- April 08, 2016
- Posted by Susannah Tuminelli
Kooteani National Forest: First backcountry hitch of the Leadership Development Program, 8 days
It was the part of the season I had most been looking forward to: going back to the woods for an extended period of time, going back on hitch. I spent a lot of time in the Kootenai National Forest during my member season last year, and returning their for our first official hitch felt a little like going home. As we crossed the bridge that towers over the Koocanusa reservoir, our cell-phones slowly losing service, the looming evergreen fur, larch, ponderosa and lodgepoles of the Kootenai seemed to beckon me forward.
We arrived at the parking spot mid-morning, which was quite a bit chillier than it had been back in Kalispell, or the nearby Eureka. We had carefully loaded our packs with the necessary gear, whisperlite stoves, MSR water filters, and ropes for bear hangs, with our tools, mcleods, pulaskis, and pick-matics, eager to start the journey towards our campsite, which would be home to our 16 strong crew of leaders and staff for the next 8 days.
Prior to joining the MCC my member year, I had only been backpacking a handful of times and hadn’t yet gone on any trips this season, since the snow had only just started to melt. The hike to our campsite was only 3 miles, which was just enough to feel the weight of our packs, and to give me that feeling of being far into the woods I had missed so much. Although it is quite the physical challenge at times I have grown to love backpacking, for the knowledge that everything you need you can carry on your back is an empowering lesson that acknowledges your strength, both mental, and physical.
Over the next 8 days, we were given lessons on everything from how to construct bear hangs, plan project logistics and coordinate them with your project partners, dig tread, build waterbars, and cook satisfying meals to satiate and motivate your crew. At times, the thought of becoming a crew leader still seems daunting, but with the help of the amazing Northern Rockies staff, all 14 of the leaders gained confidence, new skills, and that solid appreciation for hard work.
Digging tread and doing all types of trail work was by far my favorite type of work I did with MCC last season, and I was so excited to hone my technique and help the leaders to whom this was new learn to love digging in the dirt all day. To me nothing in the world is more satisfying than the burn of my muscles, the dirt on my face, the feel of a pick-matic in my hands. As a woman who struggled with self-confidence from an early age, nothing has been more empowering than joining the MCC. The combination of careful dedication towards producing quality work, and encouraging members and leaders to develop and grow as the season progresses has created for me, and for countless others, a world in which anything seems possible. I have seen in myself and in my co-workers the light that comes back to people’s faces when they get off hitch. And you have to admit, who can’t help but feel a little badass when they’ve got dirt covering them from head to toe, after days of swinging tools and living in the beautiful forests and mountains of Northwestern Montana?
Leader season is almost halfway over, and already this growth is recognizable in so many of the leaders. We love who we work with, where we get to work, and what we do, which is a very lucky and rare thing to be able to say these days. We are, by far, the luckiest.
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