I was drawn for a High Cascade Deer Hunt in my native Washington State. The 10-day Hunt was scheduled in an area of operations that I was not familiar with. It was in an area called Rock Lake, 20-30 miles outside of Leavenworth, Washington. This area of the Cascades is extremely rugged, similar to the Rocky Mountains, granite peaks and all that.
I had scheduled to be gone for the 10-day hunt,
and was going alone. I had good topo maps of the
area, and while I had never been there, I was familiar with the overall area. I planned on this being a "horse hunt" (the only way to go, IMHO). I was going in on Horseback (on Reb), with a second horse as a packer (Tramps).
As part of my preparations I had contacted the forest service to discuss the trail. The forest service told me "no problems taking horses, it's a good trail-we maintain it".
Not being a complete fool I checked with a friend at work, (and the best damn rifle shot I've ever seen) who had hunted the same area for Mountain Goat the year before. He assured me that I would be OK describing the area by saying, " The trail is steep in places, but horses won't have a problem".
1st Day of the Hunt, I arrived at the trailhead a little before noon on a Friday. By the time I got the horses and gear loaded, I was hitting the trail at just after noon.
My topo map said it was 4.3 miles to Rock Lake,
and I could tell from all those little brown lines
bunched tightly together that the trail was going to be fairly steep, but I was not concerned as I had done my research and was told to expect this.
So off we went, first mile or so was great and
I was digg'in life, doing two things I love rid' in and
hunt' in. The weather was good and I was thinking, "It don't git no better' in this... when suddenly, "Rut Roe Rhaggy" (My best Scooby Doo impression), what happened to the trail?? Where’s THE Blankity Blank TRAIL?!!
I came around a bend and the "trail" was gone-
nothing but a Granite face. Well, I thought, so much
for rid' in. From this point on I would have to lead the ponies along the nonexistent trail.
Being the gung ho "no trail is gonna beat me"
male type, I did not take the time at this moment to
recheck the map. If I had I would've seen that there was another, much easier trail, that while a lot
longer, would have been easier on both the horses and me. Hey! No one ever accused me of hav'in a soft head, and I was already a quarter of the way up, so why turn back?? Why indeed I thought, "It couldn't be this bad for very far-could it? This was just that "steep spot" my companion at work told (should read warned) me about.
So with typical stubbornness, I tied the lead
rope for my packer Tramps (BTW, I did tell ya that she
was a 3 year old, green broke, and this was her first trip into the mountains-didn't I?) around my
saddle horn and started to lead Reb (my rider, and the best darn friend I've ever had) up the "trail".
Both Reb and Tramps (don't ask about how she got the name:) ) had a hard time going up/over the
rocks, slipping here and there but always regaining their footing.
The trail did indeed get better after a couple of hundred yards, it actually become a dirt trail again. So I was right after all, so there….I had no worries. (Yeah Right)
OH MAN, NOT AGAIN!!!
You guessed it- more rock face, bye bye trail.
Only this time I could see far enough ahead that I
knew that it would be this way all the way.
Now I was worried. Ever think about trying to
turn the horses around on a "trail" that was only 18"
wide. Remember Tramps the green broke mare? No way could she lead back down even if I could
turn'em, and it's harder to get your footing going down than it is going up (at least with a shod horse
So the wonder-boy had done it again, stubborn
pride and arrogance had gotten me into this mess,
maybe God and a good horse would get me out ( he does look out for babies and fools-doesn't he??)
By now it’s about 16:00-not long before dark-and
I was supposed to be at the lake by now. Well
since my wonderful planning had left me with the only option being straight up the trail (you remember the nonexistent one), so up we went.
Slipping, sliding however slowly but surely we
gained ground. Crap, it was really gett'in dark, if we
can just make it around that.….. there was a heck of a loud noise as I was instantly jerked off my
Hold on here, reins in hand… let go…Nope not me
wasn't smart enough to let go of the reins, so me
and Reb were pulled down over the side when Tramps lost her footing
(I assume that's what happened as I didn't see) and went off the edge of the trail.
Some where along the way her lead rope came off
the saddle, I let go of the reins, and Tramps
ended up about 100 yards below us.
Gear was scattered to hell and gone, dang near
dark, at least one horse down, I really didn't know
what end was up, felt like Mark McGuire used my head for a tee ball in a home run contest.
Really don't know what happened for a bit after
that, remember hearing different noises, the horses,
gear. Time just kind of stood still, don't know for how long to this day, and have never felt anything
like it-before or since.
Anyway, my head cleared after a bit, and I started
checking on Reb, as he was the closest. He
seemed to be OK, just shaken-yeah, no Kidd 'in!! Believe it or not all my gear that was on him was
intact and undamaged. I got him up to the "trail", tied him off and went after Tramps.
By this time I couldn't see her, but I could still
hear her. I finally found her lying down and shaking,
with blood all over the place. I was really worried that I'd have to shoot her right there. I started
doing a detailed check of her by headlight (great little lights, in the right situation) and found a deep
gash from her shoulder to the top of her chest.
I cut what was left of the packsaddle off her and finally got her up.
OK smart guy, what am I gonna do now?? Started
root’n around in what gear I could find, found
one of my shirts and I kinda half-assed tied it around her wound.
That helped slow the bleeding so I looked some
more, found a pair of my saddlebags with my awl
and thread-you guessed it-Doc Badger!
Hell, I didn't have a clue as to what I was do'
in but I knew I had to close that cut or lose the horse,
and I was not about to loose her. This whole mess was my fault, and I couldn't lose a friend because
Now, if you ain't a horse person you might not
understand, but a good horse is more than likely one
of the best friends you'll ever have, and I couldn't let her down.
By the time I stitched her up, and led her down and back up to where Reb was, it was midnight.
What a mess, I had no place for the horses except
to leave 'em on the trail, and I slept in the middle
of the trail. Come morning I went back down and recovered all the gear I could find, which thankfully was most all of it. I split the gear between Reb, and me and off we headed to the lake.
As it turned out we were only about 1/2 a mile
from the lake, so I turned the horses loose while I set
up camp and took stock of what I had. Plenty of food, not all but most of my meds, weapons and
ammo were intact. So I figured it was time to check my handy work. Brought Tramps down to the
lake (actually the size of a pond, typical high mountain lake) washed her off. I decided to leave the
stitches alone, except for washing the cut with alcohol.
Not much to tell after that, the next day we headed
out (on that long trail from the other direction:) ).
It took us two days to get back to the truck, loaded up and headed for home. The Doc says that I
probably saved Tramp's life, which was good. I had two deep cuts on my back, formed an "X" over
my right shoulder blade-Doc says they should've been stitched. Honest to God, I never felt them until that next morning at the lake, and then I couldn't see how bad they were, couldn't reach them even if I'd had to.
Well that about does it for my adventure; I really learned some good lessons.
1.Always check out your area of operations
prior to a trip, regardless of current intel reports. If
I had, I would have found the bad trail, reviewed my topo map and scouted out a new trail.
2.Always leave plenty of time for unplanned interruptions.
3.Hunting alone is not always the wisest thing to do. What would have happened if I had been
seriously injured? Nine to ten day wait before I would have been reported overdue.
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