Monday, August 06, 2012

Salmon River Trip, Day 5

On the 5th day, a lot of things happened. We stopped at two sets of pictographs, one with a kokopele.
We went by the confluence of the Main and the South fork of the Salmon River. We stopped at a pack bridge so Mike could jump off. We stopped at Five Mile Bar, former home of Buckskin Bill. There's a little museum there with all of the guns and utensils that he made. There is a glass bottle with a note in it that he sent down the river in hopes that someone downriver would get it. It read "Ran out of Whiskey, please send more."There was also a little store that sold supplies and goodies. Chips or a root beer float for 5 dollars. 12 pack of beer for 24 dollars.

Buckskin Bill build a stone turret with shotgun slots in order to protect himself from the feds who claimed that he was squatting on forest service land. It turns out that he was actually squatting on someone else's private property though.
Here is an account of his life, written by himself:
"Indian Territory in 1906 was definitely pioneer times. Houses were cedar log or sod. I was born in a dugout May 10, 1906.
The first animals that impressed me were fat toads. I really liked these insect-getters, and when I went to a place that had no toads, I wondered if the people there were clean.
I had a small creek to play in, with cut banks some 15 feet deep. A twine string, a bent pin, and a piece of salt pork got me many crawfish. I cooked and ate their tails. Mourning doves don't nest very high, and I collected fat squabs about ready to leave the nest. My first hunting was with my bare hands. I got catfish in Eagle Chief Creek in the manner of a varmint. A catfish digs a hole into the bank. You put your arm and there is likely to be a catfish with sawtooth horns, a snapping turtle, or a water moccasin! I got three or four pounds of catfish.
Smokeless powder helped me to get game and to deal with my enemies. In those days hawks ate chickens, so I killed a hawk, roasted it and fed it to my chickens. Early day blackbirds destroyed whole fields of grain. The answer seemed to be to make blackbird pie. Great Uncle Ambrose, about 1912, picked 28 blackbirds for a pie. I put eleven yellow-headed blackbirds in a pie.
Ducks were a big help in preparing a meal. I killed ducks, picked and cleaned them and cooked them for my parents. I laid in the peanut patch in 106 degree heat, watching gophers pushing out dirt, but I didn't fire till I saw their whiskers.
Canada geese were a little too much for a kid, but adults used whiskey-soaked corn and gas lights to take them. People thought nothing of running down young rabbits. The last few swaths of wheat field held quite a few cottontails and jackrabbits and you and your dog could easily get.
The first of the big disasters there was communicable disease. Influenza made even me so weak I had to stop and rest. It settled in some part of your body. in my case, it weakened my hearing.
I had a very good grade school teacher, Jack Wilcox. His strong point was English and he taught you to diagram sentences. High school and college repeat what you should have learned in grade school. In a one room schoolhouse you could learn all grades at once. In high school if your grades were good you need not take the monthly examination .On those days, I went squirrel hunting or field butchering with my father. You can't have good meat unless you know how to prepare it.
In college it is best to take the most difficult courses offered. When I had to translate English to Greek, I got up at four o'clock. At one time or another I have studied Greek, Latin, German, French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili and Norwegian. Actually, it is words that interest me and I still get up occasionally at four to study Greek words.
Most students fear hard work, which you certainly got in the Texas oil fields. There was danger, crime, bad air, and poor housing. The fumes make you dizzy and you have to know when to go out and get some air. A gas well can burn you in seconds but you have to work on it. You can read a newspaper at midnight five miles from a burning well. I had a year in Petroleum Engineering as a graduate student, which was interesting and difficult.
My reaction to the Depression was to find a place with natural resources and defeat it. I could have found no better place than Salmon River. I spent some $50 a year then for what little I needed to buy. I always had a garden. It was easy to get fruit and I made moccasins and clothing out of animal skins. There were copper plates lying around that I made into cooking utensils. A little later, I made complete guns. I made many prospecting trips in the hills for minerals. The longest walk I made was a hundred miles to Grangeville.
When war came, I left and became a toolmaker at Boeing's factory in Wichita Kansas. The F.B.I. was looking for me, and they found me in a combat area in the Aleutians. In '42 the Japs were a bit discouraged with Kiska and when they pulled out we came back to the U.S.
The Norden Bombsight was the most secret and difficult course you could get in the Air Force. Toolmaking was easy for me since it wasn't as difficult as when I'd been doing at home. I was up all night studying bombsights, near Denver. I rigged myself a machine shop in a hallway at Peyote, Texas and I cam up with a new invention or idea every month for caring for bombsights or autopilots. Your inventions belonged to the Air Force and ratings were frozen for 18 months. Eventually I became a buck sergent.
Back in the hills, I took up where I left off. I became a summer lookout for the Forest Service on Quartzite and Oregon Butte. In 1960 I skinned elk for Mackay Bar during hunting season. I also hunted when they used helicopters there.
A trip to Iceland and a trip to North Europe helped me a great deal. I took in the Moscow circus.
When you spend 50 years among the wild animals you get to know them, not as a the book says, but as they really are. It's been 20 years since a biologist dared mention an eagle carrying off a baby mountain goat. By going to a mountain where lions kill each day, you know how much they eat in a week. The best animals are otters, and other animals clean up their fish scraps.
Finally, does any man's life accomplish anything? In my case, soldiers in desperate straits thought that I could have survived so they were inspired to do so. If you can make a gun, you don't worry about breaking it. Strange food doesn't bother you because you have already tried it. Fear is a formidable enemy; if you don't have it you can concentrate on what you should do. On a trip in the hills, memorize each trail, hill, bush, tree, rock, watercourse, and mountain range. The next time you see them, you meet an old friend."

