My Forty Years Scribblin's
Outfitting
Alone In The Bob

Originally written in 1956 as part of a longer account of the Bar UC's first commercial pack trip and published in the Montana Outfitter Magazinein 1960, which Mildred later made into three separate stories. This one appeared in the Seeley Swan Pathfinderin 1987. Mildred and Allen make the last trip out for that first season.


The hunting season was drawing to a close. Our helper had found other fields of interest, so I had gotten promoted. I was now chief camp guard! On the last trip that season, we were scheduled to outfit two hunters from Miles City along with some of our friends. It was my lot to stay in camp, while "The Boss" rode out to greet our guests.

There were a couple inches of snow and a few flakes falling when the string pulled out of our Otter Creek camp 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 trouble 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. It puts me in a mood for dreaming.

They didn't come.

Something had held them up, but they'd be here tomorrow.

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 was supported by apple boxes, so I could keep a fire and protect the food from freezing.

There was no lack of entertainment that night. 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, annoyingly snowing. By morning of the fourth day, the tents were sagging dangerously under the weight of the white stuff, and I had to make the rounds and beat the snow off the tents so they wouldn't collapse.

All day I watched Pyramid Pass. It was plain to be seen, the weather up there was on the rampage. Any riders coming over that mountain would find the going tough. I kept water hot in the coffee pot and fires in the bunk tents, expecting family and friends to arrive soon.

After four days of worry, the possibilities got the best of me. I stared out into the pitch black night and my imagination painted some gruesome pictures.

After a while, I calmed down and tried to decide what to do. Something had to be radically wrong. I concluded that my man hadn't made it out, or else someone would have been back in. 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 than useless.

I had six horses somewhere across half-frozen Young's Creek. But even 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 but had heard how the wind blew the trail in so it was nearly impossible to find. After some thought, I gave up that idea, too.

There were two other camps less than two miles from ours, near the Haun Creek Ranger station. One was Cahoon's regular camp and the other was Murphy's over-night camp ground.

Come morning, I would walk down there and see if anyone was around. We had heard that 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 call someone from Seeley Lake. I got a lot of comfort from that thought and finally crawled into my blankets and dropped off to sleep.

I got out of bed the next morning and tried to eat some breakfast, half sick with worry and nerves. Breakfast didn't set very well. I fed the dog and headed for the other camps and Haun Creek station. It had stopped snowing! In depth, it was nearly to my knees and light as feathers.

"What if 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 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 "let down" to see by the snow on the tables and bed frames they hadn't been gone more than a day or two. Over to Murphy's next. Bare frames there, too.

Well, there was still the Ranger Station with the telephone box on the porch. I rang every station on the instruction sheet, there was no response whatsoever.

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

The possibility of a wind storm with this feathery snow nearly petrified me. 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, if necessary! I looked in the window and observed that there was a saw, axe, and sleeping bags. I had food if I conserved it. How long it might be until someone got to me, I had no idea.

This was 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, there 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 a pile of wood at dusk, and after watching the firelight for a while, crawled into bed.

After six long days, 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 a thing about 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 over my head.

"Mustn't let this thing get me down! Sure wished I wouldn't dream those things, though, to add to my misery!"

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. Men were muttering 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! A forced layover accounted for the delay, and the going had been tough, with 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 walked my friend, Mrs. Ripley! She told me 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 their bells full of snow. We broke camp next day, and the second day I made my first trip out over Monture pass. I passed little Haun cabin with a friendly glance. A mansion will never look as good to me as Haun cabin 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. We five humans—the Ripleys, we two, and my husband's brother, Virgil, spread our sleeping bags and slept in the sawdust bin, glad to be back near civilization.

Now, with many years of "savvy" behind me, I reach around and give myself a pat on the back as I look on the results of some of my early endeavors. Most times though, I look back and thank the good Lord for taking care of people like me!

Each time, though, when we managed to survive another season, friend husband would look at me and say—"If I ever get you out of here, I'll never bring you back again!" HA!