BY KELSEY SIMPSON
While taking in the scenery that surrounded us at lunch, we were discussing how incredible it was and Donna Blem said something profound.
“When I breathe in deeply, I can feel it in my soul.”
This perfectly described the day and the emotions I think we were all feeling as we traveled through the mountains. There is no way to describe the feeling you get being here. Every turn of your head reveals a new vista to take in, all beautiful, all peaceful, all magnificent. It would not be possible to ever take any of this for granted.
Even though the morning started off like the previous ones, today was a unique and challenging day. The group was tasked with taking 20 horses down to another camp approximately four hours away.
Our small outing a few nights ago was an hour there and an hour back, so riding for four straight hours was something we were all a little unsure of. But we graciously accepted the challenge, and set about getting ourselves and the horses ready for the day’s adventure.
After catching and saddling up our horses, and going through the series of Glenn’s “pre-ride check list” on the ground for ourselves, we were ready to begin the next stage.
Horses and humans gathered around the outside of the round pen to watch Glenn work with the horse he was taking along. The bright-eyed, blue roan watched Glenn intensely, and within a short amount of time measurably calmed down and was very accepting of Glenn’s actions. Glenn quickly worked through the key elements of his horsemanship program to check out all aspects of his horse, preparing him for the ride, and being sure that any reaction the horse might have to a given stimulus was exposed as best as possible now, before we left. He again explained tips and techniques to use on our own horses to build the relationship and confidence to help us on the trail.
Something as “simple” as his asking for lateral flexion (our emergency stop maneuver), something not yet ingrained in this young horse, seemed natural and easy. Something those of us with older, seasoned horses were finding difficult to obtain.
We all then mounted up and went through all of our check lists again. When Glenn was satisfied with our abilities, we were ready to head out.
Unlike the previous ride, we needed to take extra horses and that meant Glenn and his apprentices had to pony another horse behind them. They were young, fresh horse that needed to get used to the trail none of us were sure what to expect.
We started off on the same path we took the day before, and everyone seemed comfortable. The long line of horses and riders bobbed and weaved around the beaten trail that was going to take us to our destination that was approximately four hours away.
However, as we later found out, it can take much longer when you are traveling in a large group, dealing with the terrain, and taking breaks to see the sights. But, it didn’t seem to matter to any of the riders.
Going up and down the sides of the mountains, following the bends in the river, and seeing wildlife appear randomly throughout the ride out of no where really puts things into perspective. These weren’t just any mountains, or just any river, or even just any trail we were following. Everything was special, different, and unique to us. It was a spectacular feeling that can’t really be described or told in words, photos or even videos.
We stopped for a quick lunch break right on the river. With the rushing water as our background music and the mountains as our backdrop, a perfect moment was painted.
Again, it was aptly described by Donna, “When I breathe in deeply, I can feel it in my soul.” You really, truly, profoundly could.
It didn’t matter what time it was, or how sweaty or tired we were, because the ride meant more to us. Because this place meant more to us, and this moment and this experience we were sharing meant more to us. Simply feeling it, absorbing it, and breathing it in as Donna described, was mind blowing.
Being here is indescribable. I guess you will just have to come up here and try it for yourself.
We continued on up and down, and side to side, watching elk bedded under trees and running up the mountain, and in one case, just standing on the skyline looking down at us, curious about what we were doing. Eventually it was time for a water break and another opportunity to stretch our legs. We came across a spring that fed into a really neat part of the river with small rapids. Huge black geometric rocks guarded the edge of the raging river and allowed the stream to connect with it. The rocks were huge slates of almost tabletop proportions with white splashes here and there almost as if someone just took a paintbrush and splattered white paint everywhere.
With that quick photo op finished, ourselves refreshed and our horses rested, we hopped back on to cover some ground.
The bush started to thicken, the trees became more densely packed, and when we eventually came to a clearing, we discovered it was muskeg. As Glenn had mentioned on our first day, it can be hard to tell where it can be besides slight changes in the vegetation. We were walking along fairly obvious ground when all of a sudden the horses sunk down into the mud and water, up to their bellies in some places.
It was too late to turn around, and it was felt that the muskeg was too unstable to continue forward on this track, so Glenn ventured off to find a new trail. He led us through a forest of thin trees placed so close together we had to lift our knees just to squeeze between (or through) them. Luckily we were rewarded at the end of this short detour with a spectacular view of the river below, and I mean very, very far below.
When did we get up there so high? The elevation, and how much ground we covered was hard to keep track of, so there were quite a few times when I was pleasantly surprised, and sometimes shocked, to see where we were relative to the river and the mountains.
Thankfully it wasn’t too far (or long) after that we made it to camp, 2 hours later than the original estimation. We unsaddled, turned out the horses and just took a break to truly take it all in.
This camp, Lower Prairie, was situated near the river as well and had a fantastic view overlooking some beautiful scenery. After recharging our batteries a little bit, most of us loaded up into the plane to head back to base camp. We couldn’t all go back in one trip due to the size of the plane, and the need to take back some of the saddles used on the horses that were staying there. However, after 3 trips, we were “home”.
Flying back to the Lodge was so eye-opening for me, and probably the rest of us. What took the plane only mere minutes, took us all day! From that viewpoint, in those short minutes, it was amazing to see just how much ground we really did cover.
Four horses needed to come back to base camp, so Glenn and his apprentices road them back. On their trip back they saw what I have always wished to see, a grizzly with her two cubs. It was Dan’s birthday and what a gift for him to have this additional experience, one that he will never forget.
From the porch of the base camp lodge you can look off into the distance past the river, and see the various mountain ranges in the distance. If you look straight across the river there is a particularly large, grassy mountain that is the furthest thing on the skyline. Flying back I realized that we rode past that. We skirted around it and went on to further, and sometimes particularly rough terrain. That was certainly an amazing feeling. Every deep breath went right to my soul.