Muskwa-Kechika, 2019

Friday July 12, 2019

I am certainly anxious about this trip.. After hosting a friend for a long weekend and problems with machines going down at work, I am running late packing. Only 9 hours left until I leave One thing that is nice is that Wayne provides a checklist…finally having picked up packages from my mailbox, everything is finally laid out on the floor in front of me, ready to go into the bag. Hopefully they will all fit. Unfortunately the company from which I ordered my jerky shipped fresh sticks instead, so there goes part of my lunch plans, but what trip is without snafus. I can always get some in Fort Nelson.

I was taking a break and started looking at the weather. Certainly we will be encountering rain, looks like maybe rain the full first week. I hope the new shell bottoms hold up. Then I remember I forgot to reseal the bottom seam of my tent! Frantically I searched around and found the sealant and tools in my closet. No time to do that now, so I throw them in with other stuff, yet another little thing.

As I was charging the batteries for my camera, looks like yet another one had a dead cell and drained quickly with the camera in standby! Now I wonder if I even have one good battery! Oh well, another trip snafu. Can't do anything about that now… it is so annoying how little things can add up in such a short time.

After finishing packing, waterproofing my riding hat, getting the tree on the timer, washing dishes, and taking care of the invading ants, time to see if I can get a few hours of sleep before I need to get to the airport.

Saturday July 13, 2019

Well, I didn't wind up getting any sleep at night, was waking up every 20 minutes with something I forgot (did I get those extra camera batteries? Did I forget my passport?) or different plans (are the granola bars too bulky? Should I put my big bag in a duffel so I have room to carry the food supplies I know now I'll need to get up there?), so at 3 am decided to call about a credit card fraud alert I had gotten in a text Thursday evening. After thirty minutes on hold, finally was able to speak with a lady with such a thick Indian accent I can barely understand her. Over a fraudulent charge of $10.99, she eventually decides to cancel my card right before I'm leaving for the airport! I don't know how I'm going to pay for hotels and other expenses now! Worst snafu yet. I went into my safe, pulled out a backup credit card I hadn't used in years and some cash, just going for the best.

Cheryl wound up picking me up at 4:30am to get to the airport. Good news is that my checked bag was exactly 49 pounds…good use of a scale! Security at Santa Barbara was long, and they gave me such a thorough inspection I thought I should tip them for how gracefully they caressed my naughty bits. I got through the long line, but my backpack was missing! Did someone take it? After asking around, the talented TSA had set it aside for special examination without telling me. Finally we get down to brass tracks as they unpack the entire thing. What great thing caused this confusion? Spaghetti. Four packs of spaghetti. What great confidence that instills in my faith in our airport security.

The airline was able to rebook my ticket so I only had two flights, but with a 9 hour layover in Phoenix. To reduce weight, I was wearing all my heavy clothes, and it was 108 outside, so that left me in the terminal. I occupied my time with breakfast, playing Words with my mom, talking with Flip, lunch, reading every piece of news I could online and lapped every wing of Terminal 4 many times for some exercise and now I can almost tell you what stores are by which gates and where to find the best food and beer. I did test out that backup credit card…no dice. Guess I'll have to find something else. But good thing I grabbed that cash! I don't think any airport is great to be stuck in for that long, but it was better then two hours in El Paso.

I'm still worried if the trip will bring back weird memories, and while e-mailing a faraway friend was getting sick of the difficulty of traveling alone. Being alone can be a great thing, but not when you're on a schedule and things go wrong. Work problems I left behind unsolved were nagging me. But then I remembered that I'm not only going to the mountains, I'm going to visit friends, both people and horses, and will hopefully be making new friends too! I love the land up there and already have activities planned with my friends for camp days, and we have for a while. I'm going because Alex called me and thought I'd love a different area of the trip that is always his favorite. I know I'm going for all the right reasons and am going to have a wonderful time.

As I'm flying to Vancouver, I want to open the window and look outside just to see something different then the mountains outside of Phoenix. But when I did the lady next to me scowled as it disturbed whatever pointless cell phone game she was playing (and would be nonstop for the next few hours). Oh well, this is just another phenomenon I guess I'll never really understand...

We landed early, around 7:40pm, and as I peeked outside the window I snuck open I remembered how pretty Vancouver is and was thinking I could get to the hotel and maybe sneak in a run. But then I hit Canadian customs…over an hour long wait in a line with no air conditioning! And after I finally get to one of the kiosks, it prints out a receipt with an X where my picture should be. Everyone else's has a photo out of these hundreds of people in line. What does this mean? Are they going to confiscate my spaghetti, or worse, all the supplies in my checked bag for the trip? Things I'd never be able to find in Fort Nelson. One of the folks on our trip needs gluten free food, so I had to plan for that. Knowing my luck thus far this trip, that'd be exactly what would happen! Finally get up to passport control and they start speaking to me in French! But soon we switch to English and I tell him all about the trip and they let me go. Guess that X was meaningless. I go to the carousel and my bag is there, and finally I'm out! I made it!

Got to the hotel at 9:45pm, so tired that I just went to the hotel restaurant for a burger and a beer, went back to the room, laid out my clothes to dry having been soaked from the sweat of the heat in customs, and tried to get some sleep. I'd need to wake early tomorrow to catch the next set of flights to Fort Nelson.

Sunday July 14th, 2019

Well I did manage to sleep fairly decently, even though the noise of the air conditioner woke me a few times. I even woke up before my alarm, took a shower and repacked my carry-ons to match the weight requirements, wondering just when packing luggage turned into an arcane form of black magic that seems to take years to master. Good thing too…the hotel wake up call was 10 minutes late. But I got on the airport shuttle at 7:40. The driver said the south terminal was the first stop. But I knew that was the international terminal. Turns out, he dropped me off at another shuttle stop. Although my flight isn't until 10, I want to check in early. And I wait. And I wait more. I see the same shuttles keep passing by, the same drivers. Does this shuttle even exist? Great, no Uber in Vancouver. Is this the next snafu? Thirty minutes later, the original shuttle I took comes back. So I tell the driver that the shuttle he said to take hasn't come, and he told me that he wouldn't go to the south terminal. What a useless airport shuttle! Thankfully I still have slow data cell service, so I go online to search for this mystical shuttle. Finally, I find a schedule; on Sunday it only runs once an hour! Good thing I put on all that extra time! Finally it comes, and at last I get to the check-in desk an hour and change after I left the hotel.

The plane is running 20 minutes late; and we only have a 30 minute layover in Prince George. While we're waiting, I am starting to look around, wondering if there are other trail mates waiting here too. We finally get on the plane and can hear a dog barking in the cargo hold, poor lonely thing! But we're in the air, and out of the window I'm seeing pretty mountains and turquoise lakes underneath the clouds and smile. Soon I'll be in them again.

Turns out while waiting for the delayed Fort Nelson flight I was right! The one lady I saw with th the boots, hat and buckle was on the trip, Elizabeth. We already had enjoyable conversation for around thirty minutes while waiting. I also met Sandra and her son Feonn, the kiwis. She is a nurse, so between her and Alex we'll have even more medical staff around! I think we'll be a fun group on the trail. All aboard the plane, and we're off. Too bad it's cloudy and we can't see the pretty mountains, but I know what's under there and feel almost like I'm going home.

As we offload Elizabeth waves hi and there is Sandra already on the phone to call for the shuttle, very wise. But we hear it's delayed, by a bit. No worries, we all are outside waiting and just chatting, our initial stories to learn who we are and who we'll be with for quite some time. It is really weird knowing how you'll react to strangers who will be sharing a special part of your life…

While we are all chatting and waiting there was a young woman all alone. She had come into town ostensibly for an interview, but no one came to pick her up. Here in Fort Nelson the airport is way remote, so she was stranded. But what was nice was that everyone in our group helped her; we talked with her, got her at least onto the shuttle into town, and gave her support. A total stranger, that bodes well for us. We can group together to help someone in need, and that's critical on the trail.

We get to the hotel and after checking in make dinner plans. I walk out to the grocery store and immediately I'm at home. The clerk at the desk is the same.

I go out for a run to see a bit more of the place I remember in the short time I'm still in town. That Chinese restaurant still isn't open. The half completed hotel on main Street is still half completed. All the fire hydrants are still elevated to be above the snow. The burned down fast food chicken restaurant is still s cater in the ground. The days inn with the indoor water slide still has it's big sign broken.

But you always find something new… lots of little things, but my favorite was a new business off of a side street just called “old fart services” which made me laugh! What honesty!

We had a great dinner, and the waitress thought she remembered me, but it wasn't until I started telling stories that she recalled who I was. It's strange. Though it's been years, not just that waitress, but others remember me and I know the town like the back of my hand. It feels like I'm in Truckee; that again I am home. And at dinner, after I mentioned my run, Sandra mentioned she saw some sweat drenched guy near the grocery store; maybe it was me! It's a small town.

We learned we were being requested earlier then expected. But what a great dinner, great times for the family of the people coming with us! Though they are fearful a bit I know it'll be ok. These are great spirits, and the mountains will reward us both with challenges and joy.

My packing is finished, the clothes from my run dry, my belly full from a final day of decadence of living like a king.

Onto the mountains!

Monday July 15th, 2019

I'm excited and wake up at 4am. This far north it is still light out so I go out for a walk to look at the dawn. After I get back I take the last shower I know I'll have in a while, turn on the TV for the last time, prepare a duffel of things I'm going to leave behind, getting the last bit of charge into my devices, and as 6 rolls around go to the restaurant to grab some breakfast. Staging bags while waiting for the food to arrive, I wolf it down thinking our 6:30 deadline was firm. But the jet boat pilots were a bit slow to get there and it seemed like it took us forever to get out of town. We stopped off though at the museum I never walked to last time I was here, so it was fun to finally see all the old equipment I never saw, including some huge engines from the power plant generators. But Shaun, the lead pilot I was riding with, had a fun blue heeler along that was a fun partner to have in the back seat. I forgot how much I like dogs!

We reach the Muncho River boat launch and get the boats into the water and by around 9:30 are on the water, on the way. I remember the worn limestone formations and views from the boat as we head on our way back up. Melodie is sleeping in the back; I admire anyone who can sleep on a jet boat. But I'm enjoying every moment. Soon the mountains start rising a little higher but the water is still muddy. But we keep passing those gorgeous eroded cliffs. After about two hours, we finally reach the confluence with the clear waters of the Tuchodi river. We stop off to wait for the second boat carrying Sandra and Feonn. But it seems like we are waiting way too long. It is hot, and even with Griz keeping us company and his funny number trick, it does get a little worrying. Elizabeth asks a great and wise question: when would Shaun go back and see if they were ok? After all that boat has all the fuel. But after around 40 minutes, the small boat finally arrives, jumping up and down like a dolphin! They transfer around some of the fuel to the shore, and we're off onto the Tuchodi river!

I forgot how pretty of a river it is, just snaking around. All the turns are fun on a jet boat... And the pilots are great at how they both find a high water path through the river, like skiers doing a slalom. At one point Shaun barely misses a turn and we take on some rocks, so he needs to stop and clear the drain. Now the mountains are getting higher. And higher. And higher. And then I can see them in the distance as we snake into them, those high crests that are getting ever and ever closer, their beauty becomes slowly overwhelming. Soon the waters start to turn a little of that azure blue I remember, and we see some elk (or “whoppities” as Feonn would later tell me they are called in New Zealand) and a bald eagle… it feels like coming home.

We get close to the lakes but take a direction that is too shallow for the boats to pass through, so we have to turn back to take another fork. But I'm not complaining; it gives us more great time on and views from the river. Soon we are close to the lakes, the water calms a bit and opens up; we're on Tuchodi Lake and there it is, the same mountain I have a giant picture of hanging in my living room and see every day. It's no longer a photo, no longer a memory, it and I are reunited. I'm home.

