Call it Mancation. Or call it double-dipping. I don't usually get two good trips like this in a year, (the other being the Uintas). But Neighbor Jim ran out of the Windrivers last year, mosquitoes nipping at his heels, before he got to see them. He insisted that we try again later this year after the bugs vanish. Last year was so good for Brother Mike and I, in spite of the bugs, that we eagerly agreed to go back with him. In fact, the only relief we got from the mosquitos last year was after dark, so we stayed up for the star-show nearly every night. Looking back, I'm glad we stuck it out--seeing the milky way reflected in Crescent Lake as I described above was a moving experience. What we saw in the daylight this year as we logged 69 miles of riding was equally moving. We followed our GPS and a lot of game trails through the lakes nestled in the peaks of the Great Divide. The granite spires of the Winds literally steal your breath away while your soul involuntarily leaps for joy.
The fishing was fabulous. We sat in one stream on our mules and caught brookies from the saddle as fast as we could release them.
There were three of us. We rode in on six mounts: three mules and three horses, each of us riding one and leading one with our gear. We walked out with four: three mules and one horse--and the horse was lame due to a deep cut on her back leg. One of the tricks to taking stock into the wilderness is orchestrating their care. With all the work they do, they need plenty of graze and water. And because of herd dynamics, some can be loose only when the others are tied. We have to figure out who can be loose together and who might run off if their pals are loose too.
Our last night, Neighbor Jim left his two horses loose for just a moment after graining them. Brother Mike and I each had one loose and one tied. At the edge of darkness, Jim's horses slipped silently away, my Molly following. Jim noticed immediately and took chase without a word to us. 20 minutes later, I sensed something wrong--I couldn't hear Molly's cowbell anymore and Jim wasn't in his usual seat at the fire. Thank goodness my Molly has an insatiable appetite. A mile later, Jim caught her when she stopped to eat, but his horses had vanished into the darkening woods like they were on an urgent mission. Early the next morning, he and I rode 9 miles, tracking them until their prints disappeared in a morass of cow tracks.
We ended up double stacking everything on the four remaining animals, and hiking another nine miles out on foot, Mike's horse limping all the way (we packed her light). We then spent a couple of hours in Boulder, WY connecting with the locals for help in finding Jim's horses.
There is one thing about the wilderness... there is no safety net. Speaking of the WindRivers, Finis Mitchell said it best: "In Wilderness, man learns to have faith in his Creator."
By the way, Happy sweet 16, Justin. We celebrated with you--courtesy of the wind Gods who smiled on us and delivered these balloons.
9/22/2009 UPDATE: Jim went back to the WindRivers this past week, and rode over 30 miles looking for his horses. No luck. He also visited with the locals, the brand inspector, and several ranchers who graze the area where we lost them. No luck so far.
Wonder where your balloons went after you let them go?