Friday, July 30, 2010

Pack Trip: Day 2

Sunday morning dawned cool and clear. We turned the boys out for breakfast at 6am, and set the coffee to brewing. Breakfast consisted of eggs, taters, and sausage, none of which was freeze dried, I might add.

Morning sun over the ridge.

Breakfast of Champions

If you look real close at the center of the photo, you will see a Blacktail Deer.

After the animals had been given adequate time to graze, we saddled up for a short ride. I ponied Potter this time, which meant we were following Dempsey. Given his choice, Smokey will have his nose in the tail of the horse/mule in front of him. As it turned out, Dempsey does not particularly care for this habit. Which meant that on a couple of occasions Smokey and I got a clear view of a pair mule shoes. Fortunately, he wasn't firing for effect. Just the occasional warning shot.

Mt. Rainier, again. (You were warned)

This smaller peak is known as Little Tahoma.

We rode to a small meadow that was once the site of The Tin Shack, which was a hunting cabin. Due to the efforts of environmentalists and assorted other Dudley Do Rights, cabins are now strictly forbidden in the wilderness. The USFS has gone to great lengths to find all such structures, and burn them to the ground. Seems a shame to me.

Home in time for a long lunch and dinner.

Steak and baked potatoes cooking on the fire. I will never backpack again.

Beer in the fridge. Buck's favorite, Bud Light (NOT!!) The water flowing in these mountain creeks is bitter, make your hands hurt cold. Perfect for refrigerated items.

While cooking the steaks, I looked up to see this scene. All is well. Or is it?

A few minutes later, I looked up again, only the scene was much different. Smokey and the mules were gone! Sunny D was looking up between the trees you see in the above photo. Ever the master of understatement, I looked at Double C and said "the horses or headed up the hill. Is that a bad thing?" He looked at me, and, in an equally understated tone, said "yes".

I took off running across the meadow, all the while thinking "if I lose my horse, Mrs. BR is gonna kill me". Double C paused long enough to move the steaks off the fire (mustn't ruin dinner), and, as he later relayed to me, by the time he looked up, I was already out of sight.

I caught up to and passed Sunny D, who was still standing looking up the hill between those trees. I caught a glimpse of Potter's butt disappearing through the trees, so I kept going. Now, while the animals were hobbled, for seasoned backcountry stock, hobbles are but a minor inconvenience, which, at best, will only slow them down a touch.

I fully expected to find Dempsey the mule to be the ringleader of this outfit, as he had already proven to be quite mischievous. Imagine my surprise, upon breaking out of the trees, to find 'Ol Smokey Joe leading the charge. I'll be dipped...I called his name. He paused, and looked at me with an expression that left little doubt as to what he was thinking. "The hell with you cowboy, we're bustin' out of this joint". Fortunately for me, the hill he had chosen for the Great Escape was rather steep. After a few bounds I caught up to him, and pounced on the end of his lead rope.

Show over. By this time, Double C had joined the party. He gathered up the mules, and we towed the miscreants back down to the meadow.

The steak, baked potatoes, and beer made for a fine dinner.

I don't know, but I think he looks just a tad guilty.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pack Trip: Day 1

Double C and I had the horses and mules packed into the trailer by 6am, and we were off to the Government Meadows horse camp, where we would be leaving the truck and trailer. The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, with perfect temperature.

This was my first experience with pack animals, let alone mules. I could only imagine what adventure might lay ahead with the addition of these steeds.

As the saying goes "a picture speaks a thousand words, so I will let the photos tell the tale as we ventured into the Norse Peak Wilderness on the Pacific Crest Trail:

As you can see, I actually took this photo a week after we started, but I felt it to be a good starter for the story.

Smokey saddled up and ready go. He looks thrilled, doesn't he?

Dempsey (left) and Potter, the mules.

Double C and his saddle horse, Sunny D. Jessica will be glad to know that Sunny is an Off The Track Thoroughbred.

On the trail. The view ahead.

