On a Mission Part One: Trailblazing

My second season working for an outfitter east of Atlin, British Columbia, I was given a mission to scout out some new country to see if it was viable for a moose hunt.  Since Outfitter Allan had only 3 years with this outfit that contained over 4,500 square miles of wilderness mainly only accessible by float plane or horse, there were many areas that were not being used and he wanted to capitalize on more of his area.

After flying over some ground that looked promising for a moose hunt, he set a topographical map in front of me one night and asked if I could go scout it out for a few days.  Our mission would be to find if there was a suitable campsite with good water and enough grass for the horses.  But the main focus of our assignment would be to see if there was moose inhabiting the valley to warrant using it for a hunt later in the season.

I’ve always had a bit of a bug in me to go see what’s over the next hill, so I jumped on the idea.  The outfitter’s son would be accompanying me.  Blaine, had just arrived from Smithers, BC and this was his first time working for the outfit.  He was young and he wasn’t super keen about horses and he didn’t know the area, so it lay on my shoulders to get us up to the spot on the map Allan had shown us.

It seemed simple enough.  We were leaving from the home base ranch next to the Atlin hi-way.  This area was more accessible than the rest of the outfit, and it seemed, according to the topo map, that there were a few old logging roads that we could utilize that would take us within a few kilometers of our intended destination.

We had to get from the x on the left to the x on the right and then scout the valley around the 2 small ponds.

Greg, the only guy who had over ten years of guiding experience with the outfit, mentioned that it was very over-grown back behind the ranch.  This area hadn’t been used in years and the trails tended to be pretty swampy. However, he was certain once we got past the initial swamps we would find the old trails to be dry and decent.  All we had to do was find a certain big ridge and follow it up to the high valley Allan wanted us to scout.

Greg and Blaine Packing Blackie

So we packed up our gear.  Greg put Blaine on Sisco, his “go-to” lead horse, and I rode Buckles, a young mare I had been working on the previous year and who was showing promise as a lead horse.  I also led the only packhorse as Blaine wasn’t comfortable leading yet.  Blackie was in love with Buckles and would follow her anywhere.  Those two were inseparable.

It was a glorious sunny day when we took off from the ranch.  Immediately we set to bushwhacking around a pond and then had to cross a deep mucky creek.  It was Buckles’ first big ride of the season and she was a little anxious but settled down once we made it past the swamps to higher ground.

We came to a wide, clear road heading north-south, not the east-west we were hoping for. I stopped and consulted the topo map.  The road was stretching in a completely different direction than the map said.  I could see the peak ahead of us that we were aiming for and kept in mind that if the road took us away from it we would have to find another route.  So we started along and sure enough we realized after a good bit of riding that we were going away from our intended mark.  We traveled back the way we came and followed the road the other direction and soon enough realized it was going in the wrong direction too.

Blaine and I were both in a quandary as we studied the map.  We knew where we needed to go, just not how we were supposed to get there.

Well I’m not much of a patient sort, and I had a few years of experience under my belt by this time, so I suggested we just head straight for the peak that we needed to get to by nightfall and quit following the stupid road.  Maybe we would run into the road that was shown on the map.  Blaine protested, as he really didn’t want to just head off into the forest.  He suggested following the road a while longer.

After following the road a fair distance with no change in direction I was becoming more and more adamant that we ditch the road.  Blaine warmed up to the idea enough to be agreeable and we turned off the road into the forest.

It was wide open forest.  The trees nicely spaced apart to ride through with little underbrush and fallen timbers to trip us up—spacious enough to wind our way through easily with a packhorse.  We were making good time.  The purple peak in the distance appeared closer every time we topped a ridge that afforded us a view.

We hit thicker and thicker forest and by the time we realized it wasn’t getting any better it was too late to turn back.  Thick, deep moss coated the ground, covering up dead-fall and rocks.  The trees were heavy and tight and it took lots of patience to pick our way through the forest and keep an eye on our direction.

At this point Blaine started harping about how this was a bad idea and maybe we should turn around.  Maybe it was pride that kept me leading us forward, maybe it was my eternal optimism that eventually things would get better.   I was aiming to hit that ridge I could see ahead of us and that would be the ridge we needed to be on—the one the map pointed to as being the one to lead us straight up to the valley.  In my mind there was no point in turning back to slog through the nasty forest just to have to do it all over again.  Besides we were getting ever so close to that ridge and my patience which Blaine and Buckles was running out.

