Blog

Thanks to our exceptional volunteers!

   

Jake Henry 2

With the third hitch behind us, it is finally safe to say that I am pooped! The other interns and I have battled through some very hard work and have quite literally conquered mountains. We have been covered in everything from mosquitos to dirt, blood, and sweat… It has been awesome! We are all becoming stronger and certainly more skilled with the tools that we use on the trails. We just finished our third hitch of the season and we were lucky enough to have volunteers on the trip. It made things very different from the way that they usually are. Jake Henry 1The volunteers bring something to the trip that could be described as a curious passion for nature. It means so much to me to see that there are people out there willing to sacrifice their time and energy to help out and get some work done. All of the hitches have been great but this past one in particular was special. Any time that you get that many passionate people together, great things happen. I am greatly looking forward to continuing my work and my next few hitches. I wouldn’t replace my fellow interns with anyone else in the world. I love working with them and I cannot wait to keep it up.

Jake Henry – Eastern Kentucky University

 

 

Harrington Ridge - the drama of nature

Vivian MapThis past hitch the Selway-Bitterroot team went over to the Frank Church for a lesson in remoteness. Getting to our trail, Harrington Ridge, was an effort in itself. First, we drove 60 miles on the infamously rough Magruder Corridor to reach Salmon Mountain base camp. Then from the trailhead, we hiked 10 miles in to Swet Lake Cabin, which was just off the junction to Harrington Ridge Trail. The impending thunderstorms looming over the drive up provided dramatic lighting for an intensely dynamic landscape, one that alternated from dense walls of forests to wide open tracts of burned areas.

The Magruder Corridor is the sole divider of the Selway-Bitterroot and the Frank Church River of No Return Wildernesses. Together, these two wilderness areas make up the largest block of wilderness in the US-- and the views reflect this. This isolated location came with incredible views of seemingly unending wilderness and mountains. Stopping at Nez Perce Pass- the meeting point between Idaho and Montana- it was only mountains as far as the eye can see stretching from the East to the West. It was as if you could walk forever and only be climbing mountains.

The trip started with a night at Salmon Basecamp, under the cover of the season’s first thunderstorms.

These were not our only encounters with storms, the first half of our trip was filled with thunderstorm and hail. Not only that, but our entire route was basically composed of ridges so we were not only exposed to incredible panoramic views but also to the elements. This made being out and experiencing the views all the more worth it as the storms intensified the scenery, with billowing clouds that would speed overhead, oscillating the lighting from darkness to brilliance in a matter of minutes.

With this weather, we remained flexible and erred on the safe side, which translated to 3 nights in the cabin. The first two nights were wet and cold, and the cabin was a warm, dry haven. We ended up clearing 5.25 miles of quickly disappearing trail (due to its remote location is barely used/maintained) with our fantastic volunteers, Bryce and Josh.

Overall, this ridge trip was a reminder of how moving and powerful wilderness can be.

Vivian Ly - Stanford

 

 

Dagger Falls - Thoughts on Wilderness......

Dagger FallsI’m currently sitting at Dagger Falls Campground, on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The Middle Fork is a Wild & Scenic River and a premier destination for floaters in Idaho. The falls are absolutely stunning, our campground is covered in Mariposa lilies, and the air is filled with the scent of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir. We’ve already seen pine marten, pika, and we just missed the annual Chinook salmon run by a week. Despite having all the “feels” of wilderness, this campground is similar to many others in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in that the road leading up to the campground creates a “cherry stem”—a long, narrow non-wilderness intrusion—in the wilderness boundary. Considering that we’re over two hours from any paved road and at least three hours from any sort of advanced medical care, many perspectives would say we’re in “wilderness”, despite the fact that this campground is accessible by vehicle and the actual Wilderness boundary lies about 100 yards on either side of us. This common condition of “cherry stemming” in the Frank Church-River of No Return reflects the larger historical context of this Wilderness and poses questions for the future management of this vast place.  

While the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness was designated in 1964 with the passage of the Wilderness Act, the Frank Church-River of No Return was not federally recognized until 1980. As one can deduce, this delayed designation came with many more compromises in the legislature—more “cherry stems”, a large number of airstrips, many private inholdings—as well as a generally tenuous “wilderness culture” when compared to the Selway-Bitterroot. From what I can tell based on my limited experience here so far, the somewhat wilderness-resistant character is wearing off in the River of No Return as our nation’s attitude toward wilderness becomes more admirable and more people catch wind of the largest, most unexplored contiguous Wilderness area in the lower 48. Nonetheless, the original compromises cannot be undone.

