Working for the outfit east of Atlin, my first season, I had a string of accidents that happened in a short span of time between two different hunts. I wasn’t given the moniker, Accident Queen for nothing. A couple of these accidents could have ended really badly, but I think my poor mom was back home praying her heart out and that is why I’m still here today. The first happened during the retrieval of Hunter Ron’s moose. And this is how the trouble unfolded:
On the fifth day of the hunt, Guide Norman and Ron were walking through the woods on the west side of Trout Lake for about three hours. Up on a ridge, about an hour’s walk from the boat they had left on the shore, they heard far off the sound of a moose grunting. The first evidence of moose in the country, according to Ron. Norm gave a couple cow calls, but got no response. Ron, tired and cranky, as per his normal attitude, was insisting on heading back to the boat. Hearing nothing, Norm agreed, and they headed back down the hill. Suddenly they heard a bull grunting and gurgling, coming steadily closer through the trees. He was closing fast!
Norm stopped in his tracks and gave a couple of grunts, just as the massive black beast strode up through the trees to within thirteen yards. All Ron managed to see between all the willow branches and tree trunks was the bull’s neck. Norm, eyeing him from a different angle, hastily assured Ron he was a keeper and two shots later the moose was down! The doubtful hunter was now a believer! The rack had a respectable fifty-four inch spread, with wide palms, long three pointer brow tines and a non-typical point out the backside.
However, it was so late in the day and they still had an hour’s hike and a boat ride across the lake to camp. So they gutted the moose and took his horns and left them separate from the carcass, so that they could come back with horses the next day to pack the meat out. They returned to camp for a celebratory meal.
The next morning Outfitter Al buzzed into camp with his 180 Cessna. He had with him big Guide Raymond, who was currently working for the outfit south of us, but would be joining our outfit the next season when the two outfits were to be merged together.
Over breakfast of homemade English muffins, ham sausage and eggs, prepared by yours truly, the guys discussed retrieving the moose. The moose lay about an hour’s hike up the ridge from the shoreline, about dead center on the far side of the four mile lake. There were only three horses left in camp, not enough for everyone to ride and pack out the moose. So after tossing around some ideas, it was decided that I would take a saddle horse and two packhorses to the end of the lake to meet up with the guys who would take the boat. From there the guys would walk up with me and the packhorses to the moose, butcher him, load him up and send me on to camp leading them, while they took the boat back. Simple enough plan.
Hunter Ron decided to stay back in camp by his lonesome and relax, while his guide and two others headed out in the boat to do the hard nasty of pulling a moose off a mountain.
The day was calm, bright and sunny, so as I dressed for the ride, I put on my cowboy hat and tucked my every present toque in my pocket along with my camera and an extra chocolate bar. (y’never know when those’ll come in handy).
Norm and Raymond had saddled up my trusty lead horse Bandit and had strapped pack saddles on Buckles and Blackie (the two star-crossed lovers). Buckles wasn’t the greatest packhorse and though I had been riding her lots lately, I wasn’t sure she was up to the task of being lead horse yet. Blackie was tied onto the piggin’ string I had rigged up behind my saddle, so I wouldn’t have to hold the lead rope (I know it’s not the wisest move, but I had had my shoulder yanked so many times that summer, that I began using the piggin’ string method on my own saddle and in hundreds of trips had never had a problem with it). Buckles’ lead rope was attached to Blackie’s piggin’ string and off we went down the trail along the lake.
Camp was at the far south end of the lake and we had over four miles of trail to cover before reaching the end. I moved the horses along briskly, enjoying the sun’s warmth on my neck and the chance to be out of camp, doing something more than cooking, cleaning and painting.
By the time I reached the far end of the lake the wind had picked up considerably. In fact it was howling and whipping the lake into a frothing ravenous mass of curling white caps. The waves had to be reaching four or five feet high before crashing against the shore. I toured past the end of the lake a couple of hundred meters because a willow swamp was blocking my passage and then I found a hole and threaded my way back towards the lake at an angle. I came out at the exact point where the lake spilled into a wide, fairly shallow river. The current was swift, but the footing looked good.
The wind was so strong that it had tugged my hair out of it’s pony tail and was lashing it into my face like a whip while trying to rip my cowboy hat off my head. I looked all around the lake and it’s shore and could see no sign of men or a boat. I raked at my hair with one hand, trying to keep it out of my face and hold onto my hat at the same time, while trying to calm an agitated Bandit down with the other.
I decided that the men must be on the other side of the river, just around the outcropping of rock that blocked part of the shoreline from my view. They had said, after all, that we would meet at the river, and they were supposed to be on the other side.