The view behind.

Watering the animals. I believe that this creek eventually becomes the South Fork of the Little Naches River.

Note how the branches on the trees do not grow very long. This is how they survive at this altitude (5000ft) against the heavy winter snowfall.

Mt. Rainier

Meadows like this spring up out of the timber frequently. While we didn't see any elk, there was an abundance of sign.

Smokey is none too thrilled about posing for a picture. So much grass to be eaten.

Airplane Meadows, at the top of the Arch Rock Trail (#1187)

The reason Airplane Meadows is so named. I can find surprisingly little info on this crash site, beyond the fact that it occurred in 1939. All that remains is the radial engine, and some pieces of the frame.

I never tire of looking at Mt. Rainier, so you will have to bear with me.

End of the first day. The boys hobbled out and dining on the lush green grass.

The day was uneventful. We only encountered two groups of hikers. One was a couple out for a day hike, the other group about 8 backpackers headed for the cabin at Government Meadows. We exchanged pleasantries and trail info with both groups, and headed on our merry ways.

It didn't begin getting dark until after 9pm, at which point we put the horses and mules on the highline, and turned in ourselves.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We're Back

No time to write at the moment, so I'll just leave a little teaser for now.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Great Adventure is About to Begin.

I'll be setting out on my nine day adventure at 0500 tomorrow.

The good news is that Smokey's abscess healed quicker than expected, and he didn't lose any of his conditioning. So he's back up to first string. Which is a big relief. While Bailey is a good horse, she is a bit of an unknown quantity with respect to a trip of this nature. I've never had her out on an overnight trip, let alone nine days.

Smokey, on the other hand, has spent his fair share of nights on the highline, cowbell chiming with his movements. He isn't phased by deer, elk, or bears. (Although he is deathly afraid of blue tarps).

I'm bringing along a small notebook so that I may record any adventures, and I promise to return with as many photos of the Norse Peak Wilderness as the memory card will hold.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Plans, Setbacks, and Backup Plans

I will soon be headed off to spend nine days traveling via saddle in the Norse Peak Wilderness. The first four and half days a friend and I will spend camping and fishing. For the latter half of the trip, we will head over to camp at Corral Pass for the purpose of participating in the annual work party with Pierce County Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington. When not enjoying good food and good company, we will ride daily to Echo Lake and the Arch Rock Trail for bridge and trail repair.

To say that I have been looking forward to this would be a bit of an understatement.

Just as you and I could not get off the couch and then go hiking in the hills for days on end without some prior conditioning, neither can a horse be pulled out of the pasture for the same. Therefore, Smokey has been on a steady exercise program consisting of a great deal of trotting and loping to firm up muscle and restore aerobic capacity.

And then he pulls up lame two weeks ago. While much of the country is enjoying summer, the damp, cold, miserable weather has been hanging on her in the Pacific Northwest. This wet is the mortal enemy of Smokey's feet. He has an abscess in his left front hoof. While the hoof may heal prior to the start of the trip, the break from training means, quite simply, that he will not be ready to go by the scheduled start date.

While disappointing, all is not lost. I will be taking our ten year old mare Bailey. Until this year, she was DN3's show and all purpose horse. Bailey is burned out on the show ring, which is why we picked up Petey earlier this year.

Bailey is, to be honest, better suited for a long trip than Smokey is. We call her the "Energizer Bunny" because she rarely sweats or breathes hard no matter how hard she works. And, provided she isn't the lead horse, she enjoys the trail, as much as a horse enjoys anything beyond eating, sleeping, and pooping.

DN3 is helping me "learn" how to ride her. While riding Smokey involves legs and use of the bit, Bailey has different, more subtle cues, and all of them involve leg pressure and torso positions. So I'm having to learn not to use my hands. It isn't that she doesn't respond to pressure on the bit, it just isn't necessary. No point in complicating matters.

While she isn't a big flashy buckskin, she is still an excellent horse, and I'm still looking forward to the trip.