Public Lands Stewards: I’ve Found My Path Forward

by | Land Stewards

Sitting in the cool, air conditioned truck sipping on fruit punch Gatorade, I felt elated. Ecstatic. Completely and purely happy. This moment was easily one of the greatest moments of my entire life. And all it took was a gnarly week of patrolling.

Coming from the suburbs of Michigan, I spent a lot of time growing up on flat, easy land with walkable sidewalks and paths. Even spending summers in the Adirondacks, the trails were typically clear and gradual. My mind became accustomed to a certain expectation for what a hiking path should look like in the woods. Similar to what I believe many expect to experience when they explore the outdoors through hiking – a beautiful trail that’s easy to follow. I went on to hike the Pacific Crest Trail where these expectations were confirmed. Hiking trails can be steep, rocky and difficult, but there is almost always a clear way forward. Oh, how the Pasayten Wilderness took this comfortable mindset and flipped it completely upside down.

People talk about bushwhacking as some wild adventure that few embark on and only the tough and crazy. They certainly got the wild part right. Out in the Pasayten Wilderness, many trails go unmaintained due to lack of time and availability to reach all service trails. A trail trailing off the popular Pacific Crest Trail, for instance, can quickly become a bushwhack through downed logs and eroded cliffside traverses. Exactly where myself and fellow Public Lands Stewards AmeriCorps intern Victoria Vandervort found ourselves on a patrol this summer.

On what should have only taken us a day to hike, we slowly and carefully worked our way through rock scrambles, thick brush and many fallen logs. Pushing us to the brink, this trail illustrated how wild the wilderness can truly be out there. The trail was difficult to follow, disappearing in many instances. Our pace slowed. Our morale dropped a little. We spent three days in rain gear discussing safety plans in case something happened out there. But, we pushed on. And we made it.

The climb up to Devil’s Pass was the final challenge. A 5,000 foot ascent over the course of 4-5 miles. We pushed on past dinner and finally crashed in the Bear Skull Shelter. Tired and exhausted from a long day trudging forward, we made dinner and passed out quickly. The next morning, we met a couple who had camped next to the shelter and had been backpacking the area. We discussed permits, local area regulations and Leave No Trace guidelines. The usual. They told us how lucky we were to be out here for the summer. And they were right.

Out on patrols, even those without a clear trail, I have found my path forward. The chance to talk to other outdoor enthusiasts, both new and old, and to advocate for our public lands is unparalleled. My experience with Mt. Adams Institute has deepened my desire to work in the outdoors, protecting and fighting for our natural areas. As a ranger, I do not take my responsibilities lightly and have seen the impact even just a short, good conversation with a visitor can have on the wilderness. Spreading the love for the land and promoting the safekeeping and preservation of these green spaces, while also embracing a growing interest in the outdoors and promoting diversity and inclusion in these lands, is truly the dream job. Even on the days where the path forward seems challenging and difficult to navigate, this ranger life is the life for me.

And so for those searching for a rough and tough, type two fun, wild and beautiful adventure, the wild Pasayten awaits.

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