Our last hitch of the season started out just like any other. Austin, Levi, and I returned to the William O. Douglas Wilderness to complete our surveys of the area. After hiking in 11 miles from Bumping Lake, we set up base camp at Twin Sisters Lakes and set out to explore the vast web of hunting trails which compose the wilderness. A hike up Tumac Mountain rewarded us with views of both Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. We returned to the bunkhouse after the four-day outing, unaware of what had been happening during that time.
Another team, comprised of Susin, Caitlin, and Jesse, set out into Alpine Lakes wilderness to survey the area near Paddy-Go-Easy Pass. On the night of the third day, however, the team was contacted by dispatch and informed that the wilderness was being evacuated. Several lightning storms had moved through, igniting over 100 forest fires in the Eastern Cascades. Both teams reconvened at the Lake Wenatchee bunkhouses the next day, wondering what was in store for the last five days of our service.
With the woods unsafe to enter and an enormous smoke cloud obscuring the nearby mountains, we set to work at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, helping to prepare for the Salmon Festival, an annual event geared toward educating elementary school students about the spawning process, as well as the negative impact that humans have made in regards to populations of fish. Apart from the feeling of the doing something good for the community, our time at the fish hatchery was rewarding on a whole different level. We were given a tour of the facilities and met many of the workers, and the chance to learn about the importance and inner workings of our fish hatcheries made a real impression on the team.
In other news, Levi, Austin, and I will be staying on for one extra hitch, and we can't wait to get back out in the woods! Hopefully the wilderness firefighters are able to make some real progress by then, so we can get out there and explore before winter arrives.
For hitch 5, the whole team traveled down to Naches, to do some recreation site assessments in the William O Douglas wilderness. Teams 1 and 3 did several day hiking missions, while team 2 was to stay in the backcountry for the duration of the hitch.
Susan and Amy (team 3) completed a couple of hikes around bumping lake and up swap lake trail, to lake one and lake two (as boring and uncreative as they sound, they are real lake names). They spent much time of trail looking for campsites. After a few days Amy needed to return to Leavenworth for a separate assignment, so Susan joined Levi, Nate, and Caitlin.
Levi, Caitlin, and Nate (team 1) first headed to Richmond Lake where they spent the night. Throughout the summer, when Levi came upon a lake he would often declare it his new favorite lake. Upon arriving at Richmond lake, this occurred once again (has he finally decided?). The group followed a ridge to another lake, inventoried that and hiked out. They enjoyed the great luxury of ice chests, trucks and Bananagrams that comes with car camping. Erich was taken to the airport for his flight back to Florida, since he was no longer able to hike. For the next few days they continued on their itinerary the various day hikes to small areas on the edge of the wilderness, including walking the far bank of bumping river. They spent a lot of time driving down old forest roads, waving as they passed large groups of hunters (hunting season had just begun).
Team 2 inventoried the campsites on bumping Lake Trail, down to the Pacific Crest Trail. The William O Douglas Wilderness had tons of user trails making inventory a difficult and lengthy task. We came upon many heavily impacted hunter camps (some currently occupied). It seems that people who use horses to pack in their equipment, tend to bring a lot more stuff, and have a greater impact of the land. One site was particularly bad with litter scattered all around and empty propane tanks thrown in a nearby hole. This impact was quite upsetting to see. From bumping Lake Trail they hiked up the PCT to look around a few lakes in the area. They ended up getting some amazing views of Mount Rainer in that area. Then they hiked to the Twin Sisters Lakes, and found many more campsites. This trip was cut short when the battery in the GPS died. Team 2 then hiked out and drove back to the bunkhouse, awaiting instructions from Amy Verellen on what to do next. The next day they hiked in Stuart Lake trail to inventory the sites at Horseshoe Lake. Horseshoe Lake had been attempted twice before this season, but both times the lake was still covered in snow, making it impossible to see any human impact. This time it was snow free (finally) and they were able to find 3 sites at this amazingly beautiful lake. While we were walking around the lake, we were followed by two mountain goats, the baby and the mother. We spent the night at Stuart Lake and hiked out the next day.
