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.

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

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.

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

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




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.

DSCN0537 DSCN0509


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.












Q&A: Life on the Trail

Riley Stark and Bonnie Ricord underbuck a tree on the Dan Ridge Trail.

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

A view of the Bitterroot crest into Montana from Idaho's Maple Lake Pass.

July 21-25: Going to Church


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


July 30-August 7: Finding a Sense of Place

When I came to this internship, I was searching for a sense of place. After being away at school on the coast of British Columbia for four years, I was desperately missing the interior of the Northwest with its dry air and rugged mountains. I took the internship as an opportunity to come back to the place I had been carrying around inside of me and come to know it better. I envisioned working on trails and exploring new places, spending hours reflecting and watching the land and weather around me change as hitches passed. It never occurred to me that experiencing a sense of place might have to do with more than just knowledge and intimacy with the land. Reflecting on my experience, I’ve come to realize that self-knowledge and a sense of belonging in the world can be strongly tied to the people you share your experiences with. Wilderness is a place of relative solitude, yet I’ve found that sharing an experience in the wilderness with other people has made me more aware than ever of how inextricably bonded we all are; to each other as well as to the land, water, and food we need to survive.

During the last hitch as I waded through beautiful streams and glowing fireweed thickets on the trail we were clearing, I began to conceptualize something that I’ve never understood before. I’ve idealized solitude and independence for most of my life, and have striven for those values especially in the last few years. Yet traveling and working in wilderness for most of the summer, these values are fading in front of me, like mist off a meadow as the sun rises.

I’ve been left with an overwhelming feeling that perhaps one of the key elements to a wilderness experience (and to life) is what you share with others along the way; trust, hardship, success, fear. Wilderness demands that these emotions are brought to the surface, especially when you are working on a team, whether it be to clear trails or climb mountains. Good group experiences in the wilderness require communication and honesty with one another, and through openness bring us closer to each other as well as to our environment and our inner selves.

I still believe that solitude and self-sufficiency are an important piece of wilderness travel and I have no doubt that the beautiful, wild places I’ve experienced this summer will stay with me for the rest of my life and help to form my sense of place. However, the lesson that I will remember the most about this summer is the intense aloneness I felt when I was isolated contrasted with the deep satisfaction and understandings I experienced when I was working with great people in incredible, wild places.

     — Janine Welton, Wilderness Ranger Intern | August 8, 2013

Cooking dinner in evening sunshine after a long day of clearing trails.


No Water for Otters on Otter Creek Trail

The hitch started out with our wonderful crew driving 13 miles on bumpy Indian Hill Lookout Road. While driving, we stopped to cut trees that were blocking the way and listened to our wonderful crew leader, Ian Anderson, professing his undying love for thimbleberries. After trying a few, I must admit that thimbleberries are very tasty, and I’m excited to hunt for more wild berries on my next hitch. When we finally arrived at the trailhead of Otter Creek we met the Indian Hill lookout, Larry, and his two charming dogs. Larry explained that water was hard to find on the trail and told us if we were camping at the trailhead, we would have to drive two miles back down the road to get water. Because none of the crew had ever been to Otter Creek, we unfortunately did not know water would be such a challenge to get and had no way of storing extra water at camp. Thankfully, Larry offered to provide jugs and said he would fill them for us as long as we were camping at the trailhead. The crew appreciated Larry’s generosity and enjoyed not having to worry about having water at camp after their long days at work. Water was not the only challenge the crew faced at Otter Creek. The trail runs through several burn areas, which made progress down the trail slow at times. On the third day of the hitch, part of the crew cut about 80 trees within the first mile of the trailhead. Even though the burn areas were a challenge to work though, the hiking on Otter Creek Trail was beautiful. Highline Ridge had a spectacular sunset and most of the burn areas are full of a variety of vegetation.

Thanks to our hard work, Otter Creek Trail is now open. I would encourage people to visit the area and enjoy the views and wildlife that are around. Our crew leader saw two moose and the rest of the crew either saw or heard a hummingbird every day.

     — Sammy Bertelsen, Wilderness Ranger Intern | July 30, 2013


The view from the Highline Ridge

Moose Creek & Maple Lake

Growing up, I never would have imagined myself to be a birder. I didn't even picture naturalist until I attended a summer camp called Agree Outpost Camp when I was thirteen. It was a camp for young teens that taught skills such as backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, and how to build fires and poop in the woods. That camp brought out and developed my appreciation for nature. Every year after that summer, my mom claimed I became a little bit more "granola." My ever-expanding love of nature and different landscapes led me to pursue Wildlife Conservation and Management as my major at the University of Arizona. There, I have taken classes such as ecology, geology, natural resource history and policy, and herpetology. I took my first ornithology class last year. In that class we memorized more than 120 birds — and a great many of their calls, to boot. For the most part, I hated that class. I loved our field trips because we hiked wherever we went, but birding with binoculars, a Sibley's field guide, and notebook in hand seemed like a chore to me. After all, in class we learned that most birds (with the exception of corvids and psittacines) are pretty dumb. So what made birds so special to birders?

