With my Montana friends, I just spent the past week in the Bob Marshall Wilderness working on the Historic Phone Line for a volunteer trail crew project with my ever-favorite Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation. It was with seven dear friends, including Cole, we not only cleared 129 downed trees from the phone line with hand tools like cross-cut saws and Oregon saws, but we also managed to have a great bit of fun along the South Fork of the Flathead River.
As volunteers with the BMWF, we were assigned a crew leader and we lucked out with the knowledgable, kind and beautiful Kelsey. While she may have been a bit skeptical and even a bit nervous about our supply of wine and booze, we quickly demonstrated that we’re no strangers to hard work and we also like to reward ourselves with a nightly backcountry cocktail hour after the boots came off and the saws were sheathed for the night.
I’m not going to lie that I had one hell of a good time, as I always do, in the wilderness. With friends like these, it is absolutely impossible to not to enjoy the dusty trail, the scrambling through a burned forest, surveying the downed telephone line, and the many practical jokes that punctuated our nights at the Black Bear Cabin.
Our mission, that we chose to accept, was to hike 12 miles into Black Bear Cabin, a working Forest Service cabin and spend four nights in the backcountry and saw, saw, and saw the telephone line clear.
Phone line? Wilderness?
The Bob is very much wilderness — 1.5 million acres of land without the scar of roads or the whine of engines. There are deep valleys, alpine meadows and many stunning peaks. The wildlife are abundant and roam free. But it is also a working wilderness. Managed by the US Forest Service (and my employer), the Bob is home to a slew of government employees, outfitting many of them with ranger stations and cabins that can only be reached by their own two feet and supplied by a pack string.
Forget the cellphone. Our task was to help repair the phone line to working condition. Granted, we only contributed a small fraction in the clearing of the 39-mile long phone line along the South Fork of the Flathead River, but our volunteer efforts help the Forest Service in maintaining this historic working artifact.
Trips with the BMWF include all the great food you can imagine in the backcountry and stock support for tools, food, group gear, and luckily our outfitter had enough room to also pack in our boxed wine and flasks of whiskey and brandy. With Kelsey at the helm, in her second year as a Crew Leader for the BMWF, we knew we were in good hands.
So, just who are my friends who would take time off of work during summer’s prime-time season to volunteer their blood, sweat and blisters to a chunk of land south of Glacier? Again, it is with friends like these who see the value in wilderness and want to give back. Friends like these who know that the cure to most ailments is a night out under the stars and the best conversations happen after a rainbow settles over the South Fork. Friends — who include parents and a son, a pseudo sister, the love of my life, and a gypsy girl who all appreciate the lung-bursting effect of a long day on the trail. Wilderness — from the mountains to the rivers — matter deeply to my friends like these.
These friends that I am lucky to call my own can whip up a tasty backcountry meal with flair, pack in a bottle of French champagne to share, be smart enough to help ration the libations through the week, and stand on the other side of a burned larch and saw like hell with the cross-cut until the job is done.
So, with over 45 miles of trail stomped, 129 trees cleared from five miles of trail, and all the alcohol consumed, we ended our week in the Bob knowing that we may have helped a teeny bit in the BMWF’s efforts to preserve the trails and historic values of a stunning and impressive landscape best known as the Bob, but we all knew that the lessons we learned from the sing of the blade on the saw to the rush of the river teach us that it is in wilderness where we find solace, happiness, friendship, and even one more bottle of wine.