Tag Archives: horse packing

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #9: Dumped!

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.

Atlanta to Alturas Lake #3

Map INT copy

I had no idea where we were headed that day as the trail from Atlanta began to climb. The valley got more narrow and the mountains around us grew higher and rockier and crowded in closer to the trail. The creek got more wild and filled with falls.

narrow & rocky JPG

falls JPG

But there were wide spots as well, places where the trail was not as steep nor as rocky. And there were wild flowers covering many of the Alpine meadows, filing the lush grasses with color. The air was crisp and clear. We continued to climb, a step at a time.

flowers JPG

Looking back now I know we were following the trail up Mattingly Creek, headed over a ridge to join Alturas Lake Creek and then follow it to Alturas Lake. I’m pretty sure we were on the Atlanta side of the ridge when we stopped to make camp.

I had forgotten until I looked at the pictures Dad took, but of our three horses only two carried our gear on pack saddles. In their planning our folks had been wise enough to hire an extra horse to carry kids. I have no doubt that being able to put two tired kids on a saddle horse and toss one on the top of a pack horse made the entire trip much more enjoyable for the adults!

extra horse JPG

Atlanta ID to Alturas Lake #2


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.

Pool INT

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.
Nyla INT

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 …

Sawtooth Kidhood #1

I was a kid in the 1950s and have always assumed everyone raised in Idaho spent every summer being drug over the Sawtooth Mountains with two or three horses in tow.

Sawtooths MAP INT

Mom and Dad rented horses for our annual Sawtooth walk-about. Light-weight sleeping bags and cooking stoves and dried food were in the future. To cook in the wilderness we carried iron skillets and a Coleman white-gas camping stove. Food was in cans and bottles — and, yes, fried Spam and cold Vienna Sausages on crackers taste mighty fine in the mountain air, all dusty from the trail. Or at least they did when I was ten.

We did have the latest in air mattresses, flimsy plastic tubes molded together that only stayed inflated if no one was on them. Our bedding was heavy woolen blankets carried over the pack boxes on the backs of the horses. The blankets also served as handy padding for us kids when we got tired and were hoisted up on the top of the horses for a ride.

My beautiful picture

1954 — Vicky (sis), Victoria (M0m), Dean, Nyla (sis)

Tents, made of thick canvas, were too heavy to bother with so a couple of canvas tarps sufficed, one under our beds and one lying over them. It kept the dew off as well as the two inches of snow we woke to one August morning.

Every morning Mom and Dad packed our camp into boxes and loaded the horses and every evening it was all unpacked and set into a camp. We kids were kept busy blowing up mattresses and gathering wood, which was lying all about and easily available by breaking off dead branches from trees. Then it was time to play, often by riding the horses bareback.

My beautiful picture

1954 — Dean, Mom, Vicky, Nyla. Boxes fit on pack saddles.

Summer after summer we were crossing different trails in the Sawtooths. It was National Forest land at the time, not a National Wilderness, and in all our treks we only twice ran into Forest Service trail-maintenance pack strings. And only once did we run into another family. It was so unusual we became friends. For years we visited them at their place on Sunnyslope along the Snake River.

So, folks — that was part of my perfectly ordinary childhood. Now, at seventy years old and starting to tell some stories about it, is the first time I’ve realized just how unique it was. Stay tuned for some highlights…