Have you ever been in a situation when you’ve been asked to get from point A to point B all by yourself with no map, no person that speaks your language, and no previous knowledge of the area?
I have. I was cooking for an outfit east of Atlin, BC for a season. It was my first summer, as I mentioned in my previous post “Jingling on on Old Blaze” and I was asked to do a number of things that put me way out of my comfort zone.
This time we were camped at an old tent camp halfway between two hunting cabins—one on the south end of big Trout Lake and one on the high mountain Lincoln Lake. It was also the midpoint between two really tough stretches of trail, but hadn’t been used for many years as there wasn’t much grass for the horses to graze on. We decided to use it for a few days because we were on a hunt for stone sheep with two hunters from California and it put us in close proximity to a promising cliff with sheep that we’d spotted earlier in July.
Al, the outfitter, and Clint, his son, were guiding. I joined them for the first day of hunting from the midpoint camp. We rode the horses through the swampy valley bottom then took a steep climb up into a high valley. The guys pulled a stalk on a ram that day, but decided after watching it for a long time from 80 yards, that the curl of his horns was just short of being a full curl and they couldn’t determine 8 distinct rings. (In BC, male Stone’s sheep can be legally hunted if their horns curl past the bridge of the nose “full curl” or if the sheep is at least 8 yrs old, determined by counting horn annuli.) They returned to camp in high spirits, thrilled at getting so close on their first day. Al decided to pull up camp and head onto Lincoln Lake, and do some hunting from another angle.
So he asked me if I could get to Lincoln Lake by myself with the pack horses as he wanted to hunt with his hunter on the way over. I had never been there yet. He said it was easy. Just go and follow the trail along the bottom of the valley we were in until I hit the same steep climb we’d done earlier into the high valley. Then he said the trail sort of disappeared in the tundra, but to stay to one side of the mountain because there was some rough stuff in the bottom and then I had to find this exact knob to come down on and cross over the valley to the other side and then pick up a trail there and stay above the river because it got nasty for horses. Then I had to find just the right spot to ford the horses over the river because it was super rocky and fast and had steep sides, so if I missed that spot, I would be in a pickle. After that, it was supposed to be a breeze. I just needed to pick up the trail and stay to the one side of the valley until I saw the lake and then followed along the west side of the lake until I hit the cabin.
I wasn’t sure, it didn’t sound super easy, with all the admonishments to stay on this side or that, or to find JUST THE RIGHT SPOT to cross here or there. However we couldn’t think of any other way to do it. Al asked Greg what he thought over the SAT phone and he said, “Take Blaze.” The infamous Old Blaze I had jingled on a few weeks prior in a crazy mad dash for camp. “He knows the way, he’s done it a million times, he can do it blind. He’ll take you there.”
Okay, I had learned my lesson about listening to Greg, and if he said Blaze could do it, I guess I could too. So I agreed to head on to Lincoln Lake by myself while the guys hunted their way over.
We broke camp the following morning and packed the horses. I didn’t have the greatest string of pack horses with me. Actually, I had some of the worst of our herd. Big Burt, a yellow buckskin was one I was still training and he was a bit anxious in mud. Buckles, a zebra dun mare, was the worst packer we had, she usually managed to buck a pack off every trip. If her pack wasn’t perfectly balanced she took offense quickly and rid herself eagerly of the weight. Spirit, was a weenie and liked to pull back. Bandit, was usually my good lead horse, but I packed him this time, he was slow and methodical and didn’t like to be behind in the string. He had a mean streak as well, so it was better to be on top of him leading, keeping him too busy to kick the other horses. Thankfully I had Magnum, a huge Belgium cross, and Bell, a big black mare, that were both excellent packers, despite their quirks on the ground. (Bell was a biter and a kicker and Magnum hated to be left alone, driving you mad with his frantic high pitch whinnies if he was kept back in camp as a jingle horse).
After we finished packing the horses the guys left camp and proceeded to tie the pack horses on to my piggin’ string and then to the next horse in line’s piggin’ string until I had all 6 horses strung out in a line behind Blaze.
(NOTE: A piggin’ string in the fashion we used was a piece of thin yellow rope that was tied to either side of a saddle’s, or pack saddle’s front rigging dee ring, under the fenders, and came together in a small loop just past the saddle’s skirt. There we tied 4 loops of baler twine, that hung just as far as the horse’s rump, and then tied a lead rope to 2 of those loops. It created a strong enough hold for the horse next in line to be led along, but if he got his head around a tree or jerked back strong enough it would break away and I would have to get down and re-tie the lead to the remaining 2 loops of baler twine. I always carried spare baler twine in my saddle bags for when I used up all 4 loops.)
I quickly mounted up and pointed Blaze in the direction I wanted to go. “Lead the way Blaze.”
Since I had been on this first part of the trail I had a little bit of an idea of where we needed to go. However Blaze had an idea of where he wanted to go and there was a bit of miscommunication between the two of us. Before I knew it, I had my pack string in a tangle and I was frustrated. It was swampy and tight with big spruce trees and willow brush and I soon ran into deep muck holes that threatened to send Burt into a panic. Blaze was impatient and kept jerking the reins as he tried to get us out of one mess and promptly sent us into another. I had to get down a few times and retie my pack string as they popped their break-aways or got tangled up in branches. Then there was trees down that we had to maneuver around, sending us back into another muck hole.
