The sun shines high above the Pacific Crest Trail. Spinola Creek tumbles through basalt rock worn by millennia of meltwater. A northern harrier hawk crests over Cathedral Ridge looking to make a meal of a vole. It is noon – and like the predator above, I search for my next meal. My hunt is quick; a simple lunch is found in the top of my pack. From the time of wake up six hours ago, I’ve taken ten thousand steps, cut twelve logs, dug eight drainages, and engaged with twenty-six backpackers. In other words, I’ve ensured that five miles of this popular trail are clear for the hundreds of individuals who will hike this section in the comings months; I’ve educated two dozen backpackers on Alpine Lakes Wilderness regulations and Leave-No-Trace principles; I’ve consumed over a liter of water and perspired most of that out. The hawk was successful and returns to soaring the skies. Likewise, I’ve finished my lunch and get back to work. What lies ahead is what lay behind; ten thousand steps, twelve logs, eight drainages, and twenty-six backpackers. This is a day in the life of a US Forest Service Wilderness Ranger.
My experience with the Mt. Adams Institute as an AmeriCorps member interning in the Cle Elum Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has been unforgettable. I have encountered some of the greatest views of my life; all five of Washington’s volcanoes visible from one peak; turquoise blue water rimmed by sheer cliffs; alpine meadows covered in late spring blossoms; a herd of mountain goats browsing through shrub. I have interacted with many wonderful individuals; experienced backpackers on the 2,000-mile PCT; professional biologists collecting wildflower specimens; doctoral students researching native birds; career foresters cruising timber plots; talented trail builders maintaining access points. I have made lifelong friends and participated in once-in-a-lifetime events. Mt. Adams Institute has provided an amazing opportunity for personal and professional development, and I cannot wait for what the remainder of this season holds!