Public Lands Steward: Glacier Peak Wilderness, Reopening the PCT

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The season wears on, the days grow shorter, and the trail never fails to call for continuous maintenance.  Nearing the end of summer, Chelan Forest Service district is left with the tatters of a scorched forest from which to coax a few usable routes to appease the masses of hikers undeterred by fire.  Starting back in June, as section by section of the district went up in flames, we few who were not on the front lines found our territory shrinking with each new thunderstorm.  I left Lyman Lake close to a month ago, and although the fire that motivated that move never made it far in that direction, it is still burning strongly to the south.  I can only imagine how the deer and marmots have been getting by in my absence, frolicking as they do, smoke or not.

This next tour will bring the reopening of the PCT in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, a much anticipated event, as there are 500 or more through hikers hoping to traipse through en route to Canada and the finale of their 2500 mile journey.  After weeks of closure, cumbersome reroutes and confusion on all fronts, folks will be allowed a chance to taste some of the fine, albeit not entirely unsmoked air of Glacier Peak and its surroundings and I will be able to return for a spell to my little home.  The trail opening comes none too early, as we witnessed just days ago the first snow dusting down to 6000′, a level below some passes yet to be climbed by those headed north.  None too early for myself as well, for as I write this, I have less than a month left to ply my craft along the trail.

It’s hard to imagine this summer stint ending already, for in many aspects, I’ve barely begun.  Just as I’ve become comfortable with the swing of the ax and the lop of the loppers, I’ll be called back to pack out my belongings and complete the never-ending paperwork that is modern employment under a branch of the national government.  After honing these skills of lopping and paperwork completion though, I do say I have a chance of finding a return to this work that I have come to enjoy, if not here, then wherever there are mountains.

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(Pictures of a little trail work, before and after reroute around a rootwad)

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Public Lands Steward: One Way Ticket

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My new home in the middle of the Glacier Peak Wilderness is a bit of a hike from the nearest neighbors. The screen tent which serves as my kitchen, lounge, tool shed, closet, and most importantly mosquito shield is 9 miles uphill from the nearest small village, which itself is only accessible by a 2-3 hour boat ride. Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center currently closed to the public, now houses 300 mine remediation workers pushing around gravel and toxic sludge 24 hours a day in addition to 100+ wildland firefighting personnel on duty repelling a possibly troublesome fire that has been burning for the past two weeks.  The hubbub in this small hamlet does not prevent the skeleton staff from organizing a Fourth of July parade and keeping the bowling alley and pool hall open.  Although this surreal cluster of human activity surrounded by wilderness is a worthy distraction, it is but a rest stop on my commute from Chelan via the Lady Of The Lake ferry.

Lyman Lake, where I live

Lyman Lake, where I live.

Alone at my base on Lyman Lake, I am a Ranger, a one person trail-crew, and a wandering admirer of all that is untrammelled. Lack of snowfall and 100 degrees temperatures have pushed back the typical groundcover and left in its wake rolling meadows of lupine and heather. Fat marmots scurry across my path as I stroll to and fro searching for a decent radio signal each morning.  As the day heats up the mosquitoes and black flies make their return in droves, the curious deer retreat to their clandestine shady glens and I don my personal protective equipment and head towards whatever trail project presses my attention.  Brush needs cut back, waterbars need replaced, old signs need updated, and visitors must be reminded that they are in wilderness and there are NO FIRES.

Glacier Peak

Glacier Peak

The days blend together, not due to their monotony, but to the lack of need to know where one stands on the calendar.  Progress is marked more accurately by trail improvements and a deepening of intimacy with the local flora and fauna.  Too soon, this is interrupted by the call for the return trip, for paperwork, for resupply, for supplication to the forces of economics, industry and politics.  20 or more miles downhill I find myself on the edge of North Cascades National Park and bus down to Stehekin, little more than a small port with an National Park Service visitor center, concessionaire, and a number of vacation homes hidden up in the hills.  I board the boat to head back south and watch the driftwood float by as I remind myself that I only have to be in town for a few days before I can return to the wild.[gdl_gallery title=”Panorama from Cloudy Peak” width=”IMAGE_SRC” height=”IMAGE_HEIGHT” ]Click the image, then click fullscreen to see this epic panoramic shot from Cloudy Peak.

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