Wayne is there with the whole group to greet us on the shore, that great smile I remember. Michelle is there, as is Snow dog and Alex, and Emma, a 14 year old wrangler in training who's out on the trail for the full year. They welcome me back with great handshakes and hugs. We form fireman carry lines to exchange gear, loading ours off and putting the departing team's on, and after exchanging some trail stories they start refueling the boats. But the second pilot lights a cigarette…while around tens of gallons of gasoline? Bizarre. Shaun shows everyone Griz’s great counting trick, and they are of as we begin moving the gear from the beach to the camp. But soon we are hurriedly waving them back! They dropped off gear for Alex for the next leg by accident! We sort it out and finally the other team is on their way.

After orientation and setting up our tents we start to make dinner. I asked to cook the first night to use the fresh cheese I had brought in, having followed the handwritten note I had left on my “feed bag” the night before to not forget the cheese. Sandra is such a great help, chopping up some cabbage and the onion for a Mexican Medley: quesadillas or whatever you'd like to make from the tortillas, some ground beef, rice with chicken and beans, the chopped onions, Tabasco sauce, and the cabbage and mayo Sandra added. I make a few for people and they seem to enjoy it, everyone having whatever they wished. Even I like the flexibility and make myself a taco bowl! Fun dinner. Though Feonn is still out fishing, a long time…so we set aside some leftovers for him. It's great to hang out with Alex and Michelle again and update each other on what we've been up to since Yosemite. Alex even helps me trim the escrima sticks I brought to a length that fits the panniers, with an excellent idea to use the ends for knife work. Going to be fun to play!

I finish adding some seam sealant to the bathub basin seam of my tent, hoping that may help avoid the wet gear scenario I had that last night in Denali. But I've learned; now everything is in or on bags. After that's done I go back to camp. Most people have left on activities: Bob and Melodie to paddle in the bush found canoe on the now still waters of the lake, Feonn still fishing, Michelle and Alex out to change the bandage on a horse, not too many in camp. So I play a game of scrabble with Wayne. Wow is he good! Twice he empties all 7 letters, an amazing player! It was his first game in a long time. Frustrated, his wife used to get angry and quit; reminds me of my own father!

Feonn returns and has caught three large greylings. Fresh fish! Him and his mom cook one, and it smells delicious. But I am full and can't eat more. Soon there is some thunder; we quickly try get the tarps over the panniers and things in. It is thundering as we go to bed after exchanging a few last stories after a shared bottle of wine. As I write I hear the light raindrops hitting the tent. I bring my boots inside and fall asleep to the light raindrops and the wind. Here is to seeing if that sealant works!

Tuesday July 16th, 2019

It is morning, and I hear some pans, so I thought that the camp was starting to stir. I check the time and decide to get out of bed. But it's just Elizabeth. Unfortunately water started to get into her tent around 3am…that would be the rustling I heard that at times sounded like rain on plastic. She slept under the tarp by the campfire for the night. Unfortunately I stupidly tried to think of solutions, but that got her annoyed and she asked me to stop trying to problem solve. I guess that trait of mine of being overly helpful guy can come across as chauvinistic and offensive to people who are fiercely independent. Still, even with all her adversity, she started the camp fire, warmed up the leftover coffee from last night, started a pot of hot water, filled up the camp water buckets, and apologized for not knowing where the seat covers were. I admire that strength and selflessness in the face of adversity. I put in a fresh pot of coffee and off we go for the day. Although I think of going back to sleep, I know I wouldn't be able to. Falling back asleep is not one of my skills.

The water on the lake is placid, making a mirror reflecting all of the great unnamed mountains surrounding us, and it is peaceful. Around 8 people start to wake, and the fire and coffee are appreciated by all. Wayne makes breakfast today, hash browns and Sandra adds in a pack of fresh bacon, all mixed rusher in the big pan. Michelle makes up a bunch of pancakes, and we certainly are not gong hungry. Today is the trial run with the horses. Wayne and the wranglers go to fetch the horses. They all go out to get the horses and we get to meet who we are riding, and once again they give me Toni! It really is amazing how much I've forgotten and am such a klutz compared with all of these experienced riders. I have forgotten all the knots and specifics, but thankfully people are helpful and patient with me. After Michelle helped adjust my stirrups, we're off on our test ride. It's along the trail that had been my final hike years ago, passing by gorgeous beaches, more campsites, pretty stands of trembling aspens, and so different then being on foot. It's funny as it doesn't feel strange at all being back on the horse, but I will need help relearning the preparation and nuances. Toni also likes to be close to the horse in front of her and kind of has a comforting roll as she moves along. We stop alongside the lake for lunch, and then return to camp. Kind of a dry run to see if all the gear is set up right. This time I didn't see any wild strawberries, but was certainly looking. Along the way in a crack in one of the trees a whole nest of baby bats was roosting. While I heard them on the way out, on the way back Michelle stopped to let each of us see them. First time I had ever seen bats up close! But it's a little scary; I've already started talking and singing to Toni again.

It is a lazy afternoon. I just lounge around, foraging, figuring out what I'm going to take on the horse tomorrow. The horses are all tied up in camp, and most people are busy with reshoeing horses that need it before they go out on the long day tomorrow. I'm just hanging around camp with Melodie, Sandra and Bob, talking and relaxing. Bob has some great stories and a wonderful sense of humor. I'm having lots of fun talking with him about different types of camping and hiking gear, and he's even familiar with Limmers! While we are waiting around, all of a sudden we see a horse walking around. It's big Hank; he's undone the knot tying him to the tree. Bob goes out to get him, and ties him up again. Maybe not 15 minutes later we look up, and there he is again, but this time loose and trying to untie the other horses. It's a revolt! They all get tied down again, and this time Bob tries to give Hank a confusing knot. He's there, eyeballing it but this one he can't seem to figure out.

With the reshoeing complete, Michelle has some fun training a horse riding bareback. Turns out you steer using your legs; I did not know that. Soon Emma hops on a horse too and both of them are having fun together. They take the horses into the lake, walking around with such a gorgeous background, it's beautiful.

Sandra prepares an amazing dinner for us of stir fried rice and vegetables with fresh peas, carrots, cabbage, onion, garlic, beef and hot dogs. Soon it is all gone. Fion brings back three fresh fish for us and we are all sitting around together enjoying the nice dinner as a group. The final chores done, we start to head on off to sleep, but Alex and I start some escrima training. Of course, right as we start, it begins to rain, so we need to get all the gear under tarps and keeping it dry! Afterwards, most head to bed, so we can't train too much longer lest the noise of the sticks keep everyone awake. Perhaps for the best; tomorrow is going to be a long ride.

Wednesday July 17th, 2019

I finally again have found the good positions in which I like too sleep, and did so for quite a nice number of hours. There was some light rain on and off. While there was a little moisture in the tent, it was condensation from myself. Just maybe that sealant worked, but the rain wasn't hard enough to tell. The temperature had dropped overnight, not enough to want to have a different shirt, but enough.

The sound of camp stirring again wakes me up, and just about everyone is in some state of packing up their stuff in the nice sunny morning. We know it's scheduled to be a very long day. We are all kind of pecking at our own breakfasts while we do the chores we need to do. Many things come back right away, such as the dance of the panniers. Each individual is assigned a pair for their belongings, and they need to weigh as closely as possible to each other to balance them on a pack horse. This is an odd game of swapping items between them back and forth with a scale. It almost makes any type of reasonable organization impossible.

That done the other tasks begin, such as preparing the soft packs. Given a certain number of bags of uneven weight they need to be split into two pairs of two groups of bags of equal summed weight. These are then wrapped into big tarps, tied with a mystical outfitters knot (mostly a series of half hitches, but that's still Greek to me) that then get loaded onto a horse. I don't know if it's common, but it's a problem I'm good at solving apparently so, like last time seems to be one of my assigned jobs and a way I can be useful to the team even without knowing a lot about horses. Actually offside loading the panniers and soft packs onto the horses also comes back quickly to me. That was another thing I would help out with last time. It's lifting the panniers up onto the saddle so the rope catches the saddle, throwing additional soft items on top, tarping it, and then tying it all together. After helping with one for a refresher it seems like old hat. Again, as expected, Locket gets antsy when being packed in camp. But there's this new young horse named Big Rig. An appropriate name. I'm trying the grab the rope on the top of the saddle, but even I'm having to jump and can't see a thing. What a big horse he's going to be!

I've been helping out so much that suddenly the call to leave comes quickly, and I've not even really got my stuff into Toni’s saddle! Though a bit slow, everyone is helpful and patient as I get on my way. We are following that gorgeous shoreline of Lake Tuchodi, meandering up and down, between views of that azure water against the high mountains from ridges and from the shore. As we leave, a bald eagle is flying overhead; I look up and see the white in the fanned tail. Out in the lake we see an elk standing in the water. Finally, seeing more of the lake, I am able to see the second loon. On the land side, up on a ridge are a bunch of mountain goats and stone sheep. And in the azure waters, fish as Feonn has shown. And nestled into the mountain valleys are proud glaciers and the scars of the ones that have departed. It is a rich and beautiful land and riding around this lake is spectacular. Each creek we cross I want to get on off and hike up it to see where it goes. Each waterfall I want to be next to and hear their roar. Each glacier I want to approach with crampons and axe and see what little pockets of blue ice beauty it might hold. I want to paddle around the shore, stopping between the little campsites, and wander up into the hills. These lakes and this valley ring with energy. It is no wonder they keep calling some of us back to this special home.

At one of our rest stops we stop at an outfitters cabin, the Lack-a-nookie cabin, right where the two lakes are separated, on the bank of the channel connecting them. We can see the small flow right between them, almost like a broad waterslide. The cabin itself is very pretty and has a great owner who had no problem with using it as long as you leave it as you found it. Seems like a great breed of people that experience how pretty this land is.

The weather has started to turn as the day progresses; the sun gives way to clouds, and a threat of rain. It does rain on and off, and I may be wrong, but it seems strongly correlated with the amount of rain gear Bob has on. If his rain jacket is on, no rain. But if it's off, rain. Michelle suggests maybe we give him all of our collective rain gear and maybe it will bring back the sun. But a wind is coming in, making white cap waves on the lake. So we know it's time to go. After all, we are traversing the entire shore this day.

As we are going through a wooded section, Elisabeth loses her hat to a tree. I see it on the ground, but there really are only pack horses behind me, so I guess I have to retrieve it. Retrieving things on the trail isn't my area of expertise, and neither is standing still on the trail one of Toni’s. Last time I tried to mount her on the trail I was dragged a little. But I get off, pick up the hat, and this time Elizabeth was able to hold the pack horses still, and I was able to get back on. Mission accomplished!

We finally reach the end of the second lake and now are faced with a wide marsh filed with reeds. The water goes up almost to the horses’ bellies, and I am not wearing my water boots! Still I manage to keep the stirrups up high enough that my feet don't get wet as the horses go up and down in the mud underneath the reeds. The horses are straining as their feet sink into the muck with a sound that I remember from feeling like losing a boot in mud, a sucking, eating sound. As we go on and on the horses seem to get more enlivened, as if they know the end is near. Their speed becomes erratic, sometimes trotting to catch up to what amounts to a dead stop traffic jam. At least I am getting comfortable again predicting what Toni will do to get back to her horse friends.