Slowly, with the help of my boyfriend (an avid birder) dragging me out to riparian areas in the desert (nerdy hunting binoculars strapped to his chest), I began to familiarize myself with many birds in Arizona. I spotted magnificent hummingbirds, western tanagers, verdin, sandhill cranes, and gila woodpeckers. My favorite birds to see, graceful and terrifying, were the raptors. Without the homework or the grades pressuring me to do well, birding started to become more meaningful.

I drove from Tucson, Arizona all the way to Missoula before my wilderness ranger internship started, and by the time I arrived in Montana in mid-May, I had spotted a great horned owl, several osprey, black-billed magpies, and many other exciting birds I had not seen before. With the help and enthusiasm of other birders I have met during this internship, I have spotted and correctly identified a plethora of amazing western birds. Fellow intern Bonnie Ricord and I shared experiences of seeing American dippers on the river. We mocked the funny bobbing motion of the birds and fell into a hilarious giggle fit at the sight of ourselves. Without any context at all, staffer Claire Muller saw our awkward motions and exclaimed, “You saw a dipper!?” Birders out here know their stuff.

Moose Creek was an especially exciting birding spot. I saw my first pileated woodpecker there, a dinosaur of a bird, and nearly died of excitement. Fellow intern Mara Menahan acted as my own personal walking, talking field guide, and together we listed a collection of beautiful birds that frequent Moose Creek. One day in the forest I was startled to hear a whistle or a kazoo, and I thought Wilderness Ranger Anna Bengtson was trying to prank me. When I asked her later, she informed me that the noise I had heard was actually a varied thrush. That day we listened to many of their calls, pitches high and low. Any birder would feel lucky to have had the experience I have had out here in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. The opportunity to further my own education (and rack up bird points!) has been a real gift.

     — Sam Sharka, Wilderness Ranger Intern | July 23, 2013

Wilderness Ranger Adam Washebek spotted a Spruce Grouse right off the trail on our way to Maple Lake.


July 2-July 10: Big Baldy Ridge of No Return


On July 2nd, Janine and I set out from the Challis area and headed to Cascade to meet up with program director Eric Melson and trail crewmember Jeff Allred. After checking in with the Forest Service and jamming all the gear into Goldee, our trusty rig, we headed towards the trailhead of Big Baldy Ridge Trail #227. The goal of the hitch was to cut-and-run the trail from Pistol Rock to Buck Lake.

The afternoon and following morning consisted of hiking to our first camp at the base of Pistol Rock. After settling in, we were able to break out the crosscut saws, and began to clear the trail. As we slowly progressed along the trail over the next couple days, we jumped from burn areas to green, observing charred north-facing slopes while south-facing slopes were a lush green spotted with a variety of wildflowers.

On July 6th we pushed camp to Buck Lake. After completing the 9-mile ridge hike and a search for switchbacks hidden by a snow cornice leading down, we were rewarded with a clear mountain lake. That afternoon, Janine and I experienced the inventorying of a heavy-use camp: cleaning and minimizing the campfire and distinguishing the level of use. After a late afternoon swim for all of us, Eric taught me how to gut a fish and he fried up rainbow and brook trout that he had caught in the lake.

The 7th was a long day, clearing nearly half the trail, but we were able to connect our work and the trail from Pistol Rock to Buck Lake is now passable! The following day we completed more campsite inventories at the lake, and sadly, the expectation of lighter packs on the hike out was inaccurate. The LNT (Leave No Trees) crew hiked out over 30lbs of trash from Buck Lake! After returning nine miles to Pistol Rock to camp for our final night, the group was exhausted and settled on the ridge for a bit to discuss wilderness stewardship in the grand scheme of things (while also avoiding the bugs at the campsite below).

On the 9th we hiked out from Pistol Rock, finishing a challenging, rewarding, and entertaining hitch. Eric, Jeff, Janine, and I cleared more than 600 trees from the Big Baldy Ridge Trail and hiked more than 250 miles together in 8 days!

