Sunday, July 29, 2007

Eight Random Facts Meme addendum two

3. My first car was a horse and a pack train. Several commenters asked for the details, so here's the scoop: I worked for the U.S. Forest Service during and after college, and was too poor to buy a vehicle. The National Forest in Wyoming where I worked is known as the "horse forest" for its large areas of landscape so steep and rugged that the easiest way to get around is by horse and pack train. So I learned to pack panniers (it's critical that each pannier in a pair weigh about the same) and tie various hitches (I might still be able to tie a diamond hitch if I put my mind to it!).

I worked in the backcountry for ten days at a time doing my biology field research. Sometimes my camps were only a half-day ride in, sometimes several days. So I spent a lot of time and many miles on horseback with a mule or two tagging behind. I never rolled a pack string, but I did see that happen once. I had to shoot a horse that time (with someone else's gun): the lead horse in the string shied and lost its footing on a really steep slope and the other six horses, all roped together, literally rolled nearly 500 feet down the slope together. One horse both front legs. I was coming down the trail about a quarter mile behind, saw the accident, tied up my duo, and clambered down to help. I can still hear the horses screaming, a sound I'd rather forget.

I only lost my horse once, when a co-worker and I had ridden in to a remote area to map grizzly bear habitat. We made camp in a lovely meadow along a stream, hobbled our horses (our standard practice to keep them from overgrazing one part of the meadow) and climbed up a steep ridge looking for grizz sign. We saw a lot of it, and when we got back to camp late in the evening, we had had a visitor: a bear had pawed around, tried to reach our packs, (hung ten feet up from a tree branch), and our horses were gone. We set off back down the trail following their prints. We found the buggers at one that morning at the trailhead, hanging around the corral - still hobbled. We hiked most of the way in the dark (no moon), fording one river and having a great-horned owl fly down the trail so close over our heads that we could feel the air from its wings. (It wasn't after us, just hunting in the darkness down the open corridor of the trail.) We slept at the corral that night and rode back to camp the next day. I was younger then. . . .

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