DAY 1 THE DRIVE
The trailer pulled great. Biscuit seemed to like it alright. Got a burger in Raton, NM. I got my license in Almont and 2 bales of hay in Gunnison. Went to Crystal Creek - Somerville Campground trailhead. Slept some in the horse trailer...hard to sleep when you're worried about an escape mule. Mule hops (Biscuit, hopping with the hobbles) kept me up all night.
DAY 2 THE ESCAPE
I woke up at daylight. Organized equipment, packed tent, tarp and sleeping bag into panier. The panier was tied behind the saddle with a piece of leather for approximately 2 minutes before falling off. Finally tied it to the saddle D rings. Biscuit had a "few moments" during this process. My hunting pack was about 40 lbs with all my gear. The great moment of truth arrived, when I tried to pull the pack up on Biscuit. Ever seen a mule try to buck? Got off, put the pack on my back and mounted up. Could hardly get my legs over the panier, it was too high. It was a little awkward for me and the mule. Now, to grab my bow that was hanging in a tree...another rodeo. Then, we're off. I just tried to hang on, on the trail. Biscuit wouldn't cross a 2 foot wide stream with a solid rock bottom...It took me 5 times of dismounting and mounting. Pulling and using a leg lead to get him across, finally proved successful. I've never been in this country before - thick timber, steep and no grass. Rode about 8 miles and found an old camp that had enough grass for the mule. Set up camp, tied and hobbled Biscuit. I ate an MRE (military Meals Ready to Eat), took a picture of gray jay bird in lap for Zack. The birds keep waking me up, trying to peck my eyes while I sleep. Biscuit woke me up with an unusual hop. I saw him break the snap on the leadrope and start to hop off. I think, no problem, he's got $20.oo leather hobbles on. He takes about 3 bucks, slips the hobble off on one side and the race up the mountain is on! I lose sight of him after about 300 yards. I went back to camp to get my pack. I figure on walking 8 miles back to the truck. I load my pack and figure out what to leave on the mountain - saddle, panier, tent. I don't know if I can make it back this far to recover the equipment without the mule...too steep. I start mule tracking for about 3 miles. Then I see Biscuit standing in the trail...looking at me. I catch him and start to walk back up the mountain with my 40 pound pack...getting weak. I am hurting and feeling very weak. 3 hours later, I am back at camp. Can't find the $20.00 hobbles, so I tied some with a piece of rope. Biscuit is very aggitated when he loses sight of me... when I go to get water or wood. Lots of pawing and hopping. Hope he makes the night. Ate a little cooked noodles...hard to eat...not used to the altitude (11,000 ft). I heard one elk bugle - very far down the valley - not much sign up here near treeline. I hope the mule is here in the morning.
DAY 3 STEEP RIDE
I wake up at daylight again. The mule's pawing wakes me as well as not having much to eat. Little bit of nausea - altitude sickness...not hungry. Biscuit is still at camp. I get gear on and take off up the mountain. It's a great basin, but not much sign. I still am not seeing deer or elk. Not much energy... the altitude and yesterday's 6 mile hike and 8 mile ride made it rough. Then, I hear one elk bugle way down the mountain. Pretty far...bad wind...answers to my bugle, twice and then there's silence...the downdraft gave my position away. No good sign. Time to move on. Made my way back to camp, broke camp down, made myself eat another MRE - not any appetite with the altitude. The gray jays are constantly jumping on me. I can feed them with my fingers - no fear of people. Rode Biscuit. Have way too much stuff in panier...going down is way harder than up. Biscuit, again does a little dance when I get on, but I ride him out. I'm riding down a steep switchback and talking bad to the mule about slowing down. I see a forest service guy just off the trail - stepped behind a tree. I can feel the panier slipping to the side, pulling the saddle, but it's too steep to get off. Must have been a sad sight for the forest service guy. Visited for a few minutes as I tried to hold the slipping panier with my left hand. Rode past him about 200 yards and I feel the saddle slipping to the downhill side. I get off on the downhill side, as the saddle rolls under. The panier slung under and slapped him in the belly. Thankfully, Biscuit didn't have far to jump since it was so steep and all. Repacked, mounted up and off we go. Much harder going down hill. I ride him for a mile or two and came to a small stream crossing (1 foot wide). Biscuit won't cross, so I get after him. After a few hops and turns, I am not in a good spot on this very steep hill. I step off this time and it's farther to the ground than I think and take a pretty good slide down the hill - about 15 feet. Biscuit just stands there with a strange smile on his face. Next creek crossing, he walks right up to it and does a 6 foot jump with me on his back....strangely hard on a mule. I eventually make it down the mountain and decide to go to Mysterious Lake. It starts raining and snowing. I keep my fingers crossed, because I can't turn around on the road pulling the trailer. I make it all the way to where I want to go and there's already a camp there. So then I backed up and drove back to a place called One Mile. It was getting dark, so I decided to just sleep in the horse trailer. Had a lovely supper of ham and cheese - no mustard....thought I had some. I am going across the river to the north bank in the morning...to the back side of Doctor's Park - if I can live through it.
