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TCU Magazine "Purpectives"


Mountain high

The spirit soars despite saddle sores when E.K. Bostick '72 takes this greenhorn into the mountains.

By Nancy Bartosek


The 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."

I turned 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 trip.

Before long, 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.

Andy and 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.

Just before 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.

Nervous excitement 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.

We 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.

The trip had begun.

Six hours 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.

And, 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.

That night 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 the river.

Jim slipped 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.

"You missed the moose," Jim noted. A bull had ambled through camp, but the mules had chased it off.

I finally 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.

We camped 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.

A 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.

Don, Ray 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.

There are 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.

"After a 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.

That night 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 day.

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.

Our rides 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.

"So what 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.

Day Four 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 the shore.

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.

The trip 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 no hurry.

"The later we get back, the better it is," he said, looking longingly over his shoulder at the gorge we had just trod through.

I nodded with a smile, understanding perfectly. Andy was right. It had gotten into my blood.

Nancy Bartosek is the editor of The TCU Magazine

Send comments to tcumagazine@tcu.edu.



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