     — Katie Currier, Wilderness Ranger Intern | July 11, 2013


June 18-26: The Greatest Challenge

Standing at the edge of the wild Salmon River drainage beyond Trout Peak on Chamberlain Trail #001.


It's easy to look back on any experience and forget the things that didn't go as planned. Those memories tend to fade quickly until we are only left with successful highlights and greater achievements to take with us into the future. Reflecting on our time spent at 6,300 ft beyond Trout Peak in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, it's apparent to me that the moments of uncertainty, instead, are the ones that will remain with me long after I return home in late August. Sure, we put a saw through a fair amount of trees, had the pleasure of meeting a gracious and knowledgeable host at Campbell's Ferry, and had a few peaceful nights camped out along sub-alpine ridges, but these things are not solely what I would use to define our hitch.

I recall somewhere on the eighth mile, our last water source around 3,500 feet below us, having to take off my pack and crawl on my knees through a downed tangle of Fir. Muddied, exhausted, and consistently frustrated with each seemingly endless turn in the trail, I remember thinking to myself that I had found the exact path I was seeking. Or as we worked our way down the mountain on one of the last days, watching a micro-cell plow its way into the steep walls of the Salmon River drainage, high winds and rumbles of thunder surrounding our quickened attempt to move downhill. Watching the skies darken and crack above us in a flurry of rain, I felt both thrilled and terrified at the relentless will of that kind of force.

There were moments such as these throughout our entire time spent on the switchbacks and saddles around Trout Peak, unexpected moments filled with frustration, exhaustion, and disbelief, yet I would have it no other way. So many wilderness recreationalists arrive seeking the challenge of traversing an area where they are only “a visitor who does not remain,” but in one short week, I found the greatest challenge is not what we encounter in the wilderness, but what we encounter within ourselves. The ability to balance fear and awe or weakness and strength in the context of an uncertain environment is the most basic and greatest challenge we all face in the experience of humbling ourselves to — and continuing the protection of — these great wild lands.

So come September, when someone asks me what I'll remember most from the summer, I'm sure there will be stories of great company, full days of quality work, and the starry nights that followed, but I know I will have an even richer experience to share. Perhaps I'll be fortunate enough to share those uncertain moments with others, where I stood at the very edge of myself and saw just as much wildness within me as there was in the surrounding landscape. Perhaps one day we'll all be fortunate to share those experiences with each other and learn to embrace the challenge of ourselves as much as we see the challenge in the land. Perhaps, then, wilderness will mean more to us all, whether alone 20 miles back into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, or surrounded on a crowded street in New York City.

     — Jack Markowski, Wilderness Ranger Intern | June 27, 2013

June 18-25: The People Make the Place

As I reflect on this hitch, I am realizing that it is one of the most physically and mentally exhausting things that I’ve ever done. Carrying a backpack and a crosscut saw or a shovel through the wilderness while it’s raining can be a significant damper to a person’s mood, but I was proud of our crew’s morale. We stayed positive for most of the hitch, and we encouraged each other during our low points. While we were hiking, we discussed favorite singers, life stories, travels, and an in-depth analysis of each of our spirit animals. There were moments in the afternoons where one of us would start laughing hysterically, and we couldn’t help but join in. One moment that I remember vividly is turning around to see Sammy on the trail behind me, holding the saw and her pack, doubled over and completely paralyzed with laughter. I also learned that once I start laughing very hard, I can no longer support my legs and end up collapsing onto the ground, which just makes me laugh harder. This hitch helped me define the phrase “knee-slapping laughter.” Between the chopping and sawing (arm workout), backpacking (leg workout), and the long fits of laughter (ab workout), I think we had full body toning! The challenging aspects of this internship are so insignificant when compared to the amount of support and friendship offered through my connections with the other staff members and interns. During our week in the backcountry, I learned more about Sammy and Kenzie than people that I’ve known for several years. Kenzie taught us about cross-cut sawing, chopping trees with your inner dragon, edible plants, backpacking tips, and most importantly, about perseverance. We also made an executive decision that her job title as “program director” is not really accurate and should probably be changed to “wilderness candy fairy” (she snuck Snickers into our backpacks during a rainy day) or preferably “mustard fiend” (she may or may not have consumed 45 servings of mustard during the week). Sammy was eternally positive and upbeat, and I counted on her for support during our long days. It was fun to see Sammy interacting with the stock that packed our gear in, and she was eager to learn more about horsepacking.


The crew at Fish Lake Saddle—notice the snow on the summer solstice!


