Yellow Jacket to Telephone Ridge Trail Project

It’s all in the timing. Janine and I pulled into camp, north of the Telephone Ride trailhead, Saturday afternoon just in time for super!

The crew chatted about the day’s project while preparing the evening meal. Members that arrived Friday evening spotted a pair of wolves passing through camp. Phil said the wolves paid little attention to them and showed less interest in the horses tethered in camp. Bearing slight resemblance to the shy, elusive creatures of the past, the massive animals dwarfed a large German shepherd. It would be wise to keep our dogs close and contained at night.

Saturday morning the six member crew covered a 15 mile loop from Yellow Jacket to Tyndall. Trails were reported in excellent condition due to previous maintenance by the TVMA. Some light pruning of overhanging limbs and removal of a few “widow makers” finished off the trail maintenance for ATV’s and horses.

After a dinner of DO baked chicken, stewed potatoes and onions, chili relleno casserole, baked beans and cherry upside-down cake, our crew hunkered down for what promised to be another chilly night with temperatures in the upper 20’s.

Sundays are normally a day of leisure and light riding on these weekend projects. Those that stay over will spend a few hours in the saddle enjoying the scenery during a relaxing day ride. At least that was our plan.

The first half of Telephone Ridge to Rice Peak is a steep grade that appears to never end. Hundreds of charred trees lined the trail as we wound our way through a burn. Obstacles were not a problem as the TVMA had also cleared this section of trail to the snow line. One good wind and that could all change in a hurry.

The reward for cresting the top is a lovely view of the Sawtooths. A family of ATV riders stopped at the overlook and visited with several members. Someone commented what a shame it was that the ATV’ers had missed catching sight of a small lake and the old fire lookout. I enjoy my Honda Rancher – but give me a good horse and comfortable saddle any day of the week.

The trail dropped off the ridge to a creek and disappeared. Phil thought the area looked familiar from his trip several years back. Rob took off on foot to scout a route that would drop us into Rice Lake and the trail leading home. The rest of us ate lunch and waited.

“It’s like this…it’s doable, but it has to be a unanimous decision. Everyone goes or nobody goes and we go back the way we came.” Rob went on to explain that we could make our way over the saddle and drop into a large meadow. The road picks up at the edge of the meadow on the far side of the bowl. The problem was the descent into the bowl. A large snowfield the size of a football field covered the steep slope. “It’s steep – but it’s not that steep if we lead the horses through it.” Rob, define “not that steep” for us again?

Phil volunteered to go first. Aside from a slight detour into a tree, he led his big red gelding down without incident. Jon followed Phil and Rob followed Jon. Rob led his riding horse and let the pack horse go on her own. Janine was riding a brand new, barely out of the pasture little Kiger/mustang that she was not all that familiar with. It was agreed that Gambler the Kiger would follow Rob down with his string. Everybody was on board with that except Gambler. He was not consulted in this decision and was not leaving Janine behind. He peered over the edge as Rob and his string slipped and slid their way down the slope. Janine took Gamblers lead and the duo cautiously made their way safely down. Lorraine and her horse Sassy were next. With a little coaching from the previous ascenders – Lorraine and Sassy picked their way down the mountain.

I looked at Chick. Chick looked at me. “Well…do you want to go next?” I asked.  Chick crossed his arms in front of him and shook his head. “Nope. I’m going last…I’ll be right behind you.” Great…apparently, not only can Chick belt out a toe-tapping rendition of Froggy Went a Courting, but he was also a mind reader. I had no intention of diving off that ridge with a 1200lb horse on my heels. If I could get Chick down before me, there would be no one to prevent me from getting back on my high horse and heading back the way we came!

I took a couple of steps. Jack took a couple of steps. “Shoo! Shoo horse! Go down the hill in front of me! Go on…Shoo!” Jack did not shoo. He pawed at the ground and commenced to roll. What happened after that is a blur to me but I’m sure the others got an eyeful they will never forget. I yanked on Jacks’ lead to keep him from rolling – he jumped up and bolted across the slope at an angle. I did my darnedest to cut him off from running back up to toward Chick. I did not succeed. He bolted in the other direction, lost his footing and went sailing down the slope like a giant buckskin covered toboggan picking up speed by the second. I thought for sure he would tuck his head and flip ass over teakettle. I barely had time to get over the image of him breaking his neck when my horse careen out of control down the hill and body slammed into a large granite boulder. I winced at the impact and imagined a shattered shoulder moments before he jumped up and dashed toward me across the slope. I threw up my arms, “Whoa Jack!” Jack did not Whoa. He bolted past me, made an abrupt 90 degree turn uphill and sunk clean past his belly. There he sat; stuck in a hole. His upper half sticking out of the snow – the rest of him buried midway past his girth. Now what horse? I could barely hear my comrades shouting words of encouragement (I prefer to believe it was not laughter) and advice from below. “Get hold of his lead and pull him downhill!” Ok. I can do that if I could find his lead. I followed the lead from this halter to where it disappeared beneath the snow. I tugged on the lead. It did not budge. I guessed he was stepping on it. Jack struggled a little and the lead came free. I think I heard someone shouting up more advice, “Don’t let go of that lead again!” Excellent advice; Ok…I can do this. I will not let go of this lead. I pulled Jack’s head slightly down hill. He heaved himself up and stood. I peered into the hole he had made when he broke through the rotten snow and damn near got sick. I don’t remember making it the rest of the way down the hill.

I hardly remember Chick coming down the slope but I must have been watching because I got pictures! Gathered together at the base of the ski slope, Janine met me with a big smile and two thumbs up. Phil, more animated than I’m accustomed to seeing him, grinned like a schoolboy: “That was a kick! Let’s do it again!” I do believe he meant it.

I did a quick exam of Jack. Running my hands over his legs to feel for injuries, I found two small scrapes and a minor laceration on the inside of his left hind leg; a small price to pay the fiddler for such a dance. I hugged my horse tight, swung into the saddle and followed my comrades through the meadow to the road that led to camp. A total of 18 miles that peaked out at 8200 feet in elevation.

Gambler had been a trooper the entire ride. The young five year old had barely been out of the pasture and under saddle for little more than six months. He diligently carried Janine up that ridiculous grade without complaint. He proved himself calm and level headed on the ski slope. Now, barefoot and sore, the little Kiger trudged onward seeking soft ground for his tender hooves. Janine would not push him. We let the others hotfoot it back to the trailers while we took our time and let Gambler pick his way. We got off and walked the last few miles to ease his load. If it had been possible, I would have tossed him over my saddle and let Jack carry him home.

We broke camp and said our goodbye’s as one by one, SBBCHI members brought an end to another successful and rewarding project.


The End

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1 Comment

  1. I think the reason Jack tried to run back up the snow field is that he had so much fun sliding down the first time is that he wanted to do it again!