Hitch 4 found, almost, all of our group up Icicle Road once more in the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Six team members, with one team consisting of Jesse, Erich, and Kenny and the other comprised of Nate, Austin, and myself headed up Chatter Creek trail on Day 1 together and split off at the end of the day to begin our separate itineraries. Levi and Susin returned to Ingalls Creek to inventory Falls Creek, which had been aborted the hitch before. Jesse’s team camped at Lake Edna, while our team continued onto Ladies Pass. Their team faced a minor hiccup when on Day 2 they discovered the GPS device, a required item for wilderness monitoring, had been left at the truck at the trailhead and so they completed a brutal roundtrip to recover it. On Day 3 they were able to inventory Index Creek Loop, where they encountered “luxury” horse campers for the first time in the season.
On the first day, Nate, Austin, and I were treated to awesome vistas as the sun set as we made our way over Ladies Pass and we continued on a couple of miles further to Upper Florence Lake, which served as our base camp for the next few days. Our hikes in the area over the next few days were to neighboring lakes, but the “bushwhacking” was beautiful as we clambered around in alpine meadows in their peak wildflower season and along ridgelines which provided panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. The lakes over the next few days were particularly memorable. Lake Alice was the perfect temperature for a lunchtime swim. Lower Florence Lake was a scramble down cliffs and was obviously rarely visited, so the fish were particularly unconcerned with our presence and we also stumbled across an occupied bear den. On the day before our resupply day we hiked over Frosty Pass, which featured more gorgeous scenery, and a great view of Glacier Peak and onto Lake Margaret which had the memorable element of a beautiful waterfall providing the inlet to the lake.
On Day 5 the entire team met up at the Lake Wenatchee bunkhouses to resupply and debrief about the next phase of Hitch 4. Unfortunately, Erich revealed that he was injured and would be unable to complete the rest of the hitch. Susin, graciously, joined Kenny and Jesse’s team so that they would be able to complete the rest of their manifest. Levi stayed in the front country to help Erich seek medical attention and the remaining six corps members headed up Icicle Creek Trail to once again split up at the end of Day 6 to complete our separate manifests. Kenny’s team base camped on Icicle Creek and completed the inventorying of Lorraine and Leland Lakes and Levi joined up with the crew on Day 7. Austin, Nate, and I spent the next few days attempting to inventory Square Lake and exploring our options for reaching the numerous surrounding lakes. Square Lake was particularly difficult to reach as a burn area has wiped out all trace of the trail for the steepest section of the journey. An elevation gain that should have taken under an hour on a trail took our team nearly 4 hours of scrambling to summit. Square Lake had the most administrative features of any of the lakes we inventoried this summer, including concrete walkway along the outlet and a helicopter pad, which is highly ironic, as it appeared we were the first people to successfully reach Square Lake this season. Levi joined me, Austin, and Nate on the morning of Day 9, as the other team had hiked out early that morning and we all reconvened at the bunkhouses after one of our fullest hitches thus far.
As a Wilderness Ranger intern, I’ve learned when Amy Verellen gives us our manifesto of trails and lakes to inventory for the hitch it’s more of a list of flexible guidelines than a strict itinerary. Both surveying crews had received their assignments and were fully prepared to tackle some serious surveying; my crew was ready to be briefed by Amy Verellen, our Forest Service liaison, while the other crew hiked up Chiwaukum Creek. Unfortunately, severe thunderstorms for the evening appeared on the Forest Service’s weather forecast and all Wilderness Rangers were being pulled from duty including the interns. So, with a day lost my crew hiked to Lake Caroline while the other crew hiked Chiwaukum Creek trail for the second time. While the other crew had troubles with a difficult creek crossing, we had difficulty with camping in close proximity to particularly loud and obnoxious campers. Although conditions were less than ideal, I had my first encounter with the wildlife when a mountain goat stomped through our campsite. The next day Nate and I decided to inventory the lake we were camped at and move everyone’s stuff to a different campsite if we encountered an empty one, which we did, while Erich and Levi hiked ahead to inventory Jack Ridge. When Nate and I continued down the trail to inventory the other lakes listed on the manifesto we discovered fields of flowers, ruthless marmosets, and a mysterious mandible. While we were enjoying a sunny day perfect for inventorying, Caitlin and Susin experienced large storm clouds blowing over Dead Horse Pass, a most awesome terrifying sight. Once we were done inventorying that area, we hiked out to resupply and then Nate, Erich and I hiked to Lake Stuart for the crew’s second attempt to inventory Horse Shoe Lake and while the other group were finding it impossible to access lakes surrounded by cliffs, Nate, Erich and I discovered that our hike to Horse Shoe, although incredibly beautiful, was for naught due to the surrounding area of the lake was covered in snow packs. With a resolve to return to Horse Shoe later in the season, we finished our hitch more aware of the unexpected obstacles which come with working in the rapid changing summer of Alpine Lakes.