On our last day, we took a wrong turn while trying to clear the trail up to Lone Knob, and ended up going in a giant circle. Once we finally found the trail that would take us to the trailhead, it was starting to become dark and we had been clearing trees and hiking for eight hours. On the hike down, I fought to keep my feet moving in a forward direction and I started lagging behind. I felt so tired and discouraged, but Kenzie and Sammy were right there, saying “How are you doing, Bon?” When we reached the trailhead, we all stopped and hugged each other, proud that we had finished. We were crushing it, as Kenzie would say. I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to be challenged and grow as a person, but I am most grateful for the people surrounding me, who are giving me support, guidance, and helping me realize that I can accomplish a lot more than I ever thought.

One of the highlights of the hitch was arriving at Fish Lake cabin after hiking to Fish Lake Saddle, where we encountered snow. Fish Lake cabin is a picturesque little spot in the middle of lovely, quiet, absolute nowhere, which seems to becoming increasingly rare in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We watched fog roll across the airstrip and saw elk in the distance. Our spirits were joyful as we sat around in the light of a Coleman lantern, and we celebrated the summer solstice peacefully, telling stories that were (of course) accompanied with a lot of laughter. As I settled into my sleeping bag, my body grateful for stillness, I realized that although I was exhausted, I was extremely happy in the simplest of ways: getting to know two wonderfully genuine people and having the privilege to explore this landscape. I believe that the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is incredibly beautiful and majestic, but I am convinced that the people that I work with and spend time with are truly what make it a special place.

     — Bonnie Ricord, Wilderness Ranger Intern | June 26, 2013


A welcome sight — the cabin at Fish Lake.

Just What I Needed

Where did it all go? I spent much of my summer debating whether the backcountry season was flying by or simply crawling at a snail’s pace. At times, it seemed that day four would never pass, and I was quite certain that day eight was never going to arrive.

But four hitches, gallons of sweat, pounds of muscle, and a few drops of blood later, I am once again a full-time resident of Missoula and spending my final days of summer floating lazily down the Blackfoot. The verdict is in: My time playing as a wilderness ranger came and went faster than I ever thought possible.

I am older than other interns by several years, and I accepted the opportunity at SBFC with some reservations because I worried I would be taking a step backward. What initially sold me on the program was the opportunity to work with a nonprofit and to explore a new stretch of mountains. I did not realize how deeply personal my experience with SBFC would be, nor do I think those who shared their time with me will ever realize their impact on me.

Over the course of my summer, the value of my greater life experience was confirmed for me through the perspectives of my coworkers. I came to view the opportunities awaiting me in life as limitless, just as I did when I was a mighty 21-year old. Once again, I realize that I will never regret any choice I have made in my life – I am constantly morphing into that person I so badly wanted to be 27 years ago, and every one of my decisions thus far in life has contributed to that satisfaction. By approaching my opportunity at SBFC with an open mind, I am walking away with more valuable life experience than I ever thought possible.

In that new stretch of mountains, I found just what I needed.

     — Allie Tincher, Wilderness Ranger Intern | August 14, 2012


With fellow intern Harper Kaufman on Fish Lake Saddle during our first hitch.


July 31-August 7: A New Legacy

The Moose Creek Ranger District, a place where history thrives in both the natural and human realms. Long before the designation of this slice of wilderness in 1964, hardworking folks were laying down a new path (literally) into these wild lands. Bridges, airstrips, ranger stations, cabins, and trails were finally making this place accessible. Among the most famous of these innovators were Emil and Penny Keck. Emil and Penny are household names in this neck of the woods, and I finally figured out why. They spent the latter half of the twentieth century building many of the structures and trails that we so often take for granted. The Three Links Bridge, a forty-foot bridge over Three Links Creek, was one of their bridge accomplishments that was completed almost as simultaneously as the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Nearly fifty years later and it is time for this bridge to come down; time for a new legacy of wilderness stewards to claim these structures as part of their hard work. And that is what we set out to do the week of 7/31-8/7. I joined the SBFC Three Links Crew, Corey Swanson, and construction expert Barry Thompson to remove the Three Links Bridge for a new bridge that will also eventually become part of this local history.

As we destroyed this bridge I could not help but admire the hard work that Emil and Penny put into this project, hoping that this work would make them satisfied with the work that SBFC has been doing. Although we did not get to build the bridge yet, dismantling the bridge was quite a feat, especially when there are no power tools to drill 8’’ holes into a concrete foundation. Let’s just say, I am a pro at hand drilling now.

I was thrilled to be a part of this project and am so thankful to have taken part in such a variety of projects this summer.

     — Christian LaBar, Wilderness Ranger Intern | August 17, 2012