Clearing Blodgett Canyon Trail with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation

Whew! What a fabulous but exhausting trip. Blodgett Canyon is probably the iconic trail of the Bitterroot Mountains. Stunning canyon walls, two waterfalls, and a long, gradual ascent to a beautiful lake at the end, twelve miles away. Working with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation is always a pleasure, too. It’s great to see the next generation caring for our wilderness.

At the trailhead, I met up with fellow volunteers, and the three generous individuals packing our tools, kitchen, and food into camp with horses and mules. One volunteer turned out to be Jewels; she’d been on my previous trip with SBFC up this same trail, several years ago. It was great to reconnect with her; I just wish she lived closer!

Loading the pack string

After a bit of a delay, we got on the trail. It’s been an unusually hot and smoky summer, so we stopped for lunch after only a couple of miles. But a waterfall is always worth stopping for! We had one SBFC crew leader, four SBFC Fellows, and six volunteers; naturally, the younger crowd pulled away during the trek. But we all reached the campsite at 7 Mile Meadow pretty quickly; not carrying food and stoves helps a lot!

The next day we started our primary task–clearing High Lake Trail. We’d started to clear this trail on our previous trip, but hadn’t gotten far; there was too much blowdown. But it seems we’d made more of a difference than I thought, because there were fewer trees to cut out than I thought there would be. The crosscutting was mostly done in two days; the rest was brushing. But on High Lake Trail, that’s a real challenge. It’s extremely steep, with little access to the stream you can hear, and very overgrown. See the before and after photos below on a mild example:

Before brushing
After brushing

We did what we could, but with the terrain so challenging, the heat, the voracious mosquitos and flies, and the smoke, we weren’t able to brush the entire trail, but the Fellows cleared all the logs. Sadly, I never made it all the way to the lake; a giant landslide and a cliff at the end makes accessing the lake an all-day trek, and we had a job to do.

Cutting a tree from the trail with a crosscut saw. Photo by B. Bienusa.

Over the subsequent days, we cleared all the logs across the trail to Blodgett Lake, and did some brushing between the lake and 7 Mile meadow. Happily, I made it to Blodgett Lake, despite our first attempt being short-circuited by a moose on the trail. Moose are very dangerous; I’d rather meet up with a bear or mountain lion because they’re more predictable. Generally, they run. Moose sometimes attack for no apparent reason.

Blodgett Lake. Photo By B. Bienusa

That was a very long day; my watch showed 16.8 miles that day and my feet ached. Fortunately, I was able to spend some quality time in Blodgett Creek, soaking my feet while chatting with Jewels the next evening. The cold water really helps!

Our hike out was bittersweet. I was sad to leave, but looking forward to the hot shower and comfy bed at home. It was great reconnecting with Jewels, making new friends Bri and Rachel, and doing some splendid work. However, I’ve learned that doing a seven-day trip with twenty-somethings is beyond my capabilities; I’ll stick to shorter projects from here on out!

Rachel, Jewels, and AM on the hike out. Photo by B. Bienusa.

But if you love backpacking, check out the SBFC, or similar organizations in your area. There’s always more work to be done on the trails we love.

A big thank you to Ian, Karlissa, Kate, Jonny, Madi and Tyler for making it a great experience out in the wild, and to Krissy for the volunteer coordination at the HQ.

Photos Copyright (C) 2020 by AM Scott except those supplied courtesy of Copyright (C) 2020 B. Bienusa.