Our third hitch will remain in my memory as our best hitch yet. I felt finally accustomed to the “routine” of being on hitch--the weight of the didn’t feel so heavy anymore, bush whacking was no longer a daunting task, etc. We started out the hitch all together plus Amy and headed to Sylvester Lake. The hike was a very steep two or three miles on a not so definitive trail and therefore, took us the entire day. The following morning, we had a fun hike around the perimeter of the lake and inventoried quite a few sites before heading down.
For the next few nights, we split off into several teams: Amy, Nate, and Caitlin ventured over to Spirit Lake. Kenny and Levi headed up Iron Creek trail and then inventoried Beverly Turnpike trail, before hiking out on Ingalls trail. Jess, Eric, Austin, and I also headed up Iron Creek, but split off from the other group to inventory Fourth Creek, Hardscabble, Cascade Creek, and Falls Creek. On our second day, Jess and I hiked down Fourth Creek while the guys took off down Hardscrabble. The two trails ran parallel to each other and intersected with Ingalls, where we planned on meeting up that evening. Fourth Creek turned out to be an easy 4 miles of well-traversed, gently sloping trail.
Hardscrabble on the other hand, earned its namesake: the guys lost the trail quite a bit and ended up having to do some bush whacking. Things got a little hairy the next day when we attempted to go up Cascade Creek, but found no safe way to cross the creek. With most of the day still ahead of us, we hiked over to the Falls Creek trail and began hiking. We did not get very far: Eric, jarred from the previous day’s experience on Hardscrabble, decided he did not want to hike and was going to go back to the car, some 6 miles away. This was totally weird and we weren’t sure what to do. We made the decision to hike out with him, a day earlier than we planned.
While Eric took a day to calm down, Levi joined up on our team for the last part of the hitch: an amazing loop through Deadhorse Pass to the Grace Lakes, then along Frosty Pass to the Chain Lakes, and then out via White Pine Trail. This loop had some incredible mountain views! Likewise, Grace Lake was gorgeous—minus the bugs. Our trek went smoothly until we met up with White Pine: the trail was so overgrown and the vegetation so thick that we had were hiking until dark. It was pretty challenging, but we were laughing and in good spirits the whole time.
After spending a lovely 4th of July off on Lake Wenatchee, our team plus our Forest Service Coordinator Amy and Wilderness Ranger Adam, set off on our first hitch. The hitch was broken up into three parts: the first two night were to be spent along the Jack Creek Trail with goal of getting to Leyland Lake. We would then hike back out and split into two groups minus Amy and Adam: Brandon, Andy, Levi, and Nate would head to Trout Lake while Austin, Jess, Caitlin, and I would check out Lake Stuart. We would then rejoin groups to venture to Lake Ethel.
Loaded down with gear and more food than I could eat in a week, I could barely lift my pack. It felt as though gravity had been turned up 10x. I was wondering how or if I would ever get used to carrying something so heavy as we plodded up the Jack Creek Trail. We were told the hike in was “about 4 miles” a standard guessimate that become quite a joke over the next week, when actually it was closer to 8 miles. By the end of the day, my hips and spine were bruised and my arms were covered in mosquito bites. We discovered that our path to Lake Leyland was blocked by chest-high, fast moving water and so we adjusted our plan slightly: our second day, we hiked up the French Ridge Trail loop. Lacking maps of our own, we left on this excursion with little idea of how long the trail was. This was a mistake. The loop was quite long, 13 miles to be exact, and about midday when we were on the hot ridgetop, most folks started running out of water. Furthermore, a little way into our descent we hit quite a bit of snow and lost the trail. At this point, some of us started getting a nervous: it was cold, most of the day was gone, and turning around would mean hiking back at least 8 miles. Our wilderness rangers managed to find where the trail picked up again and we arrived back at base camp around 8pm. Long day! Lessons learned: always carry as much water as you can on ridge top hikes, know how long a hike is before you start it, and don’t panic when you lose trail.
