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Recovering the Pasayten: A Coordinated Effort

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Sep 10, 2019 05:34 PM |

There's a whole lot of work to be done in the great Pasayten Wilderness — which is why we couldn't be happier to tackle it together with these fellow nonprofits.

The Pasayten Wilderness is a hiker's heaven. Whether you visit for just a day or a whole weekend, there are countless lakes, rivers, mountains and valleys to wander. It remains one of the last places in Washington to catch glimpses of wildlife like moose and lynx, and provides a feeling of solitude unlike any other. But, with more than 531,000 acres and 600 miles of trail, it's always been a challenge to keep in hiking shape.

Due to a combination of dwindling forest service budgets and an onslaught of larger, hotter wildfires over the past decade, the trails and access points into the Pasayten Wilderness have been falling to the wayside. Fallen trees, erosion and deteriorating tread have been preventing hikers and stock from easily accessing the backcountry experiences that make the Pasayten so beloved.

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The wide open views found in the Pasayten are unlike anything else in the state. Photo by trip reporter KRad from the Boundary Trail.

That's why it is a focus for Lost Trails Found — our campaign to save backcountry trails on the verge of disappearing. Wild places like the Pasayten are an integral part of a healthy trail system — providing endless opportunities for hikers who seek the wild experiences of backcountry loops, traverses and thru-hikes, as well as providing space for day hikes, car camps and more.

Thankfully, we're not alone in our vision for the Pasayten. There's a whole lot of work to be done — and we couldn't be happier to tackle it as a team with partner nonprofits. This summer, our combined efforts made an incredible impact. Learn a little bit about the work each organization accomplished this summer and then get out there and see it for yourself:

Washington Trails Association

This summer, WTA supported three backcountry volunteer crews as well as one extended Lost Trails Youth Crew in partnership with the Northwest Youth Corps as we tackled sections of the Boundary Trail and its feeder trails — totaling nearly two months of work across the Wilderness.

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A saw team tackles a blowdown along the Boundary Trail near the Pasayten River. Photo by John Swigert.

Back in June, the first Backcountry Response Team (BCRT) went straight to work along the Boundary Trail — the 80-mile traverse that serves as the backbone of the entire Pasayten Wilderness. The crew dug up the rocky ground near their basecamp along the Pasayten River to finish the final quarter-mile connection between the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), the Pasayten River ford, and the southbound Boundary Trail. The crew cleared logs, created sturdy switchbacks for horses and other livestock, and built a rock wall to stabilize the new connection. The crew decided to divide and conquer and broke into three smaller saw crews, focused on removing the worst logs first. One crew continued working northbound toward the Canadian border. A second saw crew worked southbound along the Boundary Trail from the camp junction, clearing another 1.5 miles toward the old air field, while a third crew brushed and cleared small logs for one mile eastbound along the PNT until reaching Bunker Hill.

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Volunteers on the Pasayten Cabin crew clear logs from a barely visible trail. Photo by Lisa Black. 

Just down the way, a WTA Volunteer Vacation crew set up basecamp near the Pasayten Cabin to clear portions of the Boundary Trail between Dead Lake and the Pasayten Aistrip junction. They were able to clear the Boundary trail to stock standards south from the junction to the airstrip and north another two miles. The section of trail between their basecamp and soda creek was also brushed to stock standards — providing easier mobility for both stock and hikers all around.

Along the eastern flanks of the Wilderness, a second BCRT crew entered the Wilderness via the Iron Gate Trailhead and set up basecamp within Horseshoe Basin. They got straight to work by brushing and clearing fallen logs from the Windy Trail to the west, and completed six drain refurbishments and one turnpike on the Albert Camp Trail to the east. They also rehabilitated and redefined the Albert Camp and Boundary Trail intersection as well as installed four new check steps to prevent erosion. The Iron Gate Trailhead is often the starting point for folks hoping to traverse the Boundary Trail and provides a network of loop options when combined with the Windy and Albert Camp trails. The refinished junctions and cleared trails will lead to much more enjoyable trips by those who venture out.

Pacific Northwest Trail Association

Our friends at the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, who steward the 1,200-mile trail running from the mountains of Montana to the Pacific Ocean, focused their incredible work in key spots along the nation's newest National Scenic Trail. More than 100 miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail reside in the Pasayten Wilderness — making it a prime spot for their trail maintenance efforts. Learn more about their accomplishments in the Pasayten this summer:

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PNTA Crew Leader, Carly Tryon, poses next to a freshly cleared blowdown with Jacob Pimpiano on the left and Adonis Haskins on the right. Photo by Sean Miller.

The PNTA is in the thick of our season of work in the Pasayten Wilderness. By mid-September PNTA Performance Crews, comprised of local youth and young-adults (who we pay a living wage as well as provide all field-based meals), will have contributed approximately 6000 hours of work towards maintaining the Pasayten Wilderness portion of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Between Cold Springs Campground (just east of the Wilderness Boundary) to Devils Dome (overlooking Ross Lake) crews have already removed over 400 logs that had fallen across the trail while enduring both temperatures in the 90's and August snowstorms. They spent significant time rehabilitating the overlapping PCT/PNT segment between Holman Pass and Woody Pass after that area was impacted by last year's Holman Fire. One crew worked two 80-hour hitches tackling the most heavily damaged section of the Boundary Trail (PNT) between the West Fork of the Pasayten River and Bunker Hill, where they cut over 300 downed trees.

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Nathan Mark wields a pulaski while fixing up trails in the Pasayten. Photo by Thomas Gingrich.

