The return trek from Alturas Lake to Atlanta was going along just dandy when Dad learned a lesson about kindness to animals.
When picking up the pack horses from Atlanta locals, I watched as the man we were renting them from showed my dad the secret to cinching a pack saddle on a horse.
A pack saddle is held in place with a belt that loops under the horse’s rib cage. With the saddle in place the man ran this belt under the horse and through rings on the saddle to cinch it tight. Several times, he did what he could to get the saddle tightened down when the horse let out it’s breath. Then, when things were good and tight and there was no more cinching to do, he pulled hard on the belt and delivered a serious kick right in the horse’s ribs. The horse snorted and the belt slipped two or three inches through the rings and got tied off.
“They’ll always keep some room and if you don’t get it tight they can drop their load any time they choose,” was the man’s advice. Even so, I felt sorry for the horse.
The return from Alturas Lake followed the same steady climb we had come down from the summit, across the meadow of blue flowers, and on down the valleys of Mattingly Creek and then Middle Fork of the Boise River.
Even we kids knew going down is the dangerous part of climbing. That’s when heads hit rocks hard during a fall. And we remembered going up a very steep and very rocky section of the trail some five miles out of Atlanta. We kids got off the horses to pick our way down that several hundred feet.
It was right in the center of that steep and difficult part of the trail — right where it was the steepest and dustiest and most awkward — the pack on one of the horses simply slid to one side and landed in the powdery dust.
The horse didn’t look one bit sorry about it, either. Indeed, he seemed quite pleased with himself!
I was too young to help unpacking the bedding and canvases and heavy pack boxes there on that steep slope. Nor do I remember if Mom and Dad carried all the goods to a more level place to pack them back on the horse, but it sure seems they could not have saddled and packed that animal in as steep a place as the horse was standing.
What I do know is that horse got a damn solid kick with Dad’s boot when the saddle was being cinched up. And the horse looked completely convinced it had been worth it.