Somewhere around three miles into our hike, I felt the sole of my right shoe detaching. The rhythmic flip-flop noise with each step told me I had made a mistake.

On the first day of a several day trip into the White Clouds Wilderness, I was taught an important lesson: never skimp on hiking shoes. Determined to keep up with the group, I wrapped the shoelaces of my secondhand boots around the bottom of my shoes, used paracord to secure the flapping heels, and snapped a few rubber bands around the toes. It mostly worked.

Hard Work, With a View!

This summer, I was lucky enough to join the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Trails Association, and U.S. Forest Service on a trail maintenance trip into the White Clouds Wilderness. It was only my second time backpacking and my first time doing trail work, so I was nervous about spending days in the wilderness with the outdoorsy and experienced crew. But from the first day hiking in, I found that even the most experienced people in the group were excited to teach new skills and spread their love of the Boulder-White Clouds region of Central Idaho.

During the trip, I learned a lot and broadened my appreciation for the hard work that volunteers contribute to maintaining these treasured areas. For example, our crew contributed more than 350 volunteer hours of work, cutting and removing 20 fallen trees, moving two large boulders, repairing tread on nearly 100 feet of eroded trail, collecting trash, and clearing brush that was encroaching on the trails. Over the course of our work, I learned how to use a cross saw (I had no idea how much I would enjoy using a giant saw), helped move fallen trees, packed tools, and more. At the end of each day, I felt like I was making a difference in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

The days of hard work meant that I slept soundly-except for the first night when I awoke convinced that a forest-dwelling serial killer or ravenous bear was about to end me (it was the first time I’d slept alone in a tent). I was lulled back to sleep with the thought that even a forest murderer would appreciate how clear the trails up to the nearby alpine lakes were.

Lessons from the Trails

I can’t say enough good things about my experience on this trip. The crew I worked with was helpful, supportive and passionate about passing along a love for the outdoors and a commitment to being an excellent wilderness steward. I was proud to be a part of a group of hardworking and dedicated people committed to preserving such an amazing place and making it accessible to others. The White Cloud Wilderness is exceptional. For me, this trip ¬†was an excellent reminder of why it’s so important to defend these areas. The experience fed my soul, inspiring me to continue my exploration and stewardship of Idaho’s many treasures.

At the beginning of the trip, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up (a justified concern from the only person hiking in jeans). But by the end of the trip, I felt confident that I had learned new skills, helped maintain the trails in a remarkable section of wilderness, and vastly increased my awareness and appreciation for the work that volunteers contribute to these areas. I hope that other members who have considered joining these trips before decide to give it a shot. Just be sure to bring a can-do attitude and a sturdy pair of boots.