PNTA Crews also worked eight miles both East and West of Spanish Camp at the northern end of Andrews Creek Trail, repairing much of the trail burned by the Diamond Creek Fire of 2017. They also worked in the vicinity of the Tungsten Mine, the Pasayten Airstrip, Sheep Mountain, and the Ashnola River. While logout was our priority, we were able to accomplish a significant amount of tread and drainage maintenance as well. With the assistance of volunteers, Back Country Horsemen of Washington, and the Okanogan National Forest, our crews spent weeks camped at spectacular locations such as Goat Lakes, Canyon Creek, the West Fork of the Pasayten River and beneath Cathedral Peak. We are thankful for all of our partners and the trail community and extremely proud of our hard-working crews who have dedicated a summer to public land stewardship and improving the PNT and greater Pasayten Wilderness.

—Pacific Northwest Trail Association

Back country Horsemen of Washington

Our friends at Back Country Horsemen of Washington are well-known for their tireless volunteer efforts across the state. Throughout the year, they lead trail maintenance projects of their own while also providing pack support for fellow nonprofits like WTA. The Pasayten Wilderness is a favorite destination for many riders, and can always benefit from their work bringing trails back to stock standards. Learn more about what they accomplished in the Pasayten this summer:

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Photo courtesy Jason Ridlon.

This July, 40 Back Country Horsemen of Washington (BCHW) members came together to conduct four backcountry projects in the Pasayten Wilderness. All four projects played into a bigger picture of providing safe stock travel to deeper wilderness areas and clearing trails that would be needed by future volunteers and Forest Service crews.

Project #1: A bridge across Robinson Creek was suffering from several failing planks, causing great hazard to both stock and riders. BCHW purchased planks and supplies to re-deck the length of the bridge. Carpenters and packers came together to transport 40 new planks 5 miles up Robinson Creek as well as remove and replace all old decking. The bridge is now completely re-decked with new bull rails installed to make stock travel even safer. With this project complete, stock can now provide safe reliable support to future trail crews.  

Project #2: A crew logged from the intersection of Robinson Creek up the Tatoosh Butte Trail. Forward progress was tough, but this stock supported team was able to completely clear about 5 miles of trail and remove over 200 fallen trees. This effort will help to connect this trail with Hidden Lakes trail. When complete this work will provide future trail users the ability to make loop trips. And make it possible for stock to continue to support trail crews across two major drainages. 

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Photo courtesy Jason Ridlon.

Project #3: Team Rock Creek was the only team that was not logging in a burned forest. This team encounter a heavy log load, but was still able to make 5.6 miles of progress removing close to 200 trees with some complex cutting to remove bundles of trees that blocked trail. These efforts made on Rock Creek will provide clear passage to the PCT, allowing Forest Service packers to continue to support trail crews along the PCT from the guard station at the Pasayten Airport. 

Project #4: This crew followed on the heels of a Forest Service crew that had cleared 1.5 miles of logs and blowdowns north of the Pasayten Airport. The BCHW crew continued this progress and made it across the Pasayten River to the intersection of the Hidden Lakes trail. In total, the crew made 6 miles of progress removing close to 200 logs from trail. This progress will allow Forest Service packers to quickly reach PNTA crews and aid in the clearing of Bunker Hill. 

— Backcountry Horsemen of Washington

Pacific Crest Trail Association

Our friends at the Pacific Crest Trail Association steward the 2,650-mile National Scenic Trail running from Mexico to Canada. Their volunteers work all across the west coast — including the northernmost section of the PCT which traverses through the Pasayten Wilderness. This year, their volunteers focused their efforts on fire recovery as they cleared up portions of the trail impacted by last year's Holman Fire. Learn more about what they accomplished in the Pasayten this summer:

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This log had severe top bind, requiring double underbucking to do most of the cutting. A Katanaboy hand saw was used to finish the cut. Photo by Barry Teschlog.

From July 28-August 3, 2019, a 6 person crew logged out the PCT in the 2018 Holman Pass Fire burn area. The crew cleared a total of 32 logs from the PCT, 31 of which were concentrated in the burn area. Additionally, nearly 2 miles of the PCT had drainage work completed — this involved clearing existing and adding new drainage to the trail.

— Pacific Crest Trail Association

UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE

The Methow Valley Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is charged with managing trails and facilities in this vast wilderness.  With so many miles of trail to manage, their professional trail crew focused on clearing the way for nonprofit partners like WTA and the PNTA, who are helping bridge the gaps felt by lack of resources at the agency. Learn more about what they accomplished in the Pasayten this summer:

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A before and after look of progress in the Pasayten. Photo courtesy the United States Forest Service.

Access matters. Public land matters. High in the north Cascades near the Canadian border, the USDA Forest Service and partner organizations are working together to keep the beloved Pasayten Wilderness accessible. Spanning more than a half million acres, this remote area has been heavily impacted by a century of fire exclusion and the resulting blow down and trail erosion from the high-intensity wildfires that followed in recent years. This spring and summer, local trails crews in the Methow Valley shared stewardship on this area by first opening feeder trails in order to supply pack strings to haul materials and supplies for the Pacific Northwest Trail Association in and out of more remote areas. Though this work, the PNT was re-opened.

— Methow Valley Ranger District

Comments

Elizabeth “Ducky” on Recovering the Pasayten: A Coordinated Effort

The first group was actually an all women's crew, who hiked in 11 miles to stay at the Air Strip, ranging in age from 30-71. We, women, cleared over 130 trees out of the 5 miles of trail we worked on. This area is very beautiful and does not see many hikers. I'm proud to be one of the 12 women that worked on this trail this past June. I personally cannot wait to go back to this area and work on the trail some more.

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Elizabeth "Bibbers" on Sep 18, 2019 08:31 AM

Christy on Recovering the Pasayten: A Coordinated Effort

This is all very impressive. I'm proud to be able to make a monthly donation to WTA and very grateful groups like the Backcountry Horsemen are able to do so much as well.

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Christy on Sep 30, 2019 06:24 PM