Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Never a Dull Moment

As mentioned in the previous post, Smokey and I, as well as a cast of others (for a total of 4 riders, 5 horses, and 1 mule), went out for a brief trip in the Norse Peak Wilderness. My job being to guide the party to the location of the Old Tin Shack.

We arrived at the Government Meadows Horse Camp early Saturday. While were engaged in tacking up the animals, from the other side of the trailer I heard Steve L. say "we've got a horse and mule here."

Admittedly, my first thought was, "no kidding, we brought them." Then I looked over behind the trailer, and discovered that the horse and mule to which he referred had not arrived in our party. These two miscreants were standing there looking expectantly at us:

They both had halters on, and the horse had the remains of a set of hobbles on his right leg. As they were both clean, and obviously well fed, we concluded that they had escaped from their camp. Since there were no other trucks or trailers at the horse camp, we decided that they had come in off the Pacific Crest Trail after hearing our horses.

After some discussion as to what to do, we decided to leave them tied to one of our trailers. We filled a hay bag with alfalfa and hung it between them. Our thought being that either the owner would find and claim them, or, if they were still there when we returned on the morrow, we would take them with us, and advertise that they had been found via the Backcountry Horsemen and Craigslist.

When we returned Sunday afternoon, they were gone. On the windshield of the pickup was a note that stated "Please call Russ", with phone number and smiley face. We were relieved that their owner had claimed them, as we certainly knew how we would feel if our stock were missing on the trail.

As it would turn out, I know Russ, as well as the other members of his party. Talk about a greater sense that we had done the right thing. The group had ridden in from Sand Flats Horse Camp, which is south of where we were. The pair had vanished sometime in the early morning. After searching all day on the trails, Russ had, on a whim, driven to Government Meadows, where he found his wayward horse and mule.

It's a small world, folks.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Intermission Should Be Over, But...

The Fair ended on Sunday, but it's been a hella week.

Besides, Smokey and I, plus a few others are headed up for a weekend in the Wilderness. I'll get back to you next week to finish the tales of the work party.

Have a good weekend, folks!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pack Trip: Day Last

After a hearty breakfast of sausage and eggs, we began breaking camp. Today we were headed to Corral pass to meet up with other members of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington for the annual Tr-Chapter work party.

I know that some will be quick to point out that the words "work" and "party" do not belong in the same sentence. For myself, coming from a Naval background, it is very natural to hear those words together. And this particular work party happens to be a great time. We do work hard, but we benefit from the work, both from the standpoint of well maintained trails, and our relationship with the United States Forest Service and the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

The camera never does justice to the view.

We had to work our way around this fallen tree. This tree would meet its match in a few days.

We turned west off the Pacific Crest Trail, onto the Arch Rock Trail headed for Echo Lake. This is actually the sign at the bottom of the trail. According to my Green Trails Map, their trail is 3 miles long, with a 2000ft elevation change. What the map fails to convey is that this trail is almost entirely devoid of switchbacks, and seems to go almost straight down at times. It was extremely slow going, as the horses and mules had to pick their way down the trail. At times it seemed as though it it would never end.

But it did end, and after what seemed an eternity, we found ourselves on the East side of Echo Lake.

This wood had been dropped by helicopter a few days prior, and would be used by our group to rebuild the bridge in the next photo.

The bridge had collapsed, and was shaped like a "W". Despite this, the animals had little difficulty negotiating it.

Echo Lake appears through the trees.

The Greenwater River runs from the North into Echo Lake.
We walked the animals through the river to allow them to drink, bypassing this bridge, which would become christened as a Water Park the next day. Stay tuned...

We were up there two hours ago...

This tree is rather large, probably a good 3+ feet in diameter. The trail is rerouted to the left around the root ball.

Castle Mountain

It was still another two hours ride to Corral Pass. We arrived mid-afternoon, and found that about half the folks had already made it. Corral Pass is not a horse camp, and the road up is a bit shaky for horse trailers. As a result, most of the people had parked their rigs at the Greenwater Lakes Trailhead, which is a 12 mile ride to the North.

To facilitate our work, the USFS had made the campground at Corral Pass available for our use. I'm sure that the presence of our group of ruffians with their horse and mules caught the Suburu and Birkenstock campers off guard. However, the more gregarious personalities in our party went to great lengths to invite said campers to our cook tent and campfire, for to establish goodwill, and make said campers aware of our purpose or being there.

Work assignments were handed out that evening, and I think camp was dead silent by 9pm.

Why You Should Never Put Your Saddle in the Dryer

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pack Trip: Day 4

Tuesday was yet another beautiful day. Pancakes, sausage, and coffee for breakfast. As we would be leaving the next day for Corral Pass, to meet other members of the Backcountry Horsemen for the annual Tri-Chapter work party, we opted for a day of rest for the animals. We tidied up camp in preparation for packing up on the morrow, and let the boys graze to their hearts content.

Smokey, Dempsey, and Potter on the highline. The animals spend their nights tied to this line as a precaution. These three are tied up in the early afternoon, for, after hours of grazing, they had begun to show a propensity for mischief (see Day 2).

Smokey has an itch. Smokey always has an itch.



Sunny D was minding his P's and Q's, so he was allowed to continue grazing.

Mountain pond.

I would have never guessed that frogs lived at 6000 feet. This one is as big as my hand.

In the early evening, a warm rain blew in from the East, which was unusual, as clouds use come out of the West in these parts. It lasted for about an hour, and disappeared as though it had never happened.

One of the highlights of this day was bathing. Solar Showers just may be the best thing since sliced bread. They claim that the water can reach 120F. The water in my bag didn't get nearly that warm, but it was warm enough to take a pain free shower. After removing the dirt, grime, sweat, and stink, I also treated myself to clean clothes. Fresh as a daisy.

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 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.