This would be my 4th trip up Sykes Ridge Road. But only my second trip back down. I knew that this time of year I would not be able to make the compete loop (up Sykes, down Burnt Timber). So looking at the weather map, decided that Sunday would be the best day to head up.
Driving up the roads on the range made me think about my white water kayaking days. These roads seemed to fall into the same category as a white water river. Rivers are classified as such:
Easy Waves small; passages clear; no serious obstacles.
Medium Rapids of moderate difficulty with passages clear. Requires experience plus suitable outfit and boat.
Difficult Waves numerous, high, irregular; rocks; eddies; rapids with passages clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuvering; scouting usually needed. Requires good operator and boat.
Very difficult Long rapids; waves high, irregular; dangerous rocks; boiling eddies; best passages difficult to scout; scouting mandatory first time; powerful and precise maneuvering required. Demands expert boatman and excellent boat and good quality equipment.
Extremely difficult Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids, following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient; close study essential but often difficult. Requires best person, boat, and outfit suited to the situation. All possible precautions must be taken.
Class U Formerly classified as unrunnable by any craft. This classification has now[when?] been redefined as “unraftable” due to people having recently kayaked multiple Class VI around the world.(Some consider rafting on a class VI river suicidal, and only extreme luck or skill will allow you through)
I thought this was the perfect way to explain the roads within the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.
Sykes is pretty much a straight up class IV to V. Up is more of a class IV, down is more of a class V. Sure there are a few Class III parts, maybe even a little Class II. But this is not a road that can be taken lightly.
You hope you pick the right line. Sometimes you have very little time to decide. If you pick the wrong line, it can be a pretty scary and dangerous thing.
Burnt Timber is a class III with some IV thrown in here and there, but mostly a nice class III.
So with that in mind we were on our way up Sykes mid morning after a quick trip through the Dryhead.
We had gone up the road a couple of miles when we spotted a black horse off in the distance. As we got closer, I confirmed that it was Chief Joseph. We stayed there watching him for several minutes. He appeared to be alone.
We continued up the Class IV road with little trouble. After going another 8 miles without seeing another horse, I wondered if it would be a day of few horses. I navigated “dead biologist corner” with ease. We stopped to take a look around. Anh pointed up behind us and we saw nine horses moving across the steep hill directly above our heads.
One of the bands that I really wanted to see this trip was Fools Crows. At first glance I thought I had full filled that wish. It was Fools Crow’s Band, but where was Fools Crow? Hidalgo seemed to be in charge of these 8 horses now. I had not expected this. It has been a long complicated story to get to this point for this band and I will try to shorten it as much as possible, but still give you a look into what is going on.
1. May 2012 Fools Crow had: Bell Starr, Jewel and Mercuria.
2. May 2012 Merlin had: Kaelia, Halo, Fresia and Montana
3. December 2012 Hidalgo had: Halo, Fresia and Montana (Kaelia was removed in August)
4. February 2013 Fools Crow had: Halo, Fresia, Montana, Jewel, Mercuria, Icara, Morgana and Bell Starr
Now, today, Hidalgo had taken Fools Crows entire band. I watched them head off through the trees and was sure we would see them again down the road. They were able to take a more direct route to where they were going.
I was right, just down the road several turns, we encountered them again high above us. Hidalgo was keeping this band moving. It made me think that this switch in bands was a recent occurrence.
We watched them run off again and kept going up the road. We had gone about 12 miles now. We stopped to take a few photos of the view of the Dryhead below us.
Then just around another curve there was Hidalgo and the band right in front of us again. This was one of the bands I had really wanted to see on this trip and I was so happy I was lucky enough to find them. This time they were allowed to relax and eat, so we were able to spend some time with them. They all looked good. I was relieved to see that the three yearlings ( Morgana, Montana and Mecuria) had made it through the winter. But surprised that none of the mares looked pregnant. I had thought that I might find some new foals with this group. Fresia had Montana the end of April last year. Halo is not on PZP. But neither looked pregnant to me. Would there be no new foals in the Dryhead this year? Yes, these are Dryhead horses, 10 miles up Sykes. That is what I love about going up Sykes, the line between the Dryhead horses and the Mountain horses is very faint. The are very close together, we would see that today.
