Monday, June 30, 2014

This is Trail Maintenance: part 1

Due to the rainy/cold weather this weekend, I decided it was a good time to take care of some things I needed to do back in Spokane. Therefore, I do not have a trip report this week. Instead I'll begin a series of posts detailing the work that we do as a trail crew.

A trail crew is responsible for maintaining the network of trails within their district. With hundreds of miles of trail in ours, it seems like a never-ending task. However I enjoy it because even though it is very hard work, it's rewarding to work in such beautiful outdoor environments. As a hiker, it feels good to know the amount of effort that goes in to ensuring I have a pleasant hike. I enjoy the hike because I enjoy being out in nature and ironically nature is the opponent of the trail crew. It is a fight that neither side will ever win, even though nature always has the lead. All we can do is hold steady, never stopping.

The large majority of our work includes brushing and logging out trails. To ensure trails are free of obstructions, brush along both sides is "mowed" with a chainsaw and trees that have fallen over the trail or pose a hazard of falling over the trail are cut out. Sawing is usually done in two-person teams with a sawyer who cuts with the saw and a swamper who is responsible for clearing the cut material so it is out of site of trail users.

Another major component of our job is tread-work. This involves working the actual dirt of the trail to widen, level, and smooth it out so users will have an enjoyable trek. Rocks and roots provide extra obstacles to climb or trip over, water flows down trail causing ruts and erosion, and plants grow in from the sides making tread narrow. We manage all of this with hand tools and hard work.

In preparation for an upcoming project to build wooden walkways along swampy trail, a helicopter delivered materials to our various backcountry work-sites. This can be seen in the video and I look forward to the actual project which will begin at work-camp next week. So enjoy the video, I will have more of these later showing some of the various tasks and places we work.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Burton Peak and the Moyie River

I was incredibly excited to hit the trail this weekend and kick-off my backpacking season. The weather this week was wet and cold to say the least and provided for some less-than comfortable working conditions in the mountains. So I intensely watched the forecast for the weekend and was pleased to see warm temperatures and sunshine. Friday morning, I packed my gear and by early afternoon I was off towards Burton Peak in the Selkirk mountains.

Burton Peak

Burton Peak from
the Ranger Station
Burton Peak sits on the eastern edge of the Selkirk mountains, directly west of the Bonners Ferry Ranger Station. Although snow packs are still high in the deeper reaches of the Selkirks, I could see that only a small patch of it still clung to the rocky peak. 

Tall stand
The 2.6 mile hike to the summit begins in a large parking turnout at the end of a long, rough forest service road. As I threw on my pack and left my car, it was warm and the sun was making extended appearances between intermittent cloud cover. The trail gains about 1700 feet as it follows the ridgeline through heavily forested areas of western hemlock,western red cedar, and grand fir which is occasionally interrupted by open stands of  huckleberry bushes towered over by lodgepole pine and western larch. Every now and then, a rocky yet heavily wild-flowered meadow sneaks itself into a clearing along the trail and provides a welcome burst of sunlight with treeless views of the Selkirks to the west and the Kootenai Valley, Cabinet mountains, and Purcell mountains to the east. The Forest Service still haven't done much work in the Selkirks due to the snow and because of this the hike was slow due to the 25+ fallen trees across the exposed ridge.

Open stand
Ridgetop meadow

Forested meadow
West towards the Selkirks
As I got closer to the top of the peak, the views to the west in the Selkirks really opened up and although the exaggerated granite peaks looked beautiful with their patches of melting snow, the sky above contained trouble. Dark clouds began to swallow the tallest peaks and brought with them what appeared to be a solid wall of rain that was slowly whitening-out layer after layer of mountain as it crawled east directly towards me. As I looked ahead, I could see the summit of Burton only 0.7 miles further. There were flashes followed by booming-thunder in the clouds directly over myself and the peak.Unfortunately, I could also now see that the small cabin which once served as a lookout sits on top of a very exposed granite knob. Since I was still close to Bonners Ferry, I was able to get a wireless signal and decided to check the current forecast. Sure enough, the ever-changing mountain weather called for thunderstorms from the west until midnight. So I decided to turn back, a decision I hated to make but I know my limits. There would be no camping on Burton Peak that night.

The cabin on Burton Peak
Burton Ridge
Within 5 minutes of turning back, the winds were absolutely howling and soon they brought heavy rain to the ridge. I began to really hustle (run) downhill while being pelted with high-velocity sideways-rain. There was a 10 minute period of mostly cloudy sky, followed by another wave of rain much like the first, that lasted until I reached my car. After 15 minutes of sitting in my car and warming up, the skies cleared once again, however ominous clouds still continued to linger in the west. There was a small fire ring and space for a tent near the parking turnout and although I really wanted to camp out, I was deterred by the strong winds and possibility of more storms on the high-elevation saddle. So I decided to drive down and find somewhere to camp in the valley.