You may be wondering why there wasn’t a clear trail to follow from the previous day. Well we had zigzagged our way through the swamp and had to turn around and find a new way many times that day. So there wasn’t really a trail to follow. Just a mess of muskeg and fallen trees and dead ends. It was miserable and I was feeling desperate and as anxious as my pack horses with their rolling eyes and snorting nostrils. Finally Blaze managed to get us on track and we found the blazed trail leading up the steep cliff into the high valley. I was rather relieved, but that relief was short lived.
Once we hit the high valley the trail started out good and clear, but disappeared. I literally had to trust Blaze to pick his way through the rocks and tundra along the side of the mountain, praying he knew when to cross over. It looked dangerous. The bottom of the valley at the beginning was pure swamp and further on, was littered with huge rocks from avalanches that looked formidable. We were cruising along as only a Tennessee Walker X can, with the pack horses almost jogging to keep up, when I became convinced we were far past the point Al had told me to look out for. I tried to turn Blaze, but he was stubborn and I finally just let him have his way and prayed we wouldn’t have to double back. Suddenly he turned off onto an imperceptible trail and we descended down into the valley between high jagged boulders, across a shallow creek and up the steep creek bank. We made it to the other side of the valley, winding our way between boulders and pockets of willows. The creek below us started getting bigger and faster as we traveled along it, until it was a gushing torrent between high steep banks.
There was no trail that I could see in the spongy tundra, but Blaze lowered his nose at a few key points and then found us a way around boulders and through a couple gorges and then came to the edge of the tumbling river. I let him have his head and he carefully picked his way through the big rocks under the rushing waters. He stumbled a number of times and I was reminded of his age. 29! The pack-string stretched taut and I was nervous I would lose it in the middle of the river. But baler twine has surprising strength when it’s not jerked suddenly, and the string held together. We made it across and then only had to wind through willow brush that just reached to my stirrups. Very pleasant compared to the thick stuff we had to ride through in the low valleys.
The trail was clear here and I let Blaze walk out. Boy could that horse walk! And smooth, like sittin’ in a rocking chair, it was that comfy. I gotta say I have a real appreciation for Tennessee Walkers. My poor pack horses didn’t though, they pretty much jogged the rest of the way to camp. But I didn’t care so much, as the packs were sittin’ pretty and the faster they moved the less squabbles they had. Though grumpy Bandit had a rebellious look in his eye that if he could just slow down long enough he’d boot poor Buckles in the chest. “Ah haa! Too bad Bandit, no time for foolishness today!”
Blazed cruised on through the brush and then the incredible cobalt blue of Lincoln Lake came into view, tucked between two tundra covered mountains. It is a high mountain lake, with no trees rimming it, except at one spot in near the middle, where I figured the cabin to be. We crossed the river again—it is wide and shallow at the mouth of the lake—and we rose up on a sandy trail that ran alongside the lake.
Blaze brought us “home” in three hard-riding hours, rather than the customary four it takes with a different lead horse. And Buckles never had a chance to buck off her pack, for the first time I’d ever had her on a trip! Such a success! It was exhilarating!
For me, whenever I think of how Blaze guided me through that mountain pass and the valley and rivers, I think of how Jesus gave his followers the Holy Spirit as a counselor or guide. Sometimes, I approach life like I need to get from A to B and I feel like I just don’t know how. I’ve never been there, I don’t have a “map” and I don’t have anyone who speaks my language to show me the way and I just want to stay where it’s safe in my comfort zone. But then I remember that because I follow Jesus, I have the Holy Spirit to help me navigate through the mountains and valleys of life. Well, He’s kinda like Blaze was, under me, moving me along. I just have to TRUST Him. He knows the way even if I can’t see it.
When I first step out of my comfort zone, it’s hard getting used to not really having control. I know I keep trying to take the “reins” back, trying to find my own path where it looks good. However, once I learn to just BE. To be still and let the One who knows the way take control, the ride is so much more enjoyable, and far less nerve-wracking! Furthermore, it’s far easier to relinquish control to someone I know and trust. So it’s imperative for me to spend time getting to know Jesus and what He’s all about, because when I do, I start to see He has my best interests at heart. As I begin to grasp this concept, I am starting to TRUST Him even when I can’t see the way forward.
I really like the promise God gave to Isaiah to pass on to the Israelites (I’m adopting it for myself): “But I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don’t fall into the ditch. These are the things I’ll be doing for them— sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.” Isaiah 42:16 The Message
Jesus also promised His followers a gift: “But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said.”
So as a follower of Christ, when I get up each morning, I need to remember that I am not left alone to navigate life by myself, but that I have help. Help, that will take me by the hand and guide me through the unknown and bring me home to safety! The “ride” of life can be a little scary and a little frustrating, and a little daunting, but as I get used to letting go of control and trusting the One guiding me, it is becoming a little more peaceful, and a little more exciting and a little more beautiful the further I head out of my comfort zone.