Words by AMGA Single Pitch Instructor, SMG summer intern & head of Dollar Ski Patrol Victoria Rossin.
Coming in at a diameter of 22.5” and a height of 36”, the Blue Barrel is the most awkward piece of gear that needs to be transported to and from Canyon Camp every summer. To me this Blue Barrel is more than a place to store gear in order to keep the bears out of camp; it is a symbol of the goofiness that is being an intern, and it is the reason why I am currently starting the pursuit of a life as a Mountain Guide.
I first heard about the Blue Barrel on the skin track up to Williams Hut while helping out
with an annual wood cut. The smell of fuel filled the surrounding air as the gas tank of the
chainsaw wobbled back and forth strapped high to the top of my very loaded pack. We were
headed in for a few days, up on the moraine that leads you towards Thompson Peak. In the distance the beautiful lines of the Sickle, the Shield, and the Petzoldt Couloir held my gaze and had me day dreaming of what it would be like to someday ski those magnificent lines. As we trudged along the conversation turned to a few of the folks describing their time as interns. My day dreaming of distant lines snapped back into reality as I listened to them banter back and forth. “Remember when we had to….” “The size of the loads were crazy…” “That one time when we were up at the hut…” “Remember the Blue Barrel?” A few of my fellow wood cutters had previously been interns, and were reminiscing about their times and the silly things they got into. For a while I had been thinking about becoming a part of this team, of taking an internship with Sawtooth Mountain Guides, and exchanging my architecture degree for a large backpack and nights outside. I had been on the fence for some time, unsure if it would be something I wanted to do. I felt self conscious because I was about to turn 31 and the thought of an internship felt like I would be stepping back a few years as our society told me I should be well into a career and saving up a 401k. But at that moment, amid the most glorious peaks of the Sawtooth, the casual chatter about the silly things the interns did made up my mind. True, it seemed like maybe some of those times were not the most fun, but the smiles and giggles made it clear that those were times in their lives that they would always remember.
Flash forward 11 months. The temps have dropped since the heat of the summer and the sun is starting to hide away behind the large peaks earlier and earlier in the evenings. My time has finally come. With the summer season over it is time to pack up Canyon Camp and get things tucked away for the winter. For me, this means walking back and forth on the Redfish Creek trail (about 2.5 miles each way), back and forth, back and forth, each trip down with a new load of gear on my back. And, as you may have guessed, the final two loads would be the Blue Barrels. I set my alarm for 6:00 am, but it is a cold, crisp morning and I am an intern so really I have nowhere to be anytime soon. So, I hit that snooze button until the sun comes up and begins to warm my tent. One thing that I learned this summer, and admittedly somewhat already knew, is that coffee is essential. It warms you from the inside out, which is particularly critical and delightful when you’re outside. Whether it’s tradition or just addiction, it is essential for every morning, especially those that involve alarm clocks. So I make myself the best instant coffee out there, and sit watching the sun rise higher and higher into the sky. This time of the year, September, is pretty magical; yes it’s a bit colder and you have to deal with a slight frost on your tent in the morning, but it is also so quiet. Kids are back in school, and most adults are back into routine after the chaos of summer. The days are much shorter, but the cool temperatures keep me moving and energetic; these cold mornings seem to revive me. As those last few sips of coffee go down I know it’s time. Here it goes, the load I’ve been waiting 11 months for; it’s finally my turn to carry down that Blue Barrel and earn the title of intern. Throughout my time around more seasoned guides I have picked up some tips and tricks for this moment: slight mentionings of the Blue Barrel and the cam straps left out on the desk as a hint that they would be very useful in this task. I secure the barrel to my pack, making sure to keep it high on the frame, with one strap through the waist belt and another around the top. I use a large rock to help hoist it up (another tip) and then we are off, down the trail. Yeah, they were right, this thing is very awkward, I think to myself. It’s not the weight of the load so much as the size that makes this task difficult. I feel like I am not in control of my body; when I try to stop, the Blue Barrel’s momentum keeps moving forward, and navigating the low hanging tree branches becomes the biggest obstacle that almost throws me onto my butt a few times. After nearly an hour my mission is almost complete; the Blue Barrel has once again made it to the Transfer Camp on the south end of Redfish Lake. Now it’s as easy as loading up the shuttle and taking my final ride back across the lake for the season. As I sit on the shuttle, just the driver, a ton of gear, and myself, I once again have time to admire many of the same peaks I had seen from the skin track the previous fall. The view from the boat is slightly different and looking at the Boy Scout Couloir, I drop back into that state of daydreaming of what it would be like to someday ski so many of the Sawtooth’s lines.
So, what did this internship mean to me? It’s true that I now have my own list of silly and outrageous stories, filled with tired legs, nights outside, and of course, the Blue Barrel. But it was much more than doing different random tasks, and carrying around heavy things. Being an intern (or rookie as it is described in my winter job as a ski patroller) is the opportunity to be vulnerable, to not have to know how to do things perfectly, and to be able to learn so much from experts in the field. I have noticed that as an intern people want you to thrive; they see and seize the opportunities to share their knowledge and teach about their passions. I hope to always keep a small bit of the intern in me as I gain seniority and have the opportunity to share with others. Everyone’s intern experience is different, but I hope the fundamentals of getting to spend your time outside in a casual way will always stay true.