DAY 4 NORTH BANK
Got up at daylight, loaded the mule and trailered across the road to North Bank. No overnight camping at this trailhead. I'm glad heights don't bother me or the mule. It was a steep half-mile climb up with switchbacks. Biscuit never missed a beat. Rode in about a mile and a half and then started heading up. No sign of elk like the last time I was here. Saw 2 buck deer, but no elk. Got into some heavy blowdown from an old past burn. Biscuit had to pick his way through and then down a bunch of steep slopes. A time or two were like The Man From Snowy River...just hang on! The mule stopped on the way back down the steep trail, threw his ears up. There were 2 older people climbing up the switchbacks toward us. The woman had 2 ski poles and sounded like a train coming up the mountain. When they finally looked up and saw Biscuit...I think it scared them. I told them to come on up past me and I would hold my spot, because he was kind of frisky. They came up and visited a few minutes. The woman said, "Is that a mule?" I replied, "All the way." We laughed and then they said, "I hope you know how steep that trail is..." I told them I had already been up it once that day. Left them, and made it to the trailer. Got all loaded. Headed up to Spring Creek on the backside of Flag Mountain to a camp where I wanted to go. I went to Tellarium Creek and spent the night. That evening, it was time for a bath. I'm not near as tough as I used to be...had to get parts of me wet - not all at once. I made some bacon and eggs for supper and a Colorado Game Warden stopped by to check licenses. We visited for about an hour. He was also a long bow shooter. I slept in the trailer. At about 3:00am, it started to rain. Got pretty wet, before I could get a tarp over my cot, but I did stay warm. Biscuit had a good night, no pawing around.
DAY 5 MYSTERIOUS LAKE
Woke up and decided where I needed to go (Pot Holes), so that's where I went. There was another camp there, so I changed the plan and went to Mysterious Lake. Went to South Italian Creek where it hits Italian Creek...where I used to hunt and where Su and I packed out my first elk back in 1988. Barely got the trailer turned around in the road, saddled and loaded the mule. Biscuit did a good job. You just never know if he's going to get a drink at a creek crossing or go airborne...I just always hang on. It was a tough ride in after the trail stopped...boggy and steep. I had to fight lots of blowdown and very steep slopes, to make it to the top. Had to get off once when the mule stopped...didn't have to use the stirrup - it was really steep. Biscuit broke a pretty good sweat on this one. Finally made it to Mysterious Lake and there was no grass. The cattle had eaten it down to nothing... I set up my tent in a very hard snow-rain mix. The bottom half of me is soaked, but it finally lets up and I gather a good amount of wood in case I get cold tonight. Can't find any place to tie Biscuit where he can get any grass. Move him about 5 times because he is restless and hungry. I get set up to hunt that evening and he has that look in his eyes - like that great escape look. I tie some hobbles on him with a piece of rope. I hunt 'til dark and never hear or see one elk. I make my way back to camp and Biscuit is still there...thank goodness. I build a fire and start to dry out my wet clothes...holding a stick with wet socks...eat an MRE..all at one time. I finally decide it's time to start the misery and crawl in the tent...at least my sleeping bag is dry. Then, I start to write with my headlamp, I was thinking about the boys...then I heard a loud growl, probably a bear...then it's time for sleep.
DAY 6 MISERY
Last night was a long night. Probably woke up 6 times shivering uncontrollably. Had to move around to get my body heat back up. At daylight, I made myself get up and out of the tent. Snow and sleet had blown all under the tent and inside the tent fly. I packed and went to hunt American Flag Mountain. Stepped in a bog and went waist deep in mud, catching my upperbody over a log. Muddy pants froze and it was hard to walk or move.I never heard or saw any elk. I made my way back to camp, loaded my gear and my pack. Biscuit was hungry and frisky with the snow. It was a blizzard last night. When I got on Biscuit, I took a little ride before he calmed down. He is starting to know that he has to go get my bow when I get on. I always hang it in a tree. He looks at the tree, but hates to step up beside it. He is getting a little better though. The trail is all iced and snowed up. A long ride up Star Trail and over Flag Mountain...better than trying to go down the steep slope. Ride about 2.5 hours to get back to the truck. Still don't know what Biscuit will do when we come to a stream crossing. His head goes down and starts to drink... then he smells, looks and either jumps, steps or hops over...HAVE to hang on. He's like a cat...hates to get his feet wet! I have to watch him, because the trail is snowy and there's lots of puddles - he brushes me back against the trees when he tries to step around the puddles. Flag Mountain is very steep and rocky on the backside, but I never have to get off until we get down to South Italian Creek. My left hip is hurting, and decide to walk a little bit. We both feel better after that. We make it back to the truck with no problems. He even walks across the wooden bridge on South Italian Creek. He is ready to get back to the trailer. I make a couple of sandwiches and eat, give Biscuit some hay. I think it is time to go home...no elk...no sign...and not tough enough for the cold. I head up to Adventure Experiences (where we used to work). Things are still the same...about 100 projects and problems all at the same time. Everyone looks good. Visit for about 2 hours and then start to drive home. I grab a burger and fuel in Salida, CO. I have to listen to talk radio, eat junk food and ice to keep me awake. The drive goes good until about 4 miles from our house in Texas. I feel the truck hit the ditch and it scares me. I make it home (5:00am), unload Biscuit and put him in the lot. He does lots of rolling in the dirt - feels good to be out of the cold trailer. Su is up for school and comes out. She wants to know about things. I give her the short version. She goes to wake up the boys and then heads off for school. Great to see the boys. Make them breakfast and they leave for school. I lay down and take a 3 hour nap. It feels good to be home and warm!