Pat Cudmore hired on as an Idaho game warden in 1978, about three months before I did. As fate would have it, we were both stationed in the same region and attended the Police Academy together that first year. Our friendship, which began those many years ago, endures to this day. In early fall of 1980, Pat asked if he could accompany me on one of my back country horse patrols. The bosses OK'd the idea, so we planned a trip to check big game hunters the first two weeks of November. Early on in the planning stage, I asked Pat how much horse experience he had. He told me he'd been riding since he was a little kid and in fact, his mother owned registered *&%$#@*&%% horses. Looking back, that should have raised a red flag! Now don't get me wrong, 'cause I've known a couple of this particular breed that were OK horses. But I will say, all but one scar on my body of equine origin, involved this breed. Anyway…
Since I only had a two-horse trailer, it meant hauling two head into the trailhead one day, leaving them in a corral, and taking the other two in the next morning on our way. Pat showed up at my place a couple hours after I returned from hauling the first two head. We were still on our first beer after Pat arrived when the comedy started! I'd told him to haul his duffel in and we would make our packs up that evening to save time at the trailhead. They won't let me print what I said when Pat came in toting two suitcases! Less than politely I asked him if he had a duffel bag. Catching my drift, he wanted to know what the matter was with packing his gear in suitcases. I told him I didn't know if I would ever make it into the "Horse Packers Hall of Fame" but getting caught on the trail with two fancy suitcases lashed to a packhorse sure wouldn't help my chances. Pat did own up to owning a duffel bag, but said it was home with his duck decoys in it. So, I went downstairs and dumped a duffel bag of my decoys into a box in order to pack Pat's riggin' in an appropriate way.
Things didn't get any better when he opened the suitcases. Albeit, inadvertently, Pat committed the same sin most folks do on their first pack trip. They believe since it's going on a horse's back and not their own, the sky is the limit on personal gear. Wrong! The first two things into the discard pile were his electric razor and a boom box! Over his objections, tongue in cheek, I explained that since we were going into a "Wilderness Area," such mechanical and electrical items were banned. That plus the fact that where we'd be eating and staying, the dress code was "Western"! Various and sundry other non-essential items, including his sleeping pad, also went into the discard pile. Pat declared he would not sleep on the ground and his pad had to go with him. When I explained we'd be sleeping on saddle blankets and pack pads that the stock would not need at night, he acquiesced. He did however draw the line when I threw his leopard skin pillow into the discard pile. He eventually told me the emotional attachment he had for this particular pillow, but those details are best left out in a book of this type.
By 5:00 am the next morning we had the other two horses loaded and were headed for the trailhead at Meyers Cove on Camas Creek, a tributary to Middle Fork of Salmon River. Little did I realize the comedy yet to come when we pulled into the trailhead. Much later, Pat confessed he didn't see any humor at all in what was about to happen. While waiting for the stock to eat some sweet feed, Pat asked me how far we would be going that day. I told him we'd ride fourteen miles down Camas Creek and then three miles up the Middle Fork to Grouse Creek, where we had access to a cabin at the Tappan Ranch. Again, much later, Pat said he envisioned spending the day riding along a babbling brook amongst tall stately pine trees. (He did that for about a mile!) I would be riding Sam, my old palomino mare, and lead Snoop while he'd bring up the rear on my sorrel gelding, Louis, and lead the other packhorse, Black Jack. My Dad always told me it wasn't much use to tell someone something they were going to learn in just a few minutes anyway, so I waited until last to pack Snoop.
By way of clarification though, it's best if I first include a bit of Snoop's history! He was a well-muscled, typey-looking bay with a blaze, and had been gelded two years earlier, after spending the first seven years of his life as a stud horse in the Quarter Horse/Arab Registry. Having spent much of his life as a sex object, he had very little trail time under his cinch. In other words, he was still a "green horse" for the purposes for which I used him. In spite of losing his "horsehood," so to speak, there were times he seemed pre-occupied. Considering his prior life and his attitude, Snoop in his own mind, was justified in throwing a white-eyed, snot-blowing fit when confronted with a new situation. On the morning in question, it was having a diamond hitch thrown on his packs.
