For half of us, Hitch 4 began with ﬂight delays and a two-hour drive back from the airport at midnight with work bright and early. The next day, we arrived at the Ridgecrest BLM oﬃce to meet with our Wilderness contact, Marty, to watch a film about the origins of the Wilderness Act –2014 marks its 50th anniversary. Luckily, Marty gave us coffee and donuts, and we fueled up to fight off that only-got-three-hours-of-sleep feeling. We also began the lesson plan for the Sand Canyon Environmental Education Program (SEEP), we will be teaching fourth and fifth graders about wilderness starting in March.
The following day we packed up and headed out into the beautiful Owens Peak Wilderness, which is named for the 8,451-foot peak on the southern boundary of the Sierra Nevada. After monitoring Indian Wells Valley work from past seasons, we chose to camp out at an old mining site in the canyon, complete with an abandoned house. It soon became our new favorite campsite as we sat around the campfire telling ghost stories about the mine and the OPB (Owens Peak Bear). The next day we felt especially blessed with our job as we did more monitoring in the Valley – highlights included hiking up an access trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and having lunch at the Owens Peak trailhead.
The next four days of hitch were spent completing our S-212 Wildland Fire Chain Saw training at the Salt Wells Fire Station and Ridgecrest Horse and Burro Corral, where we learned about safety, the parts and capabilities of the chainsaw, how to take it apart, clean it and sharpen the chain. We made fast friends with the firefighters and the androgynous, unnamed cat that lives there. In the end, we all felt pretty hardcore using the chainsaws, and even though they are prohibited in Wilderness areas, hopefully we will get a chance to apply our training later the season.
After chainsaw training, we headed back to Owens Peak Wilderness, where we worked at a high priority site to extend a fence along the side of a mountain. Luckily our crew leader Chris and his fencing experience joined us to figure out how to work on the rocky terrain (one end of the fence is actually connected to a giant boulder). While we worked, two of our crewmembers hiked up a 900-foot hill climb to see if the unlawful route continued to the other side of the mountain. All in all, we felt good to have a physically challenging day after being home for the holidays. That night, after feasting on chili, cast-iron cornbread and marshmallows, we went to bed. Much to our surprise, we were awoken in the early morning hours by a group of coyotes (or kit foxes – no one knows for certain) howling all around our camp! It was a unique and humbling experience. After another day of finishing the fence and maintaining several other hard barriers, we traveled north to do some monitoring in Short Canyon, which is known for its abundant spring wildﬂowers. Finally, we returned to Ridgecrest for post hitch day and filled our bellies with Casey’s BBQ.
This hitch we completed 450 hours, and not only earned our S-212 Wildland Fire Chain Saw Training, we also monitored 32 sites for effectiveness, worked on 4 hard barriers, maintained 17 meters of fence and built 96 meters of new fence.