Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sometimes Only a Horse Can Get the Job Done

Read about it here.

See it here. (Edit: Apparently you have to suffer through a brief commercial before the photos show up.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness

My buddy Tim and I, along with our horses, spent last weekend riding in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, located within the Wenatchee National Forest. Smokey was his usual trusty trail self, and the ride was event free. We rode in about 12 miles on Saturday, with the weather warm and alternating between clouds and sun. Rain started around 8pm, and continued non-stop until around 4am Sunday morning. Sunday was blustery and chilly. Thankfully we were outfitted with proper raingear, so we stayed warm and dry when the skies opened up on us during the last two hours of the ride out.

While only 35 miles from the Norse Peak Wilderness, the terrain and vegetation are vastly different. The terrain is very rocky, and is covered with enormous boulders deposited by the glaciers thousands of years ago. The vegetation is mostly alpine scrub.

I never really cease to be amazed with Smokey. The horse who can be a complete idiot in the arena, was a calm, surefooted, trusty steed the entire weekend. Riding in the lead, he was surefooted, kept a good pace, and never balked at any obstacles. Occasionally he would just stop walking, and look back at me as if to say "I think this is a good place to camp", but a gentle reminder would set him to walking again.

The Waptus River

There are numerous creeks crossing the trail which feed into the river.

The view from the top of the Polallie Ridge Trail. (Elev. ~5500ft). My pitiful Nikon Coolpix does not do justice to the sheer beauty of the views from up here. I must return in the summer time.

We think these piers used to be part of a firewatch tower.

I wish Smokey could take his mind off eating the grass long enough to pose for a picture.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Belay My Last!!

Smokey and I won't be headed out this weekend. I just received a phone call that the great white hunters have struck camp, and are packing out today. Apparently the weather has been none too hospitable.


Hittin' the Trail

Smokey and I are headed out again this weekend. We'll be overnighting, and visiting some friends at their elk camp. Since it will just be Smokey and I on the trail, with no pack animals, it just might be an adventure free outing.

A man can hope, can't he?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Weekend Wilderness Adventures (Sunday)

The site of the Old Tin Shack still has a hitching rail. We had the six animals tied to said rail late Sunday morning as we were breaking camp.

One member of our party is not a horseman. He was folding up a blue tarp, and in the process of doing so, gave it a vigorous shake to get the dirt off. Now, next to perhaps grizzly bears, blue tarps represent the thing most feared by horses. The area of the hitching rail erupted with the thunder of 24 hooves trying to affect the escape of 12 wild eyes from this dreaded monster. With no two animals headed in the same direction, the rail came free of its moorings. Wunderbar.

After the animals were calmed down, we were able to re-engineer the rail. Bailing twine has many uses.

Next came loading the pack animals. Today, the mule would be carrying the pack boxes, with the pack bags on the horse. As I lowered the second box onto the pack saddle, something inside clanked, and spooked her into absolute terror. She took off at a run.

SL had her lead rope, and did not let go. She began running in a circle around him. As we had been unable to tie the boxes down, they were banging against her sides, making a bad situation worse. She was looking to SL for help, while he just talked to her in a soothing voice until she calmed down. The boxes were lashed down, and he led her through the nearby woods, so that she could get the feel of the boxes hitting trees and making noise. I told SL that he could lead the mule today. I would be happy to lead the pack horse, thank you very much.

By this time all the animals were adrenaline charged. The first hour of the ride out was chaos. Smokey would not walk, choosing instead to jig-jog. This is something that infuriates me, as it is very unpleasant to ride, not to mention with a horse right in front of him, I kept having to pull him back. With one hand on the pack horses lead rope, and the other fighting the horse with the reins, I was very busy, and none too happy.

Under questioning, I will deny that I may have, at some point, offered to solve Smokey's behavior with .357 solutions. Just saying.

The tide finally broke when the mule got loose from SL. She spun around, and headed up the trail at a run. Silence befell our group. It was broken when SL said, "she'll be back". As if on cue, she reappeared, headed at us at a dead run. I pulled the pack horse in close, ready to maneuver both horses in whatever direction would keep us safe.

