Summer brings about a time of transition in programming around the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. With students out of school for the summer, we no longer have whole classes participating in programs. Our time at Jawbone Flats is now filled with an increasing number of cabin rentals, adult and family workshops, and Opal Creek Expeditions. Opal Creek Expeditions allow individual participants to sign up for excursions based from Jawbone Flats, exploring both the Bull of the Woods and the Opal Creek Wildernesses.
With the start of expeditions, we have also had two backpacking interns join us for a couple months. Ellen and Logan are a great addition to our team, bringing with them extensive knowledge and back country skills. The expedition staff took a couple days to scout some of the routes we will be hiking with our students, as well as review Expedition curriculum in preparation for the beginning of these programs. Our scouting trip was full of beautiful weather and extraordinary views and left all of us excited for the summer.
Our first expedition, Opal Creek Beginning Backpack, took place the second week in July. On Sunday, we met seven girls at the gate, ready to set out on an adventure. We spent the first couple of days and nights in camp at Jawbones Flats, learning about ancient forest ecology, looking for amphibians, throwing the atlatl and talking about the Kalapuya people, and exploring up Opal Creek and Stony Creek. On Monday evening, our group gathered in the Commissary to prepare for our backpacking trip. After making a big list of everything we needed to bring with us, staff worked individually with students to help each of them sort through their gear, organize group gear, and talk about how to efficiently pack a backpack. Tuesday morning we hit the trail. We worked through the challenges expected at the beginning of a trip –adjusting and re-adjusting backpacks and doing a little repacking to make packs more comfortable. The steady drizzle presented an additional challenge. Along the trail, we saw columbines and paintbrushes in bloom, as well as snow that had yet to melt. We ended our first day at Beachie Saddle, after hiking about six miles and gaining over 2,000 feet in elevation. We set up our camp and spent the remainder of the afternoon inside, drying out and warming up. During our time in the backcountry, everyone learned and practiced outdoor skills such as setting up and using a bear hang, filtering water, and map reading.
Wednesday morning we awoke again to gray skies and rain. Our itinerary for the day consisted of day hikes, so we were able to leave our heavy packs in camp. Our first hike was up the Battle Ax Mountain trail, a short but steep climb. Despite the clouds, we still had lovely views of theBattle Ax Creek watershed from various places along the trail. In the afternoon, we ventured down to Elk Lake. We finally saw some sun and spent time hanging out on the shore of the lake.
The next morning we broke camp, repacked our backpacks, and prepared for the hike back to Jawbone. No rain and lighter packs had everyone in good spirits as we hiked down, making it home in excellent time. Once back in camp, we sorted through and cleaned gear, and spent some time relaxing by the creek. Our last day in Jawbone flew by, and soon we were at the gate meeting parents and saying our good-byes to each other.
Pictures from the Beginning Backpack trip are on Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center’s Facebook page.