Bliss Creek Outfitters Cody Wyoming Wyoming Horse Trips Pack Trips


Wilderness Bliss

High country hoof beats and haute cuisine above Cody, Wyoming
by Donna Ikenberry

Carey marches up the slope, a staunch look of determination on her speckled face. She's Sir Edmund Hillary, bound for the top of Mount Everest. As we quickly gain hundreds of feet in elevation, I gaze at my surroundings - a dense forest of lodgepole pines, a singing creek, a rainbow of wildflowers - while she does the work. On top of the ridge I reach down and pet the flea-bitten (that's a color) mare, for she has carried me to this place where the crest of the Rockies spills into Bliss Creek Meadow.

I dismount, tie Carey to an old snag and sit down with outfitter Tim Doud, wrangler Brad and teens Justin and Chuck. For several minutes all I hear is, "Wow!" "Awesome!" And then we are silent, lost in our own thoughts about this magical place.

As I sit on the ridge, I reminisce about days past, memories flitting by like swallows under a bridge. I see moose moseying through camp; I hear horse and mule hooves splashing the clear mountain streams; I watch in reverence as turkey vultures glide across intense blue skies. I think back to Cody, Wyoming, where my adventure began.

Tim met me in Cody the night before my five-day horseback-riding trip into the Washakie Wilderness, gathering up most of my luggage and asking me about my vegetarian requirements. And then we both chimed, "See you tomorrow."

Tomorrow dawned sunny, and I met the other clients. Terry and John drove west from Illinois with their 18-year-old son, Chuck. Tom and 13-year-old son, Justin, flew out from Florida for their first father-son bonding thing in recent years. The six of us met the rest of the crew at that railhead, about 40 miles south of town.

While we watched as Tim and wranglers Butch and Greg proceeded to load several strings of pack mules and horses, the teens asked the usual questions: "How much can a mule pack?" (about 150 pounds.) "What are the names of the white mules?" (Clyde, Loco and Casper.) "How many years have the mules and horses been walking the trail?" (Many of the animals have been packing in and out of Bliss Creek for more than 20 years.)

A couple of hours later we mounted up, anxious to hit the trail. The rest of the group had little horseback-riding experience, so they sat atop horses that were almost guaranteed not to spook. Some horses will shy if a rider whips out a jacket to put on; others will get a little mixed up if the rider uses the reins incorrectly or sits off-center. But not these horses. Tim supplies horses that are mature, mellow and sure-footed. Because I've spent time around horses (I used to have some of my own), I rode Sugar Ray, a bay quarter horse, and Carey.

Huge, ear-to-ear grins spread across most of our faces as we head up the trail. Terry confesses that she is scared, but a wide smile crosses her face within minutes and she is fine. Justin is the only one who is hard to please, but that's OK. He's 13 years old, that hard-to-please age.

Tim straddles his wise horse, Jake, a sturdy rope towing along a string of eight mules. I am next in line. A rope leads from her hand to Sir Prize, a handsome, stocky stallion who has no trouble packing a load of his own. The rest of the group I interspersed among Greg and Butch, who each pull a string of four pack animals. Certainly we're the image of the Old West as we cross the rushing, boot-high, South Fork Shoshone River and head up into the Absaroka Range.

A fox scampers up the ridge as we make our way along the slope, but I am the only one who sees it. I look for another, but the wily creature eludes us. Fortunately, we see other wildlife: three moose along the river, a grass-gathering pika as we cross a rock slide and an assortment of birds.

We have a long, 22-mile ride the first day, so stops are few, save for a couple of quick snack breaks and a sack lunch at Needle Creek where there's an old miner's cabin. Creeks are plentiful in this part of the country. In fact, we crossed so many creeks and rivers that I lost count. I reckon it was at least a couple of dozen, though.

Our ride through the wild-flower-blessed, glacier-carved valley leaves us literally on the edge at times, as we traverse open slopes of scree or loose rock, places where if you drop your hat it just might keep on tumbling for several hundred feet. But that's OK. The horses know the trail; they can do it in the dark.

As we ride up the trail traveled by the likes of the Shoshone Indians and John Colter, a mountain man and meat hunter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, one of the boys asks, "Are we almost there yet?" Some things never change, not even in the wilderness.

We enter Bliss Creek Meadow as the last light of day touches it. When the sun disappears, we whip out our light jackets and continue to the camp. Camp is in the trees at 8,400 feet, in the heart of the four-mile-long meadow.

Barks and a "howdy" greet us. The howdy comes from wrangler Brad, the barks from Yanni, a giant Great Dane mix, and Shadow, a lovable Newfoundland/Labrador mix. We hit the ground at 7 p.m., kind of stiff and sore, but pleased nonetheless. I give Sugar Ray a hug and head for my tent.

Brad shows me around, introducing me to my "home" for the next few days. Unlike my fifth-wheel trailer, this one comes equipped with a wood stove. Other amenities include a propane lantern and wooden beds with thick foam pads. All I've brought along are my sleeping bag, pillow and personal items.

The horses and mules unpacked, the camp cook starts dinner. We gobble up our delicious meal (every meal is scrumptious), end it with cherry cheesecake about midnight and hit the sack.

An early riser, I slip out of my canvas tent at first light the next morning to photograph scenes worthy of dew-soaked jeans and wet, soggy boots. The rest of the group wakes up to two cow moose chasing each other through camp. Even Justin is pleased. We enjoy a late breakfast, and then, while the others take a hot shower (what a luxury!) or try their luck at fishing Bliss Creek, I hike a couple of miles up the meadow to some big rocks, a rainbow of lichen smothering them like a warm comforter.

Morning number three dawns, and soon we are off (all except for two wranglers), riding up to the head of the South Fork Shoshone, about six miles away. Occasionally we traverse steep open slopes and meadows where the views are terrific, the wildflowers prolific. From atop my horse I can see purple bull elephant's head, red Indian paintbrush, white columbine, powder-blue forget-me-nots and purple larkspur.

Standing atop 10,200-foot Shoshone Pass, we are nearly surrounded by granite mountains. Tom claims, "This is just like a postcard."

We search for grizzlies on the fourth day. The Clark Creek drainage and 10,290-foot Pierpoint Pass provide access to a view of Hidden Basin, where we see several dozen elk. Unfortunately, the grizzlies elude us, but we have never-ending views to enjoy.

Our fifth and final day evokes mixed feelings. Chuck is anxious to call his girlfriend, but he's also had a great time and is anxious to return someday. Justin has had some fun, but he is only five days older at the end of the trip and remains hard to please. The adults are all unanimous: We don't want to leave. But we have to, and we do, and we all vow to come back again. Fortunately the memories of moose, mountains and much more will tide us over until the next time.

Donna Ikenberry is a professional photojournalist who specializes in hiking, bicycling and auto-tour guidebooks. Her newest is Bicycling Coast To Coast, published by Mountaineers.


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Rusty & Rhonda Sanderson, Owners ~ Bliss Creek Outfitters ~ PO Box 2776 ~ Cody, WY 82414 ~ 307-764-2363
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