Alright, so the last time you guys heard from me I was battling snow for the first time which was no cake walk. Now I long for the days of cold and white while I bake in the sun soaked oven that Hells Canyon turns into during summer. Temperatures have jumped to 105 down here at the bottom of the canyon near the rivers edge so my supervisor had us retreat up the mountain to the cooler temperatures. Little did I know this was where the real work was to be done!
So I finally have the stories most of you wanna hear about, backcountry horse riding and mule packing. Let’s start with my first ride, yes my first ride–no it wasn’t some pony ride around a corral or a walk around the pasture, but moving the entire herd up the mountain along an abandoned cattle trail. Why use an abandoned cattle trail you ask? Because the fleet shop declared all three of our horse trailers are in need of repair. My boss puts me on the lead horse, a big young stud named Jet. She then informs me that I’ll have to lead rope up Bell (Jets girlfriend) and the rest of the herd will just follow. So I tie Bell to my saddle and head for the gate. My boss says, “Ok now watch out on the trail for the big black mule he’ll try and kick at you.” She then swings the gate open and I take off leading Jet and Bell to the trailhead. Who is the the first one she lets out after me? None other than the big black mule she warned me about who comes running by and mid stride kicks right at me. Luckily I threw my hand up in time to intercept the kick that was going straight at my chest, my hand however felt like white hot lighting. Ah man, you got kicked on your first ride that’s a bummer, yeah that’s what I thought too until about half way through our ride. On our unmaintained cattle trail riding was pretty easy going; no major problems except at one point three trees fell in the same spot. With a steep, brushy incline on the uphill side and a sheer cliff downhill, it looked like the best route to take was up and around the fallen trees. Our experienced members of the herd followed and climbed the steep hillside around the logs, the younger animals did not. I haltered up one of our young horses and started to pull her up this hillside where every step forward you go up you slide back two. About halfway up, the herd started to follow trying to move as fast as possible behind her, so she picks up her pace forcing me to move faster. Still being pushed from behind by a herd of barreling horses, the horse I was guiding has no option but to keep going, right over the top of me. One hoove lands on my leg and another one in my back before I could scramble to my feet and keep the horses moving. Moral of the story: horses are gentle giants that will kick you and trample you with no remorse.
We had our first volunteer crew come through not to long ago. The Sierra Club sent us six volunteers to clear about 20+ miles of trail in the Seven Devils Wilderness. My boss and I used the mules to pack out the supplies we would need for the long stay. Yes, I can pack a mule; surfer kid from California can saddle a pack mule, load paniers, and secure top packs. In the wilderness area we use cross cut saws to cut through all of our downed timber. It started off slow because no one had ever worked with a cross cut before except my boss. But by the end of the week the crew was flying through miles of trail at a time, enough so that we accidently finished early. I let my boss know we logged the enitre trail loop out; she said it was too early to call it a day so we would just have to go for a swim in the lake for the remainder of our time. Not a bad ending to the trip.