After packing our horses on that Atlanta morning in 1954, we found ourselves walking the entire operation up the familiar road to Atlanta.
Atlanta was a virtual ghost town even then, so probably no one noticed Mom and Dad and we three kids and three loaded horses, but we did our best to provide a parade for anyone interested in watching.
After the few buildings of Atlanta we walked past the Forest Service bath house, fed with hot springs, and a short bit later the swimming pool, also fed by hot springs. Back in 1917, when he was fourteen, Dad and his school buddies had kicked the mud up from the bottom of this pool when the schoolmarm walked by. The mud made a good curtain to hide their skinny dipping from such a pretty authority figure.
I knew what that warm mud felt like between my toes. Returning to Dad’s youthful haunt had filled many an evening on our summer camping trips. The crisp air at 5,500 feet, the warm water, the mossy mud and the smell of pine trees were all one Atlanta amalgam.
But this time we didn’t stop for a swim. We just kept walking. Past the rusting penstock of an abandoned powerhouse. Past the upper campground we never stayed at. Along the deteriorating wooden flume that had run water to the penstock. Then we crossed the green-clear rushing water of Leggit Creek on a most precarious bridge of barely more than logs laying on rocks.
Then the climb began. A steep and rocky and dusty climb in my mind. And tiring. Before long I had been hoisted up on one of the pack horses to ride (What? A nine-year-old whine about walking uphill? Pshaw… I’m sure the horse just needed more weight).
Folks, to my mind it was a long way up to the back of a horse. Add another yard or so because of pack boxes piled over with blankets and tarps — blankets and tarps I was sitting on that left no room to reach my legs around!
Way down beneath it all was a steep slope littered with rocks to bash my head on should I fall off.
Well. I was one very attentive boy and my knuckles turned whatever color they had to while my hands gripped the ropes that cinched the awkward mound on a swaying and bucking perch!
But I didn’t ask to get off and walk …
I do not remember much about my 9 year old summer. My father bringing home a horse for me was the highlight. It was a big surprise. I think that was the summer I learned to drive the tractor which was the start of working in the fields later for .50 a hour. You were a very lucky 9 year old.
Ah, but the view from atop the pack saddle! That is what I miss when I’m backpacking, with my eyes glued to the stones in front of my feet.