The middle part of the hitch was equally rough. Jess, Caitlin, Austin, and I battled the mosquitos at Lake Stuart while Brandon, Andy, Levi, and Nate did the same at Trout Lake. On our hike up to Lake Stuart, I experienced a “Boot Failure”: the soles of my boots sloughed right off and our attempts to duct tape them back together were a poor fix. And so, I ended up hiking out in my river crossing shoes. Lesson learned: don’t scrimp on things that you use everyday, like boots.
Bad circumstances culminated and subsided in the final portion of the hitch. The hike to Lake Ethel was virtually all up hill, with some gnarly switch backs the first couple miles. It was early into these switchbacks that we lost our team member, Andy, for whom the physical strain of the hikes had been too much. We were sad to see Andy go, but still had a whole lake to inventory, so we continued our journey. Unfortunately, Lake Ethel was still covered in a great deal of snow, obscuring many potential campsites; we would have to come back later when the snow had melted. After inventorying as many sites as we could find, all we could do was hide from the clouds of mosquitoes inside our tents. We hiked out the next morning and upon reaching the trailhead, learned that Brandon too was leaving. The internship just was not a good fit. Down two members, those remaining were totally perplexed, but felt as though the right decisions had been made so to speak. What would the rest of the season be like without Andy and Brandon? Who would replace them? We had no idea, but were totally excited to do some more hiking!
Our orientation as Wilderness Ranger Interns began one rainy afternoon on June 25th as 15 fresh, young faces trickled into Camp Zanika, located on the waters of Lake Wenatchee. As we waited for everyone to show up, those of us that arrived early began to discuss a question that seemed to be on all of our minds.
“So what are we actually doing this summer?”
The answer to that question remained nebulous for much of orientation, with no one seeming to have an answer. It was only about mid-way through training that our objective became clear: find and assess wilderness campsites for use. This entails backpacking through established and primitive trails with a GPS unit and jumping off trail when an area looks prime for camping. Then, once a site is discovered (usually given away by a fire ring and clearing), we record the ground disturbance, area, tree damage, amount of litter, and any other distinguishing characteristics. Seems easy right? Not always. During training, we spent much time discussing the subtleties of site assessment—such as, what qualifies as tree damage or what distinguishes a ground disturbance rating of 4 (bare mineral soil) from a 1 (flattened vegetation around a center of activity). After a lot of theory, we gave our GPS skills a trial run at a near-by campground. With the help of our Forest Service coordinators, Amy and George, we quickly eliminated a lot of the deviations that were occurring between our individual assessments.
Our orientation also included plenty of wilderness safety training. All but one of us became Wilderness First Aid certified, learning a whole new set of practical skills, ranging from how to properly clean a cut to administering CPR. After our intensive two day certification, most of us confident in our training, but hoped we would never have to use it. After all our long days inside, we were excited for the opportunity to get outside. For our first hike, we set off up Dirty Face—a pleasant climb up 4,000 feet over 4 miles. While some of us were perfectly in shape, many of us were not (myself included) and the hike was quite a challenge. However, the 360 degree view at the top was completely worth it.
At the end of our 10 days together, the Lake Wenatchee team (Austin, Caitlin, Brandon, Andy, Jess, Nate, Levi, and I) said goodbye to our friends on the Snoqualmie team and headed over to our new home on the other side of the lake. We were quite excited about our new digs and a little apprehensive about the season to come, but excited nonetheless.
Hi, I'm Kenny Polte, and I'm from Boston, Massachusetts. I love long-distance hiking, and I've spent the last few months exploring the Appalachian trail. I'm excited for the chance to give back to the outdoor community, not to mention the fact that I get the chance to see some of the most amazing landscapes in the world! This is my first time in the Pacific Northwest, and there is nothing that makes me more excited than seeing new places and meeting new people.
My name is Erich Kopp and I am incredibly excited to be working with the Wilderness Ranger Corps here in the North Cascades. I enjoy traveling and seeking out new natural areas to explore, and consider myself fortunate to have this opportunity to get learn all about the ecosystems, flora, fauna, and history of this region. I am interested in simple living as a means to gain a greater enjoyment of life while lessening impact on the land, and I would very much like to work in a conservation-related job and make my passion into a career. My favorite pastimes include trail running and savoring good food.
