Abby's First Pack Trip
A part of me wants to hold on to this secret, but I’ll share it anyway. The Bob Marshall Wilderness is absolutely the best part of Montana, bar none.
Something magical happens as I ride away from the trailhead. Maybe it is the scent of the forest. Maybe it is the sound of the creek. Maybe it is the humbling majesty of the ancient rocks towering above me.
The part of my mind that is always whirring through people to talk to, politics to worry about, projects to start – although I never seem to obsess about finishing them – hay to be hauled, the neighbor’s cattle to herd out of my pasture, that part moves to the back and allows another part to move into focus.
This part of my mind watches the packs on the pack horse to be sure they are even, feels my riding horse move and watches his ears to see what he sees. This part sees the spruce grouse in the tree, spots ripe sarvis berries, looks at old tracks in the trail and spots fresh elk rubs. This part of my mind talks to the people I love and others who understand this magic.
My latest trip was even more special.
It was my daughter Abby’s first pack trip.
We took four days with our friends Zane, Casey and Gabby to spread part of my husband Steve’s ashes where he felt the magic, too.
This trip was all about remembering and making new memories.
Zane is good at making memories. In fact, that might be the understatement of the century.
Abby was a Ninja fighter when she kicked the dead log into firewood. She was Fisher Extraordinaire when she caught three golden trout in the high mountain stream. As usual, she was the competent horse handler as she saddled and unsaddled her horse before helping with the pack horse.
And Abby discovered that camp life is different from civilization. We don’t watch the time. We don’t take a shower. We don’t comb our hair – well, I don’t usually do that at home, but Abby does. We warm up by moving – sawing firewood mostly – instead of turning up the thermostat. We use one Dutch oven for every meal.
A day ride took us along a familiar trail before circling back on a trail I had never ridden before. As we rode along, Zane pointed out where they camped the first time Steve went hunting with Zane. They woke up to a foot of snow that first morning. Back at the ranch, I knew they were in snow because we had an inch of 35 degree rain. My nine-year-old son, Will, and I sorted lambs in that bone-chilling rain before loading them on a truck that year. I decided I was going with Steve to the mountains after that.
As our horses picked their way down a slippery, steep, narrow switchback, Casey decided we needed our own adventure. Her horse cut the switchback, sliding all the way to the bottom of the talus. She was so mad at that crazy horse that she spun him around and spurred him to climb back up on to the trail. When she rejoined our gape-mouths, not a hair was out of place. At least that is the story we will tell from now on.
Abby remained calm and relaxed, even on the steep narrow parts of the trail. Later, she said she closed her eyes sometimes, but I couldn’t tell. Her favorite part was when she and Gabby played catch with sticks as we rode along, telling jokes and making up stories.
All the while, the mountains surrounded us. They held us together while they let us stretch. Their rocky folds, cracks and layers told stories, too. Those mountains appear unchanging, but constantly evolve. Sometimes that change is imperceptible and sometimes it is sudden, even violent.
Just like us.
Rest in peace, Steve, and know the magic of the mountains remains, beyond and larger than all of us.