she discussed are still debated today.
And many of the sentiments she described feeling while in the Wilderness of Campbell’s Ferry and the Frank Church River of No Return can still be felt there today. “My river is a primitive thing,” wrote Frances in one of her articles from the 1940s. Today, the Congressionally-designated “wild and scenic” Salmon River is still a primitive thing. And, for the time I spent hiking along its bank and staring into its blue-green depths from high above on the many switchbacks we climbed, the river was mine too. At the end of our hitch, back in the truck (saw handles and all) and heading towards civilization (and hamburgers) with Ke$ha and Pitbull’s pop song “Timber” on the radio, I was quickly returned to the 21st century – and to my iPhone, Facebook account, and 65 unread emails. But when I close my eyes I can still picture the river – my river – in all of her wild and scenic beauty and I am instantly reminded of the meaning and importance of Wilderness.
The pleasure of working in wilderness is an experience enjoyed by too few but cherished immensely by those who are privileged to do so. We walk to work each day, hauling our kitchens (food and backpacking stoves) and our houses (tents and sleeping bags) in the packs on our backs, sometimes weighing upwards of 50 pounds, depending on how many avocados and carrots we stuff into our bear cans. A typical day can consist of cutting trees or digging tread, assessing the state of a campsite, or opening up a trail corridor by trimming the brush that hides the trail.
But what is the purpose of our work? What does one cook for dinner our in the backcountry? My friends and family often ask me questions like this when I talk with about my work. I’ll do my best to answer a few that I think can give you an idea of what life on the trail is like for a Wilderness Ranger Intern.
Why cut trees that are down on the trail?
Trees that have fallen across a trail can be obstacles for people, stock, and wildlife that travel in that area. Sometimes the trees are easy enough to step over, though there are also cases that a log is so large one has to walk around it, going off the trail in order to keep moving. This can contribute to soil erosion and further impact on the resource as the trail snakes around the log off the original path, a path chosen by wilderness managers and workers to try to concentrate use in that area.
What’s for dinner?
Tortellini is a popular menu item for those working in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, as one of the grocery stores in Missoula sells it in bulk bins. The running joke within the Foundation is that we should just take our entire bear can to the store, stick it underneath the dispenser and fill it up to the top with pasta. Tortellini is also Executive Director Rob Mason’s favorite backcountry dinner, and he once said he could eat it every night without getting tired of it. I like to add a few sun-dried tomatoes and dried pesto to spice it up. Other than tortellini, we tend to stick to dried, nonperishable foods that are high in fat and calorie content in order to get the best energy value while carrying the least amount of weight. Dehydrated black beans, mashed potatoes and cheese wrapped in a tortilla is another easy meal I like to cook after a long day of work.
Do you have campfires every night?
Usually we try to stay away from having a fire unless there is a very good reason to do so—if it is so cold that one can help us stay warm, or if the air is so thick with bugs that a little smoke in the air can help us stay sane enough to cook dinner before we hide in our tents for the night.
— Kristina Schenck, Wilderness Ranger Intern | August 27, 2013
I’ve never been to Church before, but this summer I will be spending most of my time there. And by most of my time, I mean more than a month wandering through the depths of the Church’s nooks and crannies. I would guess I’ll become one of the most reliable Churchgoers around — maybe even going into the Church more in one summer than some will in a lifetime — although that’s not to say that I will even scratch the surface of what the Church has to offer. One could easily spend many lifetimes in the Church and come out with more questions and new places to explore.
When entering the Church, one most go by foot to preserve its history so future generations can enjoy its vast bounty. The Church’s floor is often full of dirt, grass, and vegetation, and the paths through are often riddled with downed trees. The ceiling changes by the day; some days it’s a crystal blue, and some days it’s dark as night with streaks of lightning exploding from the sky. With all of the beauty the Church holds, it can also be a volatile place, making the common Churchgoer very uneasy.
The Church has many reoccurring characters that I’ve already run into on numerous occasions this summer. Some of these permanent fixtures have been in the Church for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. One of the most prevalent figures is the Salmon River, with its Middle, North, South, and Yankee Fork that dominate the Church’s landscape. A common visitor to theChurch is fire. The light that comes from above streaks the landscape and bursts into flames. This natural process ends life, and creates new life. It is a vital part of keeping the Church new and alive. Tampering with the Church’s will is a dangerous game, and has been attempted in recent years, but with little avail.
While I will only be spending this summer in The Church, I can imagine I will spend many more in various Churches across the world. Not to say that this Church is any better than another. Each Church has something special to offer, and can bring to light new experiences and thoughts. All I know is that I will be a going to Church religiously for the rest of my life, and not only on Sundays.
— Jacob Mandell, Wilderness Ranger Intern | July 25, 2013