The ridge was right in front of us, only hundreds of meters away and we would soon be on top of it.  Suddenly we broke out on the edge of a narrow, deep ravine.  We were sunk.  It had straight down sides and the opposing side was taller and steeper yet. The rocky walls ran straight down into a rushing creek at the bottom.  There was no way down.  No way up.

I consulted the map again.  I was dead certain that the opposite side of the ravine was the ridge that we needed to be on.  Blaine wasn’t certain and kept telling me we should just give up and head back to the ranch.  It was too late in the afternoon to make it back to the ranch the way we came, and we had a job to finish.  So I told Blaine we had to look for a way down.  We continued along the edge of the ravine, bucking trees, dead fall, moss, rocks and willow brush.

The ravine bottom widened and the creek flowed into a beaver pond.  The walls seemed less steep and there was a spot on our side that looked ride-able and the other side promised the ability to walk our horses to the top.

So we went over the edge—there was no going back after this.

I got to the bottom and hit swamp covered by thick willow and alder brush.  I managed to coax Buckles through to the edge of the creek and that was as far as she would go.  We traveled up and down the creek looking for a promising spot to cross—beaver pond on one end and tight, narrow walls of slick rock on the other end.

I urged Blaine to take Sisco across the only spot that looked promising on the hope that Buckles would follow the lead horse.  Blaine and Sisco made it across and immediately Blaine started up the other ridge without looking back.

Buckles downright refused to cross.  She reared up and I lost my hold on Blackie’s lead.  He took off and got tangled up.  I was yelling at Blaine to come back and wait for us and trying to figure out what to do now.  I HAD to get up on that ridge, but my horse wasn’t cooperating.

Blaine had dismounted and headed back up the ridge to tie Sisco at the top and wasn’t coming back down.  I yelled that he needed to get down and me help out.  Eventually he came down and we discussed rather heatedly what needed to be done.  He was happy that he was across and figured that was good enough.  I tried to make him see that I needed help to get my horses across and he should too, as the pack horse carried the food.

Food was the key word and Blaine decided to get half-way across the creek on a fallen log and help encourage Buckles forward by holding onto her lead rope that I tossed him.

I tied Blackie on to Buckles piggin’ string (see explanation in previous post here) so that I wouldn’t yank my shoulder out of place if Buckles decided to jump the creek.

Jump she did and landed belly flat in the mucky creek with her front knees on the bank and her hind quarters submerged.  Needless to say I was soaked to my thighs.  In the crossing the pigging string snapped and Blackie was left on the other side calmly eating a clump of swamp grass.  I managed to keep my seat as Buckles scrambled out of the creek and slowed her to a stop before she bolted up the steep hill that was far too steep for me to ride up.

Blaine was hollering because he was wet up to his waist from falling into the creek and the mare had put a dent in his calf muscle on her way by.  Since he was already wet, he grabbed a hold of Blackie’s lead rope and walked the packhorse across.  We scrambled up the hill that was beyond steep with Blaine complaining the whole way about his ankle and mucky jeans.

We had clear blue skies and hot sunny weather for our scouting trip. Here we could see the mountains across Atlin Lake. On the other side of these mountains is the White Pass and Skagway, Alaska.

The top afforded us a beautiful view of Atlin Lake in front of us and the peak we were headed to behind us.  We could even see the open meadow of the ranch where we had come from, just hours before.  Already it seemed a lifetime.  We rested and Blaine and I took turns changing into rain pants so our jeans could dry.  Rain pants on a +30 degree day and riding in a saddle? Wowzers! Not my idea of fun.  Or Blaine’s either for that matter.

We started for the peak again and not 20 meters off the ridge we hit the old road we were supposed to be on in the first place.  I gave myself a big pat on my back for being right about the ridge. (That’s all that I could pat my back for at this time, so I took it).  It was a virtual hi-way in the forest and we coasted the remaining hour and a half up to the valley Allan wanted us to scout.  The road ended just before the peak and we waded through knee deep brush and found an ideal camping spot just below a big rock formation that reminded me of a crumbling castle tower.

Things were looking up.  Or so we thought . . .

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One Response to On a Mission Part One: Trailblazing

  1. Pingback: Suprise Lake and the The Lost EAT-MORE Bar | lessonslearnedinthebush

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