Thursday, August 8, 2013 Connective Dislocations is a three part series by Discover Outdoors guide Marc Leone as he heads to the wilderness of Montana.
Our second day started with a bumpy ride up the mountains to Daisy Pass, a 9,000 foot point walled in by Scotch Bonnet Mountain, Sheep Mountain, Miller Mountain, and Henderson Mountain, all of which are over 10,000 feet. All twelve of us, Forest Service and volunteers, rolled out to the same location that morning. We were geared up to clear a 9 _ mile stretch of trail that was expected to be particularly hairy with downed trees.
We would be hiking down from the pass to Lake Abundance and then continue down further through the burnt wilderness clearing the trail. While we all went over the map on the flatbed of one of the trucks, the valley down to Lake Abundance was shrouded in clouds. An absolutely amazing view.
We cleared 38 trees and dug out a few water bars on the Lake Abundance hike. Throughout the day we became very familiar with our tools, with saws pinched in tree trunks, and wedges to open the saw cut to free the blades. We were also rewarded about half way through the hike with a steady, refreshing drizzle. At least it was refreshing at the start when it chased away the clouds of biting mosquitoes. Once my non-waterproof, zip off, pants were soaked by the wet brush, it got pretty cold. I also found out that day that zip off pants areÒcorney" (I have four pairs of them). Luckily, before we made it back to Lake Abundance, the sun had come back out and dried our clothes and made the air warm enough for a swim in the 50 degree water. I still likeÒinstant bathing suit" zip off hiking pants, I stand by my purchases.
Our third day was another 10 mile hike with sweeping views. We started up at 9,300 feet near Clay Butte on the Beartooth Plateau in Wyoming. We were in a small group, just Steve, Jess, Seiger from the Forest Service, and I. This meant more work for each of us, and I think we all liked it better that way.
On our hike down to Granite Lake that day we lost a lot of elevation, and then turned around and gained it right back. I have to tell you, it wasn't easy. That night when we looked over the map with sore legs to figure out how much we had gained, we were amazed to discover that it was only 1,000 feet, less than the day before. I was reminded again of my life at sea level and found a new respect for people who hike at high elevation on a regular basis.
It wasn't until the fourth day that I was taken back and completely moved by the wilderness. It was another day in Wyoming near the Beartooth Plateau, a short 7 mile hike from Lily Lake, down Crazy Creek, and to the road where we would get picked up by the Forest Service. Our plans for trail maintenance became more complex as the week went on. We would split up and drive to different trailheads, and then split again at trail intersections to cover the most ground possible. For most of the fourth day I was with only Jess and Seiger. Our small group made the mountains, meadows, and waterfalls seem more expansive than before.
As we hiked down the alpine valley towards Crazy Creek, surrounded by the overbearing vastness of the sky, the mountains, the wildflowers and sagebrush, I found myself falling back from the others just to experience the scene on my own. There's something about being immersed in wilderness that draws me away, like a call to get lost in it all. The meadow was sporadically dotted with tall pine trees, but it was essentially a sea of fragrant sagebrush. The scent and landscape worked together to put life into perspective. It was certainly a spiritual experience, and helped put my priorities in line; something that I hope I never forget and plan to never forget by dislocating as often as I'm able.
The day only got better as we arrived at the junction with the Crazy Creek falls. The water level was low so we were able to swim in the deep pools and lounge in the shallow torrents of the waterfall. We were only about a mile away from the road, and Seiger radioed our ride to see how far they were. We were told that they were still 45 minutes out, so disappointing! Now we had to lounge around the waterfall with the mountains peering down on us and wait. Poor us!
This experience only added to my experience of the healing properties of nature. I didn't think that I was sick, but laying on the sunbaked rocks with the cool water of the waterfall washing over me definitely made me feel like I had been resurrected. Each time that I dozed off, I shook myself awake, not wanting to lose any time on Crazy Creek.
Our final day of work was more of the same, complete with a raging waterfall and swim in an alpine lake. We covered the most mileage of the trip at 14 miles, and also had an objective to survey a bridge that had been built in the late 80s. Jeremy explained that it had taken five years worth of paperwork and debate to have the materials to build the bridge air dropped into the pristine wilderness. Since wheels are not allowed in designated wilderness areas, it wasn't easy to get materials to a construction site. The bridge was about 8 feet across and 40 feet long, made up of heavy pressure treated wood. The slabs of lumber were anywhere from 75 to 100 pounds heavy each, and it was 7 miles to the nearest road. You can imagine that without a helicopter, this would be a pretty daunting task. Jeremy told me that they have had projects like this in the past, where a crew would camp for a week and build a bridge with whatever tools were allowed in the wilderness. If mention of a project like this doesn't excite you, then we're on a totally different page.
We ran into a lot of hikers and fishers on the final day. During the week the trails were totally empty, but on a beautiful Friday afternoon they had a little more traffic. It became clear that the Forest Service also acted as a form of people management, in addition to the wilderness management that we had observed all week. They happily greeted every hiker, asked them where they were from and where they were going, keeping an ear open for flags that would hint that the hiker was inexperienced. Based on what they heard, they would give a little piece of advice or list off some precautions that should be taken.
Seeing the hikers interact with the Forest Service also provided a hint as to why a person would want to be a Ranger. It's a very selfless line of work. The Rangers work extremely hard every day, for a modest pay, clearing trails for people that they will never meet. The big rewards are apparent when you look around at the landscape and, say, have a spiritual blackout in an alpine meadow, but they are even more clear when you experience peoples' gratitude. Every person we came across gave us a genuine and enthusiastic Ì¢âÂèÏthank you'. Especially the folks on horses, who would normally have to go off trail if a huge pine tree fell. I felt guilty even accepting the gratitude, since I was only a tourist and the Forest Service does this work all season, but you could tell that the Rangers appreciated it.
If you live in New York City and have a chance to visit the Beartooth Wilderness of Montana, get your hands dirty and disconnect from what you perceive to be reality, I recommend it. But beware, you may end up questioning what you know and be tempted to adopt a new lifestyle.
Over the course of the week the expeditions that I was personally a part of hiked 46 and a half miles, cleared 86 trees, dug out 28 water bars, and saw three bears. The rest of the crew combined to cover even more mileage and clear more obstacles. The Forest Service explained to us that we had taken care of the entire eastern district of their territory throughout the week, blazing through the wilderness with a path of orderly destruction in our wakes. Spending a week hiking in the backcountry of Montana was certainly a rewarding vacation.
So in conclusion, if you live in New York City and have a chance to visit the Beartooth Wilderness of Montana, get your hands dirty and disconnect from what you perceive to be reality, I recommend it. But beware, you may end up questioning what you know and be tempted to adopt a new lifestyle. If you already love the outdoors, and are intimate with the North East, you'll also find a greater respect for the unique majesty of the Catskills, the blueberries in Harriman State Park, and the ideal climbing crags on the Shawangunk Ridge. Even after seeing the vastness of the west, places closer to home retain their exclusive form of beauty.
Looking up at the tall buildings and seeing the sea of diversity that is New York City still puts me at awe. However, after this trip I know more than ever the power and importance of dislocating from what you know to connect with who you are and what you love.
Ì¢âÂÒThe mountains are calling and I must go." -John Muir Marc Leone lives in New York City. When he's not guiding for Discover Outdoors or working as a community organizer at Meetup he likes to rock climb and socialize on rooftops.
Categories: Adventure, People