We are on your Spiritual Retreat, camped at Medicine Man and today we are riding into the bowl that lays just beyond the mountain we are camped at the base of. It is a spiritual adventure we are on and everyone already can feel it filling them; that indescribable awareness, that same awareness that brought the Shaman and Medicine Man of the native tribes that lived here, long before the white man was drawn to the area for the copper and gold.
… After resting the horses for a moment on the steep climb through the timber of the trail heading to the rim, we continue on. As we crest the top, I nudge Thunder over and the others spread out beside me on the ridge, quietly looking at the valley bowl that lay below.
The fog, swirling with mists, lays in the dips of the bowl smoothing out the uneven ground to eyes above, says to me always, “come see what is hidden.” The fingers of white reaching upward, making the valley bowl a bubbling cauldron of a fairy tale land only waiting to be illuminated and warmed by the sun, not yet reaching this place.
We continue on, Thunder and I, followed by new friends, suddenly quiet from their own exclamations of wonder, by yet more to take in. More, that cannot be described simply with words or a photograph.
[…one…two…three…counting to myself] “Where is the trail?” “How do we get down?” “Where’s she going?” “OH…” Voices come from behind me as we approach the edge of the rim. “Whoa, Thunder, Stand.” I turn in my saddle and look at the faces of the people following me. Watching the body language of each of them transmit their thoughts to the horses shifting around under each.
“Alright,” I say quietly so that each one will focus on me and not what lays in front of them, “You can’t see it, I know, it looks like it can’t possibly be done (heads suddenly start resembling bobble-heads), but it really can! (Big Smiles!!) It’s there, the horses know. Sit straight and deep with your weight on your right foot. Uphill, always with your weight, uphill.” and I turned in my seat with “Hep” to Thunder and we stepped out onto the near vertical shale slide.
Once we had stepped into what looks like nothing, from behind (I know this because I remember the first time I had followed one of our guides here for the first time.), I stopped Thunder and gently (because hey, side of a mountain and all that!) turned him upwards a step and stopped. Looking back I told the shocked faces, “It’s there, I promise. It’s hard and solid and the horses know it is there, they will follow Thunder, so stay together.” (This is added because just “hearing” those words, “stay together” gets that first step moving, and that is the point.)
The shear wall wouldn’t have made whoever might have tried to come down it happy, as there was no give to the wall. The horses stepped out one by one, following the steps of the one in front of it, without pause. It is only about 10 yards across, but that is plenty of distance to feel as if your walking on nothing but air.
The shear wall of the shale slide isn’t what comes to any mind when thinking of a horse trail, but the horses will do what their riders may not even think possible. There is no hesitation or balking from any of them, the cut out were they walk has been there much longer than we have.
The trail is just as suddenly obvious again and the scrub brush and Willows distract the eye enough to descend into the bowl without too much of a adrenalin rush or for worry to catch hold. As my guests realize that it’s all good, I can hear whispers of awe and the clicks of cameras. As we come closer to the bottom the sun finally begins to touch and warm the last and deepest crags and dips in the bowl, we stop and as you look, it seems the fog simply becomes invisible.
We ride around the right side, gradually weaving our way towards the center of the bowl. I know, right where we are headed and it is a pleasure when everyone agrees after tying all the horses and hobbling them.
I started to lead us up the short bank of the nob that we had chosen to have lunch on, and quickly backed up right into one of the people following me. “Shh, get back” I whispered putting my arms out to stop all of them. “It’s ok, listen! There is a caribou right at the top…standing in our spot! Do you want to get pictures?” I whispered with no sound, gesturing to keep everyone silent. Well, of course they (and I!) did!
We snuck very quietly past the horses and back the way we had ridden in, just moments before. Up the side of the little nobby right next to the slightly bigger one and we quietly snuck (well, as quietly as 6 people can sneak anywhere bunched together like celery!) across the short top so that we would have an unobstructed view of the mountain caribou, so close.
I have just never been very impressed with caribou. Yeah, they are pretty. But they are also just plain dumb. All in all, everyone was thrilled and the caribou jogged away after having his picture taken for 20 minutes, by six people, using six cameras, probably taking a total of at least 500 pictures.
After lunch and much discussion about the shale slide as well as the other critters we very well may encounter, we decided to climb a mountain. (I will never understand the obsession people have for climbing mountains. Nope. Never. Here I go again.) A sweaty 90 minute climb put us all over 7000 feet and the view made even I forget the climb. (…for a few minutes, anyway) It always takes my breath away.
There are so many huge feelings that hit me when I reach the top. I, me, I, am at the TOP of a mountain. Each time, I cannot explain it, but it hits me as if it were my first. And, LOOK. As far as you can see, until the shape of the earth makes it impossible, is a world that has never seen a man or woman.
The mountains, staggered out there, on and on, the creeks and rivers cutting their way, through and around, never loosing where they are headed. The shining sun with storms you can see in the distance. No place you look, with your eyes, with binoculars, with spotting scopes of the best quality, no place is there the mark of man. Sky, mountains, water, land, animals and each other. That is who is here. That is something I feel when I LOOK.
So! The point of the little mountain climbing foray is always a thrill for me, so I happily led with a running start and a short leap to land in the fall of shale we had decided at lunch we were going to descend, just for the fun of it. (And, I think, to prove to themselves, how steady the incoming trail really was!)
After we were all standing at the base again and laughing about the pictures we had taken of each other, we walked back to the horses who stood patiently right were we had tied them hours ago. (This is always worth mentioning! Out loud, kinda in the same line of thought as “knock on wood.”)
We adjusted saddles, tightened everyone back up and rode on. As we got closer to the far wall of the bowl, we could see sheep spotting the rocks with white. Rams and groups of ewes and lambs were scattered all over the back. Stopping, we tied everyone up again and found good spots to take pictures of the sheep before moving on again, this time headed back to the front of the bowl to climb out.
As we rode back into camp, at the lake, the super cub flew over and everyone waved. Master Guide Terry Overly would be spending a few days with us here at Medicine Man, to share some of his experience and memories as well as individual time with our guests. He would be leading the group, now that he was here.
Would you like to hear more about Medicine Man and our Spiritual Retreats? Spiritual Retreat, Horseback in Alaska may be just what you are looking for!