So mustering my nerve, I directed Bandit out of the slight shelter we had been cowering in and forced the grumpy horse into the knee-deep, fast-flowing waters of the river. I urged him forward while still holding onto my hat, trying to keep my whipping hair out of my face. The three horses leaned hard against the wind and the current and trudge their way through to the other side where the wind’s force was finally diminished by the high bluff rising above us.
I scanned the bluff looking for a way up but it was too steep. So headed Bandit upstream towards the lake edge in order to skirt around the point and see if the guys were holed up on the other side. A heavy, thick tangle of willows impeded our progress, snagging my jacket and forcing me to keep the horses in the river trudging against the current, heading into the wind. Finally we gained a small bit of dry ground just as we reached the point were I could look around the bend to see if anyone was there.
Suddenly Bandit twisted around totally irritated by the whole situation. He started rocking back and forth and I felt like I was riding a rocking chair for a moment until my fuzzy brain caught up and realized this was grumpy old steady Bandit bucking! It was the nicest most comfortable buck I’ve ever rode! Surprised I pulled up on the reins and held on tight with my knees as I looked around madly to try and figure out what in the hell was making him buck. I looked back to see Blackie’s lead rope firmly sucked in tight under Bandit’s tail. I tried to reach back and pull up on his tail to release the lead rope that was causing him untold discomfort, while at the same time riding out a bucking horse—smooth or not, it was a difficult maneuver trying to avoid Blackie’s packboxes from creaming my knee—and I got it! Then Bandit grunted and twisted around violently again, and I lifted my leg to narrowly escape the packboxes that crashed into Bandit’s side.
This is gonna hurt! Bandit squealed and twisted yet again and before I could say Oh no! Buckles’ lead rope slid over Bandit’s head and clothes-lined me right across my middle, wrenching me off the back of the saddle right under Blackie and Bandit’s trampling hooves.
I heard thumping and banging as their huge bodies thrashed overtop of me and could only think of hooves denting in my skull. In a blink of an eye and a lifetime later they jumped over top of me. Bumping and jarring, the three horses still attached to each other, charged upstream.
Immediately I struggled to my feet and chased after them as they fled back the direction we had come. I knew I would be stranded if they decided to cross the river without me, and sure enough when I rounded a stand of willows, there was old Bandit resolutely crossing the river with his ears pricked straight forward, intent on getting out of the wind and heading back for home. The two packhorses trailed obsequiously behind with saddles hanging haphazardly and packboxes miraculous attached, though completely askew. Ropes were trailing and my saddle was nearly upside down on Bandit’s belly, yet none of the “break-away” piggin’ strings had broken. (How come they always always break when you don’t need them too, but never when you do?)
I knew there could be a nasty wreck if I didn’t catch them quickly, so without a second thought I plunged into the river, wading as fast as I could against the knee-high, strong current. I was yelling a loud as I could at Bandit to stop, but the wind made it sound like I was screaming into a pillow. I was three quarters across and mildly surprised that my rain pants were keeping the river out of my insulated rubber boots when suddenly my feet dropped out from under me and I was pulled under, screeching and floundering. I managed to poke my head above the water and spit out water and take a breath before being pulled under again. Madly I struggled find my feet, but my clothes and boots were so heavy that for a wild moment I thought I was a goner. And then I did. I heaved myself up and caught a glimpse of my trusty cowboy hat floating down stream and for one mad second was tempted to just let the river take me to go catch it. Then reason returned and I struggled to shore, every step a chore in boots that felt like they weighed twenty pounds and clothes hanging off me just as heavy.
I shouted at Bandit again and tried to jog after him to cut him off. My feet sloshed around in my boots, while the wind whipped my wet stringy hair into my face making it burn like it was on fire. The horse kept walking determinedly forward, and then suddenly he stopped. A miracle! One of the trailing rope reins was firmly caught under his back hoof. Stuck! He gave me the most non-remorseful look ever, as I caught up to him. Furious, I wound up and punched him on the neck and berated him soundly—so completely frustrated by the whole situation.
He didn’t seem to care about the mess he had put me in, he just had his mind set on camp and his oats.
I didn’t think it was possibly but the weather was getting worse. A stormy squall was opening up on us. I tried to straighten my saddle, but I was very stiff and my hair wouldn’t stay out of my face, driving me crazy. So I looked around and through the tears in my eyes I spotted a clump of large spruce trees not fifteen meters away. I grasped Bandit’s lead rope with stiff fingers and led the trio of horses into the thicket, out of the relentless wind. Finding a bit of a clearing in the tight spruce trees, I tied Bandit up as best as I could, discovering then that I couldn’t move my left shoulder, which I had landed on earlier. I tried to unstrap his wretched breastcollar—which was pulled so tight with the saddle twisted under his belly—but with only one working hand, I couldn’t manage the task.
I felt helpless. Alone. Desperate.