It is starting to rain as we reach our next camp along a little side channel of this part of the Tuchodi river. The camp is set up, tarp erected, and soon dinner is ready. Alex prepares a total classic: mashed potatoes, beans and corn. It is quick, hot, and beautifully tasty and welcomed. I still don't know how to tie up a horse, but I swear I will learn sometime. We chow down after a long 8 hours in the saddle traveling through some of the prettiest views one could imagine. With all the necessary work done, the horses have their bells put on them and are released for the evening going across the little channel of the Tuchodi river to graze. As everyone goes gradually to sleep, I hang out with Alex through some of the final chores, having fun talking with a friend about knives, life and laughing. Suddenly an impetuous group of horses decides to come on back across the creek, perhaps because they are lonely, but take a keen interest in the tents. Alex gets on up to shoo them away; I had heard a story from Bob that they'll eat the tops of tents! After a lot of coaching Alex manages somehow to get them back across the creek, so tonight Bob's tent will be safe.

Tired, I bid Alex good night, crawl into my tent and attempt to sleep, for tomorrow is the pass. The light rain has returned, I hope it will pass.

Thursday July 18th, 2019

After a smattering of on and off showers, through the night things have developed into a steady rain. Every few hours I am waking up, checking the inside of the tent to see what is going on. At first things seem ok, but next time I wake I can't tell whether things are just cold or wet. I find my flashlight, and still just cold. A few drops by the front, but not much. But by the time I wake up, it is clear the sealant I had applied was not the panacea I hoped for; puddles of water were in the tent again. Like Alaska, morning comes with puddles in the tent. This time, my clothes and camera are spared, but my riding gloves and stuff sacks get wet. Ah well, perhaps my trusty tent isn't so trusty in the rain after all. But my sleeping bag is dry, so I'll take as many winks as I can.

Around 6 Michelle comes around and lets everyone know that we aren't going anywhere today. The rain is steady and doesn't seem to be stopping, so up on the pass not only would there not be views, but also perhaps snow. I dump the water out of my tent and see the water pooling on the ground cover. Wayne probably is right; ground covers go inside the tent! Well, we'll give it a try tonight. After cleaning up the tent and starting to dry a few things out, it's hanging out underneath the camp tarp next to the fire, inhaling coffee and talking with each other. The rain has strengthened, and the creek level has risen considerably. The rain has washed down from the ridges, creating new waterfalls along the edges of the valley that were bare rock before. The runoff has turned the clear water brown.

Many folks retire to their tents to sleep or relax, but with a drying tent I retire to the tarp. Sandra starts making a stew with a butternut squash, celery tops, potatoes, garlic, beans, chicken broth and more. While it was a steady rain outside the tarp, I mashed up the softening squash and stirred the stew as it heated so it wouldn't burn. Gradually, drinking cup after cup of coffee, stirring stew, Michelle, Bob and myself start to banter as the fire keeps us warm and the creek keeps getting higher.

Wayne stirs and gives Elizabeth and myself tips on our tents. He always uses his groundcover on the inside of the tent and thinks the bottom lost its waterproofing. As I start to dry out the inside of my tent with a towel, it makes sense; with the weight of my knee more water comes through the floor! I dry the floor and in a gap in the rain Elizabeth and myself place our tents underneath a lashed tarp to dry.

The steady rain resumes, and the banter continues. I can see sometimes the clouds part and across the mountains there's a pretty waterfall. I go on out to take a short leak and the clouds lift for a second and there it is, a gorgeous waterfall down the entire wall of the canyon and, even from a distance, I can hear it roaring. I certainly don't remember seeing that there before. We have our lunch and various people come and go around the fire, but there always seems to be hearty laughter and great times. Periodically we hear a rumble in the distance. It is not thunder; the rain has loosened the rock on the steep sloped faces inn the distance. Perhaps from the coaxing of an errant goat or a slight tug of gravity, a single rock falls to start an entire As rockfall, as if the rocks were jealous of the fun the water is having and too want to quickly cascade alongside it in a race to the valley below.

Alex and Emma are cutting firewood, so to get a little exercise we go on out and help bring in the new firewood and an extra long pole. Up at the large section of that nice waterfall I saw before Bob spots some mountain goats right beside it. I also finally have some time to figure out what was going on with the GPS recording and have fun looking at the map of the trail we took yesterday and checking out the rugged terrain around us, seeing already exactly where I would hike. If only I could spend just a month here at the lakes!

The stew is extended into a great dinner combined with Michelle's great bannic, nice and tasty and warm and filling. The rain abates, the clouds lift and the valley is no longer obscured. What just a day ago was barren rock is now filled with glorious waterfalls everywhere. Little ribbon ones, great cascades, runoff braids merging together to form creeks that tumble over rock edges to scurry on down to the river, the clouds kissing the mountains. For a moment the sun comes out, perhaps signaling the start of a great day to come. With Sandra in the lead, the goat watch begins. She had been watching the rock face all day from under the tarp looking for goats. With Melodie’s binoculars in hand and no rain, now she could step on out and look more keenly for the goats.

But as everyone begins to turn in for bed after dinner, the rain starts again. I sit with Alex, Bob and Michelle in a great evening conversation about video games, fire sculpture, old growth Douglas firs, the nature conservancy, mechwarrior, the kind of great conversation that meanders in such an interesting as organic way, for laughter and for insight and to be with friends. It is raining heavier now, the creek seems to rise a bit more. After a few laughs more, it is time to retire.

The rain should subside by tomorrow, and we should be off to Misery Pass.

Friday July 19th, 2019

What a day.

The camp was so compressed together that there were no problems waking up together. Why am I the last person to pick at the stew? Though it rained overnight, things broke around 5 and after four hours of preparation we were up to the misery divide. It is technically the rocky mountain divide, but it's academic. We leave our campsite on the way to smashing stories.

Continuing to move up the Tuchodi river we are greeted by a valley rejuvenated by the fresh rain and the morning sun. All around the canyon little waterfalls have sprouted, fed by the rain, draining into the ever growing river below. Waterfalls where just a day before was just bare rock. We keep crossing the somewhat swollen river again and again on our way up to the next valley, the horses sometimes leaping up to the shore. On one of the crossings Ronnie, the pack horse that happened to be carrying my panniers, lucky number 13 and 14, decided that instead of going across the creek he'd go for a swim in the river instead! Oh well, hopefully the toilet paper is dry and the Ziploc bag fetish brings results!

We start to turn away from the river and towards the walls of the valley. Close to us I see a beautiful waterfall, gushing and powerful, hearing the roar of its tumbling waters. To my great pleasure we are going up to it. Falls Creek; we stop and have a lunch break next to its great presence, the water just babbling and roaring away, creating billowing clouds of mist. The sun peeks on through and graces us with rainbows.

We begin up the hill above the waterfall, following along Falls Creek, meandering more into the mountains, crossing time after time after time. At one point after we finished a walking stretch we ended at a river that needed a horse to cross. In front of me all the pack horses had already crossed the river; these are not the moments where Toni and me shine. I wind up having problems trying to get the right rein over her neck and, impatient as Toni is when she is not with her horsie friends, decides it's a good time to cross the river to be with them. I let go of the reins, not wanting to be dragged into a river, and get stuck with Toni on the other side. But she's happy! I look across seeing Wayne smile as I just shrug; it's totally Toni! I start to look for another place to cross on foot, but Wayne tells me to wait. Eventually Feonn comes along with Percy. And they load is up; I get on as forward in the saddle as I can, Feonn behind me, yep two on a single horse crossing the creek! I never thought I'd encounter that! But we cross, and I smile and laugh with Toni and off again we ride.

We keep on crossing the creek again and again and then stop at a lovely clearing for another break. Wayne is great about making a fire wherever we stop. After chowing my peanuts we hang around the fire looking for mountain goats and he gives us a safety warning: soon we’ll be coming up on a creek crossing where, after the crossing is a steep trail that we need to dismount and walk the horses up. Ok, I thought, good plan. We keep meandering up the creek, with many crossings; Wayne is relatively far ahead, the pack horses between us, and I'm watching carefully to see if he dismounts. But then finally we get to the crossing that is the one he described. The pack horses ramble across the creek and stay up the hill; Tuchodi is in front of us. I pull the reins and try to get Toni to stop, but Tuchodi slips and starts moving quickly up the hill, and Toni takes off. After a few tries to get her to stop, I feel her starting to slip off the trail; time to get off! For a second I think of going off to the left, but the last bit of logic creeps in and says that I shouldn't go over the cliff, rather wiser to jump to the right. I quickly swing myself off onto the slope, and, of course, reins down, then Toni decides to stop. Lovely, pretty, predictable trail finding Toni. What a fun horse! She is a gem and easy to know just what she'll do and her limitations, but she can really go beyond.

Riding up we are going to the headwaters of the creek. Soon the trees disappear and we are in a spectacular alpine valley, surrounded by cliffs and waterfalls. I look off to my left, and there, in misery pass, is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. About 150 feet high, its water tumbles down a nearly pure vertical cliff face in a few cascades. But wide across like a lace curtain being shaken down the mountains. Nestled up in the shadows is a small glacier, the source for all this cascading beauty. I am nearly crying because of its beauty, wishing so many more could see, and marvel, be joyous, and be humble watching the waters of ancient ice get their freedom, become water, and take to the air and dance.

In this gorgeous valley, surrounded by towering pyramidal peaks with waterfalls challenging the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, finally I find the end of the trail song started years ago:

Horses and waterfalls
Can you hear what they say?
Horses and waterfalls
One roars one says neigh
The clouds are coming in
Will the rain stay at bay?
Out in the Rockies
Another great day!

(key of G)

The weather through the pass is perfect; not too cold, not windy, only a cloud here and there. We keep climbing and up over this rock that reminds me of the glaciers of Alaska. Soon we reach the pass; we are at the rocky mountain divide, where the creeks flow opposite sides of the mountains. Tucked away in the shadows is the ice face of the glacier; I want to go commune with it, climb and see what beauties it must hold; the glacial lake right at the pass must just be the start. We stop as the wranglers reshoe Big Rig, the young large pack horse, and just bask in the sunlight and look at the views so sublime they defy all photographs, art and description; we are guests being showed a great temple open to worshippers few, one that leaves the soul forever changed.

We continue on through a flat section in the roof of the Rockies, little glacial lake after glacial lake, the marmots whistling to each other, the diminutive and precious flowers and mosses not only clinging to life in the alpine land but also dotting it with great beauty. Soon we start our descent down the pass. From the top it is beautiful, the start of another precious braided river with the mountains in the distance. The way is steep but not too complex, but poems are filled with running water creating a little bit of a muck on the slopes. I am walking Toni down when suddenly I see Alex sprinting down the mountain! Something must be wrong. But I know I can't help right then so I keep walking with Toni. Eventually we catch up, and it was another problem with Ronnie and, of course, my panniers. Some fortune, or at least Alex, Michelle and Emma, are certainly looking after me today!

The descent finished, we set up camp on the alpine river plain. I go through my things, and yes! The toilet paper and socks stayed dry! Being in the wild gives you a different sense of what is ultimately the most valuable. Michelle and Bob cook a lovely Indian dinner. The river plain is so spread out I find a far away place where I can wake up to see the gorgeous waterfall by camp and the river scrambling to unite on its way down from the mountains. I snuggle up into my fire-dried sleeping bag; the horse bells are still clanging. It is time for a well deserved sleep with the sound of a mighty waterfall as one of the most perfect lullabies I could ever wish to hear.

Saturday July 20th, 2019

In the night I stir. I don't know what time it is. I see in a twilight the river and the waterfall and up in the sky the moon beginning to set behind the mountains. Aside from the waterfall, there is no other sound. I take some time to sleepily be happy at where I am, crawl back into the tent and return to sleep.

I wake up again to the sound of the beautiful waterfall after another stretch of great sleep. A tad weary and a little late compared to yesterday, but this is fine, today is a rest day! I get out of my tent to see the beautiful waterfall and braided river in the daylight, the sun just starting to rise over a mostly blue sky. I set out my solar charger and head into camp. Melodie is making some oatmeal, so I gladly take a bowl and start eating away, even partaking of last night's leftovers. Soon Alex comes on out, ready for a day hike. I go back to my tent, get my camera and water bottle ready, grab my rain jacket and day pack and am ready to go. Bob, Alex and myself set out on an adventure.

