Tim Peterson


Tim Peterson

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The Story

About a year ago, as the Chairman of the Bitter Root Back Country Horsemen (BBCH) Projects Committee, I decided that I wanted to organize a four-day, three-night trail and facility maintenance project for the members of the group. The previous spring I had graduated from the Wilderness Outfitting and Packing Course put on by Smoke Elser and members of the Missoula Back Country Horsemen, and I knew that if I didn’t use my skills I would lose them; and as a condition of receiving a scholarship from the BBCH to attend the clinic I was expected to give back to the Chapter using the skills I acquired.

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The Johnson Peak Crew
Building the propane tank cover
Clearing Trail

Through the process of being mentored in packing skills by John Pearson, a long-time BBCH member, past BBCH President, experienced packer and all-around good guy, I had fallen in love with the Anaconda – Pintler Wilderness. I had also learned of several loop trails accessible from the East Fork Cabin, a Forest Service rental, with a horse corral, cabin, RV and tent camping and a group pavilion. The corral, propane tank cover and barn at the cabin all needed a little attention and the trails were reported in need of some downfall clearing associated with previous wildland fires. Back Country Horsemen Chapters throughout the nation typically work closely with the US Forest Service to identify trails and areas needing maintenance, and this project seemed like a good fit.

I have packed into the back country and camped overnight twice. One of those trips was part of my mentorship with John. The other was a six-mile trip into Two Good Cabin which is also in the Sula Ranger District but on the other side of the valley and usually accessed from the Crazy Creek Campground. When I started planning the East Fork Trail Project I possessed just enough knowledge and experience to be dangerous, but the planning process got a lot of interest from the Chapter’s experienced packers Chuck Miller, Dan Brandborg, Brad Pollman and John Pearson. After two trips into the area to recon the trail conditions these guys threw my two-loop trail plans out the window. We ended up with a one-day project up to Johnson Peak from the Johnson Peak/McCart Lookout trailhead and a base camp at Kurtz Flats four miles up the East Fork Trail where the crews could work up the trail and then return to hot water for bathing, hot food and shelter each evening to be provided by Becky Brandborg.

The change from a two-loop project to a day project and a base camp where crews rode out on three separate days to clear trail happened for three reasons. 1) The overwhelming number of trees down across Buck Creek Trail, 2) the lack of packing experience of the volunteers, 3) the idea that this trip, being the Chapter’s first in several years, needed to allow for all experience and comfort levels while meeting the trail maintenance goals we had agreed to with the Forest Service.

The evening of July 26th the two trail crews met at their respective trailhead and camped overnight so that they could get an early start the morning of the 27thbecause of the long drive and preparation time. Brad, Jeff Rinta, Cindy Beck, Karen Phillips and Spurs Richardson and Bonnie Morgan made up the Johnson Peak crew. Dan and Becky Brandborg, Joe Rogish, Steve Greer, Mike Costanzo and Bill Goslin were the East Fork Crew. At noon on the 27ththe cabin crew arrived at the East Fork Cabin, five miles from the Johnson Peak Trailhead and two miles from the East Fork Trailhead, to set up the cook trailer and make preparations for the work to be done at the cabin. Patti Peterson, Kristina Trace and I made up the camp crew for that day. Our objectives were to arrange the logistics for the repair of the corral, build the pump house cover, clean out the barn and make dinner for the Johnson Peak crew. The three of us got the cook trailer setup, then my wife Patti and I went about getting the building supplies while Kristina made preparations for the dinner and breakfast the next morning.

At about 5:30 pm the Johnson Peak crew arrived at the cabin with some sweat soaked saddle pads, dirt and sawdust covered clothes and faces and the exhausted look you get after a very difficult but extremely rewarding day. They all looked like they couldn’t possibly stand for another minute but absolutely couldn’t wait to get back out on the trail. Spurs had earned the nickname “half-moon” and Cindy “full-moon” (you spend a lot of time bent over while operating a crosscut saw). Since 9 am the crew had ridden over 12 miles riding from about 6500 feet to over 8500 feet in elevation while clearing 72 trees that were less than 8 inches in diameter and 30 trees greater than 8 inches in diameter, with the largest diameter about 38 inches, manually with a crosscut saw. We all enjoyed stir fried chicken and vegetables over rice, and salad, the same meal they ate at the camp on Kurtz Flat. Also on the morning of the 27th, Dan & Becky Brandborg, Steve Greer, Mike Costanzo, Joe Rogish and Bill Goslin rode out to Kurtz Flats, set up the camp and cleared 52 trees from 2 miles of Buck Creek.       