It started raining, not that it mattered much now. I was completely soaked from my dunk in the creek. Strangely, I wasn’t cold, my adrenaline was high enough, but I knew that feeling wouldn’t last long, as already I was feeling sluggish and my brain was slow like it was processing through mud.
I forced myself to ignore my wet clothes and useless shoulder and just stay focused on what needed to be done.
Straighten the saddle. Tie up the packhorses and fix their saddles. Empty boots of water and head for home. Screw the moose. Don’t worry about the men. Just keep moving. Don’t stop.
My fingers stiffened and cracked and I couldn’t budge knotted ropes and swollen leather buckles. So I stood next to Bandit and tucked my hands up under his heavy mat of mane to warm them up some.
I heard a faint shout in some vague direction by the lake. Turning I cupped my hands to my mouth and yelled back repeatedly. I had visions of Jessica stranded on a cliff screaming for Jim in “The Man From Snowy River”. But no prince charming or tough cowboy came striding through the spruce branches into my little clearing, just big Raymond, teeth flashing white through his heavy beard and dressed in his ripped gray sweat pants and plaid flannel jacket. (It was his day off and he hadn’t been intending on helping pull a moose off the mountain.)
And really at that point it didn’t matter who did the saving. I was just darn glad to see him!
He took off his green flannel jacket as I tried to explain what had happened, and then wrapped the jacket around me and tugged his ball cap on my bare head. I was so relieved to have someone there and even if I didn’t know him, he seemed kind and friendly and completely confident, and I started crying because I felt so sorry that he now only had his long underwear shirt on, and that was quickly getting wet from the rain.
He insisted he was fine—that he was a big man with extra padding and really the jacket was too warm for him anyhow.
In a matter of minutes he had my saddle fixed and the pack saddles righted and the boxes in their proper place. While he worked he explained the boat motor hadn’t the strength to cross the lake because the waves were so huge and rough. They hadn’t realized I was ahead of them and had already reached the end of the lake, so they had beached the boat and started searching for me further back down the trail.
He had heard me yelling at Bandit (so my screaming into a pillow had just been an illusion) and thought that I had seen him, but I hadn’t. Either way, he found me, even when I thought no one was even remotely in the area or searching for me.
I was still rocking back and forth in my soggy boots, making sucking and squishing noises. They were very warm. In fact I didn’t hardly feel cold at all, just heavy and very very stiff and slow. I heard a dim whistle from far away and Raymond whistled back. Soon Al busted into our little clearing and in a matter of minutes had a fire going—with my lighter that I pulled out of my soaked jean pocket, because none of the guys had the sense to carry one. Good ole Bic came through for me!
Well I got dried off and they sent me back to camp on Bandit wearing only my rain pants and jacket, fleece and Norman’s neck warmer. It started snowing on the ride and it was thee longest coldest horseback ride of my life. (I have to clarify here coldest horseback ride, because I’ve only had one other ride colder and that was on a quad.) Let me state right here: Rain pants have absolutely no insulation value. Should have worn my wet clothes, in hindsight. I was far to stiff to get off the horse and walk like I normally would so I just held on and endured. I arrived in camp nearly frozen stiff (literally) and could barely tie up Bandit to the hitchin’ rail. I warmed up quick once dressed in a couple of layers of dry clothes and in a cabin that had the fire roaring. It’s the grandest feeling!
Al and Raymond used Bandit, before I left, to cross the river with the packhorses. Norman, wearing his ugly brown chest waders, brought him back for me and then crossed again to join the others. They hiked in to the moose, butchered him and then walked back to the river, forded it, before walking wet, the five mile trail back to camp in the dark. They arrived back in camp at nine-thirty on the dot with a dandy set of horns, and the celebration commenced. Gotta hand it to them! They got the job done.
Within a few days time, I could move my shoulder again. And as Ma Ingalls used to say, “Alls well that ends well.”
Reflecting on that little moment when Raymond burst into the clearing and I was rescued, I realized, you never feel like you need saving UNTIL, you need saving. (I’d like to think I would’ve buckled down and made it back to camp even if no one had shown up to help, but it was sure nice not to have to find out.)
As well, I came to appreciate the fact personally, that when you need rescuing, you don’t really care WHO does it, as long as they are capable.
Some of the Lessons Learned:
- Bic Lighters are the bomb.
- Taking wet clothes off to dry made me colder than if I had just ridden to camp as I was (the distance was short enough).
- Praying mom’s are a good thing to have in your back pocket!
- Sometimes savior’s don’t look like you imagine them to be, but if they get the job done—who’s complaining? Makes me think of Jesus the Messiah, called Savior of the world by some, but not by others. Why do some recognize him as a savior but not others?
How about you? Ever have a dunk in a creek far from home?
Ever been rescued from a situation in which you were alone or desperate or even a situation in which you thought you could tough it out, but were sure glad to have someone come and help you out?