Lizard Head Wilderness, CO (2010)

Arriving at the trailhead of an entirely new wilderness area is for me a truly invigorating thrill. After nearly eight months of preparation and anticipation (growing much more intense in the final two weeks), the moment has finally arrived. My co-leader Bill and I are leading a one-week service project to clean out existing water bars along the popular Navajo Lake Trail and install new water bars as needed. This work is recommended by our partners in the San Juan National Forest every two-three years to keep the trail properly maintained and drained .

Normally, the anticipation of a week spent tent camping in a glorious wilderness (under three of Colorado’s famous 14,000 foot peaks) would be enough excitement for any outdoor enthusiast. But this trip has an added ingredient making it much more special — this is Wilderness Volunteers’ annual Leader Training Trip, where we train a new crop of trip leaders to join our corps of nearly 100 leader volunteers on service projects in years to come.

I arrive in Colorado with Maidie from Portland, OR and we load our backpacks and make the short two-mile hike to our selected camp, within ear-shot of a series of waterfalls on the West Fork of the Dolores River. Five intrepid trainees have chosen this week to learn a variety of outdoor leadership skills: organizing and purchasing food for as many as twelve volunteers, and packing it in panniers strapped to pack horses; preparing and cooking food for groups; keeping a sanitary and safe kitchen and properly hanging food to protect it from animals; teaching Leave-No-Trace principles; practicing strong communications with public land agency personnel; and, ultimately, being an effective backcountry leader. Wilderness Volunteer leaders are required to be trained in Wilderness First Aid and enjoy a series of benefits in return for their time spent planning and leading in the field.

Throughout our week on the Navajo Lake Trail we deal with intermittent rain, identify problem areas on the trail and fix them, take a day off to hike through an 11,500′ pass, take many, many photographs, learn to be good leaders, and, perhaps most significantly, we make new friends and acquaintances along the way.

We’re always identifying and recruiting new leaders at Wilderness Volunteers, and we’re beginning the process of planning for next year’s annual Leader Training trip. If you’re an experienced outdoor enthusiast looking for new and rewarding challenges, contact Dave at or 801-467-4305.