Thursday, May 15, 2014

Jail Break on Mumford Creek

by Bonnie, the Shy Molly
(Translated by Lila Wheatley, Etna, Wyoming,

It was my third season at the elk camp at Mumford Creek, so I knew my way around. The trip from the trailhead to camp is about nine miles with one long steep pass to go up, over, and down to the Willow Creek drainage. Our old neighbors, Jones, Elsie and Diamond, and their humans, Chris and Jen, came with us on the first weekend. Chris, Jones and Elsie joined us for the second weekend.

Jones is a younger mustang who was previously in my herd and my old boyfriend. Elsie, Chris’s horse, is a very mellow 15-year-old mare and is now dating Jones.

Chris got his cow elk on Friday evening after the ride into camp. Jones and Junior, from our herd, packed the cow elk back to camp during a sleet storm on Saturday morning.

On Saturday afternoon, most of the horses were high lined or hobbled and napping or grazing in the afternoon sunshine, drying out after the wet morning. Vic and Lila told Chris the number one rule of hobbling: never hobble pasture mates at the same time. Though Chris had just trained Elsie to be hobbled the previous weekend, he assured us that since she was new to hobbling she wouldn’t go very far, even if Jones was hobbled, too.

The humans were preparing for a few more weekends of camp, so they were cutting firewood with the noisy chainsaw. They fell two dead trees about 100 yards on the west side of the cook tent. We were all resting in a horse highline area about 75 yards across the creek and on the east side of the cook tent. When those trees hit the ground, the shaking ground and the loud noise was quite startling. By the time the firewood project was complete it was snowing steadily with a fresh inch of snow on the ground at about 6 p.m. When Chris and Lila went to feed the animals they found that three of us were missing.

Jones, Elsie and I were all hobbled, so when we heard all that commotion with the chainsaws and falling trees, we high-tailed it toward the trailhead. We didn’t get very far, because Elsie wasn’t as fast or agile in her hobbles as us younger equines, and Jones didn’t want to leave his new girlfriend behind.

It was dark, cold and windy and the snow was getting heavy. We jumped the creek and headed down the trail. It’s not difficult to run in hobbles; it’s similar to a gallop. Jones and I had to continually wait for Elsie to catch up since she was older and was getting very tired and hobble sore. We hesitated at the creek crossing near the camp down the trail about a mile, but didn’t visit the horses since we had to go past the big wall tent to get to the horse corral. We weren’t in the visiting mood.

By this time it was snowing pretty hard and covering our tracks in the trail, but we kept going. We spent the night at the intersection of Mumford and Willow Creek. The grass is plentiful there and the ground near the creek has some thermal springs nearby, so it was a little warmer.

We didn’t know it then but our humans had searched in the snow that night for two hours before giving up and heading back to camp.

At daylight we crossed the deep muddy section to get to the south trail to head back to the trailhead. The pace was slower than the night before due to about five inches of fresh snow and our pasterns getting sore from all the hopping in our hobbles. Elsie didn’t want to keep going; she kept telling us that our humans would be here soon to take off the hobbles and take us back to camp. Jones was leading the way, I was in the middle, and Elsie brought up the rear. We saw a few elk along the Mumford River bottom and they ran from us when they heard the chains from our hobbles clinking against the rocks as we moved.

We took a long drink and stood in Willow Creek to soothe our sore ankles and then started up the long hill. There was a large herd of elk in the big pasture at the start of the long hill and we traveled behind them for about a mile taking our time and eating the really tall meadow grass along this stretch of trail.

We wondered why our humans were taking so long to find us on the trail and take off these darned hobbles. But they did finally catch up to us. We were over halfway to the trailhead, about five miles from camp. Jones was halfway up the long hill, and I was right behind him, but Elsie said she could not take one more step with the hobbles on. Lila caught Elsie and took off her hobbles. Chris caught Jones and haltered him and took off his hobbles.

Lila tried to catch me with some pellets but I am still untrusting when there are strangers nearby and the setting is not familiar. I did want the hobbles off (we all had terrible leather burns on our ankles) but I just couldn’t bring myself to put my nose into the halter. Lila could tell that I wanted the hobbles off so I stood still while she took them off. I followed at the back of the string and stood a while in each creek crossing to give my sore ankles a much needed soaking. Vic and Grampa were still out hunting but returned soon after. I let Lila catch me and put on my halter once we got back to camp at the highline.

Lila, Chris and Vic rode to the top of a high hill to make a call to tell Chris’s wife, Jen, that he would be a day late getting back. I stayed at camp with the other jail breakers while the others rode up the steep hill behind camp. The humans couldn’t get enough reception to make a call, but they could get enough to send a text message. It was dark by the time they returned. We jail breakers had not had any camp feed since Saturday morning and it was now 7:30 on a Sunday evening.

The next morning Vic and Grampa led me with the two mustangs to go elk hunting to the east. Lila rode Matt and led Junior to help Chris pack his elk out to the trailhead to the east. We were tied up on a ridge line and Vic and Grampa had just finished a hunt on foot, when a noisy helicopter landed about 100 yards away and Vic spoke to the people inside. When Lila and Chris were about an hour from the trailhead, a low flying helicopter had flown over them. At the trailhead they were greeted by Sheriff Bob, who happened to be Chris’s neighbor, who told them he had tried to reason with Jen to wait a few more hours before insisting that Search and Rescue begin their search for Chris. Lila, Matt and Junior headed back to camp (after unloading Chris’s elk and a quick lunch break) and arrived at dusk to find a note in the wall tent from the search and rescue crew. (Good thing Jen had ridden with us to camp the week before to give accurate directions!) Jen had not received the text message saying Chris was going to be delayed due to the jailbreak. Our jailbreak had caused the County Search & Rescue to dispatch their helicopter but at least we had a happy and safe ending that would make a good campfire story someday.

Our humans did learn some lessons from our jail break:

1. Never let current or recent past pasture mates be hobbled at the same time.

2. Never leave animals hobbled when cutting down trees or using the chainsaw. 3. If your cell phone does not get good reception and you have an “almost” emergency, dial 911 since your cell phone reception will be boosted when you dial 911. We confirmed this with our local cell phone company and county dispatch and would recommend for readers to confirm the same with their local cell phone companies and county dispatch.

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