Saturday, August 29, 2009

In which the Annual Adventure comes to a peaceful conclusion

We did one more day-trip before packing up to head back to our trailer: up from Linton Meadow to the Pacific Crest Trail, and then down again towards our camp. The ride was short--7 miles, maybe 8 miles--and we travelled at a slow and leisurely pace, still trying to convince Cricket to relax.
Unlike any of the trails we'd travelled thus far on the trip, the PCT is--while scrupulously cleared and maintained by hordes of volunteers and parks service employees--a historic trail, and thus is often not re-engineered or re-routed, even when the historic route is clearly unstable or frequently blocked by blowdown.

As a result, I saw some of the skinniest, squirreliest, worrisomest trail of our entire journey while on a very short stretch of the PCT.

Of course I don't have photos of the squirrely bits of the trail, since I was too busy staying steel-side-down to bring out the camera.

Fiddle believes firmly that she can travel quickly OR in a bent frame
(bent =more stable on a skinny slope) but not both simultaneously, so I was kept very occupied with supporting her bent frame as we travelled slowly-but-safely down the trail.
The views from the PCT are unsurpassed, and worth the climb. Even after climbing and balancing along trails that had my heart pounding, Cricket was still rarin' to go.

Fortunately, however, Cricket managed to stay on-task the entire day. She was eager, but not silly.


The next morning, we packed up all our gear to head back to the trailer.

In theory, we were carrying less "stuff" for the ride out--after all, all four of us had been eating for several days, and we weren't carrying the food anymore, right? -- and yet my packs felt just as crammed on the last day as they had felt on the first day. Hmmm.

This may be proof that my mother is right again, in that she always said that mass will expand to fill the space available. When she said it originally, Mom was talking about my closet, I think. Somehow, it works the same with camping gear. Who would've guessed it?

The walk downhill seemed to go quicker than the walk in to camp.

Certainly, downhill is easier than uphill, but also we had a better knowledge of our surroundings.

Most importantly, Cricket understood that we were headed back to the trailer, and she and Fiddle were eager to get there and eat all the hay waiting for them there.

We arrived at the trailer, cleaned up the horses and then ourselves, and headed back home.

Our Annual Adventure was over for this year...and we are already considering new adventurous destinations for next summer.
Got any suggestions?
Life is good!

Friday, August 28, 2009

In which I shut up (mostly) and share poetry and some photographs

It usually happens, on day two or three of a trip into the mountains, that I start talking a little less, and spend even more time than usual with my camera.

Sometimes that means getting up earlier in the morning, or going off to forage for blueberries, or whatever tactful excuse I need to go away from people I like in order to be quiet for a while and look around.
Sky is an especially good travelling companion, as she, too, enjoys going off to a quiet spot to write or read or sketch.

In that spirit, I want to fill this post with mostly photos. I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoyed taking them.
The sky always looks
perfect if I am looking
at it through horse ears.
This stream could give me
much-needed lessons in the
art of "meander"
Blueberries in Heaven
probably taste just like these:
tangy blue apples.
Look at the lake--see?
look closer, and closer still:
It's full of princes!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In which I describe further adventures in the backcountry, part 3

Part Three: A few minor mishaps

Years ago I attended an endurance ride, and on the way home I stopped for a break and called my mom.

"How did your ride go?" she asked me.

"Oh, it was good," said I.

Then there was a long pause.

"That's all? No flat tires? No missing shoes? No falling off of bridges or getting lost? No sunburn or lightning strikes or bee stings?"

I guess I hadn't realized how common adventures are when travelling with horses, until I finally took a trip and didn't have any adventures at all. In fact, that trip was so routine that the only thing I remember about it is my mom's astonishment that nothing went wrong.

(Hmmm. That might be wisdom there....)

I'm happy to report that Sky and Cricket and Fiddle and I had a only few of the small type of adventures, not the "nasty disturbing uncomfortable things" loathed by Bilbo Baggins and other sensible hobbits.

The second day in the high country contained two small adventures, which I will relate:

In the mountains, the sky becomes bright early, but the sun itself appears quite late in the morning. Thus, our mornings in camp were very cold, bundled-up affairs. As soon as the sun rose above the horizon, we started dropping hats and jackets.

