Last week, we tackled our final training hitch before the start of the season. The week also saw several firsts; it was our first backcountry hitch, our first self-led project, and our first adventure with our newest Youth Crew Leader, Christian.

We started preparing for the trip the Friday before, and with sole ownership of the project, we had to draw on all of our previous training and apply it in a comprehensive fashion. This included developing a menu for backcountry meals, shopping for ingredients, gathering equipment and tools, and divvying up loads for backpacking.

On Tuesday, we loaded up the rigs and the trailer and set out for the Bear Creek Trailhead in the Great Bear Wilderness, a part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. We were joined on the trip by Northern Rockies’ new cohort of Youth Conservation Corps Leaders. They would be camping with us and working on a nearby side project. Upon arrival at Bear Creek, we reorganized our loads, consulted the map, and shouldered our packs for a seven-mile trek along the Big River Trail to the Spruce Park Cabin, which became our base camp for the week. Along the way, we all shared trail games and riddles to keep up morale and distract us from the heavy loads on our backs.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we engaged in our main project, clearing seven miles of the Big River Trail of blow-down from the cabin to Twenty-Five Mile Creek. Since it is wilderness, we could only utilize one and two-person crosscut saws, smaller handsaws, and axes to clear the trail. In total, we cleared about fifteen logs. In between, we targeted baby trees which were growing in the trail tread. Additionally, we continued our professional development through further exploration of our CORE leadership manual and the composition of our co-leader contracts.

This was the first capital “W” wilderness experience for most of us, and nature was on full display during our stay.  From the sign and tracks on the trail, it was apparent that wildlife was in abundance in the area; we saw evidence of grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, deer, and mountain lions. We came across one cow moose ‘in the flesh’ on the trail. The trail provided ample outlooks to admire the craggy peaks of the Front Range, and our worksite paralleled the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, one of Montana’s designated Wild and Scenic rivers. A few minutes’ time sitting on the banks of the river, overlooking the vivid aqua-colored water and listening to the rush of the swift waters, provided a welcome release after a hard day’s work. Several of us also took advantage of the good weather the first two nights to admire the vibrant, starry sky.

The crew faced several challenges along the way, including four creeks swollen with spring runoff; difficult logs; hail, lightning, and drenching rains on the last night; and heavy packs over many miles. However, everyone kept a positive attitude and demonstrated awesome teamwork throughout.

On Friday, we struck camp and headed home. On the way back, we swung by the Hungry Horse Ranger Station to report on our progress and trail conditions. 

Back at MCC’s Northern Rockies office in Kalispell, everyone pitched in on the de-rigging process. With many hands on deck, we made short work of the process. When we finally found a minute to reflect on the past week, we all agreed that the hitch tested us and pushed us to grow in new ways. In all, we were grateful for this last big adventure together in some of the wildest country Montana has to offer, and before we split into our separate co-leading pairs for the summer.


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