Mt. Baker Volunteer Vacation

My Washington Trails Association Volunteer Vacation

August 24-30, 2013

The Washington Trails Association (WTA) is a hiking advocacy group that does a lot of volunteer trail maintenance. They offer one-day, weekend, and week-long volunteer opportunities. I opted to pay $160 for a week-long trip in which the WTA provided the food and packed it in. Next year I may try the free option, where I have to carry and cook my own food. For me, this was an opportunity to spend time in the mountains, meet kindred spirits, and give back to the trails I have loved for forty years.

We hiked in 3.5 miles, up the Park Butte Lookout trail on the south slope of Mt. Baker. This bridge across Sulfur Creek is removed during the winter and reinstalled in the spring.

Mt. Baker was hidden by clouds as we hiked in through fields of late-summer wildflowers.

Fields of lupine on the south slope of Mt. Baker.

Looking down on Mazama Camp (elevation 4500 feet), our home for one week.

This log shelter served as our camp kitchen. Horses had packed in a stove and bins of food the day before we arrived.

The first order of business: drinking water. Day, one of the volunteers, moving rocks to create a deep enough hole to fill water buckets.

Mary Beth, another volunteer, with our water filtration system. The hanging blue bag contains a charcoal filter.

Our handwashing station.

The view from our throne. (That's the Park Butte Lookout 1000 feet above.)

If this bag was not sitting on the stump, you knew that the throne was in use.

Our camp was surrounded by ripe blue huckleberries!

A glacier snout is visible above camp.

Sunset over the Twin Sisters.

The first morning we awoke to blue skies and Mt. Baker towering above us! That's my tent in the foreground.

Each morning, after a hot breakfast of eggs and bacon or sausage, we packed our choice of lunch and snacks for the day. As you can see, there was no danger of going hungry!

Our group (l to r): Kyle, Jane, Day, me, Mary Beth, Charlene.

Our crew leader, Jane, explains our project and the WTA priorities: Safety, Fun, and Work, in that order.

Our first task was to clean out ditches along the Park Butte Trail near Cathedral Pass. We worked hard - when we weren't staring at the view!

Cleaning ditches.

Cleaning ditches with a pulaski (combination of an axe for chopping and an adze for digging). The ditches help to control trail erosion.

Cleaning a clogged culvert.

After our first day of work we hiked up to Park Butte Lookout, a very popular place.

View to the east near Park Butte Lookout.

The restored 1933 fire lookout on Park Butte, at 5500 feet elevation.

Mt. Baker and Mazama Camp from Park Butte Lookout. Note the zig-zag switchbacks leading down to Mazama Camp. We worked on that trail too.

Looking down the Nooksack Valley to Boundary Bay.

Dinners included this feast of salmon, risotto, and garlic bread.

We all helped with cooking and dishes. Wash water was poured into deep holes we dug.

Another magnificent sunset over the Twin Sisters.

A village of marmots greeted us each day on our way to work.


Amanita mushroom

Tools of the trade.

One small step for mankind, one giant step for Karen. I installed the "check step" on the right. It's a half-buried rock that serves as both a step and a water diversion.

Jane, our leader, "restoring tread." Erosion narrows trails by filling the inner slope with debris. We removed the debris to widen the trail.

We dug drains to divert water off the trail.

We revegetated and blocked off shortcuts, which cause erosion.

Volunteer Charlene and assistant crew leader Kyle taking a much-deserved morning break.

Bad rock, sticks up, trips hikers.

Turn rock, bury rock, rock gone!

We worked a total of five days, with one day off in the middle. On that day some of us went on a long hike and saw this beautiful waterfall.

Dinner in camp. We got up at 6 am, worked from 8:30 to 2:30, ate dinner around 6 pm, and went to bed around 8, when it got dark.

Thai curry!

On Thursday it rained hard. All day. We worked half a day until we were soaked, and were grateful for a dry place to hang our wet clothes.

Camp became a quagmire.

The trails we hadn't yet worked on became rivers.

The swollen stream tried to steal our "refrigerator."

But I had fun! Would I do it again? YES!