Soon we are bushwhacking through a stand of willow, bringing up memories of Denali, but at least this bunch is nowhere near as high. It doesn't grab and undo my shoelaces like that mischievous northern bunch, but it is dense enough that I lose track of Alex and Bob. I follow their calls and eventually catch up to them on top of the willow patch. Now we are high up enough to see the camp and my silly tent all alone by the waterfall. I put my hand to my side to find that my water bottle has been stolen by the willows! Thankfully I have another one but none on this hike for me. Alex, though, is ever thoughtful and helpful and lets me have some of his.

After a bit of alpine meadow we come across a large path of shale scree, slopes of loose rock that have been broken into bits by falling and time. It isn't tightly packed, so each step slides. I never particularly enjoyed this type of surface for hiking. Alex and Bob are much faster as I am quite cautious with my footing. As I try to go in a straight line to get to them I start taking a higher line which doesn't have as steep of a slope. Eventually I catch up to Alex and Bob who have been waiting for me. I decide to go on. The scree continues, and soon they are out of sight again. I push higher to try to get an easier crossing across the gullies, but soon that no longer seems practical given how far behind I am getting. I slide down a scree slope with a butt slide, and eventually get up to start ascending the other side of the gully. But now I realize that I lost my phone and, more importantly, my emergency whistle I have attached to it! I start to try to yell to get Alex and Bob's attention, but I don't hear anything back. Being too important to lose, I turn back and hope I can retrace my steps. Luckily, soon I spot an orange dot on the other side of the gully, my emergency whistle! I carefully scurry on over to it and yes, there is my still working phone, happily recording its position on GPS. I make sure that it is securely in my pocket and then return to the trail, glad to have not lost that whistle.

I meet up with Alex and Bob who are waiting with Michelle and Emma and Snow who left earlier on the same hike, having a lunch break. As we are eating a stone sheep is walking among the ridge above. I try to work fast but after changing lenses I only manage to get a picture of his butt. But it is still a picture of a stone sheep! As they get ready to leave I mention I'm thinking of just heading back to camp since I'm just slowing everyone down across the scree. Alex though really wants me to do this hike and says it is ok I'm a little slower, so I continue on.

The scree is mostly done and now we have a short stretch of marshes, patches of moss with water slowly moving between them. It looks exactly like something out of the Lord of the Rings movies. With a slight sucking sound with each step we move through it. I actually wish it was longer! We now start to round the mountain, following up a creek. And there, high up on the mountain, is one of the prettiest glaciers I have ever seen. Split into two lobes dangling off of the ridge like the top of an upside down white dromedary camel, with cracks almost like as if a giant bear had clawed it, exposing that beautiful blue ice, the glacier seems like it is hanging onto the ridge for dear life. Its runoff stream just falls directly into the air, forming a long waterfall to help feed the great river below. I wish there was a way to climb it; how different now when I see a pretty glacier that I want to be on it to see what special secrets it is hiding in its ice.

We keep climbing the mountain as I keep looking off to my right to see that pretty glacier. The slope is steep, but not bad, and the shale fragments are more solid. On the top of the mountain saddle is a gorgeous small alpine canyon with some tarns of fresh water. I put my hand in for a drink, and it is some of the most beautiful water I've tasted since being on the root glacier. We continue a short ways and there we are. One of the most gorgeous ridges and views I've ever seen. We are all surrounded with majestic mountains on all sides, no two the same, almost each with its own set of colors. Two huge waterfalls run in the distance, their rushing water music carrying to us across the canyon. A river snakes away onto the next river it shall find. It is a view that can't be described or photographed; it is transcendent and powerful, filled with all the magic of the northern Rockies.

Alex sticks with me as we head back to camp, talking about movies and life; it is so nice to have a friend on the trail. As I walk into camp, Melodie has been working on dinner, a lovely beef stew with corn bread and mashed potatoes. As we wait, Wayne invites me to play another game of scrabble. What fun! As dinner comes out, both of us get our bowls filled and immediately return to the game. We even have some spectators! He still beats me handily, but we were very close for a lot of the game. Alex is next and we start a fun game, but it is time to get ready for bed and there are still things to do. We fold up the scrabble game, and now we shall test just how the scrabble set will withstand being tossed around by a horse.

After hearing more of Bob's stories, it is finally time to get to bed. Another riding day awaits.

Sunday July 21st, 2019

I wake up in the morning again to the beautiful sound of the waterfall from one of the best nights of sleep I ever had, deep and restful without waking once. I stick my head out of the tent and it is another nice partly cloudy morning, the sun still shining through and making the waterfall and river glisten. I pack up my tent, sad to leave such a beautiful campsite and camp. There is leftover stew from the night before. A perfect breakfast! We get the horses loaded up fairly quickly and start off for the day.

The water has definitely subsided from yesterday; the little creek that ran next to our camp is now completely dry. But the river is still strong. Today we are riding along the Gataga river. We start off in an area where the river is braided, wide with gravel beds separating the rivulets. Waterfalls still cascade down the valley walls, fed perhaps by glaciers that we cannot see. The valley that may have been carved by this river is wide and long with beautiful jagged peaks surrounding us on both sides. Each peak is different; some are made of reddish rock, others grey; some have near vertical cliffs while others are gently slopes of scree; some are bare while others still have touches of snow or are home to an errant glacier. As we travel along the rolling hills on the riverside, some areas have plant covered soil that seems like it is cracked, almost ready to slide away. Soon the river joins up to itself and it is clear how powerful it is.

As we move further down the river and descend, we soon bid farewell to the alpine and head back into the stands of spruce and brush. The moss covered forest floor is dotted with beautiful little white flowers, all with four petals and it looks like five leaves. I remember Briony told me what they were a long time ago, but I forget. The brush is quite high, at least as high as the horses. Even being on the horse I can barely even see the top packs. I have no idea how the horses can see through this brush and keep following the path! We get to an area where again the river is wide and braided, gravel banks abound, trees that died having grown too close to the water or being in the wrong place as the river moved around the flat floor ever carving new small channels. It reminds me a bit of the first creek crossing in Denali.

We round a riverbank hillside, and soon we are in a field of rocks. Almost all conglomerate, it seems out of place. Wayne tells us that these are the rocks that form at the edge of the continental plate, here risen up and exposed. Among it are still pieces of layered sedimentary rock, even older formed from deposits from Pangaea. It is astounding that all this geology is present and visible, a roadmap to history so varied and rich, all in a landscape that is still being formed.

The sun starts deciding to come on out, and we reach the second large river crossing of the day. Toni makes it across well, but the currents are strong. Michelle puts a harness on Snow and Alex takes her across the river, a rope from the harness to the saddle. When Snow hits the current, the force is evident on Alex’s horse, but he corrects and gets the dog across safely.

Soon we reach our camp for the night, a nice spot by the riverside with lots of trees, a clear water rivulet instead of the silty water of the strong river, and fabulous mountain peaks on both sides. The clouds and the sun are dancing, making the light on the mountains change continuously like the image in a kaleidoscope. It seems like we unpack really quickly; perhaps it is because we are working together better as a team, or maybe it is just because it now seems routine. Melodie puts together a sinful chili dinner with biscuits, and Sandra and Feonn make mashed potatoes to complete the meal, and a few vodka limes for the chef and me, the apprentice stirrer. After we eat, I finish that game of scrabble with Alex, and right before I play my last letter we are perfectly tied! Wayne asks for a game and I'm more then happy to play. Surprisingly I got a seven letter word early on in the game, but Wayne is a pro and steadily catches up. Finally he passed me by playing a seven letter word: dildoes. As fate would have it, I've got the letters to play my next word off of it: boner. We really have some interesting minds. When later Emma asks me how the game went, I mention that I was leading until Wayne played dildoes. Emma than asked, “what's that word mean?” Sandra points at Wayne and says “ask him.” I never expected the scrabble board to make for such funny little camp memories and great times!

Everyone seems to have gone to bed so I do my best to prepare the camp for the night: taking apart the chairs, putting tarps over the panniers, kitchen and other exposed gear. Soon, however, Alex and Michelle are up again and redoing things. Turns out the camp is also a favorite hangout for porcupines! Porcupines apparently like to eat anything and will even chew up the leather saddles, so they need extra protection tonight. Alex and Wayne are sleeping with big sticks outside their tents for the purpose of shooing away porcupines from a distance.

Hmm, I wonder, as I head back to my tent set a little further away from the camp in a glorious spot right by the river with a view of it and a sharp peaked mountain right outside my tent door, bathed in the setting sun as I write. It is time to try to go to bed, for again tomorrow we need to be up early as we will ride. Toni was such a great and calm horse today; I hope she had a great dinner and will sleep well and be well rested for the trail.

Monday July 22nd, 2019

I wake up in the morning a bit tired, having woken up a few times during the night with my right arm falling asleep, but being woken up to the sound of the river as well as the bells on the horses. They are definitely close today. And outside my tent door I'm greeted by that spectacular view of the river and the pretty mountain with blue skies and sun. After having some of my freeze dried breakfast hash and adding some bacon bits that had been donated to the communal kitchen I proceed on the normal routine of the riding days: load my own panniers to make them as close as equal in weight as possible, fold up chairs, get the saddle and bridle up on Toni, weigh out all of the 12 bags for the soft packs, split them into their groups, assist Bob with tying the packs, loading pack horses as required, mounting up and then heading out.

We are continuing to meander along the Gataga river on its banks, crossing from time to time but nothing as serious as yesterday. It feels like we are descending. The pine trees are getting taller and the smell of them is thick in the air. More plants are starting to appear on the forest floor as we gradually descend. More leafy plants are growing over the moss and even more deciduous bushes, the spruce now beginning to intermingle with lodgepole pine, and maybe firs. We stop for our first lunch by the side of a gorgeous small pond surrounded by grasses on its shore. A slight breeze stirs the surface of the water, otherwise it would have been a perfect mirror of the mountains in the background. It seems like here wherever you turn the high peaks will be there.

We finish our lunch and keep on riding through the pine forest with the sound of the river still vaguely there. As we gradually roll up and down, the forest gives way to a gorgeous wide open swamp. Though underneath is muck the top is filled with tall grasses. Being too wet for trees, it creates an open area that lets you see that you are surrounded on all sides by the gorgeous tall mountains. Some looking filled with only avalanche slides. Some green with shrubs and trees. Some tall, pointed and grey still protecting their lingering pockets of snow. Some made of gorgeous red rock with lines and veins of rock folded up to point to the sky. And valleys that just beg to be wandered down to see what other mountains they hold. I am smiling as I keep looking around, each turn of my head seeing different mountains, each a gorgeous view.

Close by to the edge of the swamp we stop for another break by another outfitters cabin. This is a larger one with multiple pretty log cabins, a cache, outhouse, chute and pens. And even a bridge across the creek and some other features I can't identify. And, of course, some of the best views in the world. Sadly, at least one of the cabins had become the home to a porcupine. Despite the best efforts of putting beds of nails in front of the door and windows, the porcupine chewed its way in. It had chewed through the wood somewhere and proceeded to continue eating holes in the floor and some other areas. They love to eat plywood for the glue and apparently will chew anything to get to salt. Even the raised cache with the metal bands around its posts to try to prevent climbing seems to be a victim. Wayne fills me in on a little bit of how these cabins work. The land itself is crown land, so is open to the public, but the cabins themselves are privately owned and the owners, if they pay, get the right to guide and let people hunt in the area. Very interesting system. I'll need to check into that more and I wish the national forests had that kind of balance. Melodie shares warm leftover chili with me, wonderfully tasty, and Elizabeth shares a nice photo she took of me. Don, one of the pack horses, lost two shoes, perhaps sucked into the swamp. As Michelle, Alex and Emma put new shoes on the horse we sit around talking and relaxing, enjoying the great day. I walk around a bit more, and suddenly I realize there's a horse following me. Loyde is just lingering behind my shoulder like a dog, wherever I walk he just follows along. Bizarre! He just loves people; after I sit down for a rest he finds another friend to follow; ah abandoned so soon!

