Hitch #1: Working Out the Kinks by Susan Olszewski

After spending a lovely 4th of July off on Lake Wenatchee, our team plus our Forest Service Coordinator Amy and Wilderness Ranger Adam, set off on our first hitch. The hitch was broken up into three parts: the first two night were to be spent along the Jack Creek Trail with goal of getting to Leyland Lake. We would then hike back out and split into two groups minus Amy and Adam: Brandon, Andy, Levi, and Nate would head to Trout Lake while Austin, Jess, Caitlin, and I would check out Lake Stuart. We would then rejoin groups to venture to Lake Ethel.

Loaded down with gear and more food than I could eat in a week, I could barely lift my pack. It felt as though gravity had been turned up 10x. I was wondering how or if I would ever get used to carrying something so heavy as we plodded up the Jack Creek Trail. We were told the hike in was “about 4 miles” a standard guessimate that become quite a joke over the next week, when actually it was closer to 8 miles. By the end of the day, my hips and spine were bruised and my arms were covered in mosquito bites. We discovered that our path to Lake Leyland was blocked by chest-high, fast moving water and so we adjusted our plan slightly: our second day, we hiked up the French Ridge Trail loop. Lacking maps of our own, we left on this excursion with little idea of how long the trail was. This was a mistake. The loop was quite long, 13 miles to be exact, and about midday when we were on the hot ridgetop, most folks started running out of water. Furthermore, a little way into our descent we hit quite a bit of snow and lost the trail. At this point, some of us started getting a nervous: it was cold, most of the day was gone, and turning around would mean hiking back at least 8 miles. Our wilderness rangers managed to find where the trail picked up again and we arrived back at base camp around 8pm. Long day! Lessons learned: always carry as much water as you can on ridge top hikes, know how long a hike is before you start it, and don’t panic when you lose trail.

The middle part of the hitch was equally rough. Jess, Caitlin, Austin, and I battled the mosquitos at Lake Stuart while Brandon, Andy, Levi, and Nate did the same at Trout Lake. On our hike up to Lake Stuart, I experienced a “Boot Failure”: the soles of my boots sloughed right off and our attempts to duct tape them back together were a poor fix. And so, I ended up hiking out in my river crossing shoes. Lesson learned: don’t scrimp on things that you use everyday, like boots.

Bad circumstances culminated and subsided in the final portion of the hitch. The hike to Lake Ethel was virtually all up hill, with some gnarly switch backs the first couple miles. It was early into these switchbacks that we lost our team member, Andy, for whom the physical strain of the hikes had been too much. We were sad to see Andy go, but still had a whole lake to inventory, so we continued our journey. Unfortunately, Lake Ethel was still covered in a great deal of snow, obscuring many potential campsites; we would have to come back later when the snow had melted. After inventorying as many sites as we could find, all we could do was hide from the clouds of mosquitoes inside our tents. We hiked out the next morning and upon reaching the trailhead, learned that Brandon too was leaving. The internship just was not a good fit. Down two members, those remaining were totally perplexed, but felt as though the right decisions had been made so to speak. What would the rest of the season be like without Andy and Brandon? Who would replace them? We had no idea, but were totally excited to do some more hiking!