The Tale of Two Horses
                               by Gary Wright

It all started with a phone message left on our answering machine Saturday, Aug 28,
1999.  It went something like “two horses, lost near Lost Lake”.  Sounds like a good
excuse to go riding up in that area and oh yeah, they’re hobbled.  Sunday evening after I
returned home from camping and riding in the William O. Douglas Wilderness, I listened
to the phone messages.  First thought was, oh well, it’ll teach that person a lesson; the
horses will have to turn up at Packwood Lake, back toward the trailhead.  I’d assumed
they’d come from, the other ways to get to Lost Lake aren’t for the faint of heart due to
snow, steep narrow trails, etc.  I’d just been there the week before cutting out several
blow down with a crosscut just to get there.  So not much more thought given to it that
 Monday morning I show up for work at the Forest Service in Randle and there is a
message on our email about these two horses from Carol Pitts, the receptionist at
Packwood.  Well, I returned some derogatory remark about how you shouldn’t depend on
hobbles to keep your horses around.  All the time this little scenario is staring to weigh on
my mind, especially when someone at work says ”can’t horses get hurt with hobbles on
and couldn’t a cougar get them?”  All valid questions of which I answered yes they could.
Monday evening I called the phone number on the email message and talked to the person
(Ken) who had lost the horses.  He had turn two horse loose with hobbles on to graze
while three were left on the highline and being camped where they’d be noticed if they
tried to leave.  When Ken and partners checked on the horses sometime Friday they were
nowhere to be found.  Looking over the break of the hill Ken thought too steep; they’d
never go down there.  They must be above the Lake, but no luck there.  Ken and partners
had to leave on Saturday, leaving much of their gear behind because they were two horses
short.  A riding horse and a pack horse who later became known as Joe and Pete.   After
talking to Ken it was easy to tell he was really concerned about his horses and felt bad
about not being able to get away
from work to look for them until the next Saturday.  Ken had made arrangements with a
couple of friends to go in on Tuesday to pack his gear out and look for the horses.  It
snowed on Monday (late August) so Ken’s friends had some tracking snow when they
checked the large open, grassy glades above Lost Lake, but no sign of horses.
 I’d told Ken in a previous conversation that if he needed help to give me a call.
The call came Wed. morning after he’d talked to his friends and no sign of the horses.
Again, I’d just got to work where a message was waiting to go look for Joe and Pete.  It
was a much nicer day then it had been earlier in the week, so now was a good excuse to
go for a ride and try to solve the mystery of where the hobbled horses had gone.  Off from
work I went, grabbed my horse, rain gear, map, something to eat a chunk of lead rope and
headed for the Packwood Lake Trailhead and eventually to Lost Lake.  It is about an eight
mile ride one way.  At Lost Lake around 1pm I highlined my horse and started tracking
old horse tracks and
eventually found some that headed down over the hill on an old game trail.  This ground
is steep and the trail narrow so I figured this isn’t where any normal person would be
riding for pleasure so I was sure I was on the right track (five-day-old tracks following
rain and snow).  Joe and Pete came upon a windfall that blocked the trail they were
merrily going down and to get around it they headed straight down a 60% slope.
Needless to say, it wasn’t hard to follow them in this type of terrain; they were tearing up
some ground.  So follow them I did for a few hundred yards until the ground mellowed
out and was quite nice to walk on.  At some point after going down the hill, it seemed
they were bent on going down the canyon until they got out of this mess.  The terrain got
rather bad again with more windfalls until finally they got squeezed between a tag alder
patch and a creek where they tore up a good little patch of ground – obviously one or both
got slightly hung up here.  Well, thinking I knew where I was and where the horses might
end up I headed down along the creek toward a nice meadow next to Beaver Lake where
I expected the horses to be held up.  After 20 minutes of walking and no meadow it
dawns on me that the creek flowing into Beaver Lake is small and And not nearly as big
as the one I’m following.  Time to get out the map and see how lost I am.  I discover I
must be in Lost Creek – appropriately named I guess.  At least there’s a road downstream
a mile or two, so the horses, probably crossed the creek back where I last saw their tracks
and would be down on the road somewhere.  Not a problem, just head back get my horse
and pick them up along the road tomorrow.
 Things never turn out to be as simple as one would hope.  Half an hour later I’m
back to the tag alder patch where I’d last seen the tracks.  Hmmm, they didn’t cross the
creek; they got themselves untangled from the brush pile, and are working their way back
up the creek.  It’s 4:30 OR 5pm now and I tell myself I’ve got to be back to my horse by
6pm or I’ll be riding in the dark.  Still got some time to look but it’s a good-sized area
with lots of broken ground and hiding places.  Tracks are hard to follow but I find some
along a dried up pond that look pretty fresh and it looks like ole Joe and Pete are feeding
on some huckleberry brush.  Time’s run out but I get the feeling that they’re still in the
drainage somewhere.  Too many obstacles to go down stream to far, to steep to go back
up the hill where they come from so they’ve got to be here somewhere.  It’s after 6pm
when I finally crawl out of that hole and back up to the Lake where my horse is tied.  I’m
beat; we take a few minutes to let him eat some grass and me to eat a sandwich.  It’s a
good feeling to know Joe and Pete are close and from all the sign I’ve seen they seem to
be okay.  It’s time
to go we’re going to be pushing to get back to the trailer by dark.
