The mountains are addicting. Maybe it is the adrenaline rush that comes with knowing that the mountains offer immediate, direct consequences to a person‘s actions — right or wrong — sparing no one. Maybe it is the endorphins that come with the rugged grandeur and power of vastness that invite a person to shed all extraneous thoughts and mis-ranked priorities.
Last week, my husband, Steve, and I finally had the chance to spend three days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. My mom is kind enough to schedule time each September to take care of the kids and the ranch so Steve and I can get away together. He and I have been looking forward to these few days since our trip together last year.
We both worked furiously to get ready. Mom and I sorted cull ewes on Monday. On Tuesday, I needed to pick up meat from our processor and attempt to fix the dishwasher before the kids had soccer photos while Steve finished stacking hay. We both fell into bed exhausted Tuesday night, but ready to pack up on Wednesday.
By early afternoon, we loaded four horses into the trailer and headed out. Steve rode Abby’s horse, Mooney, and packed one of our best horses, Freckles. I rode old Day-Glo, who has been a fine horse and one of my favorites, but is a bit past his prime, and packed Amarillo Skye, my sweet young mare who needs some more back country experience.
The sun warmed our backs and the canvas of Montana’s blue sky behind the still-summer-green mountains beckoned. Neither of us could feel it yet, but we hoped we would: That feeling of every unimportant aspect of life falling aside so the things that really matter surround and encompass a person. We knew thoughts of mortgages, deadlines and appointments would disappear. Our conversation would shift from politics and worldly events to the natural wonders of the colors, creeks and country around us. That feeling is like a drug and both of us are addicted. We were desperate for a dose.
The horses relaxed, too, as they picked their way along the trail, pulling into camp at dusk.
Steve is one of the finest horse trainers I‘ve ever seen. I’ve learned a lot since I started hanging out with that man, but sometimes I still mess up.
I let Day-Glo and Skye graze for a minute while we lifted Freckles’ heavy packs off his back. No hobbles necessary, or so I thought.
She circled the camp site twice while we could only stand and watch as paniers, the top pack and supplies scattered.
“She’s an athlete,” Steve commented as Skye’s heels kept clearing her hips by a couple of feet.
Everything except her pack saddle and the knotted ropes fell off before Skye bucked to the creek. She dove off the 5-foot bank, bucked across 3-foot deep water and bounded up boulders on the other side. I held the other horses and picked up various bags of oats, horse brushes and a sleeping bag while Steve followed her on Mooney. Skye’s halter rope tangled in a bush and she stopped, waiting calmly for Steve.
We worried about our new aluminum Dutch oven, but nothing was broken. Eventually, we found all of Skye‘s load, even the axe, laying in some rocks near the creek.
The next morning, we explored some country that neither of us had been in before. The horses climbed steep hills, skidded down narrow trails and offered to do everything we asked of them. We talked of the seasons, evidence of black bears and the rugged beauty surrounding us. No politics, mortgages or controversy.
We were not ready to come down from our Rocky Mountain High by Friday morning, but we packed up camp anyway.
Skye seemed relaxed with her packs, but still we tied everything down as tight as we could. One never knows what one might suddenly face on a narrow trail, with no time to cinch down loose luggage.
Wind often makes horses nervous, but ours ignored the gusts on the way out. Then we met a couple of hikers with backpacks, often another spooky monster in a horse’s mind. One of them waved a greeting with his floppy fishermen’s hat, but the horses passed without a flinch.
Maybe our too-short time in the mountains allowed our horses to dose their addictions, too.
Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.