soars despite saddle sores when E.K. Bostick '72 takes this greenhorn into
By Nancy Bartosek
sun was barely awake when we pulled in at the trailhead -- a large parking
area along a busy stretch of state Highway 14 near Cody, Wyo. Several
men were busily strapping gear to mules and saddling horses, and as I
approached, one wiped a grimy, roughened hand on his shirt and extended
it. "Hi, I'm Rye," he drawled. I must have looked confused. "I'm Rye,"
he repeated, drawing the name out even more. A man behind me chuckled.
"That's Ray. Don't mind him. He's from New Zealand."
and met Andy, who traps bears in Oregon for the government when he isn't
shepherding greenhorns. The two would tend to the 24 animals needed to
get 12 riders and all the gear into the Washakie Wilderness for the four-day
the rest of our group had assembled -- E.K. Bostick Ô72, our host and owner
of Crescent B Outfitters; his 12-year-old son, Colter; Jim, camp cook
and resident storyteller; the two Bills from Denver, who each brought
an 11-year-old son, Hogan and George; and Don, who, as it turns out, lives
just down the road in Dallas from Dennis, our photographer.
Ray finished their work, mounted their horses and with a wave disappeared
into the woods, each pulling a string of ambling mules. They would move
faster and could unpack the gear ahead of our arrival.
mounting up, E.K. handed out oversized canisters of pepper spray in nylon
holsters and said that we were never to be without it. I slipped the bear
repellent onto my belt and wondered if this could actually stop a charging
beast, then clambered with a grunt onto a beautiful black mare named Maggie
and reined her into line.
rushed up my spine. I hadn't been on a horse since I was 12. And not often
even then. The ride wasn't going to be the sort of sitting down this desk
jockey is accustomed to.
pushed through the line of trees and immediately stopped. Before us raced
the Shoshone River, looking formidable. E.K. shouted something about water
crossings, but I couldn't hear him over the roar. Three steps in and I
had to lift my feet to the saddle horn to keep them dry. The horses struggled
against the current, slipping and stumbling on the rocky bottom. But we
all arrived safely on the other side, and I was again able to breathe.
and several unplanned delays later, I slipped gratefully off Maggie and
hobbled away to lie down. It was the first trip of the season, and the
three pack horses E.K. was pulling had been far too excited to plod quietly
behind each other. Their tangled or slipped leads added nearly two hours
to the four-hour journey.
We had traveled
12 miles up the gorge into Shoshone National Forest, crisscrossed Eagle
Creek, hiked up steep switchbacks and down, gazed over incredible vistas,
filled our water bottles from crystal running streams, and laughed and
talked the entire time. I was content in my soreness.
I thought as I eased to the ground, I did it!
After a short
rest, we busied ourselves unfolding tents while E.K. and Jim started a
fire for dinner. It felt good to have my feet on level ground.
we enjoyed the first of many lavish meals. Afterwards we hunkered down
on camp chairs around the fire, sipping creek-chilled beer or Scotch before
crawling into our tents. Thick foam pads ensured we would sleep well,
though I might have been happy with a blanket on the ground at that point.
I realized why we needed so many animals. We were camping in luxury!
The sun was
up and frisky by the time I awoke. A pot of hot coffee and the scent of
frying bacon greeted me when I stepped from the tent. Don appeared in
waders, his face glowing. He had already caught and tossed back a string
of neon-bellied brook trout. The two Bills and their boys were still at
a stack of blueberry hotcakes off the griddle and handed me a plateful.
Eggs, ham, potatoes and bacon were warming by the fire; juice waited in
the cooler. The sky glistened overhead, and the chill was mostly gone
from the damp morning air.
the moose," Jim noted. A bull had ambled through camp, but the mules had
chased it off.
had a chance to look around. The sky was past dusk when we arrived the
night before, and I had been too tired to care where we were. At 7,800
feet, the knee-high grass provided a verdant carpet for the blue lupine,
lavender monkshood and white Queen Anne's lace, broken by stands of spruce
and Ponderosa pines. Mountains hugged the valley like a protective parent.
In the distance, snow-capped peaks jutted into a Crayola-blue sky.
along the southeast edge of the three-mile-long meadow, against the woods
that crawled out of the gorge. Eagle Creek branches somewhere up in the
mountains, sending two fingers tumbling down opposite sides of the meadow.
The nearby east fork served as our watering hole.
long midday nap followed breakfast for me. With the day half gone, a couple
of us saddled up and attempted a short ride into Yellowstone National
Forest. The mules, unrestrained in the meadow, thought that was a great
idea and began to follow, cavorting around the horses, forcing us to abandon
our day trip.
and Andy had headed downstream earlier to fish while the rest of us lazed
about camp, reading or napping. They returned with tales of an amazing
fishing hole and a bored-looking black bear that had sleepily watched
them ride by.
things about the mountains that surprise an outsider. The sounds. The
smells. So fresh and clean yet oddly familiar as they ooze through and
cleanse the soul. It's an other-worldly feel for a city girl, one accustomed
to pavement and buildings and all things manufactured. Up there you become
part of the grass and the water and the air.
while it becomes like a drug," Andy said as he fiddled with a broken bridle.
"It gets into your blood, and you can't live without it."
I began to
understand why the horses got so anxious as we neared the meadow. This
was a place they could run unbridled and eat all the sweet clover they
could stuff into their strong frames.
we enjoyed our own sumptuous meal featuring rib-eye steaks, topped off
with a pineapple upside-down cake cooked in a cast-iron Dutch oven. A
candle transformed it into a birthday cake for George, who turned 12 that
On Day Three
a group rode to the other end of the meadow where the fishing was exceptional.
Dennis and I took notes and pictures as the others fished their way back
to camp. The anglers disappeared around a bend, and the two of us headed
back to find Andy and Ray and the horses.
were where we left them, but the men were nowhere to be seen. We stumbled
upon Ray stretched out under a tree, the long grass providing a soft bed.
do we do now?" I asked. After a long pause, he slowly lifted the brim
of the weathered hat propped over his face, and he grinned. "Why don't
you find some shade and have a rest?" Nothing more required of me than
to nap under a tree? Wow. Heaven on Earth.
started early. After a quick breakfast we broke camp and packed our gear.
As the men were loading up the horses and mules, I wandered across the
meadow to the west fork of the creek. I passed bear scat and moose droppings
and spots of flattened clover where a horse had stretched out for the
night. Across the gurgling creek, jagged mountains thrust heavenward several
thousand feet. The wind rushed through the pines like surf breaking on
I could still
hear the muffled camp sounds as I perched on the bank. I closed my eyes
and tried to soak everything in. I wanted to remember this moment, this
place -- so pure, so undisturbed. I felt purged. And more alive than I
had in years.
back took the usual four hours, but it seemed much quicker. E.K. delighted
us by belting out trail songs, and our conversations were now between
good friends. We neared the trailhead once more, and one of the pack horses
got antsy and caused yet another delay. As we sat on our horses waiting
to get moving, one of the Bills turned to me and noted that he was in
we get back, the better it is," he said, looking longingly over his shoulder
at the gorge we had just trod through.
with a smile, understanding perfectly. Andy was right. It had gotten into
Bartosek is the editor of The TCU Magazine