The Mike's and I were in charge of dinner. Mike had premade and frozen shrimp and broccoli curry and I had premade and frozen brownies with brandy soaked cherries. It was yummy. We camped at Upper James Bar.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Salmon River Trip, Day 4

The day started with a bang, the river part of it, that is.
Right out of camp, we approached Big Mallard Rapid, a class 3 to 4 rapid. The description deliberately says "Don't feed the Duck! At flows below 5 feet, and we were at 1.7, a giant hole at the bottom of the rapid emerges. It is possible to run right of the hole, but it is easier to hug the left bank and thread the improbable looking slot at the bottom of the rapid, left of the giant hole."
With that in mind we approached the rapid with trepidation. Several of our party ran the rapid ahead of us with no problem. Mike and I relaxed. This was definitely the biggest rapid on the river so far. We ran through the wave train at the top of the rapid and I began to see where the hole was on the left. I didn't want to point or say anything to Mike in case I distracted him. I also assumed that Mike could see the giant swirl of backwater. The next thing I know, we are sweeping past the hole and just as I think we're clear, the boat goes vertical with one pontoon up in the air. I through my weight to the high side, the boat rights itself and floats into calmer water. I turned around to look at Mike and say something like "Holy Shit!!" But Mike wasn't in the captain's seat. I took a quick glance in the surrounding waters and saw him swimming toward the raft. Without thinking much about saving Mike, I hoped into the seat and grabbed the oars. The water was still rough and I steered towards the rest of the boats. In the meantime, Mike hoped into the boat, adrenaline pushing him out of the water with ease. He had a shit-eating grin on his face. I guess the hole grabbed his oar and yanked it away from him. He kept a hold and went out of the boat with it. The story has grown in size and complexity over the days and to hear it retold you would think we flipped the boat, drowned and were resuscitated only to find all of our stuff washed down river and we had to swim the rest of the way out.

Mike jumped back into the driver's seat and took us through Little Mallard with ease. Next up, though, was Elk Horn rapids, a series of three closely linked rapids with a different hazard each. The first rapid was the initial drop and had a tight squeeze between a rock and a hole. The second part had two large holes on the right and left side of the bottom of the rapid and the third had a large rock in the very center of the river. The trick was to avoid the holes by going river center and not moving to the right or left to avoid the large rock too soon. Mike ran it perfectly.