I now realize that most of my distaste with this all-too-familiar situation of compromises in Wilderness is actually rooted in guilt. As I become more accustomed to this area and the general workings of federal management agencies, such concessions become commonplace. However, my straight shootin’, deep-down wilderness steward self knows that we—both as a country with Wilderness in its veins and as wilderness stewards—can do much better than that. I feel guilty that I’m letting such lackadaisical wilderness management go unquestioned, unchallenged, and un-retaliated.

I understand that compromise is fundamental to functional legislature and I have the upmost respect for legislators that are willing to defend Wilderness, but it is also crucial to maintain a constituency that stands firm on the grounds of wilderness character and questions the decisions of our lawmakers. Only then can we live up to the title “Guardians of Freedom”.

 

Peter Breigenzer-University of Montana

New Turnpike for the Yellowjacket Project

We began our journey by meeting our first 5 volunteers and 4 Forest Service crew members the night of June 20 at Yellow Jacket Lake Campground where we made introductions over our first dinner together. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next morning we began with our daily yoga stretch after a good breakfast and then made our way 2 miles up the trail to base camp where we would be working for the next four days. Shortly after setting up camp we began to work on the turnpike across the marsh and made good progress even though the rain and lightning shut us down early.

The work over the next few days were long, hot and strenuous yet gratifying as we watched the project quickly come together. Everyone had a chance to work on all aspects of the job from running a crosscut saw and brushing to hauling, peeling logs, and putting them in place.

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There was also always a good dinner to look forward to at the end of the day; salmon one night, steak and potatoes the next, jambalaya on another, and everyone took a night to pitch in and cook so everyone else could take their time to relax.

The Drake Cooper Volunteers came in mid-week and thanks to their hard work helped us to finish the turnpike on time.

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I would like to thank all the volunteers for their hard work so that future generations will have an opportunity to visit these grand places. Thank you to Sally, Nikki, Sheryl, Tom and Leslie and our Drake Cooper volunteers; Amanda, Chase, Chris, Colleen, and Malia. I would also like to thank our Forest Service crew, Jeff, Harry, Rachel and Anne for your hard work. A big thanks to Coby also for taking the time out of his busy schedule to come out and lead this trip.

Hard work was done and new memories and new friendships were made. Thank you all again and may our paths cross again on the great trail of life.

WARM SPRINGS CREEK TRAIL, WIND LAKES, GRAVE PEAK LOOKOUT

Well it’s already the end of hitch two. Greg, Ben, Taryn, Jake and I started out hiking the Warm Springs Creek Trail on day one. The weather forecast predicted this hitch to be a hot and dry one; it wasn’t wrong in the end. We were sent to cover a lot of miles this hitch and so we split into two separate work forces and then met back up towards the end of the hitch. Greg’s team went over to McConnell Mountain, while Ben and I went to clear the rest of the Warm Springs trail and the trail up to Wind Lakes. The team got back together just in time for a day full of some serious brushing. Then we enjoyed 4th of July together sharing stories and laughs. The last couple of days were spent up around Wind Lakes. After another day of clearing trail, our team hiked up to Grave Peak Lookout for some amazing 360 views. We then made sure to swim a little in the gorgeous lake that we named “Mirror Mirror on the Wall” just because we could. All in all I feel confident and proud about the work that we accomplished. Wishing you all fun filled adventures. Susan Eisenbraun – University of Idaho

BIG CREEK & ST. MARY'S LOOKOUT

It can be too easy sometimes to focus on work and almost forget where you are. Our first project of the hitch was to head up Big Creek. Big Creek Lake is the biggest in the Bitterroots. Our commute to work involved stopping to take our boots off to cross the dam’s spillway on the edge of the lake. Although this lengthened the time of our hike, the cool water flowing by my feet as the sun rose over the hill reminded me to enjoy our incredibly scenic location. We cut out logs so the packer could get to camp for our trips up Big Creek with the Sierra Club and American Hiking Society later this summer. Midway through our nine-mile hike I happened to look at the bottom of my boot. The sole was cracked almost in half! For our second project, Claire led four interns (myself included) and 10 volunteers on a two-day project working on the trail at Saint Mary’s Peak. The first day we all hiked up to the 9,351 ft. summit, enjoyed the stunning views, and worked down the trail, cutting out logs, brushing the trail, and cleaning 187 drains,  all in two days. In a few weeks, the lookout volunteer can be packed in along a clear trail. This was an incredible way to spend a holiday weekend; we even had a barbeque for the volunteers at the home of our incredible hosts. One of the interns, Valentin filled up on all the good food by eating four veggie burgers. I guess he was hungry.

Hitch 2 was a great success, and I would recommend taking a look at the bottom of your boots once in a while.

