By Shannon Schraufnagel
Many years ago, at the beginning of my marriage, our good buddy (not a horse guy) asked us to help him set his spike camp up in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He asked if we could use our two horses to pack everything out for the 3-mile hike from base camp to the spike camp. We, of course, agreed. It was going to be a gorgeous, warm weekend, and we were ready to go. Our good buddy said we could drive our truck and trailer right to base camp and ride out from there to the spike camp. But when we arrived at the trailhead it was obvious we were not going to get the horse trailer over the many boulders down the two-track. So, we dropped the trailer and my husband (I won't mention any names for the sake of his reputation) said I should ride Wyatt and pony Brandy up the road while the guys drove the two trucks ahead of me.
My husband handed me a rough lead rope for Brandy (I did not like that rope) but the trailer was locked up so that's all I had. Our good buddy said the camp was just up around the bend, it should take me 20 minutes. They drove off quickly down the trail and I started the slow walk.
The first issue I came across was a cattle guard. I looked both ways down the fence and didn’t see a gate. "What the heck am I going to do now?!" I ventured one way then turned another - finally seeing a gate aways down, but I had to cross a very narrow path with barbed wire on one side and a drop-off on the other. I hoped I wouldn’t scratch my saddlebags or my horse’s feet didn't slip. I finally made it to the gate but the thing was so rusted I could barely get the wire loop off the fence post.
Finally, after splinters and sore hands, it POPPED off - the gate flung back about 6' because it was so tight, startling the horses as well as me! I was wondering how the heck I would get it tied shut again when I heard a loud thundering noise coming from the trees... a whole herd of free graze cattle came to greet me. Luckily my horses were pretty used to cows but they still wondered if we were gonna get run over. I was too.
I reached for the gate but with my 5-foot frame, no way was I going to get it to stretch the extra 2' I needed to tie it back up. I sat there for a while trying to chase the cows away but to no avail. So... I made the decision that I had to leave the gate open, laying it across the opening as best I could.
I got back on the trail and headed back towards the road… praying I wouldn’t get tracked down by a game warden for letting a whole herd of cows loose.
(Photo of momma and baby Moose taken in The Bighorn Mountains one year earlier) By now Brandy was tired (she's the laziest horse we own) and was moving pretty slow. We came to another bend in the road where I wondered where the heck camp was when suddenly, a large Bull Moose came out of the woods about 50 yards from me. I had never come across one before and had no clue what to do - or what might happen. He was kitty-corner to me and the road so the further I would go down the road meant the closer I would get to him. I stopped the horses and waited to see what he would do... He shook his head and snorted at me. That didn't help my decision-making. The horses however didn't seem to care, and in fact, Brandy had started to fall asleep but I didn't notice that at the time. I decided, as any young naïve 22-year-old girl, fresh out of Wisconsin, would do - I would kick the horses into high gear and fly by the moose. I was sure that would work.
But, I forgot to give Brandy a heads-up, so when I kicked Wyatt he gave a leap and Brandy stood still (still sleeping of course), then jerked her head straight up. And wouldn’t you know, that stupid rope ripped my hand open. "I’m gonna shoot that man for giving me this rope!" Brandy finally leaped forward and we cantered down the road. I think the moose was just as surprised as anyone at my choice because he lifted his head with a wary eye and sidestepped away from me. I had blood on my saddlebag, tears down my face from the pain, and anger in my heart for the un-named husband, who by now was sitting down drinking a beer at the campsite. Finally, around the third bend in the road (and about an hour later) I rode into camp. Our good buddy came up to me first and said “How was the ride up?” But he didn’t wait for the answer when he saw my face. I asked as nicely as I could “Where is (un-named husband)? I need to talk to him.” Our good buddy turned and I heard him say “I’m outta here…” My good-natured husband came up around the truck and asked me what took me so long, with a smile on his face (and a beer in his hand)… I will leave the rest of the conversation out of the story so as to not bring shame onto the reader for the words that came out of my mouth. I have since prayed for forgiveness not only for my words but for also wondering how I could knock my husband off in the woods.
After tempers had cooled, and my hand was thoroughly wrapped with gauze from our first aid kit, we all sat down for dinner... That morning we forgot our meat back home, so we stopped at some rinky-dink store on the way up the mountain, and my un-named husband grabbed some meat that at first glance, looked questionable. But it was 5 o’clock in the morning… those that know me to know I’m not a morning person. So, I let him buy it. It seemed to taste fine with the Ramen Noodles we cooked it with.
Later that night, tucked in my cot, I started to not feel so hot. Fast. I ran out of the tent and didn’t make it very far. Let’s just leave it at that. After about an hour I made it back into the tent. My husband was making fun of me, and bragging he felt just fine. Until about 10 minutes later. He ran out of the tent too. Then it was my turn to laugh. We waited for our good buddy to go running out but he never did.
The next morning, I felt miserable… and we still had spike camp to set up… a 3-mile hike up the mountains, and no horse to ride because they were packed out. I surely thought I was going to die up there that day. I wondered if God was paying me back for all the evil thoughts I had toward my husband the night before. But instead, God gave me grace and let me survive. Our good buddy kept asking me if I was ok. My husband thought it best not to talk to me at all. That was wise of him.
We finally made it to spike camp and it was beautiful! I did not have my camera with me on that trip and I greatly regret it (thus why these pictures are from a couple of earlier camping trips). The wall tent sat down in a beautiful meadow with pines and aspens all around. A little stream ran off to the side and mountains shot up all around. I didn’t want to leave. We sat there and had lunch and just sat in the peace and quiet. But the day was short and we had to get back to base.
Funny thing, after we sat there in those beautiful surroundings, my anger towards my husband faded. And he started to talk to me once again. And life was good. Life was very good. And that weekend is now one of my favorite memories and makes me laugh every time I think of it. And brings me peace whenever I think about being out in those mountains.
The Rest of the Story: Our good buddy got an Elk that year. And that was a great memory to have of those Bighorn Mountains. And just so you know, that wrong rope burned up great in the campfire.
***Disclaimer: This story was written to the best of my memories of that weekend. If my husband tells you this isn't how any of it happened just ignore him. I like my version better. And I like my husband too. Even after the rope incident. He's a good sport!
*Photo of my husband and our good buddy Brian Erhard (not a horse guy) and a Wyoming native, while hunting down by Kaycee, Wyoming the year prior to Wrong Rope Adventure.