One August around 1963 or 1964 Joanne and I rode into Desolation Valley and camped by Phipps Lake at the foot of Phipps Peak. According to Google sources, Phipps Peak is 9,234' above sea level. And what a view. To the west you could see the coast mountain range and to the east, pretty as could be, Lake Tahoe and then the high desert heading towards Utah. I don't think we could actually see Utah, but we could see a really long way.
Joanne rode her large Thoroughbred type gelding, Sam (a shortened form of Samsonite because his original owner thought he had a head resembling a piece of luggage) while I rode Legend. We had enough food for ourselves and grain for the horses for a couple of days camp out.
Phipps Lake is but one of many tiny lakes. I'm sure that in Minnesota they would be called ponds. But each tiny lake provided home to golden trout. Golden trout are really rainbows who live at a high altitude and develop an oily, salmon-like flesh. The trout in Phipps Lake didn't like worms and salmon eggs were blech, but they adored helgramites. We were lucky enough to find a few and enjoyed a golden trout dinner.
At 9000+ feet spring comes late and lasts only a few weeks at most. We were lucky enough to be there for Phipps Peak's spring. We even found heather blooming, and wild daffodils blooming around tiny little elven pools. On the second day of our camp out we rode around the area for several hours, stopping here, gaping there, and at last decided to return to camp. That's when I learned that Sam and Legend were two different horses.
Sam wanted to return to camp the way we had come, following his hoof prints back to camp. If we wandered around lost on the way up, he wanted to wander around lost on the way back.
Legend, however, had a different idea. She wanted to go back to the trailer parked some miles away on a flat just west of Highway 89. And she wanted to go straight. If that meant jumping off a cliff, she would have wanted to do that.
Neither of these horses had really great ideas for getting back to camp, but Sam's was far safer. I can truthfully say that Legend never had a good idea in her life, and you could really get damaged if you let her do the thinking for the two of you. I know. And I'll tell you all my sad story soon.
But meanwhile we had spent a couple of nice days. We had come up with three other riders the first night, but they left the following morning and we were by ourselves. Joanne was in charge of making our beds which she did by laying our sleeping bags out side by each and then setting up our saddles at the heads. Then she spread a clear tarp over the whole thing, thereby improvising a tent. Stirrups dangled down to each side and everything smelled of horse, but I've smelt and slept worse.
The sun went down, darkness came, we put out our fire and went to bed. One good thing about sleeping in a shelter improvised from clear plastic tarp, you can see the sky. One bad thing about sleeping in a shelter improvised from clear plastic tarp, you can see the sky.
The night started out clear. The stars twinkled and did all of that start stuff. But soon a wind came up and clouds covered up our lights show. Not to worry. Another lights show came along. Thunder, this time, and lightning. Winds to bend the tall trees surrounding the glad where we camped. Lightning striking all around us. Did we tie the horses securely? Or are we going to have to walk home carrying our saddles? And it went on and on. Rain fell. Wind tugged at the tarp.
There is this one thing about me. When things get tough and more than I can manage, I drift off to sleep. And that's what I did here. If we were going to be killed by lightning, I didn't want to be around when it happened.
The next morning was crystal clear. We saddled up and returned to the flatlands of Lake Tahoe as though nothing had happened. And in nature's overall scheme, nothing had happened. Nothing at all.
Copyright Ken Harris 2009