She stopped abreast of our group. SL retrieved her, and we started out once again. This seemed to have broken the tension, as the rest of the ride was calm and uneventful, except for the Mule Deer doe that briefly appeared on the trail.

All because of a blue tarp.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Weekend Wilderness Adventures (Saturday)

A few posts back, I mentioned the horse and mule that showed up at the trailhead when our group was tacking up. What I didn't mention was that it was only the beginning of an equine adventure filled weekend.

Our party consisted of four riders, five horses, and one mule. The mule and one of the horses did duty as the pack animals. Both of them are in training, and this was to be their first overnighter. The trip in on Saturday was fairly uneventful. I ponied the mule, and she was a delight. I hardly knew she was back there. Smokey was his reliable old self. The only time he buggered up was when we passed two backpackers who had stopped to rest along the trail. Their pack were lying on the uphill side of the trail, and he was rather convinced that the blue backpack would find horses to be quite palatable. Having your horse dive off the side of the trail while ponying a mule does have the ability to initiate a burst of adrenaline.

Our destination was the site of the Old Tin Shack, which is near Airplane Meadows. The Tin Shack is off the trail, and if one does not know its location, it is unlikely to be found. As the only member of the party who had ever been there, it fell on me to guide us there.

Of course, there was a fly in the ointment. On my previous trip, we had ridden in from the south. This time we were on the north side, in Airplane Meadows. Rather than leading the whole party on a bushwacking expedition, I told them to stay put while Smokey and I scouted.

Now, I fully expected that my plan to ride off from the rest of the herd would result in something between a rodeo and a disaster. To my utter astonishment, Smokey headed off into the woods at my direction with nary a hesitation. That horse never ceases to amaze me.

It took about 15 minutes to locate the path, which is little more than a dry creekbed. I followed it, and in short order, Smokey and I found the site. We headed back down the path to retrieve the rest of the folks. To liven the ride up, I kicked Smokey up into a trot. When we came out of the forest and into the meadow, the others were on the far side. I was waving my arm to get their attention. My brother-in-law said that the sight of the horse and I trotting out of the woods with me waving was quite the scene.

The horses were untacked, and set out to graze, while we pitched cap. After several hours, the younger animals were starting to play and get a bit mischevious. Not old Mo. He steered clear of the juvenile delinquents, and kept his nose in the grass. Never know when your next meal will be. When the youngsters were beginning to get out of hand, they were tied to the highline. I left Smokey out to graze.

After awhile, he wandered closer to camp, and slept for about an hour. He then walked over near the highline. In fact, he stopped near his loop on the line. All I had to do was pick his lead rope up off the ground, and tie it to the line. Gotta love a horse that puts himself to bed! I tried to convince the others that I had trained him to do that, but they weren't buying it. Can't imagine why.

Tomorrow I will post the other half of this story, when the real excitement began.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Saddle Sore

As mentioned in the previous post, when I unsaddled Smokey at the end of the first day of the work party, I was greeted by a bright pink spot where the hair and flesh had been rubbed away. Because his health and well being is first and foremost when on these trips, there was no question that he was unrideable. I rendered first aid, and he spent the rest of the trip at camp on the all you can eat alfalfa program.

24 hours later, the area was quite swollen and tender to the touch. By Sunday morning, the swelling was subsiding, but was still noticeable. He rode back to the trail head where our rig was parked in someone else's trailer. Our local chapter vet was there guarding all the pickup's and trailers. His initial assessment was grim: severe hematoma, which would require months of recovery, and possibly surgical removal. To say that I was depressed about hurting my friend would be a vast understatement.

We arrived home on July 25th. Within two days of arriving home, the swelling had subsided, and the skin began to heal. I'm happy to report that by Aug. 12th, he was healthy enough to be ridden by one of the girls in our 4H club at the County Fair, where he took several Grand Champions, I might add. And, we did an overnighter in the backcountry on Aug. 21st and 22nd.

So how did this happen? After some soul searching, and a few in depth discussions with some experienced folk, I've narrowed it down to three factors:

1. Smokey's spine protrudes upward above his hips. This is known as a roach back. Notice the hump in the picture below. This is fairly uncommon. Whether this is a natural conformation defect, or the result of some past injury is unknown.

Compare to the same spot on Bailey's back. No spine to be seen.

