Sunday September 24 2006
Almost lost a horse today…
We were up for some exploring today. We got dropped off at Devil’s Gate pass – Gretchen on Raffiq, me on Spice - and were going to wind our way along ‘trails’ through valleys and canyons, out Yaney Canyon, about 11 miles to the southeast where our truck and trailer was left for us.
I say ‘trails,’ because who knows if there were roads, or trails, or cow trails, or no trails, even though they show up as trails on the map. It’s mostly cow and sheep allotments and places where hunters go looking for their big bucks. Nobody hikes back there like they do the usual scenic areas in the Sierras.
The first couple of miles turned out to be a nice old road, winding back through a long, wide valley lined with mountain mahogany and green, yellow and orange aspens –they’ve just started to turn colors – and lorded over by hills and rocky outcroppings. Lovely!
When we ran into Long Valley, the trail-turned-cow-trail headed west, but not east, the way we were headed. So, we followed meandering cow trails east along Long Valley Creek, looking for Huntoon Creek that would join Long Valley Creek from the south. There was supposed to be a ‘trail’ along that canyon too.
Our cow trails ran into a steep shale hill, and our way further down-valley looked to be blocked by impenetrable willow and a fence, so we shortcut up the hill to our south, heading for a saddle. It looked fairly easy… We had to bushwhack around bitterbrush and sagebrush and mountain mahogany and aspens as we climbed; we got to a rather steep spot where Raffiq had to push through some overgrown brush, and he rather didn’t want to go on. So, Gretchen hopped off and led Raffiq up, and I hopped off Spice and did the same. We scrambled and climbed and slid (it wasn’t that steep, just not solid footing) and gasped for air, doggin’ it up the hill.
Finally up top (whew!) after we humans caught our breaths, we mounted and aimed for Huntoon Creek in the canyon below, saw a coyote, and ended up getting back off to lead the horses down the somewhat steep hillside, winding around through the Jeffrey pines and the ever-persistent mountain mahogany. At the bottom in Huntoon canyon, there was a nice cow trail (maybe it was the actual ‘trail’) we followed – lost it once or twice in an ankle-deep boggy area - through the golden-leaved-aspen-lined creek. Lovely!
The trail widened out to a wet willow section along the creek. We followed Raffiq across a little ankle-deep bog, when Spice took a step with her left foreleg and suddenly sunk to her knee. My instinctive reaction was to pull her head up, but then her right front sunk down to her chest, and we were in instant big trouble.
As she tried to struggle back up, her back end must have sunk down too, because she fell over on me to the left. I landed with a soft thud in the mud, my leg underneath her left side, and I scrambled madly to slither out from under her and away. I succeeded… but, in a panic, she struggled wildly again trying to get up, and succeeded in falling on her side on top of my leg again. I scrabbled frantically to get away from her and finally got clear. She kept thrashing about, going nowhere but further down, and then came to a dazed standstill, half buried in the mud. I grabbed the lead rope attached to her halter I always ride with, and as she started thrashing again I pulled hard on the lead rope, trying to help her.
Sinking further down in back, she managed to get the left hind curled up at an awkward angle, and the left front leg up, curled underneath her and she came to an exhausted stop again – right by a downed aspen with sharp menacing branches.
Meanwhile, Gretchen and Raffiq had gotten through the bog with no problem, and this had happened so fast, she hadn’t even seen it, only heard the commotion behind her, and asked “Are you okay?”
“No I need help!”
I talked to Spice and petted her head while she panted; and I desperately yanked at the branches of the aspen – if she did manage to get out right there she’d cut her front legs to hell or break them. I snapped one branch off and flung it aside, and tried stomping on the other – but it was too thick, no way would it break. Gretchen appeared at my side then and I handed her the lead rope and gestured the other direction – “pull her that way!” Spice struggled and thrashed again, and while Gretchen got her turned a little away from the treacherous aspen, Spice was getting nowhere – only deeper – and she stopped, exhausted again. Now all that was sticking up was her neck and the top of my saddle and the very top of her butt. Bloody hell!
I stroked her head – which was down at my knees - and told her to rest a second, while my brain was thinking – this is like one of those Discovery Channel shows in Africa where the wildebeests are struggling and thrashing and dying in the mud because they can’t get out. My mind couldn’t hardly process that this was happening – Spice about to drown in a mud hole – it was unbelievable, because the more she thrashed, the deeper she went and the bigger the hole got.
We looked desperately for what the hell to do or where to go… forward or to the closer side by the aspen was impossible. To the right… maybe. It looked firmer – but then it had all looked the same, like any other bog I’ve ridden over the last 8 years - and Raffiq had ridden right over it - until Spice went down. Sure I’d heard of bogs, but never seen anything like this – it was like the quicksand you read about in books.
I took the lead rope and moved to the right, and when Spice started struggling again, I pulled for all I was worth. We succeeded in getting her turned that way – but she was still sunk to over her chest, back end gone. She exhaustedly came to a rest again, her eyes half-glazed over and her nose resting just above the mud.
In the back of my mind, which I refused to listen to, was a thought that we might not get her out of here. I stroked Spice’s head, and she nickered in drained despair to Raffiq.
When Spice started struggling again, we hauled and prayed and we yelled at Spice “COME ON SPICE! GET UP!” We pulled and she thrashed, and she got one front leg out, and almost the other, then she crashed back down in the bog on her left side again. She quit, but Gretchen and I kept pulling and yanking, we kept yelling, and Spice thrashed again and managed to get up a little further this time. She crashed down again on her side, but she knew she just had to make it out this time. “GET UP GET UP!!” And finally, she made it to her front feet and scrambled madly behind, while we kept pulling – she could see where we wanted her to go – and – she made it!
We led her up to where Raffiq was and we all stopped, doubled over panting, legs shaking. Spice was covered in mud from her neck down. Her tail was completed dreadlocked with mud. I was covered in mud pretty much from the waist down. Thank the lord, nothing on Spice was damaged, and she quickly calmed down. She must have been stuck in that bog just a few minutes – less than five, surely – but that time sure went by slowly.
I had a look back at where Spice went in – it was a nasty muddy pool of churned-up muddy quicksand. I see now how that can swallow an animal right up. Wouldn’t take long for one to die in there.
Our big problem now was – how to get out of here? Definitely not going back the way we came, and the way forward was more muddy boggy ground that looked the same as all the other, and we were not chancing. I went up through the gnarled aspen grove trying to find a way through, and then after we were sure Spice was okay, we clambered uphill, away from the bog and up above the aspens. Whew – I sure hadn’t planned on so much physical exertion today!
The rest of the day was easy, and pleasant again. Spice recovered quickly from her near-disaster and was soon scavenging for grass every step along the way, like nothing had happened.
We found the gap in the hills we were looking for that led us onto a flat above Yaney Canyon – and found a nice trail to follow, all the way down. Part of Yaney was towered over by cool rock formations, like tufas in Mono Lake, or Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon… just ripe for cougars… but after the day we’d already had, we wouldn’t say the C-word out loud so as not to tempt fate any more. Had enough adventure for today, thank you!
Only an 11 mile ride – it took us 5 hours. Not a record-breaking pace, and, not a trail we want to repeat! That’s what you get when you go exploring – you never know what you’ll find. Great trails, killer bogs.
What was it I said last time about enjoying every day, or ride, or horse, because it might be your (or your horse’s) last?