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
dismount, tie Carey to an old snag and sit down with outfitter
Tim Doud, wrangler Brad and teens Justin and Chuck. For several
all I hear is, "Wow!" "Awesome!" And then
we are silent, lost in our own thoughts about this magical place.
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.
met me in Cody the night before my five-day horseback-riding
trip into the Washakie Wilderness, gathering up most of my luggage
asking me about my vegetarian requirements. And then we both
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.
we watched as Tim and wranglers Butch and Greg proceeded to load
several strings of pack mules and horses, the teens asked the usual
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.)
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
and a "howdy" greet us. The howdy comes from wrangler
Brad, the barks from Yanni, a giant Great Dane mix, and Shadow,
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.
shows me around, introducing me to my "home" for the
next few days. Unlike my fifth-wheel trailer, this one comes
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.
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.
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.
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.
atop 10,200-foot Shoshone Pass, we are nearly surrounded by granite
mountains. Tom claims, "This is just like a postcard."
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.
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.
Ikenberry is a professional photojournalist who specializes
in hiking, bicycling and auto-tour guidebooks. Her newest is
Coast To Coast, published by Mountaineers.