This is a funny poem I like to recite the first night in camp, when the guests really don't know if the food will be any good and they are just beginning to realize that the cook is a pretty important part of their wilderness experience. Very fun!
By Lauralee Northcott
If they don’t fire me this time,
My only conclusion can be,
Is they just can't find anyone,
Totally dumber than me.
Cause this meal is a disaster,
And yesterday’s was too,
I boiled over the coffee, dropped the eggs
And hopelessly burnt the stew.
It seems as though a disaster,
Has been hovernin’ and droppin’ in bits.
There’s a dead mouse in the water buck,
And I’m startin’ and stoppin’ in fits.
The meat’s either frozen or soggy,
The lettuce has been better days.
The black flies are so bad in this tent, that I sprayed it with Raid,
And now I can’t see through the haze.
I guess the only thing that saves me,
Is like springs coming from fountains.
No matter now bad the cookin’ is…..
Everything tastes good in the mountains.
It is always a humbling experience to travel by horse in the mountains for me. I'm often a little timid and certainly conservative when it comes to danger. This is because I have broken several bones and landed hard upon the ground many times. Experience has taught me that I am not particularly coordinated or powerful. I am however tenacious and counts for a lot. When my husband nearly died in the hospital I found myself struggling to achieve 20 years of medical knowledge in 20 minutes, as decisions were having to be made by me. I found out that a humbling experience can happen in a lot of places.
WILDERNESS WHERE YOU FIND IT
by Lauralee Northcott
A place of mysterious beauty
Unknown untouched places
To the bone reality
This place of beyondness
Negotiated with mindfulness
Enjoyed with respect
Awareness of danger
Acceptance of personal limitations
Humility and awe
The smallness of the self
The largeness of the place
Enchantment when meeting its denizens
Ignorance is certainly a problem
slow deliberate choices give balance
Together I we walk these trails
Wilderness is here in the Pasayten
Wilderness is in the hospital too
Dear one in jeopardy
Wilderness is in the unknown
To realize you are in danger
and you must keep your wits about you
Wilderness is where you find it.
LOSING HORSES AT WHISTLER
On a warm, sunny day we jumped on our horses and took off from Robinson Creek Trailhead into the Pasayten Wilderness. I'm leading seven guests, two of whom are good friends and reliable saddle pals. This made for an easy 12-mile ride into Whistler Basin. The trail is decent, with scenic variety. There are wooded areas, open hillsides, and Robinson Creek flowing invitingly around many bends.
Riding along we come to a spot where an avalanche destroyed the trail a few years ago and we are happy to see it has been repaired. After the avalanche we had found a way around the destroyed trail and debris for several years, but it was really nice and much easier to have the main trail restored. Thank you, United States Forest Service. We happily ride on down the steep grade to the river, pausing to notice the poles that are laying by the trail. These poles are important because they are strategically placed in the trail to discourage the horses and mules from leaving the meadow when they are turned loose. We left the poles down because the packer would soon be coming along but once the mules and horses are all assembled at camp, one of us goes up and puts those poles across the trail to help keep the animals from going back home.
Our camp is at the bottom of the long steep slope. Gold Ridge, and Slate Peak rim us on the western side and Robinson Peak is on the east. Our camp is called, “Whistler” in honor of the resident marmots who have holes everywhere and fill the meadow with their loud whistle. There is a big furry marmot on several rocks and we ride into the meadow. It is a cozy place, and reasonably close to water for camp needs. There are tall white cow parsnips towering over the meadow parsley, punctuated by delicate yellow tiger lily and vibrant red columbine. Occasionally, we pass a huge lilac colored thistle. I think the sticky spines of the thistle look painful but my horse loves them and will step out of trail, if allowed, to grab a big one. We will make this our base camp for five days, and I think about the great day rides we can make from here.
Ferguson Lake is a typically lovely high mountain lake, and we usually make a dray trip there though the trail is very steep. We can make a day of riding up Buckskin Ridge to Slate Peak or if we are feeling adventurous we might tackle Fred and Doris Lakes, so steep you can touch the hillside as you ride along. Not for everybody. There can be another whole day of riding out Buckskin ridge to Silver Lake. So we will have fun deciding which excursions to enjoy.
We tie up our horses and are just stretching our muscles, when we hear the welcome braying of the mules as the packer, Uncle Don rides into camp, with supplies and duffel. I begin dinner and we all settle into the routine we will enjoy for the rest trip. Dinner is yummy and the campfire inviting. Just after dinner Uncle Don lets the mules and most of the horses loose. Here comes the evening floor show, wilderness style. As each critter is released it will run and kick with obvious glee. The mules run a few feet and then find their favorite dust hole, where they roll off the sweat of the packs. Some of the horses roll, and some just run a bit, then settle down to graze. The animal's cavorting brings a smile to everyone. This fleeting exuberance only lasts a few brief minutes and yet for me it is a cherished ritual of which I never tire.