Our first task each morning was to take the horses down to the lake to graze. I never have to encourage Fiddle to eat, but Cricket is more reluctant...except first thing in the morning.

Breakfast is a high priority for everyone in the mornings! I would usually dump some peanuts into a pocket so I could snack while holding onto lead ropes.

After about 20 minutes of shivering and waiting for the sun to finish rising, Sky handed me her lead rope and went up the hill to heat water for a cup of coffee.

More than 30 minutes later, she hadn't brought me a hot cup, nor hollered for me to come up and get one, and I was still chilled. Trailed by the no-longer-ravenous horses, I walked up the trail to camp, and found Sky...


I've never had a lot of success with campstoves, unless you measure "success" by the high number of cuss words required to get them to light and stay lit in the high country. This particular campstove had been a faithful part of Sky's equipment for more than 20 years...but the fuel was old and --apparently-- stale. It did not want to light. I envisioned spending our entire vacation parked by the camp fire, waiting for water to boil....

Once the sun came all the way up, the fuel seemed to gather encouragement and the stove agreed to stay lit, and we had our hot mugs. The stove proved to be the most recalcitrent piece of equipment on the journey--which is not a proud title. However, when it worked, it really worked, so we boiled up a bunch of water and heated up some breakfast and decided to go on with our day.

We left the horses in camp and explored Pika Peak and its adjacent valley.

We saw (and exchanged squeek-greetings with) several pikas who were busily engaged in Important Pika Business like leaping over rocks, throwing dirt around, and squeaking at other pikas. We also saw a chipmunk--perhaps a junior member of the Important Pika Business Association?--doing the same kind of leaping, throwing and squeaking.

We also saw several birds of prey watching the IPB very closely....but no rodent babies were orphaned that morning, at least not while we were watching.

After exploring a bit, we saddled up the horses to stroll around Linton Meadows, a beautiful grassy area surrounded by streams and mountains. The ride wasn't strenuous, as our goal was relaxation.

Have you noticed a distinct lack of adventures thus far? Well, hold on. One is coming up in just a minute, I promise.

After riding for an hour or two, we returned to Linton, unsaddled the horses and hobbled them so that they could graze for a while on the beautiful grass.

As you can see, Fiddle wanted to eat and eat and eat. Cricket, however, had other ideas.

When a group of packers came through, Sky jumped up from her relaxed pose and took a video.

and I jumped up and took a picture of Sky....

And nobody was watching Cricket.

If you have ominous music playing in your head, you are definitely in the right part of the narration.

Cricket decided that those packers were the Best Looking Horses she had ever seen! She struck a pose (mare owners will understand what I mean by this), and then took off "hobble-cantering" to try to head off the packer's horses. Of course, she went the wrong direction, but she was lovesick enough to not care.

ARGH. She didn't get far (remember, I told you that today was just minor mishaps) but it was certainly scary for a few minutes. Sky finally cornered her and put a leadrope on her and led her--unrepentant creature!--back to our group.

So much for relaxation! We un-hobbled and re-saddled the horses, and took them back to camp.

Then, we thought we should take a break from excitement. Apparently, Cricket wasn't quite done, (cue more ominous music, please) and because it was a small adventure, I don't have pictures because I was too busy to take them.

While the horses were in camp, I like to hobble AND tie Fiddle, because she paws the ground to make me pay attention to her. This behavior is annoying, it doesn't work, but she doesn't give up--and since the wilderness is delicate, I like to make this bad behavior more difficult. When she's hobbled, Fee gives up immediately and takes a nap instead. Good, right?

Except Cricket wasn't ready to be good yet.

She was bored! She wanted to GO-GO-GO, not stand around relaxing! She jumped up and put her hobbled front feet over the leadrope. And then, not very gracefully, she fell over on her side, having hogtied and thrown herself as prettily as any cowboy would do to a rambunctious steer.

Fortunately, we were right there to help her.

Sky grabbed the leadrope and released Cricket's head. I hesitated to get near Cricket's tangled up feet, but she was holding VERY still and Fiddle's ears were telling me clearly "HELP HER!" so I ran around, grabbed a foot and unbuckled the hobble and then untangled the rope, and then unbuckled the other foot. Whew.

She was fine, the little dingbat. And she was much quieter for the remainder of the afternoon, too. Relaxed, even.

