Wednesday, September 8, 2010

High Altitude

I am a smoker and when Bonnie invited me to participate in her Paleoindian high altitude dig, I quit. I didn’t smoke for the three months before the dig.

I arrived at the trailhead motel a few days to get acclimated to the starting altitude of 9,000 feet. I drove to the trailhead to have a look at the meeting area. We were to hike to 12,000 feet carrying all our gear including food for 2 weeks. About a 65 pound backpack to tote, in other words!

The trailhead had three railroad ties as stairs. I climbed the ‘stairs’ and was huffing-puffing so badly I thought I was going to die on the spot.

Devastated at the prospect of being unable to do the hike to get to the dig area I sat in my motel room brooding and looking out the window at a horse stable/riding area. Horses! Yes! I could get there by horse.

I went to the stable and presented my case to the cowboy. Could he take me, and my gear, across the 12,000 foot mountain pass then down the steep path into Caribou Lake area? He said he would have to check with the owners but this is something he would really like to do.

The owners agreed. We set a price, date and time to meet for this trek.

So it was the cowboy, his horse, a horse for me and another horse for my gear.

We traveled a long open trail; then forest areas; open alpine fields and then hard scrabble to the rocky top at 12,000 feet.

The wind was so horrendous at the top I got off the horse and crawled on hands and knees to the edge. When I looked down at the steep 500 foot switch back path I choked, “I can’t do this!”

The path was barely wide enough for one person to walk never mind a horse and all the gear.

My cowboy said, “We are going. You are not going to miss this dig.”

We went. My eyes were closed most of the way. I arrived in camp riding fast and happy now that I was on flat ground! The crew was flabbergasted.

The cowboy’s name was Muir! He was a lawyer from Washington State, a grandson, if I remember correctly of John Muir the naturalist. He hated every minute of the closed in atmosphere of Lawyering so he left for Colorado, for the cowboy life.

2 weeks later he came back over the mountain to get me, bringing with him a wonderful lunch, of avocados, cashew nuts, fresh bread and cheese. So thoughtful of him to do for me and too, super tasty after two weeks of eating dried stuff.

The ride back up the narrow switch back trail to the top of the mountain was just as daunting.

Sometimes, I had to get off the horse to lead him around a tight switch back, other times I rode closed eyed or turned into the mountain! "Don’t look down! Don’t look down," a voice in me screamed.

We got to the top of the mountain, the way was open. Peril was over! Home free!

The ride through the forest was lovely but my horse was acting strangely.

The cowboy in a soft firm voice said, “A coyote is following us to my left. Keep your eyes open.”

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