It’s not even August yet and this summer has been one of the most influential, awakening, and educational times of my life.
Each week is a little different than the one before it. I might be hiking to new areas, completing different site work tasks, or even learning a new skill. Looking back so far, it is hard to choose one hitch as my favorite, all of them were full of challenges, hard work, meaningful conversations with the public, and of course beautiful scenery. However, one trip definitely separates itself from the rest. Every year here at the Cle Elum Ranger District the wilderness rangers go out on a normal four day hitch and on the last day they hike into Waptus Lake to meet up with the trail maintenance crew and do four more days as trail crew members! For me this trip was one of the most important; it was the longest one we have gone on, my first wilderness hitch completely on my own, and a chance to learn from another department. I was beyond excited but would be lying if I said I wasn’t even the slightest bit nervous.
My first four days went on without a hitch so to speak! I got to hike into gorgeous alpine lake country to Tuck and Robin Lakes. For the past few years I had been trying to plan a backpacking trip to these exact lakes. It was always thwarted by schedules, drifting smoke, or actual wildfires in the area. Finally I got my chance to go, and to get “paid” for it no less! For two days I explored every inch of that area, even getting to watch a family of four mountain goats frolic around. I destroyed and rehabilitated a few illegal campfire rings by tossing the black stained rocks into the lake to clean away the marks, scattering the ash in brush not to be seen, and then covering the charred ground with soil and plant matter to make it look natural again. I spoke to every hiker and camper I came across; I answered their questions, agreed with them on how beautiful the area is, and plugged in some Leave No Trace principles on how they can help keep the lakes pristine. I moved on and made my way to Waptus Lake over two days. I hiked over snow and through creeks cutting out small logs over the trail and documenting the larger ones as I went. I saw only a handful of hikers over these two days and enjoyed the solitude to reflect on my time so far. Then I came to Mt. Daniel ford, and I knew why this part of the P.C.T was so empty. The water was rushing, it looked deep, and it had many different legs to it that shot off in multiple directions. I have had enough white water experience to know this is a scary creek to cross. After 15-20 minutes of scouring the length of the creek I picked my route and went for it. Nothing felt better than getting to the other side and continuing on my way. This may seem insignificant to some but ended up being one of the biggest challenges I have faced at work so far.
Getting into Waptus Lake to work with the trail crew was such an awesome experience! We would spend the early morning sitting around eating our oatmeal and drinking coffee while having our safety meeting and discussing our daily agenda. We focused on logging out the web of trails that connect to and spur off of Waptus Lake. It was so impressive and satisfying to be working with a bigger group of skilled sawyers and see how many logs we could get done. We completed everything we set out to and on every trail we had hoped to get to. Everyone seemed to work so efficiently that the trail crew had to spend one and a half days switching gears from logout work to brush and drainage work! I felt my ability to size up a downed log and comprehend how to safely go about bucking it out really started to solidify. I got to test this knowledge and complete my A class sawyer certification on trail, that was an accomplishment I can’t even begin to describe. It feels great to be learning new skills that I can utilize right away in the work setting as well as real life settings. Those eight days on the trail and in the wilderness were so incredible; it was full of breathtaking views and out of breath hard work! I felt a sense of pride, accomplishment, and confidence that I have never felt while working any other job before. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me this summer and just like crossing Mt. Daniel ford, I don’t plan on backing away from any new challenges.