We’d finally reached our intended destination, found a good place to camp and got set up for a couple days of scouting the country to see if would be viable for a moose hunt later in the fall. But this trip followed Murphy’s Law’s number one rule: If anything CAN go wrong, it WILL go wrong . . .
We were up against a high tower of rock, next to the only tall trees and grass in the high mountain valley. Before us opened a long, wide meadow covered in knee high brush with only a few pockets of visible swamp grass. Two small ponds glittering in the high evening sunlight a short distance from us
Once we decided to set up camp here, I left Blaine to put up the tents and start a campfire for supper, while I took the horses for water. After hiking a long ways towards the ponds I came to the realization that the good water was a lot further than I thought and that it was all mucky swamp. I came to a very shallow pool of water and the horses slurped as much as they could from it until it was just mud. I returned to camp and tied up two horses and left one to graze.
I was hoping supper was started as I was hungry and tired from the long day but discovered that only one tent was up and the fire wasn’t yet going. It was up to me to start the fire and get a supper of pork chops and spuds on. While I cooked Blaine glassed the valley and spotted a bull moose directly across from us. We watched him while we ate. He wasn’t big enough to get a trophy hunter’s pulse racing, but he was big enough and evidence that moose did indeed inhabit this valley.
After supper I went to collect water to wash up the pans and get some more drinking water to refill our water bottles. I went in a different direction than I had gone with the horses and after tromping through swamp hills and thickets of brush for over thirty minutes, I realized water was going to be a problem with this campsite. I ended up dipping my cast iron skillet in a slight depression that held stinky, bug-infested water and scrubbing it with muck and swamp weed. I rinsed it as best I could in another puddle. There was no where I could find to fill my water bottle with clean drinking water.
Did I mention this day was over the thirty degree mark and scorching hot, with no clouds—just clear blue sky with a sun that didn’t retire until midnight. The mosquitoes were horrendous! The tiny, vicious, blood suckers covered me in clouds as I tromped back to camp, to find Blaine cozied up in his tent. I looked for a place to set up my tent and couldn’t find another dry or even somewhat level, non-rocky spot. Blaine graciously allowed me to share his tent.
However I still had to let the other two horses out to graze for the night. Since we had left from the ranch camp we hadn’t any hobbles or tether ropes to use as they were left in the back-country base camps. I only had the diamond cinch rope to use as a tether rope. I knew that we were only a day’s ride from the ranch and that would be very enticing to the horses as they were in unfamiliar area with little grass or water to keep their interest long. I caught up Buckles and tied her up and then chose a good spot to tether Sisco. I left Blackie loose on the assumption he would stick around because of his sweetheart Buckles.
Well it was a hot airless night that I tossed and turned listening to the loud drone of mosquitoes swarming outside our little sweat-box of a tent and to the horses moving around restlessly. Obviously the mosquitoes were tormenting them too. I was praying Sisco wouldn’t tangle his rope overnight, as it wasn’t the best place to tether out with too much low brush around.
Buckles started whinnying around four-thirty in the morning and I jolted out of my semi-unconscious state and crept out of the tent into a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. The sun was up but hadn’t yet reached where we were camped or where the horses were grazing.
I rushed up the grassy hillside and after some searching found Sisco tangled around some low trees. I untangled him and tied him up next to anxious Buckles. Sure enough Blackie was gone! Headed for the ranch. I ran a ways down the trail in hopes that he’d stopped to nibble at some grass along the way. But he had lit out of there like his tail was on fire, leaving his sweetheart behind. (This whole time I was only in my shorts that I had put on for sleeping and my legs were on fire from scraping through the brush and from mosquito bites. Silly move on my part, but I had been in a hurry leaving the tent.)
Well we were a bit disheartened after the loss of our packhorse, but I thought maybe it was for the best. It meant there was more grass for the remaining two horses and hopefully more water if we could find it. Blaine wanted to pack up and head home right away. He sounded like a broken record at this point.
After much debate he agreed to stay and scout for the morning and then we would head for the ranch. The lack of water was the swaying factor for me to not protest harder for staying another night. If we didn’t find water soon for both us and our horses, we would not be in good shape.
So we took off on horseback to scout around the rim of the valley for both moose and water, but the day was as clear and hot as the previous one. Guaranteed, all the game was bedded down in nice shady spots (with water, I’m sure) and would not be moving on this day. So by ten o’clock we called it quits after seeing nothing but a lone caribou bounding through the tundra over half a mile away. We returned to camp to pack up.
We packed Buckles and threw my saddle on top of the pack boxes and cinched it down good with a diamond rope. Since Blaine had injured his calf and wasn’t up for walking and since it was my fault we had lost the packhorse, I would be the one walking.
That was okay with me, as I generally enjoy walking. We took off from our nasty little mosquito-inhabited, waterless campsite without a glance backwards and headed for the road. The first bit was knee-high brush that made walking for me difficult. Soon I was a good half mile behind Blaine and the two horses who glided through the tough brush as if they were hovercrafts, while I stumbled and tripped my way along.
Once we hit the road I could keep up easier. However walking sure makes one thirsty and I was clean out of water. It was a few hours before we finally hit a small rushing creek amongst some trees. We were all thrilled to hit some cool mountain water and shade after traveling so long in high noon sun and took a break to eat some chocolate bars, as I had been too hurried packing up camp to make lunches.
Unlike our trip up, we stuck to the road that eventually zigzagged and put us on another road that took us quicker than we expected to the point where we had emerged from the swamp behind the ranch only the morning before. If we hadn’t turned off the road in my impatience, our journey up wouldn’t have been such a wreck and a waste of time! I was just relieved that I only had to walk for six hours instead of the ten hours it had taken us the day before.
We arrived at the ranch in one piece to tell our tale of misadventures to Greg and Allan who were in the midst of shoeing horses. They were somewhat prepared for a story as there was that loser horse Blackie tied up to the tree with a non-repentant look on his face. Buckles nickered a greeting as we walked by, but he didn’t give her the time of day. (They never were buddy-buddy again that season like there were the year before. I guess their puppy-love was over.)
The overall verdict of our doomed trip? Don’t take horses up to that valley. We advised Allan that quads would be easier and able to carry the necessary water and fuel for a hunt, as there was a perfectly good road that would take them pretty much to the point they needed to be. As well, we assured Allan there was moose in that high valley, and it was a good bet they would stay there for an early-in-the-season hunt.
Our mission was accomplished despite Murphy’s Law!