“It takes all of us that love the wild to keep it wild.”
I will never see the wilderness in exactly the same way after a five-day service trip into Humphreys Basin, organized by Friends of the Inyo in partnership with the Sierra National Forest. I have enjoyed many backpacking trips over the years, but "working" in the wilderness took my knowledge and appreciation to a whole new level. Our group of seven intrepid volunteers from all over California joined Sierra National Forest wilderness rangers Greg Dusic and Zach Barton and Friends of the Inyo staff Tristen Kadish and Marshall Davis on a mission to improve habitat for threatened amphibians by restoring campsites that are too close to water. "Restoring" had a lot to do with rocks -- moving them in to make the area less attractive to camping, thereby encouraging wilderness users to search a bit further up for the perfect campsite. We collected over 50 pounds of trash as well, everything from minute bits of foil to a fossilized flip flop, to tent stakes to BBQ grills. And glass -- an amazing amount of shards just waiting to cut the unsuspecting foot.
Another major goal was removing campfire rings. No fires are allowed in this high elevation basin. But over 40 campfire rings were removed by our group. We hid fire-scarred rocks, scooped up all the black charcoal bits and brought in sand and duff. The goal, as Ranger Greg explained, is to "make it look like nothing happened here.” It was discouraging to see fire rings in so many inappropriate places and whitebark pines torn apart for firewood. Yes, one fire does leave a scar that can last for years. I spent an hour on a beautiful boulder with a huge black fire scar, rubbing out the black as best I could with a piece of granite.
Three full days of working together united our group with purpose. It was so satisfying to see the results of hours of work, with campfire scars disappearing, overused campsites restored, and litter picked up. Being a retired State Park Ranger, I thought I knew "ranger work," but now have a new appreciation of what goes into keeping the wilderness wild. The Sierra National Forest rangers were so inspiring, worked alongside us, answered all our questions and were wonderful role models. On every future wilderness trip, I will be packing out those little scraps of litter and pieces of glass, and maybe breaking up a fire ring or two. We also had a lot of fun getting to know each other, cooking together, taking dips in the lake, watching the sunset from our spectacular camp and singing along with Tristen and his ukelele.
Thank you, Friends of the Inyo, for organizing this trip, recruiting all of us, and feeding us such wonderful meals. Your mission of stewardship throughout the Inyo National Forest and beyond is inspiring so many of us to do our part and get out there to contribute to caring for our public lands. It takes all of us that love the wild to keep it wild.
*Photos courtesy, from top to bottom: Janet Carle, Ben Wickham, Janet Carle, Arriane Weiner.