My summer in the mountains

Between graduating college and starting work at Jive, I spent two months working as an IT sysadmin at Holden Village, a remote, former mining town in Northern Washington. And by “remote” I mean VERY remote. The only ways to get there are by either hiking in 40 miles or by taking a boat 50 miles to a landing and then being transported 11 miles up steep switchbacks in one of the village’s fleet of old schoolbuses.

I’ve been visiting this place with my family almost every summer since I was 5 years old. We’ve always come up as guests and just for a week at a time. I’d always wanted to work there so I could have an extended stay, and this summer was the perfect opportunity to do that as well as to give back to the community that’s given so much to us over the years.

It was a very unique time to be in Holden. I shared the village with 80 other volunteers and over 250 mine remediation workers. Back in the 1930s, Holden was one of the biggest copper mines in North America. When it shut down in the 1950s, there was a significant amount of waste left over and it’s just been sitting there for 60 years. There is currently a $200+ million project to clean up the area and restore the natural environment. The entire village was powered by diesel generators (they had to take out the normal hydroelectric plant temporarily). Every morning around 9 am, dynamite was detonated at the quarry just outside of the village and the rock was processed into slurry. Across the creek (about 100 feet from my dorm room) miners were digging an 80-foot-deep barrier wall.

Working in IT in the mountains had some interesting challenges. We had a 1.2-Megabit satellite connection that was shared with 80 people and a neighboring village. So it was effectively slower than dial-up. At around 4 pm on certain days, the angle of the sun caused radio interference with the satellite and the connection would cut out for about an hour. We also lost our connection for 3 days completely because forest fires burned through the lines 50 miles away where the other satellite ground station was located.

My roommate worked in the sawmill. He decorated his safety helmet “Full Metal Jacket” style.

The wildlife in and around the village was pretty tame.

Except for the bears.

I went on several hikes, trail runs, and multi-day backpacking trips while I was there.

It was an amazing summer. If you’re ever interested in visiting the village yourself, or in volunteering, here’s their website and Facebook page.

Note: It is a Lutheran retreat center, but don’t let that deter you if you’re not religious (I’m not); they’re a very liberal, open community and welcoming to everyone.