Once Upon a (Life)time
Wilderness Travels
Wilderness Travels - Part 2

Mildred is stranded alone in camp by a blizzard.

I'll admit I was a little nervous but if we were going to guide hunters I may as well get used to it. In later years it fell naturally to my lot, for the men usually had their hands full with guiding and outfitting. I often spent two months or more without a look at the outside world and even enjoyed a little time to myself. However, at first, I didn't spend much time sleeping. That old bruin had developed a yen for camp fare, and to date, we had been unable to get him. I spent the first night mostly running out with my gun and flashlight to see if he needed shooting. There was no doubt about the latter, but I didn't, and still don't, intend to tangle with any bear at night alone—unless he makes it necessary. The second night I had a brainstorm. We had a "thingamajig" which we called a meat house, with corner posts and cross poles on top where we hung quarters of meat. On top of these cross poles we used to put little green jack-pines to provide shade for the meat. Now, if I put my bed on top of that, I just might get that pesky critter, and wouldn't that be a feather in my hat!

It was a rainy fall, but the clearing sky promised me an October moon. I needn't be afraid of him up there, the closer he came, the harder I'd shoot! So, throwing my bed up, a piece at a time, and taking my old 30-40, a pocket full of shells and the flashlight, I climbed atop my perch in the gathering dusk. Due to my sleeplessness of the night before, I promptly went to sleep—but not for long. The yipping of the dog and the brush-cracking marauder brought me upright. After that, at each small sound, I popped up like a jack-in-the-box. At daybreak there was a half inch of frost over everything, including me. I climbed down, stiff, disgruntled—and cured! The season was drawing to a close and our helper had found other fields of interest, so I got a promotion. I was now chief camp guard! We were to have two hunters from Miles City and some friends on the last trip. There was a couple inches of snow on the ground and a few flakes falling when the string pulled out that morning. My man waved a cheery good-bye and promised to be back in two days, but I felt just a little uneasy for I'd learned enough to know that one man could run into a heap of double with eleven head of horses on a slick trail. One day dragged by—there were scarcely any chores to do except cut wood and I soon tired of that. The second day arrived and I flew at the preparation for company; meanwhile, the weather was looking worse. Came night—the coffee pot was hot on the back of the stove, and supper needed only finishing touches, so I sat down to wait.

I seldom light a lantern when I'm alone unless I have reading or sewing. I love to watch the firelight play, and it puts me in a mood for dreaming They didn't come. Something had held them up, but they'd be here tomorrow. But tomorrow came and went the same as yesterday and I went to bed mighty worried. I had moved my bed into the cook tent and put it on the bench at the table, one side supported by apple boxes, so I could keep fire and protect the food from freezing. the dog and the bear were at it again!
But they were of secondary importance now-just so they didn't come in the tent! Several times I got out of bed to peek through the tent flaps, to find it slowly, silently, aggravatingly snowing. By morning of the fourth day, the tents  were sagging dangerously and I had to make the rounds and beat the snow off them so they wouldn't cave in. All day I watched Pyramid Pass and it was plain to be seen, the weather up there was on the rampage. They would find the going tough and I kept water hot in the coffee pot and fires in the bunk tents for their arrival.

At last, I stared out into the pitch black night and let my imagination get the best of me! After awhile I calmed down and tried to decide what to do. Something had to be radically wrong. I decided my man hadn't made it out, else someone would have been back in.

Our expected friends knew the way. What to do? If he hadn't made it out, then he and those eleven horses were at the bottom of a ravine somewhere—-covered with snow! I'm telling you, I had one terrible time keeping my wits about me, but I made myself try to figure out what I would need to get out and try to look for him. I even made out a list and all the time I knew it was worse then useless. I had six horses somewhere across half-frozen Young's Creek, but if I could get to them, I would never make it over the pass in that storm. I had never been over the Monture Pass and had heard how the wind blew the trail in so it was nearly impossible to find. After some thought I gave that idea up, too. There were two other camps hardly two miles from ours, near the Hahn Creek Ranger camp and the other, Murphy's overnight campground. Come morning, I would walk down there and see if anyone was still there. We had heard that the Cahoons were going to break camp but there was a chance that Murphy's tent would still be up. If so, I would leave a note. Then came a happier thought. Maybe- just maybe—the Forest Service telephone line would still be intact and I could get hold of someone from Seeley Lake and get them on my husband's Station. One, Cahoon's regular trail. I got a lot of comfort from that thought and finally crawled into my blankets and dropped off to sleep.

Sometime in the wee hours I was awakened by a scratching, crunching noise. It sounded to my groggy ears like huge feet walking at the back of my tent. My blood froze and I told myself, "This is it!" It dawned on me that the dog wasn't barking and for one awful guilty second I wondered if the bear had gotten him while I was deep in sleep. But no, I would have heard any such a ruckus as that. I let out a yell and grabbed my gun and flashlight from the table and nearly bolted in my wool socks. I checked myself and jumped into my overshoes, all the time expecting a big hairy paw to rip the tent wide open.

The little yellow mutt burst into the tent. "Git 'im. Bob," I hissed, with the icicles chasing each other up and down my spine. The dog made a jump or two, then looked back as if asking what it was I wanted him to "git." Warily, around that tent we went, me trying to keep my gun ready and focus the flashlight at the same time. Nary a track did we find! I could scarcely believe my eyes. I felt like the proverbial two cents-was I getting cabin fever? No, I knew I'd been awakened by a noise, so shaking the snow off the tent again, I went back to bed to meditate. The excitement had cleared all sleep from my mind and I felt as bright as a new dollar—and just about as useless, considering. Soon the scratching and crunching began again. Heavens to Betsy—it was nothing more than a herd of mice! The huskiest specimens that ever came up the pike! They simply moved in with me and my food supply when the storm got bad, and had found a raceway between the frozen folds of a canvas I had placed against the tent wall to protect the canned goods. After things got quiet and dark again, they amused themselves by running up over my bed—zip—scoot across the table ju-m-m-p off-zoom—around to the bed, and do it all over again!