The morning of the 28th came fast for everyone despite the chainsaws buzzing all night in the East Fork area.  At the cabin Kristina, Karen and Bonnie arrived around 7:30 to get breakfast started while I drove to the East Fork Trailhead to pick up Brad, Spurs and Cindy. Rested and nourished, the Johnson Peak crew set out to Kurtz Flats minus Jeff who stayed at the cabin to help with the work there before returning to pick up his grandson from the airport. Unbeknownst to those of us who ate breakfast at the cabin, the morning at Kurtz Flats took a tragic turn when, while getting ready to head up the trail, Mike Costanzo’s horse, for reasons still unknown, bucked, reared and then flipped backwards with Mike on his back.  Initially, because of Mike’s calm demeanor everyone there thought they had averted a catastrophe, but it soon became clear that Mike was going to need to be medevac’d. Bill Goslin called the dispatcher on the Forest Service radio reporting the accident and then he activated the 911 button on the emergency satellite communication SPOT Device.

Joe Rogish, being a Marine Corps veteran chopper instructor pilot, scoped out two possible sites to land the helicopter. We had noted one area earlier when we were planning the trip, half thinking we would never need it, half a reality check from our safety training to be aware of locations for just this sort of occurrence. We selected a meadow on the far side of the river roughly a third of a mile distant.

The Life Flight chopper was in the air soon after Bill made the call. Bill also employed the SPOT satellite device to transmit our location. Joe, Bill and I took a pack mule up to the landing zone, cleared out several trees and utilized Cindy Beck’s hunter orange pack pad to mark the landing spot for the pilot. After landing we put the litter on the mule, forded the river and brought the two EMTs and pilot back to the camp and Mike.

Mike continued to be lucid and answer questions and showed just how tough a guy he is, as the medics pushed, probed and wrapped a brace around his pelvic area. Throughout the entire event he grimaced only once when this was tightened--one tough cookie, this guy! The medics gave Mike a good dose of painkiller for the move. We got him on the litter and took turns handling one of the six spots on it to carry him up the trail and across the river.

Another helper showed up about this time, Jody, an off-duty EMT from the West Fork Painted Rocks fire district. He heard the radio traffic on his scanner, made it to the trailhead and hoofed it up the trail at record pace. Bonnie, Karen and Patty arrived while the medics were on the scene and helped carry the litter.

A short while later the crew decided that Mike would want the trail work to be continued so the crew, which now included the folks from the Johnson Peak Trail, headed back up Buck Creek clearing another two-and-½ miles of trail removing 114 trees from the trail, 51 of which were over eight inches in diameter.

Meanwhile, Rita Atencio, her sister Denise, Nancy Pollman and Lee Robinson arrived at the cabin and got straight to work repairing the corral fencing and building a cover for the propane tank. Tim and Jeff replaced the corner of the corral where a tree had fallen a couple years earlier destroying the fence. Both were happy not to be in the wilderness so they could use a chainsaw. Patti kept everything organized and enforced taking lunch breaks.

On Monday Nancy and Rita hiked into the Kurtz Flats camp and brought Mike’s horses to his home. The rest of the cabin crew reluctantly returned to their paying jobs and the East Fork crew got back on the trail this time dividing their efforts. Brad, Spurs, Cindy & Patty rode up the East Fork Trail to Hidden Lake clearing a few trees on the way and then cleared the trail from the lake to the Continental Divide Trail. At the same time Dan, Joe & Steve continued up Buck Creek to where it also joins the Continental Divide Trail.

Tuesday brought the end of the trail projects, breaking camp, finishing up around the cabin and an incredible Dutch oven meal prepared by Sue Pearson that included barbequed ribs, herb potatoes, biscuits and peach cobbler.

Altogether some 23 people participated in the planning, reconnaissance and execution of the project. Just over 15 miles of wilderness trail was cleared of almost 400 downed trees, and two water bars were repaired requiring 118 hours of basic work and 120 hours of skilled work. Fifteen rigs hauled 18 stock and 19 BR BCH members. Just over 1474 miles were traveled in vehicles. The project planning required 36.5 administrative hours and 29 reconnaissance hours. Conservation projects can be exhilarating, rewarding, serene and satisfying, and, as proven by this story, at times dangerous. Yet for those with the drive and passion for the purpose, there is nothing like it. 

Whew, I’m glad that is done, and I can’t wait until next year.

Favorite Place

The East Fork and Johnson Peak Trails provide access to the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness which is located near Sula, Montana within the Sula Ranger District of the Bitterroot National Forest. The human history of this area in ancient going back more than 10,000 years with the Salish Indians and over 200 years for European pioneers. Ross's Hole, about 16 miles west of the East Fork Cabin, is where the Lewis and Clark Expedition first encountered the Salish Indians (called the Flathead by the expedition). The Continental Divide marks the south and east boundary of the Sula Ranger District.

Why We Care

The Anaconda-Pintler is where I first experienced wilderness, majestic mountain views and the unequaled opportunities for introspection and solitude. The fires of 2000 ravaged much of the forest in the area and active management is needed in order to perpetuate the common sense use of stock in this back country. 

Take Action

You can support the Back Country Horsemen at http://www.backcountryhorse.com or follow the links and join a chapter near you.

Our Conservation Map


Contact Information

Tim Peterson

Bitter Root Backcountry Horsemen

Phone: 406-381-2054



See Additional Contacts

Pam Gouse

Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development

Phone: 406-363-5450

Fax: 406-363-5451



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