With Don's shoes on we hit the trail again. We cross the Gataga, this time stronger then before but wide. Some of the smaller horses are in up to their shoulders, but Toni gets across just fine. The trail now takes us up a side canyon along an unnamed creek, where up ahead I think I spotted a bear crossing the creek. Eventually Wayne confirms that it was a little black bear. We re-enter the forest on a narrow trail with a steep rocky hill. We climb on up and walk down, but then when trying to mount up for a creek crossing the saddle shifts on Toni, just sliding when I try to swing my right leg over. I try to push the saddle back in place, but it won't budge. I whistle for some help as now I'm trying to loosen the cinch to adjust the saddle, but by now the other pack horses are out of sight. This always makes Toni antsy. Unfortunately I can't do it one handed, but after I undo the first part of the cinch Toni starts moving, just as I expected she would. One of her reins though falls off (did it catch on something?) So I go after her to try to stop her in case she stepped on it. I go to find my whistle again, but seems I've dropped it! But right then Alex and Michelle show up to help. They grab and steady Toni and realign the saddle, what great help! Elizabeth had seen my whistle and my phone attached to it on the trail and picked it up for me. How great and thoughtful, and now I have my whistle again which, hopefully, I won't need again. Thank you Elizabeth! (I wonder if the whistle and I are having troubles in our relationship as this is the second day in a row it's tried to escape. Perhaps I'm too possessive?) Michelle, knowing Toni, walks in front of her as this part of the trail is tricky, and Toni might speed up to catch up to the pack, not advisable here. As we find the pack, one of the pack horses had their saddle slip, so Alex and Michelle had to repack the horse there on the trail. Another's packs had shifted, so they right them and use some rocks to add tension to the ropes. I wonder if perhaps it was the good soaking in the river that may have removed some of the tension. With everything all fixed up, we catch on up to the front of the pack and cross the creek, hopefully leaving the end of all the horse drama behind us.

We reach camp, a pretty area where the creek braids a bit, not quite as alpine as the last as there are more trees, but still pretty mountain views. We set up camp and Sandra and Feonn put together a great Mac and cheese dinner for us. Unfortunately, Elizabeth burns her hand on a hot pot while doing the dishes; I hope it will heal quickly for her! They get her hand into cold water quickly, so I hope things will be at least a little mitigated. Tomorrow is a rest day, so everyone is up a little late as Feonn is whittling the start of a pipe while everyone is talking to one another about things, memories of the trail, other stories and funny things. Suddenly someone notices there's a porcupine up in the tree, and Michelle notices its above all the horse gear! Alex jumps up, and by the time I turn around I see the porcupine moving laterally at a rapid rate of speed. It had climbed one of the tall poles leaned against the tree; Alex had grabbed the pole and ran the porcupine as far away from the camp as he could. After a few obligatory photo shoots, they leave the porcupine on an island by the river and return to all the excitement in camp.

The sun is gradually going down as much as it does this time of year this far north giving a nice pink sky behind the mountains. Our excitement over, the porcupine having apparently swum away downstream (they apparently float quite well), we close up the camp and head on into our tents to sleep. We get to sleep in as tomorrow is a rest day.

Tuesday July 23rd, 2019

I wake up during the night to some light rain on the tent, and I'm hoping it will stay away for our day off. Initially I'm up at 5:30 from the early morning riding schedule, but I manage to fall back asleep until 7. As I get up, Bob and Elizabeth are already working on starting a fire. The skies are blue with only a few clouds in them. As the sun pokes over the mountain ridge, the temperature rises rapidly and soon the heavy flannel is gone, replaced by a t-shirt and shorts. Apparently I had not witnessed the end of the porcupine drama…in the middle of the night a few had ventured into camp and Alex was up in chasing them around with flashlights and specially crafted porcupine battle sticks. While not remembering hearing anything, Elizabeth does remember the lights. Bob jokes that maybe it was a UFO. Out of my penchant for solitude and views, my tent is far away in the suburbs, so I missed all the excitement. Though when I go back to get my water bottle and change my pants, what is in the pine tree nearest my tent: a porcupine about the size of a football! I shake my belt at it and it scurries down the tree and saunters off into the pine forest.

Elizabeth shares with me the pictures she has from the trip, and she has a great eye and a takes very nice pictures of people. Her hand is still affected from the burn, but thankfully we have Sandra to keep looking at it and giving us advice. With the bright sun I set out my solar charger to see if I can get a little more juice so I can keep looking at the maps of our journey. I also set out all the wet socks I have and wash my favorite shirt I've been wearing this entire trip thus far. Melodie and Emma start brunch, hash browns and eggs, and while it's mostly from Elizabeth and Melodie, everyone throws in something: a little ground beef from me, an entire sausage from Wayne, some cheese from Bob, and maybe even more I missed. Elizabeth shows Emma the “circular technique” for cooking scrambled eggs, and that is something I'll need to do myself!

After brunch is fine I check and my shirt is dry so I decide to go on a day hike. I had been looking at the topos and found the easiest way up the mountainside by the camp and it looks like it might be passable. After accepting a gift of cheezies from Melodie, I toss one, my water bottle and my rain jacket into my pack and start to head up. The initial path I had chosen wasn't too overgrown but must be an avalanche chute as it is all downed pine trees. With the moss and duff covering them, there are some hidden holes so I start to vector across the slope through the pines, maybe to hit the next clear section. I am able to find one little flat clearing, and from up above I can see the camp on the valley floor and the horses on the other side of the river. It is interesting to see everyone doing their own little activities; Alex is now awake after his long night. I keep trying to bushwhack through the pines and find all kinds of little interesting patches of moss and wildflowers. I reach a section where the brush is a little thinner, but ahead of it is another dense patch of willow. I headed down to try and get a clearer view of another approach. While the creek seems promising, I walk along the edge of the little river by camp to see where they intersect, but I can't get to it without either going into the river (getting my now dry boots wet again) or more bushwhacking, so I just accept the defeat that I won't get to the first ridge, take my 200 foot ascent and stroll along the horse paths by the river for a bit.

While waiting back in the common area talking and enjoying the shade, Wayne comes on out and says there is a thunderstorm warning. Grey clouds are blowing in, and there is thunder in the distance. Michelle says this is common in the shadow of the mountains, a sunny day with quick, heavy afternoon thunderstorms. A little drizzle starts coming in and the clouds get darker. We tarp up the camp and gear to prepare for potential rain, and I don't take a chance and retire to my faraway tent lest I need to schlep that in the rain. I take a nice nap with the sound of the raindrops on my tent and river burbling in the background. I'm woken up by some new neighbors; the horses have crossed the river and have surrounded my tent! I can hear them chomping up the grasses, bells loud, they are right outside my front door! Soon most of them pass, the thunder subsides, and I begin to head on back; soon it will be dinner.

Around the fire Elizabeth is preparing a wonderful Thai curry stir fry for dinner. As we're sitting around talking with each other, we look up the canyon and it is getting foggy and dark; rain is moving in. Initially it seems far away, but soon it is raining and we are hurrying to put up the tarp. We had tried before but the wind was taking it away. Quickly a bipod is set up for the end opposite the main tree and Wayne, Michelle, Alex and Emma have the tarp up just right about when the downpour begins. The fire under the tarp, dinner is still cooking at the rain press down. I put on my rain gear and go out to my tent to check if I closed the door as I had just put some of tomorrow's clothes in there, and yes it was closed. The horses are now close to the camp and in the heavy rain are just statuesque, not moving or grazing at all. We are dumping water off of the sides of the tarp, using rocks to weight it down and trying to make a drain. Soon, up the valley blue skies appear and the rain starts to subside. As the rain gets lighter the horses start grazing again, and, as dinner is ready, we graze with them too. The stir fry is delicious, and even more impressive being cooked in such a wild place! Certainly, an excellent chef!

Sandra helps treat Elizabeth's burn and many people are off to bed, but I'm still up talking with the late night crew as usual. I enjoy these times of talking with my friends and exchanging stories and histories. I think it's a nice blend having both time to be alone and enjoy the pretty land and also time to enjoy with friends. Of having life reduced to just a small group of people and horses, just surrounded by great nature and, for the most part, trying to help each other the best we can; even though I'm still so unskilled with horses and knots, that doesn't mean there aren't other things to do for the camp.

It seems like there are a few raindrops coming down again and it is late, so we tarp up the panniers and do our cleanup. I still am not tired so I spend some more time chatting and laughing with Alex. He'll still be spending part of the night on porcupine watch, the leader of the porcupine brigade. It is actually quite serious because if any of the tack gets damaged by them we could be in serious trouble if it can't be fixed up. So thank you Alex for keeping watch. Though the blue skies are gone there isn't any rain as I pull into the tent for the night. Hopefully this portends a nice riding day tomorrow over the pass towards Thistle Camp.

Wednesday July 24th, 2019

I wake up in the morning before my alarm goes off as I think is normal for days when you know you need to be awake by a certain time. By this point breaking down the camp is almost becoming routine as everyone has a sense of their assigned tasks. Most of the bags going into the soft packs are pretty well known, but some of them keep changing as their contents get consumed by their owners. As we munch our way through the Rockies we are gradually losing weight, definitely a strategic plan…

The day starts out cloudy and we start out on the trail continuing along the creek. Along the bank we hit a stretch where the spruce and willow are very dense, like on the side of the hill I had tried to climb yesterday. Very dense. Wayne and Alex are up front with the chainsaw cutting a path through it. Even with a chainsaw it is slow going. The first drops of rain start to fall, so I dismount and put on my rain jacket. The river is still striking and strong, the mountains on either side rising up into the clouds. At one spot the shadows must be just right; a large patch of snow had not melted and formed an arch bridge right across the creek. Though not strong enough to carry us, smaller animals could totally use it to avoid the water. The cutting continues, and soon we are back moving again. We turn to cross the river and then alongside a creek we start up the pass.

All of those pretty cascades we had seen from the valley floor, now we were alongside of one, climbing next to it with its happy applause of the water jumping downhill. Small alpine flowers greet us on the sides of the trail. Patches of snow perhaps hidden by shadow, dot the mountains and the creekside. The altitude brings with it ever expansive views of the beautiful river valley below and the mountains around us, Churchill Peak shrouded in the distance. The clouds are dancing with the mountains, swirling around their peaks, embracing their waists, like a burlesque fan dancer the mountains expose parts of their beauty but teasingly hide enough to give a sense of wonder and awe. Small glaciers are nestled in the notches of the mountaintops, and we continue to ascend into the clouds, walking our horses up and up.

We soon reach the top where we can see both the valley we came from and a gorgeous alpine meadow on the top of the pass, a beautiful glacier sitting off to the right. Twin Glacier Pass is what I believe Alex said it was called. He also noted that the glacier was smaller then he remembered, wondering how long it will be there. It wasn't until I started learning how to navigate a glacier that I really started to become fascinated with them and starting to be able to read their terrain. It makes me sad to see some of the dying glaciers, their ice fields almost gone, outflow creeks the only sign that there may still be some ice left under the moraine. I am, however, glad to be here to see them for they are beautiful.

The alpine meadow is beautiful, flat with small grasses and beautiful flowers and now a creek flowing down to the other side of the mountain range. Pretty patches of scree run on up to touch the mountains and little patches of snow take up residence in mountain pockets. Only in the middle does a small dwarfed group of spruces stand stubbornly, huddled together, unwilling to give into what seems like inevitability. We follow the meadow until we reach its end and, before the descent starts, we stop for lunch with panoramic views of the next mountain range ever.