I rowed the next series of rapids, Growler, Don't Lose Me Now and Whiplash. Growler and Don't Lose Me Now were nerve racking class twos. But after successfully running them, I was confident for Whiplash, a class two in flows lower than 7 feet, piece of cake. I was so wrong, the name says it all, a sharp "s" curve caused all of the water to rush down the center of the riverbed and crash into the canyon wall in a series of waves. I pointed the bow of the boat towards that wall that the water was crashing into and started to row backwards. I was nearly clear of it when I misunderstood a comment from Mike and got us back into the flow of water. Before I knew it, the pontoon was rushing towards the wall. I became flustered and couldn't direct the boat correctly. The pontoon went right up on a rock and Mike McBride's extra paddle came loose and lodged the boat on the low side. Mike pushed off the rock with all his might to no avail. If he didn't have the strength, I certainly didn't. I thought that I could help by dislodging Mike's paddle but the boat tipped even more drastically as I shifted my weight to the low side of the boat. As I returned to the high side, Mike go the boat free and we were in a back eddy heading right for the wall again. I grabbed the oars and desperately tried to avoid the wall. This time, I was able to avoid the wall and float to the end of the rapid safely. I was really shaken and I can't imagine how Mike got the boat off of the wall. I could have never done it alone.

I stayed on the horse though, and ran China Bar Rapid and eddied out at Rhett Creek Camp. This camp had a great beach and fun rapids  and a giant eddy. The day was desperately hot still so Mike and I tossed a Frisbee in the water. That was a hard task though because of the three labs that wanted to play too! We gave up and just played fetch with the dogs. It is so fun to watch Rosie, a chocolate lab, swim. She is an Olympian swimmer and always gets to the stick or pine cone first. Gus is a young man in an old man's body and he  gets tired easily. He follows for a couple of meters but backs off. Nala waits at the bank and grabs the stick from Rosie when she gets into the shallows. Sometimes Nala and Rosie swim side by side. Rosie a bit ahead of Nala. Its funny to see their heads move in sync in the water.

We started up a game of beach volleyball which I was miserable at. Most of the folks wanted to play an actual game which was a lot less productive than volleying. Mostly, it was serve and ace over and over again. This quickly became old and we switched to bocci ball, which also quickly became old due to my miserable abilities and the fact that one or two people managed to bonk the balls out of play every time for the win. Chris, my teammate and I retired to happy hour well before the game was over. We had spaghetti from Tim and Lucy for dinner. It was very tasty! I went to lie down for awhile to rest my back and fell asleep almost instantly. I hadn't intended to go to bed but before I knew it, Mike had joined me and we were both in for the night. I woke up a couple hours later and moved outside. It was too hot in the tent and the stars were a spectacular sight.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Salmon River Trip, Day 3

I've waited a couple days to document this day and it's starting to fade in my memory. Leisurely morning, as usual. About a mile downriver, we stopped at the hot tub. Some enterprising people dammed up the hot spring waters with stone and mortar. They also diverted two different temperatures of water with two different pipes. The tub has a plug and etiquette states that you unplug the tub and let it drain, then plug it up again before you leave. We had to fill up the tub when we got there. At first  the water was burning hot and I couldn't stand it on my sunburned feet. I eased myself into the pool by standing on a rock and letting the cooler of the two pipes run over my body. Eventually, I as able to get my whole body into the pool and enjoy the water. It's a good thing that we visited the hot springs early in the day though because the rest of the day was scorching hot and a hot springs wouldn't have sounded appealing at all.

There was another hot springs further downriver that flowed directly into the Salmon but it was difficult to find a happy medium between the scalding hot water and the chilly Salmon so we didn't linger long.

Mike jumped in the duckie and I took the oars. I had been practicing eddying out and steering and felt a little more comfortable in the driver's seat. However, much to my terror, Mike decided to stay in duckie through two class 2 rapids and two class 3 rapids. Mike McBride encouraged me and gave me a few directions but not many. I followed the path of the rafters in front of me and had no problem at all! I decided that we needed to stop at the in-holding at Yellow Pine Bar because I read in the guide that the caretakers might be willing to give a tour of the garden and grounds. The Mikes, Chris and I ventured up the dirt road. There were a couple of girls hula hooping on the green grass in front of the two story house. Behind them a lush garden overflowed the fence and the whole place had a festive feeling. We learned from the caretaker that it was her husband's 60th birthday and they were having a luau. Guests were getting jet boated in as well as kegs of beer and decorations. We just did a short tour of the garden and grounds and chatted a little about the history. There used to be a school on the bar that served 8 children. Many of them boarded with the residents of Yellowpine bar but some of them took a cable across the river to att
end school. Unfortunately, the schoolhouse had been burned down.

