After the first trip in, unloading the gear, lunch, beer, and other appropriate lollygagging at camp, my nephew and I made the two hour ride back to the trailers to pick up the rest of the gear. After more beer, chocolate chip cookies from the folks semi-permanently camped at the trailhead, and loading up the panniers, we mounted up and headed out, pack horses in tow. Departure time may have been on the wrong side of 6pm. No worries, we should make it to camp before dark.
I wasn't wearing a timepiece, so I don't have any reference times, but it did not seem all that long before the light began to fail. And I do mean fail. The moon was out, but it rarely penetrated the canopy of the heavy timber. Soon, it looked like something like this:
I exaggerate only slightly. The only things I could make out in the dark were Smokey's neck (there's something to be said for a Buttermilk Buckskin), and the occasional cross-section of fallen trees which had been cut from the trail, which provided the only assurance that we were still on the trail. I was riding lead, ponying the Appaloosa (Jack) pictured in a previous post, and, as I saw it, I had two choices:
1. Trust my horse, or
2. Trust my horse
I opted to trust my horse. For all his antics in the arena, Smokey has long since proven himself to be the wise old trail horse, who is no slouch in the wilderness. We weren't about to break out flashlights, as that would only serve to ruin the night vision of our trusted steeds. On we rode.
I'm not big on talking when riding the trail. For me, quiet is a key component of the wilderness experience. The solitude this night was amplified by the complete darkness, the quiet broken only by the soft sound of hooves on the trail, and the occasional snort of equine nostrils. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I found that, with nothing to concentrate on, save my own thoughts, I reveled in the feeling of senses stripped bare.
All good things come to an end, and before long the raw glow of a lantern appeared through the trees, snapping me out of my reverie. The horses, not surprisingly, had found camp. Soon, the gear was unloaded, horses settled, watered, and fed, and we settled in to a warm dinner ourselves, this new experience behind me.
On a side note, an old packer once told me that when riding at night, hanging a glow stick from your neck would light the trail ahead of you. I can attest, from experience this night, that the claim is pure horse puckey. I gave this a try, and the only noticeable effect was total loss of what little night vision I had. Within two minutes, I shoved it in a pocket, never to be tried again.