It was 9 a.m. Saturday morning as we watched two wranglers with helpers load our gear and supplies onto four mules, 150 pounds on each for our trek into the Bridger Mountain Wilderness of Wyoming. Son Steve’s plans for the trip included a granddaughter and grandson, plus three friends with connections to our family. We would climb on horseback to over 10,000 feet in elevation, to fish alpine-like lakes. The wranglers’ advice to put toes only in the stirrups to allow jumping if a horse falls, warned of the trail ahead.
The first four miles through dense forest were relatively flat. Then the climbing began on mostly rocky ground, worn down by horse hooves over decades. The horses struggled for footing, slipping and sliding on the rocks and sometimes partially stumbling. Their blowing was evidence of how hard they were working to carry us to the top. Sometimes we went downhill to cross a ravine before more climbing. I was having feelings for the horse.
The trail paralleled a tiny cold-water stream, narrow enough to step across with trout visible in occasional pools. About half-way up we stopped at beautiful Trapper Lake to give horses water and a well-needed rest. Then it was back into the saddle and more climbing until we reached Borum Lake at 10,150 feet. We had been in-saddle for four to five hours. When our gear was unloaded, the two wranglers rested the horses and mules before starting back down the mountain. A week later we would be backpacking down the same trail.
With the climb ended, it was time to create camp, which meant setting up tents, gathering firewood, pumping/filtering water for drinking and camp use and installing pulleys and ropes for hanging food above bears’ reach. My task was digging a pit for a latrine. Thin air made simple tasks strenuous, but when work was done, we took time to survey the magnificent scenery.
Borum Lake located just below tree line is crystal clear, with barren mountains to the northeast rising to almost 12,000 feet. As we finished our turkey chili dinner, the setting sun changed the color of these mountains from gray to pink, reflecting their images on the lake’s surface. Because of clear skies, we saw the same spectacle every evening. Our evening campfire was built at the base of an enormous flat-faced boulder, making it resemble an oversize fireplace. Sitting in semi-circle with the boulder reflecting and radiating heat, we were oblivious to the mid-30s night-time temperatures. After crawling into my sleeping bag with an inch or two of pad to soften the ground, I didn’t hear the bugling of elk or yipping of coyotes that would be talked about at the next day’s breakfast. My long day had ended.
The area offered numerous fishing opportunities for various trout species in Borum Lake and other nearby lakes, but nearby lakes were a long hike because of the mountainous terrain. The clear skies all week above crystal clear water made for slow trout fishing, but we were able to enjoy two dinners of freshly caught fried trout. Since the Wilderness is designated as grizzly habitat, we were armed with sidearms and pepper bear spray whenever strolling or trout fishing away from our camp. We weren’t disappointed about not seeing grizzly tracks or scat.
The beauty and isolation of Borum Lake provided considerable respite from daily life we all experience. Taking a mid-day’s nap under the warming sun or watching a fly on the end of a fishing line being gracefully dropped on the water’s surface, with no sound of boat, auto, or TV was refreshing. Absence from daily news reports about violence in America, about our nation’s leaders squandering opportunities to improve America and about the calamitous effects of weather, seemed a blessing. A week without nightly news about the latest murder count in Minneapolis or St. Paul, or the other havoc that citizens impose on each other was a relief.
Being in that beautiful place that is part of America, sitting around a campfire with people I love and sharing family stories embellished with color and humor over the years, was special. The young folks who were along took a leap of faith by including a senior citizen in the physically challenging mountain-top experience, but that’s what families do. These are reminders of the America I grew up in and I wonder why we as a nation are letting this slip away? It’s time for revival of our nation’s spirit.