We camped at a rocky pine needly beach. The game of the night was bocci ball and I was worse at it than I was at ladder ball. Kent and Jim cooked up a buffalo rice goulash thing. It was pretty meat and starch with no veggies at all. But the buffalo was shot by Kent's friend and I decided to give it a try. It reminded me of elk, tough and chewy but savory and gamey. Overall, a succesful dinner. My favorite though, was the dutchoven brownies. They were gooey on the inside and crispy on the outside and had a wonderful chocolate frosting. They were wonderful and I got the leftovers!

The wind blew torentially and laid Mark's tent flat. Poor Mark also broke his chair and his fishing pole on this trip. Thank goodness he didn't pop his boat!

I may have overimbibed a bit that night and remember playing out the rest of the eveing with my head in Mike's lap listening to the conversation above be. I decided to sleep under stars, partly to escape Mike's snoring, but mostly to escape the heat and enjoy the beautful twinkling expanse of the sky.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Salmon River, Day Two

Mornings on the river are only as early as you want them to be really, but some of us start at 7:00 and some start at 8:30. I am always awake with no hope of sleeping more by about 7:30. Even though mornings are early, they are not rushed. Everyone seems to be addicted to coffee and needs at least two or three cups before their brain unfogs. Some of us even need a cup delivered in bed. Mike and I are tea drinkers. I'm glad I don't have a coffee habit because coffee is bulky and creates a lot of waste. It also takes filters, bodem or plastic coffee filter holder thing. Tea bags are easy to store and instant to use, no dripping! Breakfast for most is bagels and cream cheese or oatmeal. Mike has granola with coconut water and I kinda nibble. Breakfast doesn't sound that great.

We're always packed up and ready to go by 11:00am. Laurie, Chris, Lucy and I sneak in about 10 or 15 minutes of yoga while the guys adjust straps or use the groover. It's hard to do yoga in the sand. The surface is unstable and the sand sticks to your body in the heat. It's dangerous to put your hands in the sand for downward dog and then sweep them over your head towards namaste at the end of a sun salutation. It's hot enough by then to take a swim and rinse the sand off.

Day two started with a quick jaunt downstream to a prehistoric spot on Lantz Bar. Cammie, the Salmon-Challis archaeologist led us in a search for churt and rock shards in the ground stirred up by horse hooves and campers. We found many shards that Cammie said were prehistoric. Personally, I couldn't tell the difference between a small piece of rock and shard but I believe here. Then we floated down river to some pictographs. The Salmon River is full of history and its fun to read the River of No Return book as we go along to help us interpret that history. The meaning of the prehistoric pictographs are all conjecture but they are fun to look at.

We were all looking forward to Black Canyon, a new rapid class four rapid, as of 2011. We eddied out and scouted the rapid from a rock bluff right above it. The rapid had a nice clean tongue and a big drop, no holes and fairly straightforward. We watched a jet boat go down it with no problem. The river was 1.7ft at the ramp. With a lot of nervousness and trepidation and a little bit of excitement, our flotilla began running the rapid. John and Laurie went first and had no problem. Their boat sunk out of view though with the dropping level of the river. I think that Mike and I cued up second. There is no rethinking or backing out once that current pulls you in. My heart was pounding and I had to trust Mike completely to get us through. We ran down the tongue and for a brief second I started at the empty space below us, the drop into frothy white water and then a jerk and a jolt and we were riding the wave train out! We eddied out and watched the other boats and duckies successfully run the rapid.

