Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Pack Trip: Day 3 (Or...Mules on the Lam)
Monday dawned dawned cool and clear. The boys were turned out to graze early. Breakfast for the two legged contingent consisted of coffee and cinnamon oatmeal. Simple, yet satisfying.
Today we were off in search of a good lake to fish. As with yesterday, I ponied Potter, who traveled empty, while Dempsey packed the small handful of gear we needed for fishing.
These meadows pop up everywhere in the timber. They are frequented by elk, and while we did not see any, there was no shortage of elk tracks. Often, areas of grass were still flattened from where the elk had slept.
We headed off the Pacific Crest Trail to an area dotted with lakes. Only one of these lakes is named, that being Crescent Lake. As a result, the group of lakes is referred to by most as the Crescent Lakes. As they are off the beaten path, they are unspoiled by humans, save for the occasional small rock fire rings near the shore.
Fishing resulted in fat little trout such as this one. We were fishing catch and release this day, but would have each reached our daily limit (6) in less than hour had we been fishing for food.
After a few hours, it was time to head back to camp. Once we were back on the PCT, Double C decided he wanted to tie Potter off to Dempsey to provide training as part of a pack string. While trying to lead him past Smokey, something spooked him, and he bolted back the way we had come. He only ran about a hundred yards up the trail, and stopped. We could see him standing behind a tree watching us.
The initial tactic was to ignore him, in the hopes he would tire of being alone and return to the group. After this proved ineffective, Double C decided it was time go get him. Handing me Dempsey's lead rope, he turned and led his horse, Sunny D, up the trail to retrieve the miscreant mule.
It was at this point, Dempsey came to the conclusion that he was being abandoned by his herd, and he bolted. Unlike a horse, jerking on a lead rope to get a mule's attention is futile. Faced with the choice of letting go or being jerked out of the saddle and drug down the trail, I opened my hand and released the rope. Dempsey overtook and passed Double C and Sunny D at a double time, headed straight for Potter. Thus teamed up, the mules hightailed it North on the PCT, and in a flash, they were out of sight.
Just as quickly, Double C hopped in the saddle, kicked Sunny D in the ribs, and the Thoroughbred did what he was born to do...run. They were gone within seconds.
Smokey and I now found ourselves alone on the trail. I expected him to have an aneurysm at the prospect of being separated from the other animals, but, to my surprise, he was calm and standing still. He looked back and me as I asked "well, what do we do now?" My concern was to not complicate matters further. I was not concerned for my own well being, as I knew where I was, where camp was, and how to get to the truck and trailer if need be.
I decided to test out my tracking skills. I dismounted, and led Smokey down the trail, scanning for signs of the traveling circus. I found it easy to follow, as the running horse had left clear tracks. After about ten minutes, the tracks became less clear, which led me to believe they had slowed down. Soon, I reached the junction of the Arch Rock Trail. I paused, scanning the ground closely so as to choose the correct path. The trail was dusty here, and hoof prints were not so obvious. Had they veered off the trail entirely?
Then I noticed a set of parallel lines in the dirt. They were about six inches apart, and 1 to 2 inches wide. Had some mountain bikers defied the rules and gone riding in the Wilderness? Looking closer, I decided they were not bike tracks, as they were smooth, with no knobby marks. Lead rope tracks! The mules were each dragging a lead rope that was clipped under their chin to the halter. We started walking again. At about the point that I was going to stop and remove my spurs (the left one was digging into the side of my foot), I came across a pair of mules tied to a tree. Double C and his horse were nearby.
He relayed the other half of the story to me. He had caught up to them in short order, but the trail was too narrow to safely pass. Rather than stop, the mules viewed this as a great game. Rather than continuing to push them down the trail, he checked Sunny's speed and fell back a ways. The mules slowed down to a trot. Then, recalling Dempsey's affinity for granola bars, he reached into his saddle bag, pulled out a bar, and rustled the wrapper.
The mule's big ears picked up the sound, he grunted, and the show was over. As soon as Dempsey stopped and turned, so did Potter. Double C had them in hand in short order.
The remainder of the trip back to camp was uneventful, thankfully.