Hump day. We all woke up to the same song as the caravan parks mostly in the same order every day.
Today we left camp with our 2 Forest Service enforcement officers. Off on a climb over Dead Indian Pass. We had a good warm up walking down a road for probably 2 miles. Soon we went into Forest Service property past a sign that said Dead Indian Pass 14 miles. I got to thinking that I had never ridden up and over a mountain pass on my horse.
We started climbing and doing switchbacks along the face of the hill. We kept climbing on a trail that was just wide enough in most places for a horse or mule to walk. LP and I were in the front of our group, so I was constantly thinking strategy for our 5 horses. Sometime we would get stopped for various reasons and I tried to keep space so I didn’t get the group stopped on some rock ledge or in some occasional tree roots. As a whole, most of the trail was open so you could look straight and see where you were going and also down with no obstruction. We kept climbing and climbing and climbing. Soon we were what felt like miles above the valley floor that we started in. It got to the point that I could not look down, could not look anywhere except at the horse in front of me.
When you are riding the shelf trails like we had all morning, you sit perfectly in the middle of you horse, don’t bug them with the reins and use a downhill spur if you must.
LP was breathing hard and hot. We got to a place where it was flat as well as open, so we took our morning 20 min break there. We were all happy to rest our horses. At that point I thought we were close to the top and it would be a down hill adventure from here. I was wrong. After we mounted up we climbed another hour and 15 min., still along a shelf trail heading up hill. Towards the end of the climb the horses were getting tired. We would stop for short intervals so they could breath. LP and Hopper are the 2 largest horses, with the heaviest muscling. It makes a horse that has a lot of strength, but also takes a lot of fuel to run that body. I would let the horse in front of me get a ways ahead of me so LP could do anything he wanted to finish the climb. He mostly walked, but when the trail turned up the hill and was not on a shelf he would lunge up the hill. FINALLY we reached the summit.
To tell you the truth I could not even look down, even after I got off LP. We had climbed over 2000 feet. It was truly beautiful, but unnerving to look down at where I had come from.
When we got to the top of the hill most of us were a bit rattled, but we all got there, even our fearless leader Doug was a bit intimidated by what we had just come up.
We all needed to rest our horses and get some fluids in them. We used the collapsible buckets and bottles of water that we carried. Gave them our apples as they were wet and had calories in them. Hopper and LP got some sugar syrup that we carry on us. They really needed the rest as now we had to go down hill. I think it is harder for a horse to go down hill safely than uphill when they are tired. Thankfully lunch was over an hour so by the time we started out after lunch our horses had recovered nicely.
We headed out and were in the trees working our way down a canyon. We were on shelf trails again, but they were in the trees and rocks, so it did not feel so intimidating.
I was walking down one of the shelf trails and was having no problem. All of a sudden the shelf disintegrated under LP. I knew I was going down the hill., I had one foot out of the stirrup and was about ready to push off the swells of my saddle. Miraculously LP found footing and stood up and went on. That really was a close call, but thankful for the horse I have, everything is safe and sound
In about an hour we got to the bottom of the canyon and were able to water
We rode 20 miles today… we were tired by the time we got to camp. We were ready to see our driver Janie and Ron, who now has a new Indian name of Big Bear, and get off for the day. Camp is near the switchback road that we drove in on. All 5 of us were so glad to have our good horses. I have such an appreciation for the Appaloosa horse. Even though we all got a bit rattled, I kept telling myself that if the Nez Perce could ride this, so could I.
Truly I have ridden many places in my life, but this one was unnerving for me, and I can’t say that I have ever felt that way riding before.
We were checking shoes on all the horses and discovered that LP had a broken shoe. It had worn so much that actually broke at his toe. So off to the Farrier LP, Doug and I went. The Farrier said that he could put a similar one on in the morning at 5 45 AM….. I think that is just after his song playing of You’ve got to get up ….
We were camped at the bottom of the mountain that we had driven over coming from Cody to Cook City a week ago. The road with all the switchbacks. As I sat in camp I could imagine the Army going around that mountain and getting out on the open plain. I was all starting to make sense to me now as to the route that the NP took and where Sturgis and his men were at.
At 11 pm, after the dancing music had stopped, Semore Young Dog walked up on a hill at the campsite and sang and drummed native songs. Semore is a Lakota Sioux that comes to the ride every year. He is a retired engineer that decided he wanted to move back to Pine Ridge and help the tribe. It was very moving, as the moon was trying to come up behind the mountain. Strangely enough we were camped at the base of the switchbacks on hwy 296 that we had driven down a week earlier. Semore does a wonderful job and it makes for a humbling experience. It was a great way to end the day.