What to write. I've been thinking for many days about what to write about the MK, and keep vacillating on what to say and what to write. It is a place of enormous beauty, 9000 foot high mountains reaching up to the sky from valley floors hosting lush blue alpine rivers. Alpine passes carpeted in fields of wildflowers each so small but combining to create fields of color. Snowcapped peaks with snow fields running down melting into creeks leaping in waterfalls everywhere. Evergreen forest floors with inches of soft moss your boots sink into as you walk on them for perhaps the first time ever. Gorgeous animals both big and small, skittish, curious, and massive. What to write.
This is some of the most beautiful land I've ever seen. It stands alone, a jewel vast and tall. Everyone should see and treasure this land and everything in it. Being within these mountains, valleys and rivers is something everyone should experience. Every hour of every day around every turn leads to a new postcard worthy vista and a new valley screaming "hike me!". But, yet, what to write.
It is almost completectly contradictory that traveling to one of the remotest, wildest and most beautiful places in North America was one of the most social experiences I've ever had, the story of scattered strangers becoming a group of friends.
A story of Wayne, a John Muir of the modern age. Eminently skilled, and patient, amazing in his knowledge of the land and the history. And the stories, with just a little prodding tales of adventure would pour forth over a snack or a fire. And always with a large smile ready to see this beautiful land in some new weather, on a new day, with new company. Crossing on a foggy day up over a mountain pass on the crest spying three majestic elk and just stopping, watching them watch us, everyone else behind. Just knowing when the group was cold and stopping to build a fire out of some of the wettest wood imaginable with a confidence that it would light. And that wry smile and gaze looking out over the land, knowing the land loves him back in equal awe. And do not forget rule number two...the red mug is for Wayne's coffee. Do not take that mug.
Getting to know and spend time with W., my friend's father, a brilliant tech genius thrown completely out of his milieu. Watching him adapt and learn things so familiar to me such as groundcover to a tent but also master new things with horses we all were learning. And, the East Coaster, someone to be awake with in the early morning when no one else had an alarm and who knows how to build a fire and a fire pit to start that ever valuable morning coffee. Such an expert. On one of our final days, awake early from my alarm W. was the only other person up too. We went up to the fire pit and he exclaimed "who's making the fire?" to which I just pointed at him. After what seemed like a minute he turned around and laughed, perhaps not realizing he had become the designated camp firestarter! And a great chef. If you are ever around W. and want home fries at breakfast, you got the best in the world. A source of great neverending stories and a hearty laugh.
A tale of M. and Snow. M. was one of the wranglers and had a very badly sprained ankle starting off our trip. But happy and never complaining, someone who you can meet and immediately think you've been friends for years. And with the concern of a mother, making sure that everyone in the group was taken care of, acutely aware of any signs of a horse, person, or anything who needs attention. A great smile and laugh, and a wonderful dog Snow who loves her and whom she loves very much. Riding along in the willow Snow would leap out of the brush like a dolphin riding a bow wave, swimming across the large rivers, disappear only to round a corner of the trail and there would be Snow, waiting, tail wagging. A great dog who became a great friend to all. At the end of many long days M. would offer to cook even though it wasn't her turn, knowing we were tired. I do not know how M. can put up with idiots like us that do not know horses, teaching us things that I'm sure children on a ranch know. But M. is there usually with a smile and a laugh and made things special.
A younger fellow with us, R., was just great to be around. Probably aside from Wayne he was the only other photo nut on the trip, so I loved seeing his gear and what he was photographing, wondering what he was seeing through his lens. It's also amazing to me that, not only did R. get down the skill to assemble soft-packs each morning, but without gripes or questions just hunkered down and assembled them. Every morning, laying out tarps, weighing bags that changed weight every single day, captain tying knots, only angry towards the end. And fun stories of escapades of his youth, secrets we all have. And his mastery of Comet, a horse that had a bad habit of galloping away. Gotta be a bold man to ride Comet.
I was so happy to have A. on the trip, not only because he tirelessly helped us out, getting horses in the morning, preparing camp at night for the potential rain, cutting a path in front of us on the trail, repacking horses whose saddles would become loose, sewing tarps, fixing sunglasses. I'll never forget riding along and being fascinted with some small wildflower on the ground and he'd be able to tell me what it was. And of course sci-fi and self-defense, so many interesting conversations! Even though A. got quite ill, he still got on his horse and helped out. I hope we all were able to help him out as much as he helped us.
Of B., one of the most intelligent people I've met. Graciously she helped all of us neophytes out with horses and often would go find them in the morning as well, sometimes hiking and riding for miles. But point out a flower on the ground or a bird in the air and B. would know exactly what it was. And, like Wayne, could glass the hillsides and find beautiful animals. Laughing nearly always with a great sense of humor and great stories B. brought a levity to the whole camp. And a jukebox too. Many times a member of the "roundup group" of the pack train, our peanut gallery in the back was always talking. On one of the hardest days with the rain and a cold wind, from the back up came song. It was B. singing with the rest giving us sweet dulcet tunes to help us slog through the cold. If only we knew how to properly drain the gluten free pasta we would have had a great meal!
And of course my backpacking friend, whom I must thank for getting me to go on such an amazing trip. More great times, as always, between setting up a tent, figuring out how to keep distance between Marv Albert and the rest of the bunch and some amazing meals. I wish I could cook as well in daily life as he can in the backcountry. Great hikes seeing valleys just over the ridges. A birthday spent with glaciers and a cavalcade of animals. new ones around every turn. Reluctantly giving me a bag for my camera as we forded rivers, bending down to pick sweet wild strawberries on the trail just to have them burst from being so ripe. Horses and waterfalls, new songs to be completed and sung. To Percy finding his own island to leap onto out of the river. To being afraid of having lost someone and then the joy of having them found. And to looking around already planning more adventures in such a gorgeous land.
Time passes quickly in the MK. There is always something to do, some new grandeur to see, a group of people to laugh with and share the stories of the day over coffee and a fire. This was the real world; a group of horses, and friends surrounded by mountains and rivers, self-sufficient, vibrant, happy and alive. In the MK the most important and valuable moment is always "now" and the most valuable people are the ones you're with.
Picutres were from the a900 system with the 24-70 lens, 16-24 lens, a new 70-400 lens, and a 100mm macro lens.
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