During the summer of 1957 our family found itself at the bottom of a long, steep slope of endless loose shale. It just kept getting more steep the further up it went.
I recognized the zig-zag pattern cut across and up the dangerous scree-covered slope from previous trails called “switchbacks.” But before I had only seen three or five or so zig-zags. These we did not bother to count. Fifty? Eighty? Five-hundred-eighty million gazillion????????
We were mounted on the five horses my parents had rented from a dude ranch in Stanley Basin. I was twelve and my sisters were fourteen and ten.
Mom and Dad explained the principles of shale and scree and gravity to us. They pointed out the horses had been over this dangerous scree many times. They pointed out the trail would get narrower and the horses would have only enough room for their hooves.
They pointed out if we spooked a horse it could step off the trail, slide the scree under its hooves, and we and the horses would be in an avalanche of rocks and horse and our own bodies.
I clearly remember how high up I was on that horse. How tiny the trail looked from up there. And how steep that slope of loose rocks was!
And I remember how the further up the switchbacks I rode the distance to the bottom of the slope grew to an endless potential of the horse and I rolling with tumbling rocks forever.
I don’t know if that dude ranch had to replace the crushed saddle horn I was hanging onto that day. I do remember Mom’s gentle laughter around the campfire that night as she observed, “I’ve never seen three kids sit so straight and so still for so long in my life!”