In the Field: Week 5 (Part Two)

This past week, the Shadow Mountain Crew teamed up with the Off Highway Vehicle Trail Crew and the Student Conservation Association Crew in the backcountry near Columbine Lake for five days! It was a productive week with eighteen people and two llamas camping and working together. Wait, did I just say two llamas? Yes you heard right because the Shadow Mountain Crew just got two new llamas to work with! Lucinda and Loretta are the newest members of our crew while llama Jed takes a rest and enjoys a bit of retirement. We hear Jed is doing quite well and the IRA and stocks he invested in earlier are paying out big dividends.

Deer standing in a forest clearing at sunset with sunlight filtering through the trees.

Loretta looking fine with the sunset

             On Tuesday we loaded up all of our tools and gear and set out for our campsite near Columbine Lake. After hiking in and setting up camp we set out to collect rocks for a thirty-foot turnpike we aimed to build. After about two hours of hauling numerous buckets of rocks and creating a significant cache, we ended the workday and enjoyed a hearty stir-fry meal cooked up by Toby.

Two people working in a forest, one sawing a fallen tree and the other sitting

Pre-Turnpike site with Izzy in the background debarking a tree

        On Wednesday the crew split up to work on different projects. Some of the RMC worked with Wilderness Ranger Andy to build the turnpike while some went to improve the trail further up near the lake where instead of there being one main trail, there were many small social trails all going off in different directions. With such a large group of workers, the turnpike was finished and a lot of progress was made on creating one main trail up to Columbine Lake. After a full ten-hour day, we headed back to camp and enjoyed fajitas and backcountry brownies made by John and Izzy.

A narrow trail reinforced with logs and filled with gravel winds through a dense, green forest.

The finished turnpike section

 On Thursday all of us set out to work on redirecting the many goat trails into one main trail. To do this, we had to create new tread in certain sections and dig up the hard-packed goat trails with picks so that new vegetation could take root. It was a full day with non-stop work to be done but we made significant progress and everyone was feeling good about the amount of work that was accomplished. Today we also reached Columbine Lake and all of our crew jumped in! The water was refreshing and reinvigorating for the rest of the work that needed to be done that day. Back at camp that night we kicked back and relaxed at the campsite with a special visit from Troy, a Sulpher Ranger District Trail Crew worker who brought his dog and speakers!

Group of forest workers clearing fallen trees and debris from a rocky woodland path

Ash hard at work making new trail with the Pulaski while Miles Miller surveys the work.

On Friday we pushed on with the objective to improve already built sections of the trail that needed work. The day included building a plethora of drains and benching out sections of the trail that were creeping because of the steep downward slope. Being on our fourth day of backcountry work, the crew was tired but we pushed on, putting our bodies on the line for the good of the trail and the hikers we owed it too. One could describe us as a relentless machine, pushing on with an unbreakable spirit, ever eager for trail work. When a call came to Wilderness Ranger Andy that a woman had broken her foot on the trail, who volunteered to help assist with carrying her down on a backboard after already a 10 hour work day? Amy, Toby, and Abigail of Shadow Mountain, that’s who!

Three people in safety gear posing in a forest

The unbreakable spirits of Ash, Izzy, and Abigail on Friday (each orange flag marks a newly dug drain)

On Saturday everyone woke up early to pack up and head back to Shadow Mountain Village to repair tools and finish up the backcountry hitch. I woke up at 3:45 a.m. to hike up Mt. Neva for the sunrise and made the summit at 5:30 a.m. It was a beautiful view that I enjoyed and then proceeded to hike back down to camp to be ready to hike out with the crew around 7:15 a.m. We made it back to Shadow Mountain Village, repaired tools, and then all headed to The One and Only Snack Bar for double cheeseburgers and ice cream to end the work week together.

Panoramic view of rugged mountains with small snow patches and lakes at sunset, under a vast sky.

Sunrise view from the top of Mt. Neva

-John Kurtz, Assistant Crew Leader of the Week

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