My last camping trip of the year was at the end of August. I would be on the mountain for my single longest trip to date, 7 days. I must admit, I was having a hard time thinking about coming off this mountain. It had been my home, pretty much, for the entire summer, and I worried how coming down would affect me.
It had been an incredible summer, great guests, some new, some returning, reconnecting with a dear friend from over 30 years ago, it seemed perfect in so many ways, and I found myself dreading the drive off the mountain in this final camping trip of the year.
But on this last trip up the mountain, I had with me a friend whom I had just met in June. Bonded by the wild horses, Meg has quickly become a very close friend. This trip was to also be with the University of Montana/ Western students, but Meg and I decided to head up the mountain a day early.
The air had a feeling of fall to it, and even though it was just August, I knew there could be some season changing weather ahead of us this week.
The 12 students arrived late the following afternoon. Meg and I eagerly pitched in to help them set up camp. accompanying them were 3 faculty members, including a vet. I knew that this group would be too large to camp in my normal spot. The horses frequented my campsite, and I did not want them to have to change their patterns for such a large group. I had them set up camp tucked in the trees towards Krueger Pond. Anyone that knows me, knows that first and foremost, above anything else, my concern is about the horses, and it did not take me long to realize, this was just going to be too big a group.
The students were wonderful, caring, kind, and their enthusiasm was a joy to be around. On one of the first days there, I grab one student and Meg and I took her to get a bit more of an up-close and personal experience with the horses. My plan was to do that several times a day, so that by the end of their 4 days on the mountain, they would each have that experience. But the weather did not co-operate with us, the rain came down hard and with that came the University’s decision to pull up stakes and head down the mountain a day early.
In the few days that the students were on the mountain, one interesting thing did occur. Heritage left Doc and went with Custer. Although I am not sure that is how it worked (maybe Custer took her). She did not seem happy with this new situation and was back with Doc after just a couple days. She continued to still look unhappy, (distancing herself from the band a little), even after she returned to Doc.
Despite the mud, rain and cold (the high was around 45 most days), Meg and I decided to stay. We were rewarded many times with the mountain to ourselves. It doesn’t get much better, being on the mountain top, with just the horses as company. And by the end of the week, we WERE the only people, both day and night.
Each night I crawled into my tent, which by now had a very distinct horse odor to it, and lied there listing to the rain hit it. Reflecting on how good life was up here on the mountain and how blessed I am to be able to be a part of these horses lives.
The horses were staying hidden on these rainy days, they were no longer hanging at the campsite, but tucked away deep in the trees to avoid the wet and cold.
Meg and I started each morning with a hot cup of coffee and some personal time to do some meditating. On my tour before this one, I had a guest ( thank you Julia) that showed me some meditating yoga moves and I loved starting out each day doing them. Most mornings I hiked a short way, usually to a rocky ridge. This view usually gave me a clear view of the range (and beyond) to reflect and also perhaps to see into my own soul. My own personal church.
Even in the pouring rain, Meg and I found the horses. The road was getting very difficult to drive, but we still slowly made our way down to where the horses might be. Most times we were lucky, and spent many hours watching, and just being in their presence .
One afternoon we watched Miss Olivia (Halcyon and Blue Moon) approach and “greet” Ohanzee. I am going to say she played with him, but rather just put him in his place and let him know who was the boss. Ohanzee wasn’t quite sure what to think of her bold and bossy ways. Olivia is an amazing and very self-assured filly. I look forward to watching her become her “own”. She seems to have the most bold personally that I have seen in a young filly.
Another afternoon we spent some personal close up time with Blue Moon’s band and Gringo’s band. Galadrial looked so close to foaling then, but as of today, I have not heard that she has foaled. These mares love to keep us guessing!
On our last night on the mountain, it poured rain all night. The temperature was 45 and the wind was blowing hard. I moved my bedroom into the truck that night (Meg was also in her jeep), and I was happy I had made that decision. The rain never stopped and the next morning the road was so muddy I could barely stand up on it.
There of course were no horses in sight. We made our coffee and drank it in the truck, hoping that maybe the sun would come out and the rain would stop. It didn’t. So we put on our rain gear, jumped in Meg’s jeep and slid down the muddy road in search of horses.
It was as if they were waiting for us that morning. Nine bands were lined up on the edge of the woods, protected by the rain, under trees. Even though it was pouring rain, Meg and I felt joy. Our love for these horses made any kind of weather tolerable and we found ourselves laughing with happiness. The mountain is special, no matter what the day.
We spent 6 undisturbed hours with these bands. No other people we on the mountain and no one wanted to come up that day. It was perfect actually.
Meg and I had planned to stay one more night. But when we drove back to our campsite, the wind was blowing 30-40 mph and starting to snow. I knew if we did not get out now, we might not get out for a few days. We packed up as fast as we could and were heading down the mountain. I took Sage Creek Road down, knowing Burnt Timber and Crooked Creek would be too unsafe. It was the scariest drive I have done on this mountain. Even going slowly, the mud made the final decision on which way to go, causing me to go a bit too close to the edge a few times. Heading through the Crow Reservation, the mud was easily 1 1/2 feet deep, I prayed I wouldn’t get stuck.
But just as I was about to exit the Crow Reservation Road, a Falcon appeared right on the side of my truck. It dove and soared right next to me for about 500 feet, escorting me off the Reservation. A took that as a very good sign, and I am pretty sure it was.