A few days into a caribou hunt out of Lincoln Lake, east of Atlin, hunter Jim returned to camp injured. He had been leading his horse Bandit, across a fairly narrow creek and Bandit, instead of walking through the creek like any civilized horse should, had instead jumped it and rammed his heavy hoof into Jim’s lower calf. Jim buckled and then Bandit proceeded to trample all over his foot and ankle. Poor Jim was in poor shape. He wasn’t going anywhere the following day as his ankle had swollen twice it’s size and was already turning a lovely shade of purple.
Jim refused an emergency evac and insisted on taking a day or two sitting in camp to see if the injury would heal up. He was what you would call a “blue collar” hunter—one that had worked many years just to be able to make it this far north for a hunt of his lifetime—so in no way was he going to give up now.
This provided guide Norman and me an opportunity to scout the country, so the next morning we saddled up a couple of young horses. I was riding Buckles, a young mare that I had just started a few weeks prior. She was a flighty thing and we hated packing her because she was liable to dump a pack quicker than you could blink an eye. I liked the look of her though, she was a big zebra dun, all flash and color and solidly built. Her chest was three of my hands wide! I was surprised to find out her mom was the old lead mare, Bell—man-hating beast that one—because they didn’t act or look anything alike. Bell would take a chunk out of you quicker than quick if you stood too close. She bit more than a few hunters—even after we warned them not to get to close to her. Buckles also didn’t take after her mom in that regard thankfully. (Read another story about Buckles, here)
When outfitter Allan told me he was thinking of getting rid of Buckles because she was such a bad packhorse, I asked if anyone had tried riding her.
“Ride her! Ha! You see how she packs!” He laughed. But he did say a little later that he thought the person wintering her had put some time into her.
So I spent my spare time, on the days waiting for hunters and guides, putting a start on her. I had ridden her a couple of times and she was actually pretty good! One of those horses you didn’t want to accidently touch with the heel of your boot or bang your legs on her sides, because she’d leave you sitting in a bush. But we were starting to understand each other. I was very excited to have a day to go scouting with Norman. Since the hunts had started I had been pretty much stuck in camp and I was itching to get out further and see some country and some wildlife.
Off we rode into the morning, heading up a steep, sandy trail that led alongside a barren gorge north-west of camp. Heavy, dense fog rolled in over us and shrouded our passage through the highlands above Lincoln Lake. We were angling towards Surprise Lake as neither of us had scouted that far before.
It started getting windy and rainy as we twisted through rocks and willow brush on a wide open flat. I soon regretted wearing my cowboy hat instead of my toque as the wind picked up and had a nasty bite to it. We stopped by a conspicuous mound of rocks and discovered an old mining claim stake sticking out of the top. The rock pile was on a knoll that looked down a long, mountain-rimmed valley, though the heavy clouds formed such a low ceiling you could hardly tell you were in the mountains. Now and then the fog would lift and give a tantalizing glimpse of rock, snow and jagged peak.
We picked our way down one side of valley and randomly zigzagged through the willows and boulders that covered the landscape. The horses we were riding were both young and new to the area and were a bit nervous about the whole experience. So we took our time threading between boulders and swampy patches, and around dense stands of stunted balsam fir. We crossed over the creek that flowed down the middle of the valley, having a few problems getting Flint up the muddy bank on the other side. Then we headed up a steep hillside, busting through tight, thick willows to gain the high barren tundra-covered mountainside.
A herd of caribou only eighty yards ahead glided out from behind a stand of balsams. Two big bulls among them! They stopped and stared at us, while Norman tossed me the reins and walked towards them snapping pictures. I managed to get my camera out of my saddle bags just as the herd threw their noses in the air, tossing their antlers over their backs and took off, floating over the rocky uneven ground like they were dancing on air. The only sound was their tendons in their feet clicking together like jingle bells.
When we remounted and tried following their path, our horses couldn’t even keep up a slow trot to cover the same ground the herd had literally floated over. Mind you, Buckles had yet to go faster than a walk with a rider on her back and she wasn’t very comfortable with it—she kept humping her back as I urged her forward. I couldn’t really bang on her sides, but I could squeeze, trying to get more speed out of her. She would just walk faster and faster and then faster yet. She was one fast walking mare! Maybe some Walker horse in her after all! Finally she broke into a bumpy, erratic lope!
The higher up the mountainside, the colder it got and I was so stiff, I finally got off and walked. Soon we were trudging in knee-deep snow leading our horses, but by this point, both Norman and me were determined to see Surprise Lake. We topped a snowy ridge and we saw another ridge that jutted up against a sheer cliff, which the topo map we were using promised would look over the lake. We led our horses down through deep snow over the saddle that connect the two ridges, until we stood right beside the sheer cliff rising high above us. The ground before me dropped away abruptly, and below was the muted turquoise blue of Surprise Lake. On a sunny day this lake, like nearby Atlin Lake, is a vivid Caribbean blue when you fly over it.
The lake is boomerang shaped and was part of the gold rush around Atlin. The western edge of the lake is accessible by vehicle and the road to it passes huge tailings leftover from the gold rush days a century ago. We were standing above the far northeastern side that is pretty much inaccessible from below. The sides of Four Crown Mountain plunge in sheer and jagged rocks that possibly only mountain goats can scamper across, and even then that’s iffy.
Well after a few moments for photos and a brief rest we turned back, as the cold and blasting wind was getting to us both. Once we got out of the snow we mounted up again and headed back for Lincoln Lake, taking a different route. I was hungry but when I dug in my saddlebag I realized I had lost my chocolate bar. Norman, being the kind soul he is, offered me his.
Eventually we crossed the stream at an easier place than before and angled down the valley, when suddenly I spotted a neon flash of yellow.
That spot of yellow was very out of place in the natural earthy world of browns, grays and muted greens that we were riding in. It’s disheartening to be riding in totally pristine back country and come across litter. I started fuming inside at the careless people that somehow had made it this far into the back-country to drop their trash.
I stopped Buckles short and got down to pick it up. And lo and behold! It was my EAT-MORE Bar! The very one I had been looking for earlier. I must have dropped it on the way up the valley. Shame on me, I was the careless litterer!
Norman and I both marveled over the fact that we found it, because the amazing thing was, we had been taking a totally different route down the valley and just happened to cross the path we had taken on our way up, right at that exact point.
Made me think of that verse: “you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” Or in reverse: “the truth always has a way of catching up to you.”
The older I get, the more I realize how true this is.
We think we can get away with something, whether innocent or not so much, but it’ll catch up with us eventually, even if we are deliberately taking a different route to avoid a chance encounter with the truth.
Somehow the truth always turns up.
Our actions are revealed for what they are.
And usually when we least expect it.
So I guess the best course in life is to “Walk straight, act right, tell the truth.” Psalm 15:2 (MSG)
And if we follow this little snippet of wisdom, we could probably avoid having our own “litter” show up out of the blue and tattle on us!