My Ass nearly fell off a cliff today. In fact, it was closer than nearly.
The Haslem trail is hard work for horses and mules, but for a jack, it is nigh impossible. The valley floor and most of the ascent to the mesa top is covered in deep, powdery red sand. With his small, narrow hooves, Rusty negotiates the Warner Valley sand dunes like a transvestite in stiletto heels. By the time we hit the top, he was dog-tired and fagged-out. I had even gotten off to lead him most of the way up the steep parts of the trail. The going was slow and my partners waited patiently, sometimes helping to push/pull Rusty over some of the technical spots.
Dr. Steve Carr, a Spokane, Washington Veterinarian and his two brothers Tyler and Jeff wanted to experience the high-angle thrills of the Haslem trail. They drove up from some meetings in Las Vegas this morning for the outing. I have known Dr. Carr since my missionary days in Boston, and we studied together for some of our undergraduate work at BYU. Little Preston and Jim Wallick (who helped build the Haslem trail) were along too.
After lunch at the top, we started picking our way back down the honey-combed sandstone ledges. The trail skirts a short, rocky outcropping and scampers over three boulders that overlook a tapered drop off below. Crossing the boulders is the only way down. Rusty decided he wasn't going to traverse the boulders or step over the fissures between them no matter how much we cajoled, pushed, pulled, or cussed. Finally, he tipped over onto the gently sloping edge of the cliff--tired, weak from fighting us, and breathing heavily on his side. After a rest, I gave a mighty pull on his lead rope to help him get up. Before he could get his front feet firmly beneath him, Rusty's back feet slipped against the rolling downward edge and he fell back on his side--this time gravity prevailing. Rusty slipped off the edge. Every single muscle in my body screamed with agony as I gave them all to the lead rope in my hands. It was a tug of war with life and death. Somehow, with strength not my own, he stopped. Only his head was topside, his body hanging against the vertical side of the cliff. And I had exceeded my limits.
Thank goodness for Jim Wallick and the Carr brothers. At the moment I thought I couldn't hold on for another instant they rushed over and grabbed the rope. It took all five of us pulling in unison, just half an inch at a time, to pull Rusty back up on top. After hauling him to safety, we all stood in welcome relief. Rusty just laid there groaning.
Back on his feet again, all five us us dragged, lifted, and pushed Rusty over the 3 boulders. For the rest of the trail, he was a perfect gentleman and after leading him off the steep stuff, I ended up riding him back across the sandy valley floor to the trailer. It was a near death experience for Rusty, and the sight of him falling to the cliff's rock strewn bottom still feels real in my mind's eye hours later.
So, following such a tale, I need to certify here that no animals or asses were harmed in the creation of this post. But it was close. My ass has never been in such a tight spot.