When I first realized that I would be in the Idaho backcountry working along the Selway River for more than 20 days, I didn’t know exactly how to react; I was a bit nervous about spending so much time away from a “normal life,” but excited to embrace the wild as an old friend. During our month of training, preparing for our first hitches on trail, legendary Forest Service employee Charlie Mabbot certified myself and my fellow interns in using crosscut saws. Charlie has been just about everywhere in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, and when he heard about the extended time I would be spending along the Selway River this summer, he fondly referred to it as “the Moose Creek marathon,” referring to spending so much time in the Moose Creek district along the Selway River. I sheepishly asked Charlie to describe the area for me, seeing as I had never been there before. As a twinkle of memory danced across his distant stare, he simply replied, “I can’t really put it into words. But you’ll find out soon enough.” I knew then that I was in for a treat. As a crew of three — myself, Christian LaBar (fellow SBFC intern), and Courtney Oyler (SBFC crew leader) — we set out from Race Creek headed east toward Moose Creek Ranger Station. After three days of administering campsite inventories along the Selway River, we arrived at Moose Creek Ranger Station. We were lucky enough to be joined by Forest Service Wilderness Ranger Anna Bengston for some trail work, brushing, and general maintenance around the ranger station. A highlight of this hitch for myself and Christian came one morning when the four of us were bucking a Doug Fir tree to quarter up into firewood. We decided it would only be appropriate to have the first annual crew leader/wilderness ranger vs. intern team bucking contest. Armed with crosscut saws, each team dug into the wood with ferocity, and just like that it was over. As the sawdust settled, I was amazed to see the section of log in front of Christian and me fully severed while our opponents still had with a few inches of log to cut. Granted, our section of log was a bit thinner, so we had a rematch to prove it wasn’t a fluke — turns out it wasn’t, but it was probably just dumb luck . . . .
For our second hitch, Christian and I found ourselves without a crew leader as we hiked toward Shearer Guard Station, administering more campsite inventories and clearing trail along the Selway River Trail. Once at Shearer, Christian and I continued to monitor campsites and cleared two miles of trail along Goat Ridge Trail and three miles on Goat Ridge Trail #529. We even got the chance to improve on a previous creek diversion project, which will provide a small stream of water to the Shearer corral for future stock use. We couldn’t help but feel like children again, clearing away mud and grass and creating a rock dam in the creek to force more water into our diversion path. At the end of the day, it was strangely satisfying to see the fruits of our labor as a horse and two mules enjoyed the new water pool in their corral. Eventually the time came for us to hike away from the Selway River — we retraced our 40-mile hike in just two and a half days. Christian and I both agreed that we came into these hitches as nothing but co-workers, but left as good friends who know more about each other than most people in our lives do. It’s curious how 20+ days in the wilderness can foster that sort of bond and trust between folks.
Now that I’ve walked in and out of the Selway River Wilderness Area, I find myself struggling to put it into words. Just like Charlie, I would like to say that each person needs to spend enough time out there to really find out for themselves what it’s like to be along the Selway. What I can say is that if you ever find yourself on a grassy knoll close to sundown, and wildflowers paint a foreground of red and violet, while the soft distant noise of water moving over rock whispers in your ear — then you’ll know you’re along the Selway. And if you hike all day in the hot sun, only to finally feel relief in the cool clear river water you have been following like a friend — then you’ll know you’re along the Selway. Or, if you find yourself getting lost amongst the expanse of wooded hills, then after realizing you needed to lose yourself to find out who you really are — then you’ll know you’re along the Selway.
— Seth Bader, Wilderness Ranger Intern