I spotted a few horses off in the distances, so after a few more minutes with this band, we continued up the road. I only had to go a short way when I saw Blizzard with Bakken, Cascade and Strawberry. I was surprised to see him up here and equally surprised to see that he still had these mares. They all looked good. The were intent on eating and barely lifted their heads to look our way. After a few minutes we decided to keep going up the road. There was snow on parts of the road, so I was unsure on how much further I would be able to go.
Just up the road, maybe a quarter-mile at most was Morning Star and his band and then Blue Moon and his band. I was amazed that the Dryhead horses were so close to these mountain horses. Maybe will start seeing some mountain horses down in the Dryhead soon.
As I watched the two bands, I realized that there was a missing horse in Morning Star’s band. Audubon. Audubon is 14 this year. I wondered if she could possibly be off foaling. I hoped that was the reason for her absence.
We decided to have our lunch with these two bands as we watched them peacefully graze next to one another.
I could see a few horses just up the road. So after we finished our lunch we continued driving. Both Anh and I felt we were having a perfect day. We had seen more horses than I was thinking we would. I turned to her and said: “The only thing that would make this day better is if we would find a foal.” We drove just a short way and I looked up. It was Custer and his band. Then I spotted him. A new foal!!! He was lying up on the windy ridge between his mother Fiasco and 26-year-old Winnemucca. I can still vividly remember the day late last July when they removed two from this band. Two year old Kiabab and one year old Leo. These two mares were very upset. It had been heart breaking to witness. But now, they had a new foal to care for. I was really happy for this band. We decided to name him Nodin. Nodin is a Native American word that means “wind”. It seemed fitting as we discovered him on a windy ridge on Sykes.
We were not close, but too close for Winnemucca. She quickly gathered up the band and asked them to move into the trees below. We did not follow them. It was clear they did not want us around.
I spotted three more horses up and to the right. We walked over to see who the were. It was Horizon, Juniper and Fiesta. They were grazing and eating snow. Once again, I wondered how long this unlikely band would last. There are two stallions in this band. Five year old Horizon and 9-year-old Fiesta. Many times that I have watched and studied this band, it seems Fiesta acts as the satellite stallion. He is the one to confront or fight off any other stallion that approaches. This band has been like this for over a year now.
We noticed that Custer and his band had come out of the trees and seemed to be relaxing with our presents. We turned our attention back to them. What a perfect little family they were.
We could hear whinnying up the road from us, so we hurried to see who it was. It was Bolder and band and Coronado and band. It was so good to see that little Manuelita, Dove’s late born foal, had made it through the winter. Dove did not look great. Not horribly bad, just not the best. Her hair seemed a bit longer than it should be and she was thin.
Both bands were on the move and did not give us much time to take photos. We were lucky to have seen them, as they vanished into the trees as quickly has they had first appeared.
The only thing left between us and Penns Cabin was about 5 miles of road in trees. I knew there would be too much snow to go on much further. I also realized that we had seen most bands that would be in this area. It was 4:30 pm, so we decided we should head down with plenty of light still left in the day. I was dreading the drive down. But unfortunately what goes up Sykes this time of year must come back down Sykes.
We were a few miles down the road. On one of the more steep and technical spots when I spotted a horse to my left. It was a bay horse. Then I spotted a dun horse. I told Anh. ” I am sorry, I can’t stop here.” Then I saw the foal and his bay mom. Somehow I managed to find a semi-small, flat piece of land to park on. They were not very far away and I was not sure how they would react to us. The dun looked at me and immediately started to go. She seemed familiar to me. It was Topper. She looked thin and sad. I wanted to pack her up on the ATV and drive her back over to Burnt Timber where Chino and her daughter Tooper Too were.
I then realized who the other horses were. Corona and Waif. My friend Maria from Bulgaria had told me she thought Waif was pregnant. I was happy to have found her and the new foal that was with them. He seemed to be much older than Nodin. I think he may be a month old. We decided to name him Norte. Norte is spanish for North. North Star.
They allowed us to watch them for as long as we wanted. We stayed for about 15 minutes before we decided we should head back down the road.
We had seen 50 horses today and two new foals. It was one of the best days I have ever had on the range. I love Sykes Ridge and all it has to show me. It seems so much more wild and inaccessible. I love how the Dryhead Horses and the Mountain Horses co-exist near one another. It was worth driving that Class IV river all day to get to the beauty that few people get to witness. I ‘ll be ready to do it again soon.