Hitch 9...The last hitch of a somewhat turbulent summer on the PCT. Hitch nine started out with a bang in many ways: An 8 hour travel day from Downieville to Etna, stopping for groceries in a 112 degree Redding, and staying at Idlewild campground that night and heading up to the summit to meet everyone in the morning. We started at Etna Summit getting to meet our three eager volunteers; John from Napa, along with Brian and Raissa from the Bay area...although Raissa was born in Wisconsin, as well as two volunteer mule packers, Ken and Pattie, who were getting more experience with their own stock. From the trailhead, the hike was over 5 miles to Onion Creek Camp which was used mostly as a hunting camp. Matt and Sadie went ahead with the crosscut to log out the side trail off the PCT to Onion Creek Camp for easier access for the stock animals. Soon after, the rest of the crew flowed in and we began to set up camp. The camp had a meadow with a spring that had bees humming all around. When you closed your eyes, all you could hear was the low hum of the bees staying close to the water source. After a bit, Ellen, who works for the Klamath NF, came down with her mules and some bad news. Ken had been bucked off of his mule and thrown to the ground "pretty dramatically." Ellen made the decision along with Ryan (WFR) and Ashley (EMT) that he needed to be evacuated because of the injury and medical history. Ellen called in the helicopter which had to find a place to land and let its engines cool because it was 115 degrees where it took off in Redding. Ken was loaded into the helicopter and taken to a local hospital where he was released and is doing just fine, thankfully. Afterwards, the crew regrouped and continued setting up camp and getting ready for the next day of work.
Our first task every morning was to hike a mile up to the PCT from camp. Then we would hike a beautifully graded 5 mile section of trail through the Marble Mountains to where our work site began. The sun peeking through the smoke from the fires in the area and the fog from ocean (50 miles as the crow flies) made for an excellent beginning to the day. Our first day was our most productive in numbers with 5,135 ft of trail cleared, with the nickname of "Powerhouse" given to our motivating volunteer John. His work ethic and 'lead by example' attitude was very easy to follow for our crew and the other volunteers. Ashley, Ryan, Brian and Dan took turns on tread, as it had started to outslope. While the rest: Matt, John, Raissa and Sadie stuck with brushing for the first day. The next three days brought about more tread and brush work. The last day, Ian, from the PCTA came out with ice cold Powerade for our thirsty crew. In the end, 7,100 more feet were taken care of by our crew and volunteers as we watched 'through hikers' pass by and give thanks for our work. Our volunteers had fun going through all of the typical riddles that the rest of the team heard earlier in the season. Those organic chemists would not give up and cracked most of the riddles thrown their way.
As day six rolled around, we ended up packing up all of our gear on the mules and our backs and hiking out. Saying goodbye to Brian and Raissa, we headed into town for a meeting and interview for the Search Institute. Ryan our PL had his hour long meeting, then it was time for the crew members. During this we were put in a position to reflect upon the work that we had done that summer and how it had affected us. It was really interesting and insightful to hear the other group members share what this experience had meant to them. Everyone had different things to say, but we all came out of the interview a little lighter and realizing that this team was coming to an end and the "real world" was soon to follow. We headed back to Idlewild, where we would spend the next few nights camping, for our last remaining days.
Our next project was right off of Etna Summit. There were some tread issues that needed to be dealt with as well as an ineffective rock retaining wall to be taken out. This part of the trail was above the road so we had to be mindful when taking out each rock and moving it down off the trail. The last day of work, Sam from the Klamath NF came out to the field to work with us and show us some skills. It was a great way to wrap up a long hitch and the last that we would be on together as a crew. We ended up tearing through 15,235 feet of the PCT brushing, repairing tread and deconstructing rock walls. It was a phenomenal way to end up the season with great volunteers and beautiful views. What better way to send off your fellow crew members than with a grandiose amount of work accomplished? The SCA never fails to test members personal boundaries and growth in situations like this. Our crew has worked patiently and hard for this moment from day one and it was a big exhale when it was all said and done. The best of luck to all our our members and hopes that we will all continue to learn and push ourselves to become better educators and conservationists. Until we meet again remember to respect the earth as you would yourself because there is only one.