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Roughed it for a night!

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Roughed it for a night!
  • Spent a long weekend down near Medford, Oregon in the Cascades.  Took 4 of the horses out on a ladies' ride in the Sky Lakes wilderness while the guys went scouting around the FS roads for game.  My fiancee insisted on taking the only map we had, so I sketched out the trail I planned to ride and headed out with 2 other women and a 12-YO girl.  We had a great ride on the way up to the Sky Lakes, but had a late start (hit the trail around 1:30) and figured on getting back to the trailhead at dusk.

    We were about where we should have hit a junction in the trail and the junction never showed up, pretty soon we realized that we might be off on a wrong trail but my map was useless.  If I'd had the real map it would have taken no time to figure out where we were at. 

    We did get to  a trail junction that dropped elevation in the right direction, so we took it but then it leveled off instead of looping back.  By now it was about 7 in the evening.  We ran into some hikers who told us there was a trailhead a couple miles down the trail, but it was not the one we had started at!  The executive decision was to try and get to that trailhead and try making contact with somebody, also the guys would probably look around for us at other trailheads before calling search and rescue.

    The group I was with was awesome; the mother/daughter pair were very prepared for this adventure: the mother works for Search and Rescue in two counties in southern Oregon and is the owner/trainer/handler of a certifed SAR bloodhound.  Her daughter pretty much gre up in the woods and has been trained for wilderness survival.  The other lady with us had no backcountry experience but took everything in stride and stayed calm and positive.

    We were still on the trail when the sun sank below the timber so we pulled off the trail at a wet, grassy seep and made camp on a flat 'bench' in the forest at the edge of the seep.  The 12-YO girl went to work getting a fire started and everybody worked together to get the horses hobbled, untacked, and to set up camp.  We emptied the saddlebags in a pile and took inventory.  We had plenty of food, about 2 quarts of water (there was good water a couple miles back that we could refill at in the morning), several sweatshirts, a rain poncho, a felt hat and a rain hat between us.  I always have first aid, a saw, and a .38 with me.  We had a 2-way radio but could not make contact with it.

    The ladies made a bed of pine boughs and spread the empty saddlebags and rain poncho over them.  We set up the saddles for pillows and planned to use the saddle pads for blankets.  By now it was dark.  I needed to ride out to the trailhead and leave a message that we were OK.  So I picked the big white horse, Thunder, to ride because even though he was tired and hungry he was a hot hrose with a lot of go and could do another 10 or 15 miles that night if he had to.  I took the revolver and an empty water bottle, a candy bar and some cheese crackers, and had the ride of my life on a horse out of his mind, going down the trail in the dark as heat lightning began to flash across the ridge above. 

    We crossed a fast stream, where I filled my water bottle, and made it to the trailhead shortly after.  I left a note there with the names of my party, where we were camped, our plan to ride out in the morning and whom to contact on our behalf.  It was an even wilder ride on the way back to camp, Thunder wanted to bolt and tried bucking a few times.  The lightning storm was picking up momentum.  I was sure glad to see the fire of camp shining through the woods and hear the calls of the mares answering Thunder's panicked whistles.

    We were never really scared that night, in fact 3 of us had lived most of our lives for just such an adventure.  The lightning was fun to watch and eventually passed.  It threatened to rain a few times but never really opened up on us.   It was unusually warm for a night in the mountains.  We all moved closer to the fire, and used the saddle bags and poncho as layers to stay warm.  I was comfortable in my flannel shirt and with Thunder's wool saddle pad for cover.  I never really slept, just kept the fire going until a few hours before daybreak, when I let it die out so that we would not leave a forest fire behind us.

    The next morning everyone kept a good attitude and fact is we had a hell of a fun ride on the way out.  Whenever we came across good forage we let the horses graze a little.  We filled our water up at a stream coming straight off the mountain, cold and clean.  I was riding Shelly, my 'green' project pony, had her in the lead the whole trip and she just blossomed.  She walked out like she'd been a mountain horse her whole life and charged right through the rivers and boulders like a pro. 