East towards Bonners Ferry
West towards the Selkirks

Meadow Creek at the Moyie River

My campsite
It was 7:00 pm by the time I got back into the valley and had to decide where to next. Knowing that the Forest Service operates a handful of campgrounds within our district and I was running out of daylight, I did some quick research online and determined that the Meadow Creek Campground on the Moyie River would be best. Located in the Purcell Mountains, reviews claim it offered somewhat more secluded sites than other campgrounds. When I arrived about 7:30 pm, I was quickly greeted by the friendly host and given tips on the best available site. Taking her advice, I found a nice tent pad tucked back into the trees, away from the RV's.

Moyie River
It was a little cold that night and rained briefly however I managed to stay dry and mostly-warm. A short trail leads along the Moyie River on the edge of the campground and provided great viewpoints. By late-morning I was packed up and heading back to the Ranger Station.

Moyie River
It is somewhat discouraging to not have completed the hike I had set out to do. I was excited to stay up there for a night or two, exploring the ridge and enjoying the scenery, but the Selkirks receive more precipitation than anywhere else in Idaho and the turbulent spring really hangs on up there. The Forest Service will get to the Burton Ridge trail in the next week or two and hopefully I will be the one to saw it out and finish the hike. I know however that there will be many more opportunities as summer hits these mountains and I look forward to them.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Back to Blogging!

It's time to dust off the old blog and shine 'er up. That's right, LeisurelyLost is being resurrected! Although I've regularly updated my flickr account with current photos, I've had some requests to get back to blogging.

In the last few years since I completed the PCT, I've been busy with school and summers working away from home. As mentioned in an earlier post, I spent the summer of 2012 working and playing in Yellowstone National Park. It was a wonderful experience in a truly unique place and it left me with a soft spot in my heart for the area. Maybe my career will one day allow me to return to the region. Summer of 2013 involved completing a volunteer-internship for my forestry degree with the US Forest Service Trail Crew in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. As a hiker, it was genuinely rewarding to give back to the trails that I love to use so much. The surrounding mountains in the Bonners Ferry district provided ample opportunity for me to get out and backpack on the weekends. I visited some incredibly beautiful and remote places and had some great adventures.

Trail work consists of mostly hard-manual labor, but I must have forgotten that because I have returned to the Bonners Ferry Ranger District for the summer of 2014. Fortunately, this time I've secured a spot as a paid-employee of the US Forest Service. I once again look forward to maintaining and upgrading the trails in this beautiful district and relaxing at remote sub alpine lakes on my days off. These weekend excursions are what I would like to share with you and I hope that you can get an idea of how magnificent these wild places are through my words and pictures. Enjoy!

The Selkirk Mountains from the Bonners Ferry Ranger Station

Snow Creek Falls

Two factors prevented me breaking out the tent and escaping to the mountains this last weekend: the snow and my body. Although the Selkirk mountains top out at under 8,000 feet here, the snow still hangs on to the craggy-granite peaks, especially in the northern shadows. This makes many of the Forest Service roads still impassable in their upper-reaches and hiking unpleasant through miles of snow banks. Don't fret though; it is hot here and melting fast. Secondly, my body said no. Same as last year, the first week of trail work has managed to make my body feel tired and broken as it is whipped back into shape. This makes backpacking seem like more of a chore, although if it weren't for the snow I'd probably go trekking anyway.

So this weekend included only a couple of short hikes and resting in Bonners. The first hike was a short 1.1 mile hike to upper and lower Snow Creek Falls. This low-elevation trail is easily accessed from town and is a nice gentle-grade, suitable for casual day-hikers or even just a walk with the dog. Due to the heavy snowpack and the recent high temperatures, the falls were especially high.

Upper Snow Creek Falls

Upper falls is larger and more extreme than the lower falls, although both are equally impressive. However, the sheer volume of water coming down the upper falls ensures that you will be blasted with wind and mist. In the shaded cedar/Doug fir forest this provides a cool windy retreat from the summer heat. Wooden walkways and railings provide an up close view of both falls, while maintaining a safe distance.

Lower Snow Creek Falls

Deep Creek

My second hike of the weekend was a 4.4 mile hike along the dike that follows Deep Creek in the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge sits in the Kootenai Valley that separates the Selkirk mountains from the Cabinets and Purcells. The trail is completely flat for the entire journey, making it a nice hike for anyone who would like to see many species of birds flocking to the reserve's ponds and maybe even larger animals such as deer and moose.

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Copper Falls

Finally, I visited Copper Falls with a few of my roomates. Only 1 mile south of the Canadian border in the Purcell mountains, this 0.8 mile hike takes you to an overlook where Copper Creek cascades for 80 feet over a rock escarpment. 

Copper Falls

Here is a short video I made with footage and pictures from the hikes. I hope to include one with each post.

This Weekend...

So all of this happened last weekend and unfortunately the thunderstorms and cool temperatures prevented me from leaving with my pack this weekend. I'm anxious to get out and hope next weekend includes better weather.