We camped a mile or so down river at Black Canyon beach. It was a bit small for our party of 13 but we made it work. We liked this camp because it was a mile or so upriver of the Hot Tub, a back country luxury where someone bricked in a tub and piped in hot water from a nearby hot springs. We wanted to be the first there to beat the heat and the crowds.
Happy hour was more of the same and played a lively game of ladder ball in the meantime. I won the first game solely on John's skill. I couldn't hit a ladder to save my life and it became a hand eye coordination theme for me for the rest of the trip. The game is very entertaining though and it occupied us until cobb salad and brats were ready. The evening played out much as the previous evening with a continuous happy hour and a wonderful bounty of twinkling stars.

Salmon River Trip, Day One

Floating the the main fork of the Salmon River is like a trip to the Bahamas as one of my fellow rafters said. We spent our mornings drinking tea and coffee watching the water flow by, our days rafting and swimming, our afternoon playing ladderball, volley ball or bocci ball and our evenings eating communily cooked dinners and drinking cocktails. We camped on sandy beaches and curled our toes in delight.

Our trip started on Tuesday with a camp out at Corn Creek campground at the end of the road leading into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The afternoon was a flurry of unloading rafts and gear and prepacking them as much as possible so that they would be ready for an "early start" the next day. Mike and I packed fairly light and didn't have a lot of gear to huck around. Still, we were both new to the overnight floating trip and strapping everything down in dry bags was a bit of a challenge. We picked up some group gear that was a bit clunky like the ash can, propane canister and boccie balls; all of these things needed to be strapped down well because you don't want them flying off and whacking you in the head in a nasty rapid. We didn't get much of a chance to acquaint ourselves with the 11 other floaters ( 5 other rafts, two duckies and 3 dogs) but we knew that we had long hours of floating and soaking up sun on sandy beaches to do that.

Wednesday morning set the pace for the rest of the trip, easygoing. Laurie, the permit holder had to go to a meeting with the 3 other launch groups at 9:00am to sort out camping locations for the rest of the float. We had some ideas about where we wanted to camp, but nothing that we couldn't live without. The rest of us did some final loading and strapping down. We had to top off the boats with air and show the Forest Service that we had all of the required group gear: Toilet, also known as the groover, ash can, fire pan and bucket and shovel. Then we had to listen to an orientation talk about how to poop in the groover and pee in the river and pack it in pack it out. She also had some bear and wildlife anecdotes as well as how to keep the hornets away from your beer. She had some history to share as well including the miner who wore stove pipes on his legs to protect himself from rattlesnakes and about the many moonshiners that made hooch illegally during prohibition.

And then we pushed off! Our first rapid was Killum Rapids and then Gunbarrel. I was nervous for all of the rapids but those two were good teeth cutters. Mike has rowed a bit in past and is a great river reader. We went through those class twos with no problem and had some fun. The rest of the day was an easy float with more class two rapids and lots of swimming holes. We pulled out a beach for lunch and swam and through pine cones for the dog.

I took the oars for awhile and tried to get the feel for pushing and pulling and turning. You always face danger and row away from it.When it was time to eddy out for camp, I got flustered and couldn't make the boat go in the direction that I wanted it to. We started getting pulled by the current into the next rapid and I got even more flustered. Mike jerked the oars from me, turned the boat and started rowing backward with all his might. He got the boat into the eddy and back to camp, phew... I practiced eddying out a lot the next day.

We set up camp and had a long happy hour. Brooks and Cammie, Salmon River pros from Salmon, ID waited for the weather to cool before grilling Mahi Mahi in the fire pan and whipping up mango black bean salsa, rice and coleslaw.