With Melodie helping me and Toni cross a creek together this time, we descend into a broad expansive valley with a small river running through it. The mountains on both sides are quite different; on the left, reddish and grey exposed folded rock with lots of vertical, on the right more gradually sloping mountains where willow, grass and trees don the lower slopes. The valley has a lot of wildlife, as as we ride down it we spot at least three big moose. There are a few large glaciers in the mountains; one large one seems particularly unique as nearly it's entire ice field looks blue! Oh how I want to go up and explore it and find out why. But we need to push on into camp. After a brief stop for a snack and to warm up by a fire we continue to ride on.

We are soon in a pine forest, and now a sight wind has picked up and the cold light rain resumes. The trail is mostly muddy clay. The kind that will take your boot right off as you try to step, and probably horseshoes too. My feet are starting to get cold now, the wool socks no longer too effective being wet from the day. There still, however, are beautiful views from unexpected forest meadows. Toni seems to be getting a little agitated from the long day, and Cassiar too as he’s starting to try to kick her. Soon we reach a river crossing, and after a little accent we are at our camp. As we dismount our horses, suddenly I hear a groan behind me. Sunbathing happened and Toni kicked Melodie! I feel so bad as if I did something wrong, I can't remember doing anything differently. But there's nothing I can do to help…Sandra and Michelle attend to her and I go help unpack the camp.

Right as we get into camp Feonn notices something in a group of trees, wondering if it was alive or dead. Well, it was most certainly alive…and a baby porcupine! Alex immediately springs into action and starts trying to shoo it away from the camp, but it's hiding in the cluster of trees. Soon it is out and they are chasing it to the river. As we continue to set up camp, a smiling Melodie sits down by the fire (what a relief) and a rather confused Sandra comes back with water, wondering why after being in such an isolated place suddenly two boys and two girls came running by in such a commotion!

As Michelle and Alex take care of the various horse dressings, Wayne cooks a great meal for the camp: rice, corned beef hash with onions and mushrooms, and vegetables, along with miso soup to perfectly help warm up the entire group. It's an amazing meal to end a long day. I sit around the fire having some tea trying to dry out my flannel, but soon everyone is tired. I didn't even realize it was past 10. With the long day behind me I crawl into the warm sleeping bag and fall asleep more quickly then I have in a long time.

Thursday July 25th, 2019

Even though I know it is a rest day, I still am awake a bit early, my sleeping schedule a bit earlier as now I'm readily on camping time. It is cold and I can see my breath, and I can't hear anyone else up, so I take extra time to just stay inside my sleeping bag for another hour to enjoy its warmth. Soon it is nearing 8, so I put on my warm puffy and venture outdoors. Bob is up and he finally finished his book about a trip into the Himalayas gone wrong, and the ending is certainly very British. Elizabeth wakes up and Sandra and Melodie are not too far behind, so we start a pot of coffee. Wayne wakes up briefly to start rehydrating hash browns for the group and goes back to bed. We are all just sitting around talking, telling stories to each other and joking. I am wearing a weird bandana hat tube thing I got from the skyrace which actually makes for a warm hat, but Sandra points out it looks like I'm wearing a set of panties on my head, and we all have a hearty laugh. The sun is now over the mountain ridge behind us, beginning to clear out the clouds. Wayne and Emma wake up, and the hash browns are started with first frying up a great mixture of bacon, sausage and wieners into which the hash browns go. Elizabeth prepares them in the big camp frying pan, sharing the secret that they need to be flipped over in sections to get properly browned. They are delicious, and are soon polished off by the group.

After finishing the hash browns the sun has finished burning off most of the clouds, creating an amazing blue sky day that I never would have guessed would come given the weather yesterday. I start getting ready to go on a day hike. I pick up a can of bear spray that is in a holster and begin to get it and my camera on my belt. After filling up some water for the hike, I see that people are helping to bring back more firewood to the camp to stock up for the next time the camp is used in September. Going up into the stand of trembling aspen where the trees are being cut we meander through some thick willow. The bunch of branches I'm carrying back get continually caught on the willow so I am fighting a bit to get it back in a strong grip under my arm. Once I drop off the load, however, the bear spray is no longer in the holster! The silly willow must have grabbed it. I walk up and down the short path to the aspen multiple times looking for it, but I don't see anything. It should be easy to spot a red cylinder next to a trail! Might not be a hike, but could certainly occupy an afternoon. I am on another pass when I hear a call that they found it; here it was on the path to the river. Hadn't made it 100 yards put of camp without losing it! Feeling like a klutz I get the bear spray on, the rest of the gear ready and head on out for a hike.

After describing how I was looking to get up in the mountain by camp, Wayne suggested following the horse trail which goes up that way, which seems like a much better idea then bushwhacking through those devious willows. The trail leads to a nice meadow by the river where the horses are grazing. This is one of the only places remaining where Wayne finds stands of the showy thistle, which is how the camp got its name. After leaving the meadow and heading up the mountain there is a treefall that will probably need to be cut tomorrow, but this is good as it will prevent the horses from going up the hill on the trail, something they've done in the past. The trail goes into a nice spruce forest, and I'm enjoying being on foot to take the time to look at and photograph the mosses and flowers I normally only see from riding Toni. The trail then opens up onto an avalanche chute, offering nice views of the mountains and the river valley below. After another brief forest stretch, the trail opens up to a beautiful mountain meadow with pretty flowers and tall grasses and just a wonderful smell hanging in the air. I turn on back to camp and on the way down see that the red tarp has been carefully hung across the trail; the horses are afraid of the sound of plastic tarps, so this should deter them from going up the hill.

Returning to camp mid afternoon, it is quite hot so I take the bottoms of my pants off to hang around in shorts. Melodie starts preparing a wonderful dinner of spicy Thai vegetables, chicken a la king, and banana cream for dessert and Michelle makes some more awesome bannic for everyone as a very effective motivational snack for everyone on the long riding day tomorrow. Wayne asks for a game of scrabble and I have a great time even though he beats me handily playing four seven letter words during the game! Turns out he had been stuck in a trappers cabin for months with no other entertainment then scrabble; no wonder why he is so good! The dinner is great and quickly devoured, and the dessert is a great touch. I finish putting most everything into Ziploc bags to prepare for the trip tomorrow. The horses have wandered from the meadow back towards camp but are close. Vern starts to get close to Bob's tent, and Bob quickly gets up to run to his tent and shoo him away, for on a previous trip Vern had eaten part of his tent! Eventually, after stepping on Wayne's tent, Michelle and Alex get the horses to move away by shaking the big blue tarp at them. Funny how the horses can brave the elements, ascend and descend trails that are squirrelly even for people while carrying over a hundred pounds, but yet can be confused by things as simple as a tarp or an errant rock.

Soon everyone starts heading in to go to sleep and, as usual, Bob and I are the last ones up. While he's telling me great stories about a nearly badly botched canoeing trip up on lake of the woods, what should we see sauntering right down the trail into camp but a waddling porcupine! Bob gets Alex, who immediately springs into action! Sprinting, he soon gets it out of the tree near the trail It had climbed and started shoveling it with the porcupine stick to the river. Not satisfied with the new experimental y shaped stick he refashions the stick with his knife as he is running. Eventually the porcupine goes into the river but seems to keep swimming back to shore, and both the porcupine and Alex are out of sight. I wait for Alex to get back to camp; eventually it made it to the other side of the river where out shook itself off on the bank and then just lay there confused.

After talking a bit more we both head to bed. The sky seems clear, but before I turn in I hear the patter of a passing shower on my tent. I hope the weather will hold for our long trip tomorrow.

Friday July 26th, 2019

Even though I went to bed late last night, I still am up super early. In the night I remember seeing some lights moving around my tent, but nothing specific. Turns out that it was unfortunately porcupine central for Michelle and Alex who were up nearly all night. At one point Michelle was dealing with two at a time, yelling at them to get back up inn the trees being tired of corralling them to the river in the middle of the night! Talking with Alex in the morning he said normally they deal with four to five a year; in this camp alone they had five of the unwelcome visitors! Must be some kind of a porcupine baby boomer generation.

We pack up camp and ourselves very efficiently, but this makes sense as by the end of the trip everyone has a good sense of their assignments for morning camp breakdowns, the routine of balancing the panniers, how to orient the chairs, offside packing, all the ins and outs of a routine that is no longer foreign or forgotten. It's the efficiency of finally working as a team. Toni developed a rub from the last long downhill day, so Michelle picked out a special pad and blanket to help make her more comfortable. We actually hit the trail at 8:45, a full 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Not bad, for we have a long day of riding ahead of us and are thankful for the sun and clouds.

We start up the same trail I had hiked yesterday, the one with the gorgeous meadows. It's amazing how much the loaded horses chew up the trail. Although I'm only five or six horses behind Wayne it's amazing how much more difficult the footing is then yesterday. Still the views are great and the second meadow is still very beautiful. Now I get to go beyond to see what's next! We keep on ascending up the mountain, almost to the tree line. Some recent avalanches in the winter have swept away parts of the shorter spruce forests to make wide open swaths and amazing views of the valley and creek we just left. I wonder what it is that always makes great valleys seem even more majestic when you see them from above.

We continue our ascent and I'm happy to have gotten Toni into the front of the pack string. She always seems more comfortable when surrounded by the pack horses and happy at a consistent walking pace instead of the stop and go traffic there. Plus, being in front, I get to see Wayne's talent with the axe. He was formerly a lumberjack, and his skill with the axe is apparent as he swings and slices through trees inches thick like a hot knife through butter, sometimes just with a single stroke. His motions show that he knows body mechanics even if it's not something that is totally conscious. He also has a keen eye; at one point when mounting up, he noticed that Toni’s saddle had shifted about 45 degrees to the right before I even noticed and helps me shift it back into place. I'd like to think I'd notice that before I got on, but I guess I'm just a bit slow around horses.

We stop for a snack once we reach the top after passing through a new section of trail they cut just last year. On the trail are two bright orange colored things, around four inches across, intricate and lace-like as a natural sponge. Coral mushroom is what Wayne says they are. Only two I saw, but beautiful. Lunch finished, the descent to the Gataga begins. It starts off high in the spruce forest, but as we descend the plants begin to change. There is a wider variety of floor covering plants along with some new flowers that have returned or are in higher numbers, the purple daisy like flowers and some smaller red ones. The lupine seems to be less dominant. The plant with the red berries that was just perhaps a few inches across up higher now grows into tall bushes over a foot high. Small aspen are now introducing themselves back into the forest, although their leaves seem to be affected by some kind of fungus turning them from green to silver. The trail seems to be less rocky. Maybe about halfway down there is finally a little opening through the trees and I can see it: the Gataga river.

Reaching the riverbank at the bottom it is easy to see that the river has grown. At its headwaters by the Rocky Mountain divide it was narrow and fast, here, having been fed by all the glaciers and creeks it has grown into a wide river maybe 100 feet across. There are no rapids; its water looks deceptively still and flat but clearly is moving with some speed. The trees, bank erosion and debris along the shoreline attest to its power. Phenomenal how much a river can change and evolve inn just the course of 20 to 30 miles. The valley in which it flows has also changed. Besides the plants, here, lower, the mountains are different. The sides are much more gradually sloped then the carved spires of the higher peaks. They are covered in trees, the aspens and spruce intermingling in stands to drape them in different stripes of green. The gentler slopes are not without danger, though; the avalanche chutes are broader and can reach from near the top to the bottom, unlike the high peaks where they were narrow and could end in steep rock canyon fissures at any time. These lower mountains do not harbor the great glaciers nor pockets of snow. Inviting, not imposing, they still are majestic and want to be climbed and share their love equally as much as their higher rougher brothers.