When I started packing Snoop, I had the other three all ready to go, standing at the hitch rack. Pat held Snoop's lead rope while I cinched up the Decker pack saddle. I slung my packs on and secured them with a box hitch. Snoop was fine up to this point, as he'd been side packed several times before. It was when I placed a top pack on him, and with a lash rope started throwing a diamond hitch that Snoop first laid his ears back and started to hump up. I was pretty sure Snoop would go bonkers, but I didn't want to scare Pat too early! In looking back, I got further along than I thought I would. But, before I could get things cinched down tight, Snoop let loose. It can be detrimental to one's health to interfere with a horse in the middle of a white-eyed, snot-blowing fit, so I just backed off and watched. Pat was just as white-eyed as Snoop on the other end of a very tight lead rope. With each revolution they made, more stuff got flung off Snoop's back. When they finally stopped, I started gathering up gear, and untangling my sling ropes and lash rope. Pat had never seen a horse wreck like this one, and he vehemently told me we would have to leave the stuff in the top pack behind, 'cause in his opinion Snoop wouldn't let me load it again. After I pointed out that the top pack contained, among other things, his leopard skin pillow and sleeping bag, he reluctantly agreed to hold Snoop while I tried again. The second time was the charm. In another fifteen minutes we all were headed down the Camas Creek Trail.
That first mile was as idyllic as Pat thought it would be. We started on an old road that ran through the abandoned Seaforth Mine along the east side of the creek. Once below the mine property, the old road gave way to the trail. From my perspective, it was a great day! The packs were all riding correctly, all four horses were behaving, the weather was nice, and for once I had company on this patrol. Pat incessantly asked cowboy/horse packer questions between chocolate chip cookies the he kept pulling out of his saddlebags. After crossing a fairly long flat, the trail veered to the right and began contouring around a sagebrush ridge. To our left, and out of Pat's sight, Camas Creek began it's change from "a babbling brook" to a roaring rushing torrent tumbling through log jams and huge boulders. After a bit, the trail turns left and crosses the ridge top with a sharp right turn onto a talus slope. At this point the trail is nothing more than rough cut creosote-soaked boards driven into the talus forming a nice flat trail about eighteen inches in width. Even in low water, the rushing noise from the creek about thirty yards below sounds like an express freight train. As Sam and I moseyed along the trail, I kept hearing an odd squeaking sound. Had I been riding a brand new saddle, I wouldn't have paid much attention, as they will typically squeak in time with the motion of the horse's gait. My saddle wasn't the source, so I turned in my saddle to look behind to see if I could figure out where it was coming from.
What a sight! Pat had a death grip on the saddle horn with his right hand, and his left hand, with the lead rope in it, was curled just as tightly around the leading edge of the saddle skirts! This, plus his "deer-in-the-headlight look," said it all. While I took all this in, Pat began squeaking/croaking, and at the same time, was trying to motion in the direction of the creek with his head. In response to my question, "Does this bother you?" as I pointed to the foamy cauldron below us, Pat managed to wheeze," Yes!" He really locked up as I hollered over the sound of the creek, "Don't worry Pat, we ain't to the bad part yet!" When we got into the Tappan Ranch that evening, without any other excitement worth mentioning, the first thing Pat dug out of his borrowed duffel bag was a jug of whiskey. With his own two feet under him, and two quick belts of whiskey, Pat asked if there was another way back to the truck that didn't involve going back up Camas Creek. "Nah," I told him as I shoved my Forest Service map to the bottom of my duffel bag. When we got back to the truck ten days later, Pat was well on his way to becoming a back country horseman. In fact, this past fall, after recovering from knee replacement surgery in the spring, Pat packed out a five-point bull elk and a four-point mule deer buck with his own pack string!
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