Camp at Monumental Ridge Creek

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.