Tough trip to my Paradise
I would like to take you with me on a trip I took in 1979 to a special place. The trip started with the sun rising out of the darkness lighting up the peaks above us, but the darkness below was slow to relent its hold on the night. We were at the entrance to Sun Valley, Idaho on our way to the Sawtooth Mountain range. Our group consisted of my brother, my friend, three horses, and me.
We had the supplies for an extended stay at nine thousand feet and the desire to obtain an Elk. When the truck stopped at a parking lot with peaks on all sides, my brother asked, “Where are we going?” Looking around then upward, I squinted my eyes a little bit then replied, “About noon we should be right about there,” then pointed to what appeared to be straight up at a peak above us. We unloaded the truck and saddled the horses. Each packed with a survival kit and a portion of the supplies. Cricket, a flighty appaloosa, was only carrying a pack since she had decided to get hurt earlier.
I put my brother on Sissy, a horse who had a rock steady personality, and I think was actually older than he was. Since he was a welder by trade and not a known horseman this suited him. I saddled my girlfriend’s horse Sunny, 16 hand Palomino Mustang; she was strong willed because she had been wild for the first five years of her life and a man hater. A man hater except for me; I buffaloed her into accepting me on a trial bases. Bob, a friend of mine, put all his gear on the horses but walked since he was horseless.
I put my brother in front and watched his direction. I led Cricket; I’m convinced that she was playing a game to see how much trouble she could get into. We climbed and climbed until about noon, I told everyone to look down and about 1500 feet below was the truck and trailer sitting all alone in a small parking lot with no buildings, electricity, or anything. We continued to a lake aptly named Sawtooth Lake which sat an eight thousand feet. The only thing between us and our campsite was a ninety-five hundred foot pass that consisted of a narrow switchback of shale. It was dangerous and slippery; the perfect place for a horse named cricket to play.
We made it to the camp with no difficulty, which worried me. We made camp, picketed the horses, and started to hunt. I say hunt because that’s all we did. We didn't see anything worth shooting.
We sat on the third day with no phone, radio or any other communication; what we did have was the sky and we watched the sky turn ugly and then really ugly. I had more experience and explained that the shale pass we crossed would turn into a death trap if it was covered with snow. If that happened, the10-mile trip would become a 30-mile trip north to Stanley, Idaho. If the system came from the north it would mean traveling to Featherville 70 miles away.
It took three hours to catch the horses and break camp. By then there was three inches of snow, and the pass was in a cloud and totally covered in snow.
In the time it took to make our way to the trail, five inches of snow had fallen. Only a faint line showed the way down the mountain.
I sat on Sunny looking down the mountain for as long as I could until I finally turned around to the others and made the decision. I told them to move the camp gear to Cricket, move the guns and such to Sissy, and get off. I had my brother walk down holding onto Sunny’s tail and leading Sissy. I had Bob hold on to Sissy’s tail and lead Cricket. I explained to Bob that if Cricket acted up to let go. I knew that if she took one step off the path, she wouldn't stop until she hit the lake 1500 feet below.
My brother looked up at me and asked, “Aren't you going to walk?” I looked at my brother and my friend, and then I looked at Sunny. I told them, “She is the only one here that really knows what she is doing. I’m going to ride.” I kicked my feet out of the stirrups, wrapped the reins around the saddle horn, and told her, “Get us down girl.”
Sunny took well over two hours placing each hoof down testing the ice and then taking another step. We finally got off the shale into a tight pine grove to rest. I got off Sunny where she shook and from nervousness her entire body broke out in to lathered sweat. We took the saddle off her and rubbed her down with appreciation of a horse that kept us safe.