I sit down at my cluttered desk after showering by lantern; it had been a few days since my last. Paperwork, letters, camera gear, shards of information constantly migrate on its surface, always in some state of disarray. I organize it in the mornings, but by nightfall, my hard work has seemingly been negated. I invert my headlamp into my water bottle and distance myself from the oil lantern. Although each room is fully-equipped with electric lights, a blessing and a curse, I find the constant thunking of moths against florescent tubes rather irritating. Under a bluish glow, I attempt to pen a few more letters, finally finding myself starting to relax. My days off are just around the corner once again; I make a mental note to make more notes for my staff during my leave. Already, two moths have invaded and drown in my bottle; perhaps it's time to go to sleep.
Efficiently, I pack my backpack and bolt for Jimmy's car only after thanking him profusely for its use. Although driving will save me roughly 25 miles, my slapdash and incomplete plan involves a fair amount of hiking during “danger hour”; monsoon season is currently in full-swing, especially during late afternoon. I make decent time on paved highway and carefully roll through a few miles of washboard road. Cloudy skies above me don't look promising, but regardless, I park at Ponil's parking lot and start walking. Miraculously the weather holds as I arrive at Pueblano, and as if on schedule, so does the downpour, washing away any desire I had to continue onward. I decide to spend the night, fortunately I know a few of the staffers. Sam and I worked in the same vicinity last summer, our paths crossed a few times. He shows me the work which went into cleaning their once musty and dusty tie shack; it looks great.
Set in 1914, Pueblano is one of two logging camps which offers spar-pole climbing, something which I still have yet to do. Although the rain has passed and clear skies prevail, perhaps there will be better weather next time- typical New Mexico. Jacob and I catch up on how our summer's are panning out. For the last few seasons, he worked in the Ranger Department and we chat about the transition to Backcountry. Everything seems to be going well, despite mid-summer cabin-fever. Loggerball, like baseball in reverse, is just about to start; staff are infamous for having an untarnished record against campers. He tries to recruit me for their evening game, but earlier, I had strategically offered to cook dinner for camp. Definitely a spectator sport.
Beneath my head the floor rumbles, a familiar sound of clamoring boots jolts me awake. A quick glance out a dusty screened window tells me dawn on my first full day has already broken. Three...two...one...a half...counting down silently, I force myself to sit up and begin packing; my daily schedule manifests with each piece of gear stowed away. Nearly finished, I scrounge around, finding my usual provision of strawberry Pop Tarts. I venture outside to warm my bones in the sun and begin aggressively hydrating. Along the river bank, tall grass droops under the weight of morning dew. Another gorgeous day, huzzah.
My last bite of breakfast disappears as I venture towards the staff tents to begin lacing up my boots. I find Patrick doing the same, getting ready to relieve a fellow staffer from early spar-poles; today was his rotation to sleep in. My staff have asked for a similar schedule despite already having one of the latest wake-up times for a backcountry camp. The South Ponil Creek quietly hums in the background while we sip our coffee. Strapping on my pack, I stow my cup and bid the magnanimous musical men farewell before quickly cross-referencing my map. I have not taken this trail - I am not going to get stuck in the rain.
Although not steep, the trail steadily gains altitude. Up, up, up, I feel as though I should be nearing my destination. My silent prayers seemingly answered, the trail crests and before it sprawls a familiar looking meadow. Miranda's trade tent is a distant white speck, dwarfed by the foothills of Mt. Baldy. I summited the 12,441' peak in 2012 and take a moment to lean against a rock, attempting to absorb some of the grandeur. A knot of excitement forms in my stomach as I reminisce over the difficulties and stupid choices which went into climbing Baldy, or for that matter any mountain. I remember my unlikely hiking buddies and how we randomly met. I remember not bringing enough food or water I remember trying to outrun dark and ominous storm clouds while quickly plunge-stepping down loose boulders. I think would do it again. Maybe next year. Maybe.
Large, puffy clouds float East high above the expansive meadow; it seems as though today's afternoon storm has passed by. A few other visiting staff and I sit and talk inside the dimly lit cabin, calmly enjoying our lack of responsibilities and current emergencies. After a hearty meal of stew and fresh baked bread, the evening's activities are ready to commence. Everyone makes their way down into the meadow as the sun begins to dip below the contour line. Three teams are efficiently split up while rules are briefly discussed. Five bases are pointed out and home rock is flipped to determine first team up to bat. When the rock drops, madness ensues; let the games begin! I may not have been able to keep all of the rules straight, but one thing remained clear from their game-ending chant: neighboring camps who request meat products better not be harboring any vegetarians.
Sunrise happens much too early at Miranda. I fumble dumbly, finding my wristwatch under a sock; the time reads 6:24. It's supposed to be my day off. I awake inside the cabin to find a few people already sweeping and convince myself to begin dressing. As I begin to pack, I remember making plans with Carter to hike today. First, I decide to investigate a large grove of aspens along their meadow while the low morning light illuminates the pale trunks. Wild flowers, large saplings, fallen trees, everything is drenched in dew, even my pants and spare pair of shoes. Up ahead, I hear him chuckling and pointing to his monstrous custom moccasins, a muzzle-loader over one shoulder. “Totally worth it”, he proclaims; a sentiment I slowly find myself agreeing with on many different levels.
The learning curve for throwing a 'hawk firmly into your target is steeper than expected and staff spend a fair amount of time sharpening the ever-dulling blades. Frequently inside the cabin, a rough scraping noise emits from rusty files being drawn across tomahawk heads. I find Nick at the dining table utilizing a spare fifteen minutes to stay ahead on maintaining program supplies. For mountain men, everything seems to be about preparation. A well-oiled gun, sharp tomahawk, sturdy shoes, each item needs to be in top shape for tracking down big game. I see a crew awaiting instruction from the porch; he doesn't hesitate in sticking his first throw.
Each consecutive summer I work, I recognize fewer and fewer staff who started the same year I did. I remember the day I met Karl; it was the last week of summer and he had been transferred to our camp, helping us prepare to close down. Now, down at the end of their long and greasy table, I see him unfolding a small swatch of cloth and gesturing for me to join him. I sit down opposite of him and notice a few stacks of numberless cards, dried meat, and a rather large tomahawk. He quickly glosses over the rules; there's a twinkle in his eye. I have always known Karl to be a bit mischievous. I cautiously decide to play along.