My journey began with a cross-country road trip from Bloomington, Indiana to Entiat, Washington.
I had been to many areas of the country, most recently a guided trup in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. As of yet, I only knew the Pacific Northwest through pictures. Along the way were several key points of interest, namely the Badlands and Black Hills by Rapid City, South Dakota. To a flatlander, even those hills were breathtaking in size and scope. They were but hints to what was coming in the Cascades. Before heading out on hitches to maintain trails and mingle with visitors, however, meetings and training were in order.
In light of the pandemic of 2020, Covid-19, our introduction to the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) was cut short. A quirky virtual orientation replete with connection issues and grainy webcams greeted us instead of the usual retreat at Trout Lake by Mt. Adams staff. I did at least get a glimpse of my coworkers, a friendly bunch of outdoor enthusiasts. My partner Angus Brookes was among them, but we would not meet in person or really get a chance to chat until later. The group exchanged pleasantries and icebreakers to get to know one another just a little better, though most of the meeting was spent mulling over clerical details related to the upcoming season. Interesting bits, namely physical training and hitches, would start later.
Thankfully working in the outdoors is the epitome of social distancing and largely, aside from training, Angus and my life were only lightly affected by the outbreak. After a multi hour boat ride up lake Chelan, we arrived in Holden to what appeared to be a cutesy town in the middle of the woods. However, the area had once been an active mine and thus, with the help of several large scale conservation efforts, at least was and is on its way to recovering. During a typical season it’s likened to an amusement park with the sheer density of guests around the town. This year in light of the outbreak, Holden was a ghost town which allowed no visitors, including us. We stayed at a Forest Service station up the road towards some trails on which Erica (another fellow Mt. Adams Institute intern serving on the Chelan Ranger District), Angus, and I received training on logout and various other types of trail maintenance.
After our initial training period my partner Angus and I set off to the Sawtooths in Chelan, starting on the crater creek trail. Born anew from a winter of sedation, much like a newborn fawn my legs struggled and shook under the strain of my pack and the relentless uphill slog between where we were and would be. The pain served up divine inspiration on platter after silver platter for the mental wanderings we all experience while backpacking. Equal too though, the rate at which they were forgotten. However, there was no shortage of spectacular views to fill the void left behind by those thoughts. Better yet, they just kept coming and getting better as Angus and I climbed higher into the Sawtooths! Each summit felt just a little easier than the last. Soon enough after a few more hitches, both our legs strengthened and we found ourselves sailing quickly where we once felt trapped in the doldrums.
Our work varied greatly and often served to give our feet and legs a rest while our upper bodies took to the fore. From log removal to clearing drains, there seems to be no end to trail maintenance. In my opinion though, cutting logs was the most satisfying. Many logouts were obvious wherein the tree stood a champion of staring contests against oncoming hikers. Other times logs just barely poked into the trail corridor and needed to be removed lest a stray strap get snagged. The satisfaction is compounded by users and folks appreciating the work we get done, which also gives us a bit of Ethos to educate them on proper wilderness etiquette and current US Forest Service regulations. That, and a plethora of before and after pictures.
Looking to the future, Angus and I hope to continue progressing physically and mentally. The spiritual halfway point of the season passed some time ago, as such the rest will fly past a blur. The hitches keep getting easier as our strength and knowledge grow. As more higher elevation areas get melted out, our mettle will surely be tested again.