Sunday, July 29, 2012

One Legged Mule-Skinner of Samuels Lake

Terry Barker fishing from his mule Rosie

At 69 years old, he sat straight in the saddle.  Samuels Lake stopped abruptly at the edge of a bally peak and Terry was filling his pouch with fish about as fast as he could reel them into shore.  Rosie, his mule stood patiently on the last piece of meadow before it became part of the boulder strewn slope above.  It sort of catches the eye to see a man fishing from a sharply dressed, zebra-dun mule in such a beautiful place.  Even more impressive, the mule continues to ignore the sweet grass at her feet while her rider engages in one of mans' most ancient sports from her back.  Then it strikes you.  The man on the mule is missing his right leg.  And suddenly... you know all you need to know about the character of the One-legged Mule Skinner of Samuels Lake.

It was Uintas 2012.  After spending some annual wilderness weeks in the Windrivers, we decided we missed the Uintas--especially the basins between King's Peak and Fox Pass.  When you see the photos that finish this story, you'll know why.

Our last trip to the Uintas was interrupted by high traffic around our campsite near Fox Lake.  Several large groups of hikers came right after us--one of which, a Boy Scout troop from the city, so exhausted from their hike, couldn't bring themselves to go another step when they discovered that we were in their hoped-for campsite.  So they dropped their camp right next to us--in our only prime, night-time grazing area.  With all the riding we were doing, we needed that feed to keep our mules in good shape, and no amount of pleading with the leaders of that troop regarding the safety of the boys or our mules that they had chased out of that meadow so they could set tents would change their minds.  And pointing out the thousands of square miles of incredible country around them fell on deaf ears.  It made our last couple of days a little difficult.

I knew my wife wouldn't like the extra riding, but this time we were going to camp in one of the most remote, least known lakes in the basin.  Samuels Lake.  It is on the map, but there is no trail there, and you sort of have to know the way in to find it.  This year, we wouldn't have to compete for our privacy.

Trouble is... we weren't the only ones who made the same calculation.  Great minds think alike.

Sometime midway through the week, a train of 7 mules arrived at Samuels Lake late in the evening.  The light had dimmed and we could barely see them passing through the forest outside our camp.  They were coming for the meadow at the foot of the lake near where we were camped.  Saddle sore.  Ready to be done.  And now, frustrated at having their usual campspot occupied.  They wondered if they could stand pressing on to a lake in the Davis chain.  Instead, the mule train stopped and dropped camp in a meadow on the other side of the low, tree lined ridge that separated the meadow where we were tented from them.  Our naturally curious mules, hobbled for the evening feeding, immediately headed over to pay them a visit.  What could be better than fresh company for a mule?

Things were slightly tense for a moment as we sorted mules.  They were local and tired.  Though unsaid, and probably unthought by them, we knew that we were invading years of family tradition.

After a day or two of exchanging pleasantries and finding some reason for real friendship, we found ourselves fascinated by the one-legged patriarch of the Barker family who was fishing along the shore of the lake.  "Mind if I shoot a few photos of you Terry?" I asked as we rode up.

"Take all you want!  Say... where are you folks headed today?  I'm bored."  Came the reply.

The next hours were spent sharing a lifetime of memories and lore.  He was tickled to see our two youngest boys (Brother Mike and I) riding mules with skill.  And we were tickled to watch a man who would not be denied after living ten years without his right leg, ride a mule through some country that would make some two-legged men on better mules a bit nervous.  "See that patch of trees over there?" he pointed.  "I hid right over there with my mule tied and called that bull elk with a cow call."  Turning and looking over the saddle we had just traversed, he continued, "He came right through that saddle and stood next to this little lake where I dropped him with my aught-six."

After spending more time with Terry, his son Clark, and his grandson Preston, it became clear that the Earth had not lost her salt.  We enjoyed the felicitous neighborliness they exhibited.  And we learned from their lifetime of mule packing experience.

Thank you fine friends, for adding life's salt to our week in the Uintas! It was so much more savory than if we had stayed in that sacred place alone.  I sincerely hope I get to ride again with the One-legged Mule Skinner of Samuels Lake.

Pommel to housing behind the cantle--seat belted in for balance.

Fox Pass looking back to Queant

Cousins--joined at the hip

Riding partner--loves to explore

Don't often get the woman's touch in the wilderness :)

Frustration Peak...looking down on NoName, Dime and Fox lakes

Carving steak with a fine, treasured Phuuko knife

The view from the top is...well... I'd love to have a cabin down in that valley for the rest of time.  (Looking North into Wyoming.)

Spring Water from 12,000 feet

...and a splash of fuchsia at 12,000 feet

 Old plane wreck?  Maybe?

Brother Mike.  Making family time is worth more than gold.


The Three Muleteers said...

This is such a great post, really demostrates the true nature of mules and their riders, I'll be sharing with our mule lovers here in the UK.

The Gubs said...

Looks like you had fun. I'll have to hear the "real" story from Chantra. And next time, hog-tie Leon and take him so I don't have to listen to him whine all week. Then we'll have a girls week......