In the mean time, Mike and I took a walk to Lantz Bar, a historical homestead with lots of fruit trees and an old cabin. The River of No Return, a historical book about the Salmon settleres had a lot to say about old Lantz. First he tried to row a scow down the river with a years supply of food but capsized in Gun Barrel Rapids. So he went back to Salmon collected on a couple of debts, bought more supplies and packed them down the trail on mules. He planted an orchard and built a cabin on the bar. He fought forest fires and worked for the Forest Service building trails. He built over 200 miles of trail. When he got older, he sold his property to the Forest Service under the condition that he could still live there and that his orchards would be maintained into perpetuity. A volunteer accidentally burned his cabin to the ground and the BNF Supervisor diverted funds and employee volunteers to rebuild his cabin. He eventually died there and was buried in Hamilton with his wife, Jesse. His orchard is just coming on with fruit now!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bass Creek Bonding

It’s 9:00 pm and my mom and I are finally sitting down to a mug of wine and spicy blue chips and mango salsa. Mom and I don’t mess around on our first night of a backpacking trip. Even with this decadent hors d'oeuvre my pack is so much lighter then I’m used to because my mom and I share a tent, a stove, water filter and even a toothpaste tube. That is the joy of having a mother that loves to do what you love to do-backpack and explore! My mom and dad taught me everything that I know about traveling in the Wilderness. Mom honed my backpacking and hiking skills while dad sharpened my riding and horse packing abilities. I am very lucky to have my parents living in Missoula and volunteering their time to work with me and the SBFC Foundation in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.   We’re sipping wine and munching on chips and thinking about the beauty around us instead of the next two days where we will inventory and clean up campsites along the Bass Creek drainage and around Lappi and Bass Lakes. This is one of the closest and most popular drainages to the Missoula Valley and it gets hit hard by recreators.

We wake up early and mom takes down the tent while I get breakfast started. We’re good at splitting camp chores, a division of labor that we’ve honed over the 10 years that we’ve been backpacking together.  We’re packed up and hiking towards the Bass Creek-Lappi Lake junction within an hour. The sun is just starting to light the hill sides and dry the dew off of the grass. My mom has been up all these Bitterroot Valley canyons multiple times and the last time she was up Bass was 28 years ago, almost to the day. She was 8 months pregnant with me. She remembers looking up at the ridge where she thought Lappi Lake was nestled and noticing two prominent spires that looked like devil horns. She points at the southern ridge, and sure enough, there are the devil horns and we start looking for the rock cairn that marks the junction. My mom also remembers that the trail was pretty overgrown and hard to find back then; What will it be like now, 28 years later?

My mom is an amazing trail sleuth. I think she has a special 6th sense for finding obscure routes. We thrash our way through the underbrush, battling downed tree branches and grippy alders. We slosh through hidden puddles and huck ourselves over jack-strawed trees. All the while, my mom’s looking for clues. She spots a pitchy overgrown blaze and we know we’re still on track. When I think all hope is lost and the brush can’t get any thicker, she spots a cut end of a tree and the path emerges a little easier to follow than no path at all! About half way up, we’re shoving through the brush and we realize that we are off the trail. She seems to remember that the trail goes up the rocky hill side so we try to angle that way but a woven pile of trees stops us in our tracks. We decide the best way out of this mess is to go back to the last cut log that we saw. When we finally find our way back, we realize that the trail has become the creek, or vice versa. So we slosh on. Finally, we emerge onto the rock slope and follow a series of rock cairns which seem to have no rhyme or reason. Perhaps some sculptor went for a hike and decided to get creative. But we’ve got our eyes on the ever growing, every looming devil horns and we know that we are getting close.  After hopping over the outlet and scaling a few more rocks we are treated to a lovely view of Lappi Lake surrounded by snow covered slopes and rocky outcroppings. My mom and I don’t say a word;We know what’s next. A swim! My mom would swim in an ice cube if it was a back country lake and she could. I’ve seen her swim in water that was so cold it was slushy. She doesn’t stay long, but she gets her whole body under the water. She hoots and hollers like a banshee but no one can say that mom can’t stand cold temps. We used to see who could swim in the most lakes in a summer but once I started working in the woods, I out-swam her with ease. She’s at a distinct disadvantage with her desk job ; )

After our swim we get to work inventorying and cleaning up a campsite that used to be an old cabin site. The forest service burned it years ago and all that’s left is a mossy spot and some rusty nails. Folks have camped her recently and there’s lots of trash and two fire rings. It’s hot dusty work to pitch rocks and scoop us ashes. I admire my mom for volunteering her time to spend grueling hours mucking in damp, ashy campfire rings looking for some careless schmuck’s discarded, burned to a pulp aluminum beer can (yeah, we might enjoy our wine in the back country but at least we put it in a plastic bladder and we don’t try to make it disappear in the camp fire) or half burned plastic Mountain Home dinner packet.  Maybe we swam and cleaned up in the wrong order, but every backcountry swimmer knows that you get your swim in while you’re hot and sweaty from your hike up.