Carly Stinson - University of MontanaP7040086

On to a Summer of Beauty and Hard Work.....

Jim Renshaw Women interns June 29, 2015

What a week! We have officially completed our intern training based at the beautiful Lochsa Historic Ranger Station, a setting fit for a mountain yoga retreat. We began our training as Wilderness Ranger Interns in Missoula, MT where we participated in a heated discussion about the meanings of the Wilderness Act. After this, we rounded ourselves up and shipped off down Highway 12 to our home for the week at the Lochsa Historic Station. Each morning we would rise, participate in a rejuvenating yoga session, and split up in to groups of two or three with our wilderness partners for station based trainings. The stations included tread-digging and brushing, stock packing, crosscut saw and axe use, noxious weed identification, campsite monitoring training, campsite preparation, and a colorful history of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness by the one and only Jim Renshaw.

I cannot even begin to describe how much I learned this week, not only about the job, but also about the delightful and committed folks that make the SBFC Foundation run, as well as the SBFC Trail Crew and my fellow Wilderness Ranger Interns. On our last evening at the Lochsa Historic Station we scrubbed ourselves up a bit, piled into the MCC vehicles, and trekked to River Dance – a scenic restaurant located on the shores of the Selway River. Here we had the opportunity to meet the board members of the SBFC Foundation, as well as indulge in one of the most savory meals of the summer. As the sun set I couldn’t help but to get a little sappy – what a lucky group of people we all are to get the opportunities to work and live in one of the most breath-taking places I have ever experienced. And all thanks to the people who love, and have loved, this area as much as we do. While I am sad to say ‘so long’ to the majority of these friends for the summer, I am energized and excited to apply all of my new skills in the field. Cheers to a summer of beauty and hard work!

Taryn Schreiner – Northern Arizona University

Overnight project sets the tone

unnamed[4] unnamed[3] unnamed[5]June 23, 2015 On the morning of June 22, the Bitterroot National Forest Wilderness Intern crew hiked up the Sweeney Ridge Trail.  We hiked up in a quite literal sense: gaining 1,800 feet in the first 2 miles, and then 500 in the last half mile.  They were a long 7 miles, during which we silkied and crosscutted our way toward the campsite at Duffy Lake.  Grueling aside, we were rewarded with beautiful views of glacier-carved mountains, wildflowers, and alpine lakes.

This overnight project closed out the field portion of our first hitch, setting the tone for the rest of the season;  exhausting, challenging, rewarding, and indescribably beautiful.

Melinda Horne-University of Montana

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.  I am much more prepared for any medical issues that could arise while in the backcountry.  My first-aid kit might even expand to more than two band aids and ibuprofen.  On the second day of training we felt confident enough to perform a head-to-toe examination, our instructors, Ramon and Dara, humbled us by having us perform an examination blindfolded. We grew as a team, forced to coordinate and designate levels of command to respond to a Multiple Casualty Incident which was acted out by volunteers.  We looked for little details, or changes in a patient’s vitals, while the bigger picture of evacuation priority and scene safety couldn’t be ignored either.  Our acting skills improved as we played patients that weren’t always very cooperative. We even got to talk to the crew of a medical helicopter that landed in the field. The final day, we heard an incredible rap on carbon monoxide poisoning performed by the trail crew.

After some intense days we roasted s’mores and worked on our ultimate frisbee skills too.

Carly Stinson-University of Montana

First 8 days - Prepared and Ready

June 2, 2015 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.

For eight days we were Wilderness First Responders in training.  No matter how proudly and symmetrically constructed our three-sided occlusive dressings, nor how comfortable our improvised litters, nor even how swiftly and sturdily we immobilize a patient’s head and prevent the cervical spine from further injury, it was all a simulation, all practice and preparation. Many thanks to our Aerie Backcountry Medicine instructors, now we know how to prevent backcountry medical emergencies as well as how to best take care of our fellow interns, our volunteers, and ourselves.

During our "off hours" we trained in ultimate Frisbee and horseshoes, shared of ourselves over campfires, and hit the town in Potomac, Montana, twice overwhelming Cully’s, a burger place attached to the town’s gas station. This Tuesday, June 2, we head off to Lochsa Historical Ranger Station for SBFC training, soundly primed for medical emergencies and to enjoy one another’s company.

Monte Cole-Washington University in St. Louis

 

 

A Sense of Adventure

August 29, 2014 Andrew Bushnell - Blog PostPhoto Andrew

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.

