Public Lands Stewards: The Cyclical Life of a Wilderness-Backcountry Ranger

Forrest Patton

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Every trip into the backcountry begins the same. The day leading up to a hitch is filled with last minute preparations for the trip; trips to The Grocery Outlet to buy bagels, tortillas, cheese, summer sausage, Pumpkin Pie Clif Bars, and all the other necessary provisions, a stop at the ranger station to pick up the radio battery that has been charging since our last hitch, and of course the meticulous packing of my backpack.  At this point in the season I have dialed the packing process down to a science. Each item has its preassigned location within my pack and I can now complete the process within a matter of minutes.

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Sawtooth Backcountry from Sunrise Lake

The following morning we (my rangering partner Mike and I) report to the Entiat Ranger Station where we are given maps, advice on campsites and trails, and instructions on what to tell the visitors of our appointed backcountry for the coming week. From here we drive. Sometimes it is north to the Sawtooth Backcountry, out of our home ranger district and into the area bordering the Chelan and Methow Valley Ranger Districts. Sometimes it is up the Entiat River Road to do patrols in the Upper Mad River area or along the North Fork of the Entiat. But it always means driving for a while through beautiful Washington country before we hit a Forest Service gravel road, switch the rig into four-wheel drive and find the trailhead.

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View from Campsite near Klone Meadows

Every trip may begin the same, but it is the ever differing conditions of weather, trail, and country that make each trip interesting in its own right. At the trailhead we make the final adjustments; we put on our hiking boots, tighten the straps on our packs and lock the rig to leave the world of easy transportation behind. Once we hit the trail it is a life of slow, hard-earned progress. We decide on a campsite for the night, radio our position into the dispatch center in Wenatchee and hit the trail. Some days are easy cruising through flattish country and clean trail, where we can cover a great distance in a relatively short time. Some days are marred by dozens of trees covering the trail and massive elevation gains over a short length of trail, only to be relieved by postcard worthy panorama shots of the forest I call home for five days at a time. Sometimes the trail has been obliterated by the fires that have plagued the Entiat Ranger District in recent years and we must resort to compass and topo map to keep us headed in the right direction. But regardless of the day, by the time we get to camp I am happy to be spending my time in God’s country, living by my own proficiencies. When you’re living in the woods the days roll together and before I know it, it is time for Mike and I to return to our truck on the fifth day.

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View from Saska Pass

After spending the last five days propelling myself forward with determination and the endurance developed from months’ worth of hard hiking, nothing is quite like the ease of cruising down scenic, mountain roads with the windows down in the expectation of a hot shower. After each trip Mike and I return to the ranger station to report on our trip and charge our radio batteries for the next hitch. We’ll be hitting the trail again in a couple days.

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