It’s that time of the season to start wrapping up projects and looking back to see what has been accomplished. Fall is always a reflective time for me. As I packed for my last trip to the Pasayten Wilderness (at least for this year), I knew that it would be a mistake to go too light. Yes to a full set of woolen long underwear, spare warm hat, extra warm socks. No to instant oatmeal, which I have eaten so much of that just thinking about the gluey glop makes my eyes cross. Something else for breakfast…how about hashbrowns, german sausage, and an egg all scrambled in a skillet and garnished with ketchup? I found a ginormous box of dried potatoes at the store and parceled out a couple handfuls into ziplock bags. If I could remember to dump in some water at bedtime, they would be reconstituted by morning.
It was a shock to awaken at the trailhead to find heavy frost on the tent fly, and feel a real resistance to crawling out of the sleeping bag. The truck thermometer read 25 degrees. The breakfast mixture turned out to be a much appreciated blob of calories with a distinctly un-oatmeal-like flavor and texture.
By the time we had the horses saddled and the tools loaded, the sun was beginning to penetrate the freezing hole where we camped. Once on the trail, we fell into the rhythm of clopping hooves and that gentle swaying of the spine and grip of the legs that keeps one in the saddle. Dust puffed up with each step. It’s still real dry in north central Washington. I always seem to end up riding drag, the end of the packstring. It’s dusty, but a good vantage point.
Aspens have gone golden with the cold nights. Groves of them glow against the dark green of pines, their white trunks swaying up into clouds of yellow whispering leaves. The air feels richer here, as if there is a little more oxygen. I could gaze up forever, filling my lungs.
The trail climbs and climbs, across grassy slopes, through clumps of whitebark pines, into stands of snags killed by a 2006 wildfire. Willows and fireweed grow in great profusion underneath, and a startled moose crashed away. At last we reached the worksite, and unloaded the animals to deal with granite outcrops in the trail.