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Cold Camping

Posted by greygelding , 18 March 2017 · 469 views

As the bond between myself and Tezza became stronger it was only natural that I couldn't wait to climb aboard. I was determined not to saddle her until she was a 3 year old and to do no real work until she turned 4 I just couldn't help but wonder how she would take to riding. One day I was sitting on the fence holding a halter and she walked over too me. For some unknown reason it was just natural to slip on her halter. Without a second thought I stepped from the fence onto her back. Pam was watching with a shocked expression on her face. "You're crazy!" I'm just sitting there softly stroking her shoulders and neck while cooing to her telling her what a good girl she is when I decide to push my luck. It's not enough that she will come up to me sitting on the fence and let me mount for the first time from there it what should she do if I asked her to move. I gave her a gentle squeeze and unbelievably she just quietly walked forward. She readily understood direct reigning, stop, and even backed a couple of steps on command. This horse was born trained! She was very intelligent and observant, watching how to open gates and accomplish other tasks then put that knowledge to use. Apparently she learned while watching us ride the other horses.
Meanwhile I continued my pack it in camping trips with Bo and it was time for Fuego. He readily adjusted to carrying the gear on the trail. Friends always asked to go riding and finally I gave in and took one on a couple of camping trips. While not an equestrian he had ridden a few times in his life so he had an idea what he was in for. The first trip would be a short one in order to get see how John and Fuego could handle the adventure. Both were fine and John and I crawled into our sleeping bags under a tree. At home I had a 17 pound Siamese cat that liked to sleep on my chest at night. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning I gradually came awake with the feeling that something wasn't right. I laid there listening to the noises the horses made, no problem there. I could hear John's regular breathing coming from his sleeping bag next to mine. I was warm snuggled in my sleeping bag and I could feel my cat on my chest. Slowly it penetrated through the veil of sleep that it couldn't be my cat. I was not at home. I shifted slightly so I could open the sleeping bag and take a look. My movement startled whatever it was and it took off, running across the face of my sleeping friend. I suspect it was a raccoon but I'll never know for sure. John was a good sport about the whole incident and was still looking forward to our longer camping trip in two weeks.
Time passed quickly and we found ourselves in the saddle heading up the mountain. The climb was a mile of flat followed by 4 miles of climbing up the mountain. About 2/3rds of the way up was a slide area. Dirt, gravel, and small rocks covered the trail for about 75 yards or so and spilled over the side with a drop of over 1000 feet. The side had been shored up with T posts and long wood planks. This had been pushed over from vertical to horizontal by the sheer weight of the slide. The debris spilled over the edge and made another small slide culminating in the long drop. The first time I came to this I was afraid and worried about crossing it but the horse's feet sank in nicely and he crossed with no problem. By now I was used to this after many camping trips but complacency at a place like this could prove fatal. I was in the lead on Fuego with John mounted on Bo bringing up the rear. We started across the slide and about the halfway point Fuego suddenly stopped. I had forgotten to caution John about keeping a distance between horses so he was directly behind Bo. When Fuego stopped Bo's momentum caused him to bump into Fuego's rear end. Fuego moved only slightly forward so Bo had to go somewhere and that was to the left, the downhill side. The footing gave way under him and as he started to slide he was now facing directly downhill and he tucked his hindquarters under him in an effort to stop. As John's feet touched the ground he just stood up and Bo slid from underneath him. Relieved that John was no longer in danger I was horrified that Bo was going over the edge of the horizontal wood onto the slide material below. If he continued to slide the 20 feet or so the next drop would be a long fatal one. Unbelievably he not only landed perfectly on his feet after the 4 foot drop, he was able to halt his slide as the footing was better. Then he calmly walked forward, around the slide, proceeded to climb back up to the trail and facing the proper direction, waited patiently for us to decide to continue. Still shaken I mounted as did John and we were back on our way. I was thinking that nothing more could happen on this trip, well I was wrong. The next couple of events weren't as dangerous but they weren't normal for one of my trips either.
We reached the top of the pass over the mountain and stopped for a quick break. I opened both sides of my saddle bags and removed lunch, violating my personal rule that the bags be securely closed immediately after opening. Both horses were finished with their snacks and were standing peacefully while we ate. Bo has seen it all and while Fuego was good with bikes and hikers it hadn't occurred to me that he had never seen a backpacker. You and I look at a backpacker as a person with something on his back but to Fuego it must have looked like a large horse eating alien. As he approached us Fuego came fully upright, gave a loud snort, pulled the reins from my hands, and took off at top speed. The trail was the intersection of two paths. One path went over the pass while the other went along the ridge and this was where he went, bucking all the way. As I watched, everything in the saddle bags was flying through the air, littering both sides of the trail. Food, utensils, clothes, everything else I had so carefully packed. Also the canteen, the camera, and the horse feed hanging from the saddle horn were launched as well. After a short run he stopped, turned around, and breathing heavily watched warily as the backpacker continued on his way. Catching him was no problem but it took us over half an hour to gather up and repack the mess.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and we made good time to our campsite. I hobbled one horse while the other was haltered and on a long lead so they could take advantage of the grassy meadow. We made up our camp and I started dinner. The nice advantage that horse camping has over backpacking is you can pack a bit more weight on the trip. This means steak, baked potatoes, beans, and soda for dinner instead of dehydrated food. When dinner was completed the horse were brought into camp, fed their dinner, and secured for the night. When anything that might attract the local wildlife was hanging from a tree branch a good distance from camp, it was time to put out the campfire and crawl into our sleeping bags.

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In the days before the Internet and cel phones I relied on the local TV weatherman. Before leaving the weather report was a small storm was due in Monday evening and we would be back at the rig early Sunday afternoon. Apparently nobody told the storm as it was bigger, arrived early, and it was cold. I awoke with the feeling that something wasn't right so I got up just before dawn, checked the horses, but found nothing amiss. Lighting a fire I started our breakfast, and fed the horses theirs but I couldn't shake the feeling. With the first hint of daylight I awoke John and informed him to eat while he packed as we were leaving as soon as possible. As I saddled the horses and secured the pack I kept thinking about how cold it felt that morning. As I made sure the fire was out and cold the first snowflake appeared. Now I was worried. The thought of going down a really narrow mountain trail in the rain scared me but that was nothing compared to the thought of trying it in the snow. Fortunately when I'm in the back country I carry a topographical map and I have studied it well before the trip. It's 10 miles up and down the mountain where we ride through a campground, continuing another 3 miles to our present location. I prefer this site as all the backpackers are too tired to continue and we have it all to ourselves. The 3 mile stretch of trail isn't too bad and once at the camp we could take the forest service road out. It will add about 7 extra miles to our journey but its a lot safer. The snow started to fall a little heavier as we started our return trip. As it started to stick to the ground I estimated the timing would be a close as to whether we could make the campground before the trail disappeared in the snow. It was still visible as we rode into the campground and stopping for a few minutes under a large tree I made sure the packs were secure for what I had in mind next. Our feet and hands were freezing and it was time to shift gears on our hairy all terrain critters. Pulling our jacket sleeves over our hands and flexing our toes we started at a trot and once the horses were warmed up we pushed them into a canter. It may have been cold for us but for our mounts it was frisky weather. Delighted to be on the run we made great time and were below the snow level in short order. Now we were riding in the rain but it was a bit warmer and soon we were getting closer to our destination. Bringing them to a walk, much to their disappointment, we cooled them down as we finally arrived at the trailer. We made great time and were way ahead of schedule. We stopped at a burger joint for lunch and headed home. For some strange reason, John never asked to go camping with me again.

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November 2017

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