2. I was using a crupper for the first time on this trip. A crupper is designed to prevent the saddle from slipping too far foward while traveling downhill. When walking downhill, horse and mules will naturally clench their tail, holding the crupper in place. I feel that the crupper placed extra pressure on the back of the saddle above his protruding spine. Needless to say, I won't be using the crupper again. I'm going to spring for saddle britchen.

3. I failed to tighten the cinch adequately. My saddle fits Smokey as if it were made for him. As a result, I tend to get somewhat complacent with regards to how tight the cinch is. He's a bit cinchy, and puffs up during the process. Because we were traveling on hills, I should have paid extra attention, and perhaps tightened it up a bit more than usual.

Bottom line: My fault, and it will not happen again.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Beer for My Horse

For no particular reason, a song that has at least three of my favorite things: Whiskey, Beer, and Horses. Can't be anything wrong with that.

Some days I think it's a darn shame that range justice is frowned upon in the current era.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Work Party (Finally!)

Well, I think I've delayed the final part of the tale long enough. The work party was, well, a work party. A lot of trail clearing and rerouting. Two bridges were rebuilt, and some logs were cut out of the trail.

One of the highlights was the christening of the Waterpark on Thursday morning. The group I was in was headed to work on the lower part of the Arch Rock Trail. Our crew was headed up by RD. RD has been riding and packing for more years than I've been standing on the earth. He's been there, done that, and has the worn out cowboy hat to prove it.

To reach the trail, we had to ride over a puncheon bridge which crosses the Greenwater River where it feeds into Echo Lake. RD was riding in the lead, with two pack horses in tow. His saddle horse started across the bridge, and the first pack horse followed. The second pack horse, however, decided that it would be easier to bypass the bridge and ford the river. As the bridge is low, and the water shallow, this wouldn't have been a problem, except for one thing. There was a log in the river, which caused the horse to stop.

When pack horses are tied to each other, the lead rope of the following animal is tied to the pack saddle of the one in front via a "pigging string". This is nothing more than a few light strands of bailing twine. The idea being that should any pressure be placed against it, it will break.

Well, bailing twine must be of stronger stuff these days, because the pigging string didn't break. As the horse in the water pulled back, the horse on the bridge pulled forward and to the left.

Then the pigging string broke, and the crash unfolded before our eyes.

With the sudden release of pressure, the pack horse on the bridge crashed sideways into RD's saddle horse. Two horses and one rider tumbled sideways off the bridge, and into the water. The horses were thrashing around in the river, and RD was no where to be seen. The horses were struggling to get their feet underneath them when RD's head popped up out of the churning water.

There was no doubt in my mind that he and at least one horse must be seriously injured.

Incredulously, RD came out with a scrape on his nose. One horse had a minor scratch on one leg. Beyond that, the worst problem was that the pack bags were full of water. To RD, it was all in a days work, and hardly the worst wreck he'd every experienced.

As for me, I don't ever want to experience anything approaching it.

When we arrived back at camp that night, I unsaddled Smokey, and, to my dismay, he had a nasty saddle sore on his back.

There was no question that he was now unrideable. While he had not given any indication of a problem, I was not going to risk further injury. He would spend the rest of the week resting and eating. I'm going to visit this injury in a later post.

My friend Mark had brought extra stock animals with him, so, for the rest of the weekend, I rode a Mule. Well, a horse named Mule, anyway.

Mule is a 7 year old Saddlebred mare. She's a big, stout horse, and was an absolute pleasure to ride. She looks good in my saddle doesn't she?

Smokey and Company on the highline.

Our living accommodations.

The Rock Slide, at the top of the Arch Rock Trail.

The view from the top of the Arch Rock Trail.

Kenny's mule was more than a little interested in my lunch.

Hard at work...err, lunch break.

I couldn't get a picture that captures how steep this trail really is.

Your's truly after cutting this log out of the trail. Chainsaws are strictly forbidden in the wilderness, so it has to be done the old fashioned way. That saw is amazingly sharp, and it took me less than ten minutes to make both cuts.

Big Al is King of the Mountain

Oh, by the way, Mule is for sale. Did I mention how much I enjoyed riding her, and that she looks really good in my saddle?