Last week the Landscape & Livelihood students embarked on a five-day backpacking trip into the Swan Mountains. The trip started off with an exciting hike up to Upper Holland Lake where the students had their second black bear sighting so far this semester! Upon arrival at the lake, students had some well-deserved time to relax, spent some time discussing Leave No Trace principles, and shared many laughs getting settled into their tents.
The next morning students discussed their pre-program reading ‘Bounding the Land’ by Eric Freyfogle before hiking up to the shores of Sapphire Lake. Along the way, everyone noticed a distinct change in the forest structure as we shifted into sub-alpine fir and whitebark pine dominated stands. In recent history, whitebark pine trees have fallen prey to blister rust, a non-native fungal infection. The infection has devastated the whitebark pine population which has ultimately led to a cascading effect on the Clark’s Nutcracker, a bird species that co-evolved with the whitebark pine and relies heavily on their seeds for their diet.
Angela, a student from Boise State University but originally from Northern California, comments on seeing what remains of the Whitebark pine stands and what it’s like learning about things while immersed in our outdoor classroom:
The next day students headed out from Sapphire for the day and hiked up the Holland Lookout. With a surprisingly clear day and standing at an elevation of around 8050 ft., we had a perfect view of the Swan Valley and Mission Mountains to the west and the Bob Marshall Wilderness extending as far as the eye could see to the east. It was the perfect vantage point to learn about and visualize the geological history of the area. The students were then able to practice their map and compass skills, taking bearings on visible peaks and identifying the location of a prescribed burn visible from the lookout.
After a wonderful two nights at Sapphire Lake, students hiked back down to Upper Holland Lake for their final night in the backcountry. The afternoon was spent learning about the subalpine ecology and doing some field journaling, allowing the students to document and better understand the wild place around them.
After a final feast of ‘thanksgiving in a pot’ we felt the first few raindrops of the trip so far. Once the bear hang had been hoisted up out of reach for the night, most of the students piled into a 3 person-tent, filling the campsite with laughter.
Overall it is safe to say we had some of the best weather in the history of L&L backpacking trips with only the one rainy evening on our last night, which was nice enough to bring down the dust for our hike back down to the valley bottom in the morning.