Mom is a quick learner and after about 2 campsites we have our division of labor down pat. I do the inventory paperwork and she counts damaged trees and roots. Then we both work on dismantling the fire ring and picking up trash. She is also on the lookout for interesting developments in the campsite that help me with the inventory matrix like nails in trees, constructed seats or ditched out tent pads. Wilderness campsites need to be inventoried every 5 years to make sure that their impact level is in sync with the opportunity class designation for the area that they are situated in but these sites need to be cleaned up every year. My first year working in the woods, I was a Wilderness Ranger in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington. I packed out more trash in three months than I could imagine. The area is close to Seattle and gets a ton of use. I packed out a rusty cast iron skillet that my dad cleaned up and still cooks with. My mom hasn’t had much experience with trashy camps and she is livid with anger at the carelessness of some people. She really cares about the Wilderness and can’t believe that people would treat it with so little regard. After a full day of inventorying and cleaning up sites she is telling everyone that we see to pack it in, pack it out. A group of teenagers on their way to Bass Lake to swim commiserate with her and promise that they never leave trash in the Wilderness and my mom is heartened to hear that these youth have a such a sense of responsibility.

On the third day, as we’re hiking out, my mom and I get a chance to chat and reflect. We realize that this trip has really brought me full circle in my hiking career. Not only did she come up here when she was pregnant with me but this hike also helped my overcome my dislike of hiking when I was younger. I hated to hike. I liked being outside and camping, but I didn’t like hiking. It might have been a bit of rebellion since it was something both of my parents loved. I resisted for years and then for some silly reason, probably because it’s in my blood, I joined the high school hiking club. She reminds me that one of hikes that she chaperoned was to Bass Creek Falls in the early spring. We didn’t make it to the falls because of a treacherous high water crossing but that hike put my mind on a path that my genes were already on.  My mom gave me an external frame backpack and sleeping pad for high school graduation and we spent the whole summer before college backpacking.

I’m still learning how to travel and live in the woods from my mom. She is strong and confident and responsible. She can go anywhere and even after 3 knee surgeries and struggles with back pain she still hikes close to 100 miles a summer. Her adventurous spirit inspires me and her company helps me get through the mentally and physically grueling aspects of my job. I am lucky to have her as my mother, but more importantly, I am lucky to have her as my friend and number one hiking buddy!

Monday, July 02, 2012

I am trying to be more consistent with blog posts because they are a great way to keep track of my life and I feel as though I have definately lost track.

Work with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation has been going well. I have been so busy for the past two months. Don't get me wrong, I like being busy and I like being busy with a purpose greater than myself. We have been in training for the month since the interns started. We have been doing Wilderness First Responder, Defensive Horsemanship, Naturalist Training, Board Meetings and training trips. The intern on the Bitterroot side is named Rikk. He is a fire-cracker of energy and we ripped through our first and probably only trail-clearing hitch. We cleared over 500 trees in less than three miles of trail. Most of the trees were long dead and dry-good for cross-cutting because the bind isn't as intense as on green trees but very bad for chopping. Needless to say, we cross cut out most of the trees over 6 inches that we encountered. We were geniuses, using levers and ramps and angles to help us move heavy pieces of trees.
In addition to a crazy work load, we had a crazy camp-moving episode. Our camp was in a sketchy spot with lots of dead trees and I wasn't comfortable at all with the location. On our second night, the wind came up and the trees started swaying. One, in particular, started squeaking. I just sat there and listened until finally, Rikk said he wouldn't be opposed to packing up camp and moving it two miles down the trail to a dead tree free camp site. Even though it was 9:30pm, it was the soltice and  we decided to move. We packed up, turned on our head lamps and hiked on. We set up camp under the stars and Rikk took some really cool long exposure pictures.