We proceed to ride along the bank of the Gataga river across more feeder creeks, marshes, and stands of small aspen, willow and spruce, and such my little comedy of errors for the day begins. While riding across a gravel bank, Bob suddenly says from the back “hey Ed, are these yours? Better come back and get it” I turn around to look at my pack roll and sure enough there's my rain jacket hanging off of the side of the saddle, but nothing else! I grab the rain jacket and put it on. Since Toni really doesn't turn around, I'm happy enough to just part ways with the rain pants and flannel, but Feonn thankfully stops, picks them up, and Wayne helps me tie them back onto the saddle. I'm still in the middle with the pack horses, but with the stop and more open gravel areas more of the pack horses have snuck ahead; they always seem to compete to see who can be in front. But I do lose good sight of the exact trail that Wayne is taking. We get to one little feeder creek crossing, one with a slightly higher bank. Toni and I are just following the pack horses when I see them almost jumping into the creek. Looking up, now I see Wayne pointing to the sloped entry point on the bank that I, and the pack horses, missed. After watching Tuchodi jump in almost to his neck I give Toni a chance to look at the bank, but there isn't any other good crossing. At Wayne's advice after she won't turn around I get off and start leading her back. Michelle thankfully arrives to help and guides us to the crossing point where I get on. Though I'm kicking and Michelle is urging her on, Toni doesn't seem to want to go! After Melodie starts to get Vern in the creek, I think Toni finally saw her other horse friends and was all in, crossing the creek with gusto. At our next stop for lunch the top roll has come lose again. Michelle helps show me how to make a better top roll, long and wide, but it looks like there is some rain coming so I just put on the rain pants and stuff the flannel in a saddlebag. But without a plastic bag for the flannel I don't have too much hope for it…

Soon we are at the point where we will cross the big Gataga river. To Alex the water seems low, but it is so muddy from the debris flow that I can't estimate it's depth. They don't think the water is deep enough that the horses will be swimming this year. But still, all depends on the water and how tall the horse is. After a brief stop to let people waterproof things we head for the river. There's a pocket of sand and we need to stop and fix Tuchodi’s soft pack (the diamond?) when Locket, panniers on, decides to go for a roll in the sand! Pestering him to stand up, Michelle and Emma ride to get him. He stands up, but then Rosie, Michelle's horse, just sits down in the sand like a dog! She gets her up quickly though, and we enter the river. Wayne tells us before going in to keep looking at the destination; on big rivers there's an optical illusion that happens if you look down at the water that makes you think the horse is tipping over. In the river the crossing really isn't that bad. The water ugly seems to get to my upper thighs, really not that deep. It doesn't seem any worse then the depth of some of the Tuchodi river crossing we did two years ago, but certainly is a lot longer as the river is bigger. We get to the opposite side easy, no problem for any of the horses or riders. We stop to assess; the saddlebag with my mostly eaten snacks that was upstream is filled to the top with water that I dump out, the one downstream holding that flannel has not a single drop of water in it! Astounding!

We ride through a burn area, Alex and Wayne cutting the fallen trees, now on the path to our final destination. After re-entering the forest, soon we are at Mayfield lake. This is Wayne's cabin and is beautiful. Still, not too much time to appreciate it as there's work to do. We unpack the pack horses and get them tied up, just like the end of every ride. Then we do our saddle horses. It's our last ride of the trip, so I take Toni’s saddle off of her, the blanket and pad, and take a little time to give her a pat, thank her for carrying me, putting up with my singing, sharing the landscape with me, forgive her that $5 bet I won that the weather would be better on the other side of Twin Glacier Pass, and say goodbye. For soon she will be let loose with the other horses and she will return down to the river and graze and I won't see her again. Goodbye Toni, and thank you for carrying me in this beautiful land once again. I have a feeling our paths may just yet cross another time in the future.

After getting on some dry socks and shoes and wrestling an even larger tarp then we had on the trail, Sandra helps me cook my final meal for the trip, spaghetti and meat sauce. Sandra really helps make it nice and tasty, helping to fry up the freeze dried ground beef and garlic in butter to crisp them, and taking the lead on the pasta. I feel like a spectator! But I enjoy the tasty meal, and I think the others do too after the long ride. After finishing taking care of the horses finally Michelle, Alex and Emma can join us. Bob brings out some wonderful bread for us to share, a great compliment for the gravy. There's a break in the rain and I go to set up my tent. All the spots below have been taken, so I just set up by the cache on a flat piece of soft ground. I go back to finish up my third helping of dinner, but the table's been cleaned and everyone is gone.

I retire to my tent and look over the topos with the tracks of our travels, the contour lines rising, painting again in my head those beautiful mountains. Finally tired, I fall asleep.

Saturday July 27th, 2019

The day started off with a continuing drizzle from the night before. I still am up early, still on camping time even though there is nowhere to go. After a bit of a wait there is a break in the rain and I head on out of my tent and walk around a little bit to enjoy some time alone in the forest in the morning. Soon I hear a few more people stirring and head on over to the cooking area. Elizabeth, Bob, Melodie and Sandra are all around and we're getting together some coffee. It starts raining lightly again. There's still quite a bit of leftover spaghetti from last night, so I found the perfect breakfast! It reminds me of being at home foraging through the refrigerator for snacking in the night. A light drizzle starts up again, but we have good coffee and great company. Melodie hurt her finger in the morning, but Sandra helps fashion a splint to keep it stable. Initially they thought it might be broken, but as Wayne and Emma wake up and share similar stories it seems to be a tendon instead. Still, so bizarre that after all of the time on the trail that such an injury would happen just in a tent in camp! At least Melodie is still laughing about it, which is a good sign.

While talking, I told everyone that I really don't know how to tie up a horse. Sandra, the awesome person that she is, gets up, points to some ropes on the ground, finds a tree and shows us the knot. So funny, the way she does it just seems graceful and makes so much more sense; I'd had it explained, but no one ever really took the time to teach me. With Sandra’s guidance, now I know how to tie up a horse! Even though there's s little drizzle now and then, there’s no substitute for practice so I keep on tying knots around a tree for a while until I think I've got it in my head. Granted, it's a little late for this trip, but it's always good to learn new things. And I've got a suspicion that it might be useful in the future…

The rain abates in the late morning and more people awake and things start to get set in motion. Elizabeth helps Wayne clean out the sauna and gets it set up for the camp. Bob and Melodie are busy beginning to get chili dehydrated for dinner. Michelle is awake and graciously makes some pancakes for the group. The clouds are starting to part around the lake showing glimpses of the beautiful mountains on the horizon. But there are still some short periods of drizzle and my legs are a little tired from the long ride, so I decide to spend the day in camp. There are certainly things to do and some tasks that I can try to lend an extra pair of hands to for Michelle, Alex and Emma. One of the first things they start is assembling the dock. The dock is two big wooden pieces that join together perpendicularly. There isn't too much I can do to help, but I can at least provide tension on one of the ropes aligning it to the shore. It really is a lovely dock which, like most of the other structures, is surprising that things of this quality exist in the wild. People can be pretty ingenious when pushed to the limits of creativity. The sun comes out and I take a few minutes to take a few pictures of this special place from the newly completed dock. My mind is thinking of angles and structures that I forgot Sandra is now in the sauna right by the dock loading ramp! I quickly get shooed away and, embarrassed, I leave pronto.

Next they are assembling the wall tents. While they work on getting one wall tent set up, putting up the frame, the canvas walls, beds and stove, I work on sweeping all the pine needles off of the second wall tent platform. I don't mind sweeping as it gives me the sense of accomplishing something while being able to still look out at the beautiful lake, the now exposed mountains, the clouds having mostly lifted. I try to get the needles out of all the little crannies so the next people in there will have a very clean floor to greet them. After the first wall tent is set up though, it's now quite sunny, so I get invited to help on the next big task of the day: dismantling a beaver dam.

The level of the water in the lake is higher then normal; the rocks normally at the top of the dock ramp are underwater and there's not too much to see of the beach. They know this means the beaver has rebuilt one or maybe two dams. Alex and I get into one canoe and Snow jumps on inside. Michelle and Emma hop into another, and Sandra and Feonn into the third, and the beaver dam wrecking crew is off. We paddle along the shore, and about in a mile we are near the end of the lake, and sure enough there is a beaver dam across the outflow. We all get into the water and wade on in, picking apart the dam. It is very cool to be in one up close; they are an interesting mix of small sticks, large sticks, branches, rocks, mud and portions of trees all put together to make the dam. It's almost slightly curved into the water it's holding back and made such that the water flows evenly over it. The beavers actually carry the mud for the dam in their mouths. We start dismantling it, tossing sticks and mud downriver, larger trunks to the side, the dam eventually giving off a faint rodent smell. We're all laughing and talking, imagining the beaver watching and being quite upset with us, not knowing that we're doing it a favor by giving it something to for the rest of the summer to rebuild. After maybe thirty minutes it looks like there's some progress; Michelle thinks she found the bottom of the almost 18 inch tall dam. It's easy to see the work has made some progress; there's now a good flow of water over the dam, taking away some of the mud on its own, and the formerly placid water behind us is now rippled from the current. I go back to shore to look around at the reeds in the sun while Alex and Sandra continue to work on the dam while Emma, Michelle and Feonn swim up a bit further to check if there was a second dam (there wasn't) and go pick some of the wild raspberries. There are a few right alongside the canoe where I'm standing. I have a couple and They are quite tasty, so I save the rest for either Alex or Sandra to enjoy.

The dam partially destroyed, or at least in the process of being eroded, we get back into our canoes and begin paddling back. Alex takes me on a nice path around the island in the lake. The views of the mountains from the lake are absolutely phenomenal, the still water forming a near perfect mirror replicating the mountains and the sky. As we pass by Alex hears the beaver on shore slapping its tail on the water, usually a warning, but now perhaps also a bit piqued. Alex points out some of the various trails, mountains he's climbed, overnight trips, trails to be cleared, ridges to be crossed, all the beautiful wild that surrounds this place. A bunch of loons are in the lake, their call echoing in the distance. One of them tries to take off, but even with what Alex describes as a long runway, it doesn't have any luck and just flaps its wings on the water to create lots of ripples. As we round the island the water level is high enough that a little spit is underwater, creating a temporary little islet. Alex has never paddled between them, but things are looking good today. With a couple inches of water still there we make it through. A Canadian jay flies by low, first I've seen. We then paddle back to shore, get the canoe up on the bank. Back on land, I go for a baby wipe shower and put on some fresh clothes.

It's late afternoon, and it's scrabble time! Wayne asked for a game, so I grab the little portable scrabble set and head for the dock. While Feonn is fishing, not having too much luck from the canoe but amazing skill from the dock (caught his first fish must be within five minutes of putting his lure in the water! Amazing angler) Wayne and I play a game with probably some of the prettiest views to which scrabble has ever been played. He is still an amazing player, at least three seven letter words, and even an eight on a triple score! I don't have the letters this game to stay close, but it still is a lot of fun, especially seeing when Wayne puts down that first letter so far away from the rest of the words on the board, trying to guess what he'll play. When swapping tiles, Wayne accidentally drops a few, and they slip through the space inbetween the planks of the dock! The little plastic tiles are starting to float away; Wayne catches one from the dock and then Alex bravely jumps into the water to rescue the J! Turns out we got lucky; further experiments by Alex showed that they don't necessarily float and it depends how they hit the water. It's the second J he's rescued here at Mayfield; the one from the full size set here went missing so he had to whittle a new one. Even though I got the J, it still didn't help me win. But it is so much fun watching Wayne play, and of course the location, that the score is all secondary to one of the most memorable games I'll have.

