Backpacking in the Bitterroot Mountains

This last weekend, I had the wonderful, but exhausting opportunity to work with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation right in my backyard.

Blodgett Canyon is one of the most popular and beautiful canyons in the Bitterroots–Matt and I hike it twice a year at least. It’s a great place to take visitors, with dramatic canyon walls, easy trail, and beautiful waterfalls. This trip was far more eventful than our normal day hike.

The first surprise was a great one–there was enough pack stock to take a lot of our personal gear, making for a much lighter trip. If I’d known this ahead of time, I would have brought my lighter pack, but it was still a nice hike in. Even though our oldest volunteer, at 70 years! old! set a very brisk pace – I had to work to keep up with him.

We stopped for a lunch and foot-soaking break at the 4 mile point. The stairstep waterfall was beautiful, and still running high.

We camped at 7 mile meadow, under the trees with lots of mosquitos – all of whom just loved me. That afternoon, we cleared a few trees, and I re-learned how to use a crosscut saw.  In case you didn’t know, in the wilderness, chainsaws and other power tools are not allowed – it’s all done by hand.

The next day, we set off to start clearing the rest of the trail. Adam, the Bitterroot National Forest Backcountry Ranger leading our trip, didn’t expect us to reach our stated goal of Blodgett Lake and the top of Blodgett Pass, but we did! There weren’t many downed trees to clear. Six of us headed to the lake, while the other three went to the pass. I was on the lake trip (the top photo above) and we mostly cut brush back rather than cutting out trees, until we almost reached the lake – and the snow. Yep, mid-July, and there was still snow. Got to love Montana!

We spent some time at the lake – because it’s beautiful – but SBFC Intern Matthew was the only one of us brave enough to fully immerse himself in the icy water. It felt great on my tired feet though! One of our volunteers evidently soaked too much – he got really bad blisters on the hike back to camp and headed home a day early.

Since we completed the big task in just one day, the next we headed for the High Lake trail, a side trail that we backtracked a mile to get to, then headed down. Slowly. First, we had to cross Blodgett Creek twice, and clear some logs. Then, the big pile. Only a quarter of a mile from the intersection and we faced with a pile of logs that looked as if a giant had swept a hand through the forest, knocking them all down in a huge pile. Adam told us a year or so ago, they estimated there were over 1,000 trees down on this trail. This pile of twenty or so took us all day to clear. And we didn’t finish, unfortunately.

Towards the end of the day, a thunderstorm was threatening, and one of our volunteers took a fall. She managed to twist BOTH ankles very badly. Eventually, we got them taped up, and then in a feat of amazing, terrific heroism, SBFC Intern Ethan carried her back to camp ON HIS BACK. Yes, through two stream crossings, wet, slippery trail, and a mile and a quarter. It was truly a wonder to see. All hail ETHAN, hero of the Bitterroot!

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The next morning, we had a wonderful breakfast and waited for the helicopter evacuation. Our twisted ankle survivor had wisely turned down the opportunity to ride out with pack string – it’s pretty hard to ride when you can’t push your feet around in the stirrups. With the increasing fires in the area, the Forest Service already had helo support, so they sent one of the fire survey helos to pick her up. Not the best way to get your first helo ride!

We had a very nice, uneventful hike out and picked up our gear from the volunteer packers without issue. They also brought along frosty adult beverages – a nice treat after a very hot hike out!

It was a great trip, and I’m looking forward to working with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation again!

 

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