the trail...Carey 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 Creek
tie Carey to an old snag and sit down with outfitter Tim Doud,
and teens Justin and
Chuck. For several minutes all I hear is, "Wow!" "Awesome!" And
then we are silent, lost in our own thoughts about this magical
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
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
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
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
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, 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.)
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
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, and Carey.
Huge, 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 age.
Tim 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
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 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.
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. I reckon it was at least a couple
of dozen, though.
Our 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.
ride up the trail traveled by the likes of the Shoshone Indians
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
We 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 four-mile-long meadow.
and a "howdy" greet
us. The howdy comes from wrangler Brad, the barks from Yanni,
a giant Great
Dane mix, and Shadow, a lovable 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 equipped
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.
The 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
An 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.
The third morning 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.
Four & Five...
We search for grizzlies on the fourth day
but are unsuccessful. The Clark Creek drainage and 10,290-foot Pierpoint
Pass provide access to a view of Hidden Basin, where we see several
dozen elk. 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. 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
Fifty miles east of Yellowstone National
Park, the town of Cody, Wyoming is an excellent place to begin an outfitting
adventure. For information on the Cody area and/or outfitters, call
the Park County Travel Council, (307)587-2297.
Ikenberry is a professional photo-journalist who specializes
in hiking, bicycling and auto-tour guidebooks. Her
newest is Bicycling Coast To Coast, published by Mountaineers.