My name is Caitlin McGuire and I was born and raised in Washington. I hail from a tiny, tiny town in the Southwestern corner of the state on the Columbia River, but I have attended a college in Massachusetts for the last several years. I double majored in International Relations and Cultural Anthropology at Boston University and also lived in a cooperative house for most of undergraduate career with 23 other female students. While living in the Northeast, I spent a great deal of time pining for the Northwest and I am thrilled to return to my "homeland" and explore an entirely new section of it through the Wilderness Ranger Corps and grow my appreciation of the beautiful corner of the world that is the Pacific Northwest. I enjoy hiking, camping, all types of exploration, learning slang in foreign languages to compensate for my general ineptitude of other languages, fixing/breaking things on my bicycle, baking, cooking, learning new things, reading, discovering new facts about obscure geographic regions, and perusing used book stores.
Hello my name is Nathan Biron I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York. I am a 22 year old student, I studied Adventure sports and outdoor education at SUNY Adirondack where I was trained in back country living white water rafting, and canoeing. I enjoy traveling and backpacking I backpacked throughout the countries of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Costa Rica.
My name is Austin Werts, I grew up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. For several years of my life my family went on camping trips around the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas. I have always thoroughly enjoyed camping, hiking and the outdoors. I attended Oklahoma State University and earned my Bachelors of Science in Botany in 2012, developing skills for plant identification. I joined the SCA to gain experience working outdoors and see beautiful places around the country. I found the program for wilderness ranger internships in the northwest and applied to gain experience backpacking and working in wilderness areas. I hope to get a job in the future doing something similar to this.
My name is Susan Olszewski. Originally from Arizona, I moved up to Washington three years ago to attend the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. I graduated last December with a BS in Biology and a minor in Environmental Policy. Over the last two years, I conducted research under the umbrella of conservation biology. I am most interested in how science translates to action; how scientific data can be used to create better management practices. My work was both field and lab-based and eventually culminated into a thesis on the impacts of livestock pressure on the endangered Grevy's zebra in Kenya. During my internship with SCA, I am hoping that the data we gather on campsite density and impact will help the Forest Service better monitor and assess campsite useage in an effort to maintain the quality of these sites for many years to come.
Jesse Sikora applied for the Wilderness Ranger Internship after graduating from William Paterson University with a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science. She enjoys camping, studying flora and fauna, and reading science fiction novels. Some of her hobbies include fishing, yard saleing, night hiking, and collecting tea cups. Jesse hopes to continue her involvement in conservation efforts whether it be working with the SCA or continuing her education with a masters program in conservation and ecology.
I grew up outside Tacoma Washington and went to The University of Washington where I studied Communications and Nonprofit Development. I have been fortunate enough to serve our public lands with the SCA accross the country in a variety of programs and capacities. I am very excited to be back in my home state working with The Wilderness Ranger Corps. When I'm not on a conservation project I enjoy teaching, landscaping and dreaming of sustainable community.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest encompasses more than 4-million acres in Washington state and stretches north to south from the Canadian border to the Goat Rocks Wilderness - a distance of about 180 miles. The forest lies east of the Cascade Crest, which defines its western boundary. The eastern edge of the forest extends into the Okanogan highlands, then south along the Okanogan and Columbia Rivers, and then to the Yakima River valley. Because of this wide geographic range, the forest is very diverse - from the high, glaciated alpine peaks along the Cascade Crest and the numerous mountain ranges extending eastward from the crest, through deep, lush valleys of old growth forest, to the dry and rugged shrub-steppe country at its eastern edge. Elevations range from below 1,000 ft. to over 9,000 ft. Precipitation varies widely - from more than 70-inches along the crest to less than 10-inches at its eastern edge. This of course greatly affects the forest and vegetation types across the area.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is most noted for a wide range of recreation opportunities. There truly is "something for everyone" who likes to have fun in the outdoors.
|Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest|
|Levi Andre (Project Leader)|
|Lean, Mean, Wilderness Ranger Intern Machines|
|Hitch #2: Troubleshooting in the Alpine Lakes|
|Hitch #1: Working Out the Kinks by Susan Olszewski|
|Orientation and Training on Lake Wenatchee by Susan Olszewski|