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Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;

A Tough Trip to Paradise

By Mary Erickson, Missoula , MT

Part 3 of 3


December 2008 Issue


[We pick up Part 3 of 3 of the author’s tale of her harrowing ride out of the Selway River country thirty years ago. Employed as a packer and wrangler for the Selway Lodge, she and Fred, the owner’s son, two hunters, four saddle horses and three pack horses depart early in the morning to ride the 18 miles to the Paradise trailhead.

     In Part 2, which ran in RMR’s November 2008 issue, the trail sloughs away from under Mary’s two pack horses, and they slide toward the swift Selway River below. While one horse manages to struggle back up to the trail and rejoin Mary’s saddle horse, poor Buck remained stranded on a flat-topped rock, the size of a small pickup bed.

     Mary and the two hunters contemplate their options… ]


     We brainstormed over the predicament Buck was in and the fact that several hundred feet of the trail was now simply gone. Our conclusion was that Buck somehow had to come back up the destroyed mountainside of loose gravel that he had just slid down.

     It seemed an impossible option, but the only one. The “how to” was the problem we had yet to figure out as we caught sight of Fred riding happily around a distant bend in the trail, the recalcitrant Daisy, the third pack horse, contentedly in tow.

     Fred smiled a big generous smile and waved, no doubt delighted at having caught up to us. Then his face dropped and the words “OH!…MY!…GOD!” clearly formed on his lips as he took in the whole scene, including Buck’s location on the boulder down on the river’s edge, well below any place he should have reasonably been.

     Then I saw him say, “What the hell….”

     I walked up the trail to meet him and fill him in on our latest misadventure. Fred stayed calm; not amused, but calm.

     Joining the guests, we all did some serious head scratching as Fred, still incredulous walked over to survey the scene close up.

     Yep! It looked every bit as bad from up close. The good news was, amazing as it seemed; once again, no one was hurt, nothing but one top-packed sleeping bag was lost.

     All we had to do was rescue Buck…well, that was for starters and the most immediate problem at hand.

Fred and I slid back down to Buck using the chokecherry bush route for purchase on the loose hillside, mindful that the mountain might not have been done with us.

Buck seemed indifferent to our arrival. He seemed more disconcerted that his personal supply of edibles was running low as he’d polished off everything within his reach.

     While he was busy nibbling, Fred and I unpacked and unsaddled him. This was mostly done by the Braille method because of the close quarters on the rock. If Buck had moved an inch to either side one of us would have been in the river. Chests tight to the packs, working the ropes blind, we loosened first the off-side pack, inched it up, then hoisted it over Buck’s back where Fred tied it to a bush higher uphill than Buck could eat.

     The other pack followed by similar procedure, and then the pack saddle and pad until all that was left on Buck was his halter and lead rope. More discussion followed and a plan hatched.

     Doing the mountain-goat-thing again, I climbed the chokecherry bush route back up to the trail where Peter and Ray had been watching, and fetched the extra rope Fred had tied on his saddle. I tossed one end down to Fred on the boulder. It was just long enough to tie to Buck’s lead rope with about three feet left in my hands up on a solid section of the trail.

     “Heads up, Buck!” I hollered giving the rope a brisk tug. Buck looked indifferent.

     “Get up there!” Fred yelled. Buck didn’t bat an eye.

     I gave the rope another yank. Pete and Ray pulled, too.

     Fred whacked him hard on the butt with his hat. “Get on up there, Buck!” he yelled.

     We pulled and pulled. Buck’s neck got longer but his feet refused to leave the boulder.

     Finally, in complete exasperation at the trials of this day, Fred yanked off a large, well-chewed branch from the chokecherry bush and thrashed Buck’s butt with it unmercifully while yelling and raving like a mad man.

     Surprised at the assault, Buck leapt forward and upward. His big hooves dug for purchase in the loose hill.

     We pulled.

     Fred thrashed and yelled.

     Buck scrambled three steps up and slid back two, but climbed again.

     We kept pulling.

     Fred kept thrashing and Buck kept climbing. Finally his hooves reached some bits of solid rock and he pulled his big body up onto the trail.

     And unbelievably… with only three feet on solid ground and one yet dangling in mid air, Buck reached his nose out and grabbed a bite to eat… and in that very moment I had to gather all of my will to resist simply shoving him back off the mountain. But I did resist and Buck ambled up the trail looking for his next snack.


     After we had finished hoisting the packs, the saddle, and Fred up the slope, we re-saddled and packed Buck and took him back up the trail to where Fred’s horse, Daisy, and the guests’ horses were tied. My horse and Peppy still stood patiently on the safety of the rock ledge on the far side of the considerable gap in the trail.

     We decided that Fred’s responsibility was to see the guests “safely” back to the ranch and to explain to his folks why we could not take this trail to Paradise that day or, as it turned out, for the next two years.

     I opted to take Taffy and ride the remaining ten miles to Paradise to let our incoming guests know they would not be riding down the Selway River Trail any day soon and help them rearrange their travel plans to include driving three hours back to Hamilton and catching a plane into the ranch.

     With some trepidation and those handy, mountain goat skills, I scooted down to the now-bedraggled chokecherry bush once again, crossed the boulder that had been our brief haven, and climbed the far rocks to the ledge where Taffy and Peppy waited.

     Dusting myself off and waving to Fred and the guys, I picked up Peppy’s lead rope, swung once again up into the saddle and headed up the river trail bound for Paradise .

     I had ridden almost a mile when I realized the sun felt good, my saddle had a friendly, comfortable creak and I could resume breathing again. My day was far from over, but surely we had faced the worst the day or the summer or life had to offer.


Postscript: The Main Selway River Trail was impassable for nearly two years following this event. Some alternate routes were used during low water until a major rebuilding project, involving copious quantities of dynamite, created a solid base for this part of the trail.

     I still tend to hold my breath whenever I cross it and never, in the thirty years since, have I had a day like that one. Thank God!

Back to Part 2      Back to Part 1

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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