The other five interns work on the Nez Perce/Clearwater National Forest and on the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. I would like to include a Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation intern's blog post. Emerald LaFortune is from Moscow, ID and is working on the Nez Perce/Clearwater National Forest this summer. She is a beautiful writer and I want to remember what she has to say.

"It’s the second day of my first hitch as a Wilderness Ranger Intern in the Clearwater portion of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness when I realize I am uncomfortable when not within 200 feet of high-volume water. This is a problem — early trail builders tended to avoid construction along rocky river banks, preferring to shoot upwards towards grassy ridges and benches. As our group steadily climbs away from large Colt Killed Creek, crosscut saws, grubbing tools and single bit axes in hand, my palms begin to sweat and I feel nervous. I strain my ears for the familiar rumble of liquid tumbling over rocks, but all I can hear is the throaty whisper of wind through pines. I distract myself by concentrating on the burning in my quads and sliding the wooden handles onto each end of the crosscut saw, ready to remove a tree from where it intersects the trail.

That afternoon, as we clear pine needles and branches from waterbars, a crewmember announces, “Water is the enemy of trail maintenance!” I nod in agreement as I swing my Pulaski into the mineral soil of the trail, creating an apron to trick running water into the trailside vegetation. Yet I can’t help but wonder if I am the right fit for a summer job that fights against water, instead of savoring it.

On the fourth day of our hitch, a fellow crewmember asks, “So why do you like rivers?” It surprises me that she has noticed me scurrying off towards Colt Killed Creek during lunch breaks, wedging myself in impossible places between cedar trees and boulders near Storm Creek and dipping my toes into Crab Creek. I feel like I have an answer until she asks, then my reply is unsure. I grew up in the arid Palouse Hills, on the western side of the Clearwater, the only waterway in city limits a muddy, leach filled creek. Yet family boating trips to the Selway River, Lochsa River, and various forks of the Salmon River were common, and when someone asks, “Have you spent any time in the Selway-Bitterroot or Frank Church Wilderness?” I can only reply with, “Just the major river corridors.” It wasn’t until college that I began backpacking, trying to learn to appreciate carrying my food instead of rowing it, and filtering drinking water from small tributaries instead of large, pushy rivers.

Mid-hitch, we are camped near Crab Creek, a small gouge in the hillside filled with whitewater tumbling towards Colt Killed Creek. I am grateful that even backpackers (perhaps the masochists of the backcountry world) can’t escape their human need to drink and camp near water. I can hear the creek murmur of snow as it feeds the familiar waterways below. The ice-cold liquid running past my fingers cascades in the direction no liquid can escape — down. I decide that getting to know these small, clear creeks and streams, the namesakes of the forest I will work on all summer, won’t be as nerve-wracking as I anticipate. I think of how I spend time with random relatives, only because they teach me more about the direct family I love. I wonder if it might be the same with water – you can’t claim to love a stretch of water unless you know its relatives, from snowfield to ocean.

I imagine a small fork of Crab Creek running into the trail, only to be quickly drained off the pathway by a waterbar. Instead of pulling dirt and sediment into Colt Killed Creek and forcing hikers and stock off the tread of the trail, the water will disperse into the streamside vegetation that shades the creek and prevents further erosion. Cutting trees out of a trail has the same effect, keeping the trail narrow and protecting the vegetation that absorbs snowmelt and leads the new water to nearby waterways. I begin to realize that maybe my job this summer is not to fight water, but to gently suggest its path around our human creations and recreations. In the final days of our hitch, when I struggle up hot, river-less hillsides, I think of myself not as doing trailwork, but as doing waterwork, for a forest and wilderness named for just that."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Goodness, it's been over a year since I posted on this blog. I am sure that the masses are wondering where I have gone. To be sure, it is not very far.
I think my last grand adventure was a 230 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail with Sarah Patrick and Mariah Rees. We hiked the portion known as the John Muir trail. It extends from Mount Whitney to Happy Vally in Yosemite National Park. I am hoping to post my trail notes in the near future.
I am also going to do regular posts about my hitches with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation. Keep your eyes and ears open!