    At about 10am we finally made contact with my fiancee when we crossed a ridge.  Let him know we were OK and on our way out.  When we got to the trailhead the families were there cheering and clapping.  They had called Search and Rescue at 2 in the morning, figured if nobody had rode out by then we were probably camped somewhere but there was the chance that something had gone wrong, so they made the call.  SAR had sent people out to all the trailheads, at 4 am they found my note.  An executive decision was made to call off the search, considering that 2 of the adults in my party were very experienced in the wilderness and my fiancee knows how much extra stuff I pack with me on my trail rides. 

    I only wish I had packed rain gear for everybody, warmer layers, and a toothbrush.  Otherwise we used our resources well and had a great adventure.  The lady who had no backcountry experience wants to get out on more trips like this in the mountains.  In the end, the bottom line is I will never go out without a good map.  Can't wait to get back to that part of the Cascades and camp with better accommodations.
  • Here;s some of the best pictures.  I didn't get any pictures in camp, was too exhausted and too busy.  One of the ladies took several shots of the whole survival camp experience so I will eventually have copies to post.

    heading out: L to R is the lady with no previous wilderness experience on Peach, the 12-YO girl on Gizzy, and her mom on Thunder.

    me telling Shelly that she is going to be a good, brave girl!

    grazing at a meadow we stopped at on the way up.  Notice how loaded those saddlebags are?

    Shelly drinks from a lake for the first time

    Shelly and I

    Mother and daughter

  • in the high country!

    Where we stopped for lunch

    see those innocent clouds turning into thunderheads?


    I let the greenhorns take point for awhile

  • Devils Peak

    meadow.  Day is getting long and we are pretty certain by now we might be off course.

    no more pics that night, but should have some later. 

    Here are Gizzy and Peach grazing at daybreak on the seep where we camped

    not quite so chipper after a night under the stars!  The fire has allready been drowned, we are about ready to tack up and go.

    sum of our possessions minus tack and extra layers.

    the ride out

    snack break for horses and riders

    last stop on the way out

    deflated horses at the trails end!

  • How proud of Shelly you must be!  I wanted to stand up and cheer!!  You'll have to stop calling her a project horse pretty soon!
    What a wonderful adventure!  It's so nice that everyone was game for the challenge!  Ya done good!! 
    That's sure beautiful country!
  • That was quite an adventure! Sure glad everyone made it back safe and sound. Also glad that you didn't have a rainy night. It could have been a whole lot worse. These are the kind of memories that we will talk about for many years to come. Keeps life interesting. I am am work tonight, so can't look at the pictures, but will check them out sometime at home.
    A couple of years ago, we were riding through an area that had a lot of blow down on the trail. We came to a big tree lying across the trail. We got off and let our horses jump over it. One horse refused to jump. She was also the tallest horse in our group. The guy that was riding her said that he would try to work his way around this area. We went on up the trail a short ways and waited on him. We waited and waited and waited, but no Dave. Finally, we decided to go back down the trail and see if he just couldn't get on up and had decided to go back down instead. Still we couldn't find him. We decided to go on back to camp. No Dave anywhere. We weren't too awful worried about him. He had a gun with him. He was a smoker, so we knew that he had a lighter to start a fire if he needed to, he did have a rain slicker, and also his dog was with him. His wife was with us and she decided to wait until morning before calling for help. We didn't think that they would search for him in the dark anyway. We had probably been back to camp for around 3 hours and it was almost dark when we finally saw him riding into camp.  He had been unable to find his way around the area of blow down and then had lost his bearings, so was lost for quite awhile before he found his way back to camp. We did have some pretty heavy rain that night, so were really glad that Dave didn't have to spend the night out in the wilderness. It would have been a long night for all of us.
  • Wow! you had quite an adventure! Enjoyed reading it and waiting for more pix. Sounds like you all took it in stride and made a great memory out of it. Helps that most of you had experience and knew what to do and then just got it done!!Could have been a different story if you didnt have any. Glad all turned out well!