We went swimming in the heat of the day, accompanied by about a billion polliwogs.

No seriously. About a billion polliwogs.

There were frogs, too. I'll post those pictures tomorrow.

After swimming, it was starting to come down dark, so we grazed the horses at the lake again (on leadropes this time!) and then built a fire.

The campstove worked for a while so we could use it to make dinner, but who wants to sit around a campstove to tell stories?

Smokey the Bear would be proud. At bedtime, we doused the fire and then went to sleep.

Life is good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In which I describe further adventures in the backcountry, part two

We ride Up and In, and have no Major Mishaps
We arrived at the trailhead around 12:30, and were on the trails with horses fully loaded at 1:30 on a beautifully clear afternoon.

As Sky mentioned in the comments of yesterday's post, we did have adventures on this journey, and because of the intrinsically busy nature of adventures, we don't have photos of them. I will also ease the anxious minds of my readers right this instant by assuring everyone that we really didn't have any interesting adventures at all on Day One. Therefore, I have lots of pictures to share from our journey to camp!

From the parking lot, the clear, sandy trail leads upwards through groves of trees with intricately twisted branches,
...and then onto the Wikiup Plains.

You can hear the sound of the "bear bells" we hung on the horses in the video, over the sound of the wind.

Wikiup seemed to whizz right by, and soon we could see the huge piles of lava rock and obsidian rubble called Rock Mesa.

I was glad we didn't have to go over the mesa--and I'm sure that Fiddle would be even more glad, since she was carrying all the gear (plus me!).

After Rock Mesa, we were suddenly surrounded by green: grass, shrubs, and trees. Even the water was dark green snowmelt, instead of grey-blue from glaciar runoff.

Fiddle wanted to stop and snack on some of this lovely green grass, but Cricket wanted to GO-GO-GO!!! That was a recurring theme for the trip, actually.....

(That sentence right there is an example of a literary device called foreshadowing, which is a hint to readers that, later on, the "GO-GO-GO thing" might be linked to the "Adventure-thing." Not yet, though. So far, it's just a hint, a foreshadow. So far....)

Once it started getting green, we knew we were getting close to the James Creek Shelter.

We knew that there were lots of horses camped at the meadow near the shelter, because we'd met a woman in the parking lot who was headed up there to join friends. We said hello to the horsepeople in the meadow, passed along a message from Kate in the parking lot, and then we continued moving uphill.

Soon we came to the weirdest-looking water-crossing I have seen in many years. It's a pretty poor design, and it looks like it will erode horribly in a few years.

However, it's quite new still and so quite functional. Our horses didn't seem to think it was too strange looking, and they walked right down the sand stairs, over Separation Creek, and up the stairs on the other side.

After Separation Creek, it was obvious that the Northwest Youth Corps had been busily clearing and repairing trails covered by blown-down trees and eroded rocks.

I was impressed with the huge amount of work the crews had done. Apparently, the kids were only a few days ahead of us, so the trails were all freshly cleared. What a delight!

Suddenly, we popped out of the trees and onto Racetrack Meadow.

That's the Middle Sister poking up into the sky, there in the picture. I thought it was North Sister, but Sky reminded me that it is actually the Middle Sister, also known as "Hope." I stand corrected!

First we had to pass Husband Lake, which I thought was the prettiest lake on the whole trip. It was also the buggy-est lake, so we stayed just long enough to take a few pretty pictures, and then we moved along.

The big mountain in this photo is called the South Sister--the mountain called Husband Mountain is behind me as I took this photo.

There was one more obstacle in front of us before we could reach our camp: the Rickety Bridge. After Lytha's mis-adventure with a horse and a bridge, we were loathe to cross this ugly-looking thing.

But we were slow, and careful.....

...and we crossed it safely. Whew! We actually crossed the bridge several times, but never casually. The support structure beneath the battered top boards is still very sound, but the top boards are pretty trashed. I was trying not to invite disaster by envisioning one of those rotton boards crunching away under Fiddle's foot...>>shiver<<

At last, we got to camp!

Sky wrestled with the stove (more about that in later posts, I promise) and I built a fire.

Then, we watched the sun set over Eileen Lake.

Life....well, you know. It's good.