As we walk off the dock, Wayne notices that the ramp is now more parallel to the water where before it was at an angle. Looks like the dam removal is having an effect. We meander up to the cooking area, and Bob has just finished preparing an amazing dinner of chili and mashed potatoes. It is so delicious that I have three bowls! All of the people in our group, excepting me, are amazing chefs. Every meal has been delicious, and it amazes me how well they can cook on the trail. I am certainly eating better and more heartily then I do at home. I'm sure I'm bound to gain weight!

After dinner, Feonn shares a story with the group. He was on the small jet boat that was carrying all the fuel, the one with the pilot who smoked. Well, it turns out the pilot had a pressurized lighter that didn't look anything like a lighter. While in the boat, Feonn spotted it on the dash and was curious what it was, so discovered it was a lighter by lighting it…and some gas that had pooled in the top of one of three 30 gallon fuel drums in the boat! Quickly he tossed his rain jacket over it, but that didn't stop the fire. He looked around and saw some rubber waders, tossed those over and patted it down, which stopped the flames... And potentially stopped the boat from exploding too. Funniest thing was that the boat wasn't even yet on the water! We all laugh as, for all of our little stories of adversity on the trip, that one takes top prize, and happened before the trip even really began! Wayne makes a mental note in the future to ask the boat pilots to please not smoke, and to hide any lighters.

We then play a fun variation of liars dice which gets us all laughing around the table and having a wonderful time over various donated desserts including a chocolate sesame crumbly thing (must remember to ask Melodie), chocolate, cookies and coffee. The sun is setting, and it makes beautiful colors in the sky, bouncing off of the gently rippling water of the lake. Michelle then gets us to stop and be silent; in distance wolves are howling in the sunset. At first Snow barks in response, but soon is quiet too enjoying hearing them howl. I've never heard that before, and it is an eerie and magical sound.

The howling dying down and the sun heading behind the low clouds I return to the fire and have a nice conversation with Melodie about just how magical and awesome it is to be in nature. She heads to bed, but Alex is still awake for a bit and we sit by the dying fire talking about some of our favorite music and I pick up a lot of new things to listen to along with many things we already both enjoy. The fire dims to embers and it is dark. We both retire to our tents. I write a bit but it is late, one of the latest, longest days of the trip, ironically. But, after a full, busy and restful day, I fall asleep quickly. I wonder if the wolves will howl again in the night and how well the peeved beaver will sleep and motivate himself to start again.

Sunday July 28th, 2019

I woke up early again this morning, still on camping time, waking up generally as the light gets nether in the morning. This far north it does get dark around 11:30 and starts getting light around 4:30, so I've been usually steadily up by a bit after 5. Similar to the day before it was drizzling, so I stayed in my cozy tent a little bit longer where it was dry and warm. I hear the cracking of some branches and at the next break in the rain head on out. Bob is up and enjoying the morning and has already made coffee, so we start exchanging stories as we do. Some great stories from his youth about show cattle and traveling across Canada in the top of a boxcar right behind the engine. It's been really fun hearing all of his stories; I'm going to miss them. Melodie and Sandra are soon up, and as start whipping up some great hash browns with the things we have left over: little smoked sausages, bacon, and powdered eggs. Really hits the spot!

The rain breaks and there is sun on the far mountain ranges, and others wake up for some breakfast and coffee. After we're fed, Wayne and the wranglers are going to go down to the river to look for the horses to bring them back to the camp. I had been thinking of hiking on down to the river today. So it seems like a nice opportunity to get that in. Feonn and Sandra come along too, but they will ride back. I don't know how to ride bareback so I'll just walk back. We go down to the river on a different path more paralleling the lakeshore so Wayne can clear it out if he needs to. Soon we are at the river and start following the fresh tracks showing that the horses went upstream. We catch up with a few, but it's nowhere near the entire herd. Wayne hears some bells ahead and we push through the willow. Soon we break out into a green grass marsh where the other horses are. I'm happy because I get to put a halter on Toni one more time and thank her for carrying me on our journey through the mountains. The others mount their horses bareback but that isn't part of my skill set, so I happily start walking back to camp. I had hoped to hike to the river today anyway, so I got to spend time both with friends and horses but also a nice solo hike. Aside from enjoying seeing the river again I got to see a few new flowers, see up close some of the flowers, berries and shrubs in the burn zone, and take a closer look at the mushrooms in the forest by the lake which must be at least four different kinds. While hiking back a little toad crossed my path, first I'd seen! I'm following the freshly broken trail back to camp and son I know I'm close because I'm smelling something delicious…

Sandra and Melodie have warmed up the chili and potatoes from last night to make a scrumptious lunch with the potatoes getting a nice crunch to them. I really don't know how they can cook so well on the trail, even better then when I'm in my own house. I've been reading so much this trip I've probably gained weight, but I also have got lots of ideas for good things to make at home and how to be a more efficient chef.

The weather can't seem to decide whether it wants to be cloudy or sunny or raining, so mostly I spend the afternoon being completely lazy, shifting been attempting to write, checking email to see if anything is going on with family, helping some people make calls with my phone, futile attempts to reorient the solar charger to put any charge into a battery, getting some new tv series, music, book and video game recommendations, looking out at the lake and the mountains and, perhaps most importantly, dozing. A lazy relaxing afternoon in a beautiful place.

Michelle prepares an amazing Mediterranean vegetable pasta dinner for us which I'd love to be able to make at home. Feonn puts together an amazing olive bread, cooked perfectly by Michelle and him by putting logs on top of the camp frying pan, crisping it on both the top and bottom perfectly evenly. Wayne plays me one more game of scrabble and still beats me, that seven letter play strategy really can pay off well! I still really enjoy playing with him and love seeing the words he plays. We've gotten to play in some of the most beautiful settings I've ever been and all the games will be memorable.

I unpack my panniers and get all my things into the bags that are heading for home. I wipe down the inside of the panniers and check to see if I can leave anything useful behind that could be of help. Alex and I practice some escrima and get into doing some two handed work; it is fun to work with someone into such a diverse range of weapons. We have some more conversation as it starts to get dark. The drizzle turns into a light rain; we get the kitchen food into the storage panniers and head on into our tents, for me, sadly, for the last time this trip to the MK.

Monday July 29th, 2019

Even though I know I'm already mostly packed and the plane won't be coming until at least 10, my stupid body still is waking me up at 5:30. It sounds like there is some drizzle on the tent so I hang out, warmed by down, write for a bit and wander off into that pseudo doze daydream where your mind wanders outside of a dream into those places that make little sense. The rain stops and I hear some activity close by, so I reluctantly force myself into the final camp breakdown that is such the norm for my backpacking mornings: wake up (even slightly), immediately loosen the air valve on the sleeping pad and deflate it (more efficient when lying down you can use your entire body to compress it…plus without any cushioning, especially on harder ground, removes the incentive to attempt to go back to sleep), get those into stuff sacks, toss everything outside the tent, pull up tent stakes, shake out tent, dry out tent with camp towel (if necessary), take out tent poles, fold tent in half, roll up in tent poles, shake out and fold up ground cover (even if now used inside per the Wayne technique), roll up ground cover over tent, put roll in stuff sack with stakes. And, after all that, coffee. A regular old backpacking routine!

Bob and Elizabeth are already up and way along the way to resolving that coffee problem so I have a cup or three. But after coffee the next primordial drive had to be breakfast. I warm up the last of my freeze dried breakfast hash and share some with Elizabeth, but I soon realize, though tasty, wasn't enough. Damn these excellent camp chefs leaving leftovers! I forage my way through that great pasta (the utter deliciousness and raw power of cold pasta is an inscrutable mystery of life), nuts, granola bars and more coffee in one of the longest breakfast grazing sessions I've had in years. But, must've filled me up, as I can't sit still any longer and feel a need to meander.

I wander down to the dock and take some pictures of the pretty sunrise, the water calm and reflective. On the second wall tent platform I walk around and think how great it would be to lounge with that view from the Adirondacks still in the cache. I spend some time on the swing by Wayne's cabin just looking at the mountains. I listen to the calls of the loons. Relaxing in one of the most beautiful places I've been privileged to experience.

Although I am packed, I am not ready to leave. I don't know where this time has gone. Though the dates do not lie, it hasn't been two weeks. Each day goes by wth a snap. You wake up, pack up tent, ride, set up tent, snap. Day off, camp maintenance, wait for the sun, go out for a paddle or a hike, dinner, snap. Wake up, find horses, snap. Dream, daylight, snap. Out of necessity it becomes a natural life rhythm and, as such, leaves me occupied with something big or small at each waking moment and exhausted by day's end. Snap.

As we are sitting around eating and yakking the sound of a motor is in the distance, and our air chariot is coming! I've never seen a floatplane in action in person of course, so it's exciting to see it land on the lake and gradually wind its way towards the dock. Onboard are Peter and Emma’s sister and her one year old heeler. The poor dog had gotten scared on the plane and caressed an issue, but soon was running around, so happy to be out of its cage and making new friends. Oh boy, will Snow have some serious competition for head scratches now!

We form a fireman’s line to unload the luggage and lumber (with Elizabeth coming up with a very efficient pivoting technique for the lumber) and second to load the plane with our gear. I hadn't realized before that the floats themselves could carry luggage and balance out the load of the plane! We say our goodbyes to all the friends we are leaving behind with all of their fears, hopes, anger and joys. I wonder and hope that this once again brief physical intersection of our lives is as important, enjoyable and happy as it was for me, and I hope our paths will cross quickly once again.

I like having the plane to fly is out this trip. It is beautiful to see Mayfield from as distance, to wave goodbye to Michelle who is standing on the dock. To see the burn areas, the large rivers, the undulations of the mountains. But this view did not make me feel any goodbye; beneath the clouds on the right hand side of the plane there they were, rising plain as day, making my blood rush and my face break out into the contortions of a giddy uncontrollable child; the Battle of Britain range was now laid bare, no cloudy shawls to hide behind, and are they majestic, snow capped and vertical. Oh how I want to already go back. They are difficult to get to, but those mountains are just begging to be with them in rapture, play, and pray. Such beauty; I want to touch it!

Wayne drives us back to Fort Nelson with a few stops along the way, including, of course, the cinnamon bun capitol of the galactic center. Elizabeth splits one with me and I need to admit, it's pretty goddamn good.

Others move on with multiple goodbyes, but Elizabeth and I get together for dinner. Even though I still talk about myself too much, I listen; even beyond her help in the trail she is still engaging. I hope she realizes that she is appreciated and I hope her path can yield joy.

After a second shower I finally smell, well, neutral. It's amazing how just after that shower suddenly, surprisingly, my flannel smelled like a horse. I snuggle with it, an olfactory memory of times so prescient and simultaneously distant. Missing those times, missing those mountains, missing my friends, missing those times when I can see a high peak in the distance, a mushroom at my feet, so many valleys that need to be hiked, so many glaciers that need to be explored and captured and shared before they are gone, so many mountains beckoning to be climbed.

I bury my nose in my flannel again, inhale deeply and am once again enraptured; until the next time may your rivers be fruitful, your peaks ever sharpened and ascending into the sky, and keep my friends safe and happy and growing in your grasp; may you never forget that you, the Rockies, have been and always will be a conduit to and a reflection of the face of God. May others see this astounding land, open their eyes, discover its transcendence, unite with it under their feet, open their hearts and ears to hear the mountains sing, listen, write new songs and revel in the joy of singing together with them in new harmonies. Even if there is only a horse to hear.

The Photographs

Picutres were from the a900 system with the 24-70 lens and the 70-400 lens. As the a900 doesn't fit well into saddlebags two other supplemental cameras joined me on the trip; an iPhone SE that was in use for GPS tracking, and a GoPro. It was fun to play with a new system; the GoPro seems like a fun wide angle lens, and helped capturing fun times.

Click "Next" in the upper right to begin.