I felt the "patter of little feet"—their claws caught in my hair—and one chummy little critter insisted on crawling right in with me! I've never been afraid of the things, but I don't fancy sleeping with 'em either; so after getting up and popping them out of my blankets a time or two, I gave up and lit the lantern so they would stay out of sight and let me be. When I came to life again, the old gas lantern was still standing guard, though it was broad daylight.

I got out of bed and tried to eat some breakfast, but half sick with worry and pure nerves, it didn't go down very well. Then I fed the dog and headed for the other camps and Hahn Creek station. It had stopped snowing! In depth, it was nearly to my knees.

"What it the wind should begin to blow?" Five big shaggy elk made their way down the bare mountain to the right of me. Ordinarily, I would have been delighted at the sight, but today I wasn't even interested. Going past Cahoon's camp first, I wasn't surprised that the tent frames were bare, but it was a letdown to see the snow on the tables and bed frames, that they hadn't been gone more than a day or two. Over to Murphy's next. Bare frames here, too. Well, there was still the Ranger Station with the telephone box on the porch. Though I rang every station on the instruction sheet, there was no response whatever.

I sat on the ranger's wood pile for a while; there was the most "all gone" feeling in my middle. It was foolhardy force to even try to get out. Most people will never know what a beautiful sight that little log cabin was, sitting there warm—protective—inviting. Especially, to a woman alone in the wilderness, and as far as I knew, snowed in.

The possibility of a wind storm with this feathery snow practically petrified me and my thoughts all converged into one. I was going to get into that cabin some way or other, and to heck with the consequences. I would go to jail in the spring. I looked in the window and observed that there was a saw, axe, and sleeping bags. I had food if I conserved it, and the kids would be taken can of. How long it might be until someone got to me, I had no idea whatever, this being a completely new and not very pleasant experience. I couldn't help hoping, as I dragged my heavy boots "homeward" that the place would be swarming with horses and people, even going so far as to dream of smoke boiling out of all the chimneys. Needless to say, they was no smoke—no horses—and no people.

However, I now had a purpose, something to occupy my hands and my mind, at least. I dug a piece of tin out of the snow and manufactured, if you could call it such, a toboggan. It looked more like a lumberjack's toy "go-devil" turned upside down, but I intended, if I couldn't find a horse, to load it light and pull it myself! (Guess I must have been slightly addled.)

Before dark, I plodded down the trail to Young's Creek. It was frozen, but not solid enough to cross, and had backed up, too deep to wade. I strained my ears for the sound of the horse bell, but there wasn't a tinkle. Here was something else to worry about. How long could the poor beasts paw for food if the snow kept coming?
Well, eventually they would come back across looking for something to eat and if worse came to worse, I would have to shoot them! The very image turned me sick at the stomach, but I thought I could do it if it came to a choice of that, or starvation for them.

I tried to eat supper, brought in agile of wood at dusk, and after watching the firelight for awhile, crawled into bed. I was pretty well used up. There wasn't even a shred of hope that they would come now, and I went to bed without so much as putting on the coffee pot. Fagged out, I went so soundly to sleep, if the mice ran over me, I didn't know it. Later—much later—something brought me half way out of the dark depths. I thought I'd heard a shout. I turned over and pulled the covers overly head. "Mustn't let this thing get me down!" Discouragement crept over me anew, and I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the tormenting thoughts. There it was again! I couldn't let myself hope until I parted the tent flaps and stared out into the night. There against the snow were big dark shapes I knew to be the pack string. There was muttering among the men and I made several tries before I could answer without a quavering in my voice. I had to struggle for control; some of these characters still don't know just how awful those last days and nights were for me. I didn't realize it then, but the dark camp and no answer from me, scared the daylights out of them, too! An enforced layover accounted for the delay and the going had been tough, with the snow up to the men's belt line over the pass.
One of the friends had turned back with part of the string and the rest of the cavalcade had put in seven extra hours getting through. Imagine my astonishment when into the tent talked my friend, Mrs. Ripley! (Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Ripley often lent a hand to help us out of difficulties in those early days.) It developed that the men from Miles City had come as far as Missoula and turned back, alarmed at the storm. Said my well-meaning husband, "I'm never goin' to leave you in here alone again!"

The men found the six horses with the bell full of snow. We broke camp next day, and the second day I made my first trip out over Monture Pass. I passed little Hahn Cabin with a friendly glance, for a mansion will never look as good to me as it did, one miserable blue day. The friend who turned back with part of the string was supposed to meet us at Monture Station with feed for the horses and transportation back to our camp at Seeley Lake. He arrived, waited way past the time he thought we should get in—and took off again, hay and all, half an hour before we reached the end of the trail. Another fine "howdy do!" A rancher somewhere near Monture Station wouldn't sell us even a couple of bales of hay, so we were obliged to turn the poor horses loose to pick up what they could; and we five humans—the Ripleys, us two, and my husband's brother, Virgil who had also come in with them—spread our sleeping bags and slept in the sawdust bin, glad to be back near civilization.

We finished our season with two paying guests and went to work to pay our hunting expenses! However, we hitched our wagon to a runaway star and climbed on the driver's seat together. With us rode what savings we had been able to gather and our hopes for the future. All we could do was "sit tight" and hope the road wouldn't get too rough! We did hit some mighty big chuck holes, but always bounced back out to reach the smoother road ahead. Of course, there were other incidents, like the time.....Well, better not get started on that—and each time friend husband would say "If I ever get you out of here, I'll never bring you back again!" HA!