Not Too Many People Have Access to Wild Huckleberries on the Job

Hannah Ettema - Blog Post
For a day, I got to be a Wilderness Ranger. Well, part of a day. On a regular old Tuesday in August, my coworker Zia and I explored the Lolo National Forest with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Wilderness Foundation ’s (SBFC) two Wilderness Interns and their Crew Leader. A long-time NFF grant recipient, the SBFC received funding from our Matching Awards Program for this year’s Wilderness Ranger Intern program . The team at SBFC was kind enough to invite us along as Interns Erica and Julia started their last “hitch” of the season outside of Lolo, Montana. Most hitches, or backpacking trips, last seven days. This one would be a shorter five day hitch. After our short caravan of cars made it to the trailhead, the girls, along with their crew leader Coby, needed a few moments to get ready for five days in the Wilderness. Beyond the basic necessities of hiking and camping, the team also took the various tools and supplies needed to do their job: a crosscut saw, shovel, handheld saw, hard hats, clippers, trash bags and more I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Interns Getting Ready
Erica and Julia prep for their last hitch of the season.

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.

girls sawing
Erica and Julia using Tinkerbell to cut a log blocking the trail.

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.

Before after
The trail before and after we removed the log.

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.

Campsite Inventory
The SBFC team taking inventory of the campsite.

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.

Zia trims trees
Zia cuts small trees away from the trail and admires the nearby huckleberries.

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.

Huckleberries
The huckleberries were plentiful and big all along the trail.

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.

Hannah and Coby
Coby and I taking a lunch break.

Solitude in the Selway

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!

Kenny GKenny Blog

Powell Rangers

 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 wBen and PatBenny and Kennyhatever comes their way…Keep it up guys, for WE ARE the POWELL RANGERS!!! – Ben Palladino

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.

Ode to Xena

  DSCN1990DSCN1103Of 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.

Cream Puffs to Beef Jerky

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The wilderness is abuzz in birthday celebration—bird calls echo through trees, snowmelt waterfalls over rocky cliffs, wildflowers tint the verdant hillsides with whites, yellows, and purples, and even the ticks and mosquitos are making an appearance. While some might say the array is simply a showing of spring, but it sure feels like a party.

The wilderness is abuzz in birthday celebration—bird calls echo through trees, snowmelt waterfalls over rocky cliffs, wildflowers tint the verdant hillsides with whites, yellows, and purples, and even the ticks and mosquitos are making an appearance. While some might say the array is simply a showing of spring, but it sure feels like a party.

It’s an exciting time to delve into the valleys, forests, and landscapes that are marking their 50th year of Wilderness, and this first hitch was a wonderful introduction into the Bitterroots.  Erica, Claire (our crew leader), and I went up four different canyons, monitoring campsites and obliterating campfire rings.  The Bitterroots are magnificent—glaciated valleys rise into rocky peaks and cliffs—and the fabulous geography distracted us green interns from our blistered feet, sore shoulders, new callouses, and high-waisted uniform pants. With every canyon, my body is changing from a soft winter cream puff to a sinewy piece of jerky, and I like to think that by the end of this summer I’ll be pretty darn tough.

Fits and Starts on the Centennial Trail

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…”

 

False start!

 

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.

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Why I Love Wilderness

During our interns' crosscut saw training, the Forest Service offered a beautiful double-bit axe to the winner of a writing competition. There were many wonderfully written odes to wild places, but only one axe to dole out as a prize. Here is intern Andrew Bushnell's winning entry to the prompt 'Why I Love Wilderness:'

"The meaning of Wilderness is not meant to be put on paper. The touch of wind, the rush of water cannot be wrote between lines. What we write, what we describe of wilderness is a mere attempt, a miniscule effort to cage something meant to be experienced. Wilderness is a feeling. It’s a sensation, a sense of something basic, simple, and unkempt. In its solitude it is welcoming. It beckons to the restless, and in its confines the restless find calm. The solitude of wilderness is not lonely. Within its character we find company. In the pines, in the birdsong, and in the feel of dirt beneath the palms we find solace. In its unkempt and wild nature we find order. In wilderness we find ourselves. With this quality, wilderness is the giver of meaning . It’s the backdrop for self discovery and the conduit for introspection. With its basic and pure character, it is a yardstick to measure oneself. Against the backdrop of wilderness we can find our meaning. Why we do what we do, what we want to do, who we want to be. Within wilderness a clarity exists like no where else. Outside influence becomes inward reflection and inward reflection becomes meaning. In its purest form wilderness is a way to experience oneself."

Congratulations Andrew! Here's a photo of him with his new beauty, outside Fenn Ranger Station.

Axe courtesy of Doug Olive, USFS, Fenn Ranger Station, Moose Creek Ranger District, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Selway Bitterroot Wilderness.

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