Bliss Creek Outfitters Cody Wyoming Wyoming Horse Trips Pack Trips


Washakie Wilderness, Wyoming

By Donna Ikenberry

My horse Carey marches up the slope, a staunch look of determination on her speckled face. She's Sir Edmond Hillary, bound for the top of Mt. Everest. As we quickly gain hundreds of feet in elevation, I gaze at my surroundings - a dense forest of lodgepole pines, a singing creek, 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 Rocky Mountains 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 moments 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 in 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.

In the Beginning

Doud 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 adventurers. 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 real father-son bonding in recent years. The six of us met the rest of the crew at the trailhead, about 40 miles southwest of town.

As Doud and wranglers Butch and Greg continued 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, Local and Casper.) "How many years have the mules and horses been walking the trail?" (Many have been packing in and out of Bliss Creek for more than 20 years.)

On Our Way

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 it on; others will get a little mixed up if the rider uses the reins incorrectly or sits off center, but not these. Doud supplies horses that are mature, mellow and surefooted. Because I've spent time around horses, I rode Sugar Ray, a bay quarter horse, and Carey.

Huge, ear-to-ear grins spread across most of our faces as we headed 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.

Doud straddles his 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 is 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 creatures elude us.

Fortunately, we see other wildlife: three moose along the river, pika with their whistle-like chatter as we cross many a rockslide, and an assortment of birds moving across the sky.

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.

Our ride through the wildflower-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, the horses know the trail so well they could do it in the dark.

As we ride up the trail traveled by the likes of the Shoshone, as well as 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.

Blissful Camp

We enter Bliss Creek Meadow as the last light of the day touches it. When the sun disappears, we whip out our light jackets as we continue our trip into camp. Camp is in the trees at 8,400 feet, in the heart of the 4-mile-long meadow.

Barks and a "howdy" greet us. The howdy comes from wrangler Brad, the barks from Yanni, a giant Great Dane, and Shadow, a loveable 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, my tent comes equipped with a wood-burning stove. Other amenities include a propane lantern and wooden cots with thick foam pads. All I've brought along are my sleeping bag, pillow, clothing and a few personal items.

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

An early riser, I slip out of my canvas tent at first light 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 13-year-old 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.

That afternoon, Doud, Brad, Chuck, Justin and I ride up to the place where Bliss Creek begins, traversing lupine-covered meadows en route. Chuck scurries up a nearby peak just to get a different view. He comes back grinning, thrilled with his short adventure. I'm so in awe of the place I barely notice.

Dawn Riders

Morning number three dawns, and soon we are off, riding up to the head of the South Fork Shoshone, about 6 miles away. Occasionally we traverse steep open slopes and meadows where the views are terrific and 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 exclaims, "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, we don't see any grizzlies, 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. We must, and do, but all vow to come back again. Fortunately the memories of moose, mountains and more will tide us over until the next time.

 

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