It might seem strange to let your horses go, but how else can it find enough feed in the wilderness? There is a trick though. One horse has a bell put around its neck. If the string has a mare she will get the bell because mules love horses and they will stay near them. Most mules had a horse mother, as they are half donkey and half horse. Generally, they are not only attached to horses but subservient to them as well. You can hear the bell resounding off the high rocky walls, as the herd grazes and that is comforting. During the night sometimes the bells sound magical, just on the edge of your dreams. Sometimes, the herd grazes around the tents all night and it keeps you awake, those are the times you want to strangle the lot of them. But sure enough, if you don't hear the bells, you begin wondering just where those critters have gotten to.
In the morning Uncle Don saddles one of the horses left in camp and begins searching for the herd. A routine has been established over many years and the critters know a bite or two of grain is awaiting them when they return to the high-line. Halters are swiftly put on each critter as they struggle for an extra nibble of grain then they are tied to the high-line once again. Now it is time to brush the horses and get them ready for the day's adventure. I've been telling you about how it SUPPOSED to go, but sometimes it doesn't.
I remember the time Uncle Don rode out into the misty morning to gather the herd but came up empty. He came back to camp growling because he spotted their tracks going back down the trail and believed the herd had found a way around those poles. He grabbed some halters, a bit of food, and was gone. Meanwhile, the guests were beginning to wake up and drink coffee. Some sharp-eyed dude asked why there were no horses on the high-line. I explained that the packer was out rounding them up. We had a nice breakfast and folks made lunches for the day but Uncle Don did not return with the horses.
We are stuck here for now, so we need to make the best of it. I suggest a mountain hike, which is met by some grumbling since these are horseback riders, not walkers, but guests are generally a good-to-go bunch and they rally. Most of the guests decide to walk to the river and photograph wild flowers, which are particularly spectacular.
Dave, a friend and seasoned mountain traveler, and got to taling about how those pesky horses and mules could have gone. He suggested we go exploring, and look for tracks. Sure enough we found fresh tracks going out of the meadow. As we followed them we began to realized those animals had remembered that detour trail I told you about. With full tummies from a night of grazing some bright four-legged equine decided, heck let's just go on home.
When we got back to camp, everyone who was around agreed to help. With hammer, saw, ax and rope we spent the afternoon creating a fence to block the avalanche bypass.
It was almost dinner time when Uncle Don rode into camp with quite a saga to tell. He found the herd tracks heading down the trail, toward the trailhead. The route has few places to get in front of the moving animals. Sometimes he would manage to get around one animal, but it didn't slow the leaders who were still in front. He was working his way to the front of the herd so he could turn them back, but he get to the front. He said there were a few times when it was pretty dangerous and he barely made it around a horse or two but just couldn't get all the way in front. It must have been a really tough ride. He ended up all the way back to the trailhead. When the herd leaders hit the trailhead parking lot they just took off on a run, down the road. They crossed the river and got themselves another 5 miles back to the ranch. At one point they were running along side highway 20. When Uncle Don got to the ranch he was disgusted and exhausted. He just opened the corral, with his head hung low and they gleefully ran in. He and the outfit owner trailered them back to the trailhead parking lot. Then he had to lead them all the way back to the camp. He round-tripped over 30 miles. That is just too much adventure in one day, but he did it.
I thought Uncle Don was pretty darn cordial considering what he had been through and we all listened sympathetically to his story. We had a great dinner and were relaxing when he announced he had better go figure out how they had gotten out before turning them loose for the night. He was just hauling his sorry butt up when we all smiled and got to tell him the good news. We had fixed the trail and thought it would be okay for him to just let them go. It was the first smile that dear packer had all day! I poured him another cup of coffee.
When you’re in the mountains and your horses run away,
It’s one of the things that can, really wreck your day.
Cause the packer gets all grumpy, the breakfast goes on hold,
You can hear him cussing walking up and down the road.
If he comes on back to camp, grabs some halters and some food,
Don’t even talk to him, cause you know he’s feelin’ rude.
When the guests begin to ask, why no horses on the line?
You just smile and say, “That's western, it happens all the time.”
When lunch time comes, and no packer can be found,
You suggest hiking trips, where folks can look around.
At cocktail hour, if not wrangler is in site.
You begin extolling how cozy it is, without those bells at night.
And then a miracle happens, the packer rides in camp,
With tails tucked between their legs those mangy equine tramps.
Another disasters been avoided, you feel like you want to shout,
Until you hear the packer snarl, “ You know I'm gonna have to turn 'em out!”