 Its dark when we get back to the trailer and I see Cal Slocum’s horse trailer is
gone and no note on my window.  That morning I left a note on his pickup window that I
was looking for two horses near Lost Lake and I’d give him a call that evening to see if
he’d seen any sign of them.  That night I called Cal and we must have just missed each
other up at the Lake, he said he didn’t leave a note cause he couldn’t find a pencil.  Now
Cal knows the country around Lost Lake as well as anyone in East Lewis County, he’s
hunted and rode in it for years so I knew he’d be a big help if I could talk him into going
 We talked it over but no commitments were made that night.  Early Thurs.
morning, there’s a knock on the door; I jump out of bed, still tired from yesterday’s hike
and ride.  It’s Cal and he’s been scoping the situation out since daylight.  He’s been up
Coal Creek Rd where we’d need to walk in from if we were going to walk up Lost Creek
from below.  Cal said there was a horse trailer blocking the road and we couldn’t get the
horses by it.  After some discussion we decided that would be the shortest way into where
I’d seen the fresh horse sign.  This meant a 2½-mile walk in on the road, then about 2
miles cross country up Lost Creek where Cal thought there was an old trail.  If there was
a trail, we didn’t find much sign of it.  We finally reached the tag alder patch that stopped
the horses several days earlier.  Cal and I decided to split up here so we could cover more
ground – Cal took higher up on the hill and I stayed closer to the creek.  I told Cal there
was a couple of ponds up the drainage where we’d try to get together again.  As I worked
up the creek I noticed a lot of things that looked familiar from the day before.  Many
thoughts run through a persons mind in situations like this, like will these horses be wild
after a week without any human contact, what if they’re hurt, what if one’s down or hung
up in a mess of blow down, what if, what if…  Do you call out their names hoping to get
a response or just sneak along hoping to catch a glimpse of them?  No real answers just a
lot of what ifs, hoping this ordeal has a good ending.  Before I know it I’m back at the
ponds looking at the sign I’d seen the day before looking for some new clues and
checking little hollows I’d missed the day before.  Sure enough, over a little ridge about
50 yards below a small meadow I’d missed yesterday and it looked like it had been torn
up pretty good.  Could it be the horses or elk – better go down the hill and look.  Good
news, it was horses and it looked like they were still hobbled.  Even the brush around the
meadow looked freshly beaten down, they’ve got to be close.  Continuing up the creek in
waist deep huckleberry I found a couple trees near the creek where they’d spent the night.
Continuing on around another small ridge there they are, a butterscotch dun along the
edge of the creek and reddish colored horse on an island in the middle of the creek.
These guys looked alert and not real spooky, but just to make sure I didn’t spook them, I
slipped off my day pack, got out a little grain and a piece of cotton rope.  Neither made a
move while I talked to them; in fact I think they were glad to see a human.  They still had
their halter and hobbles on and didn’t seem to be any worse for wear.  I slowly walked
over to the butterscotch and gave him a hand full of grain, put a lead rope on him and
took his hobbles off.  I tied the one up and yelled to Cal that I had them.
 After catching Joe and Pet, checking them over for cuts, etc. it seemed these guys
had done all right for themselves in an area strewn with blow down, steep ground and
boggy areas to name a few of the hazards.  They did have a little trouble learning to walk
normal again after being hobbled for a week.
 Now which way to get them out of here.  Up the creek and hill to Lost Lake or
down the creek the way Cal and I had come in that morning.  After a short discussion we
decided on the Lost Lake route, too many big wind falls the way we’d come in.  It was
about 12:30 when we decided to split up.  Cal would go back down the creek and pick up
his pickup, go home and get his horse trailer, and meet me at the Packwood Lake
trailhead by 4 o’clock.  I led the butterscotch horse and let the other follow as we made
our way up to Lost Lake.  I let them graze a little on the way up the hill as I caught my
breathe, my legs were still a little heavy from the day before and they were pretty eager to
eat some grass.  Apparently the huckleberry brush was okay to keep them from starving,
but obviously they’d rather eat grass.  It was a pleasure leading these guys up the hill, not
once did they come close to stepping on me, even as steep as this hill was.  After making
it to Lost Lake I figured we’re home free, nothing but 7 or 8 miles of trail ahead.  Things
went well for the next mile until I stopped to let them graze in a small meadow north of
Mosquito Lake and some how the red horse (Pete, I think) decided he needed to be the
head horse and got in front of me and the butterscotch (Joe).  Old Pete must have
recognized the trail he was on and the way home cause he was stepping out checking
once in a while to see if we were still coming.  This went on for another mile or so until I
knew of a short cut where I could get in the lead again, not knowing what Pete would do
when he hit Packwood Lake.  As we approached the Lake a family with a couple of kids
wanted to pet the horses.  So we took a little break and I put a lead rope on Pete, they
even gave them an apple from their lunch.
 I was getting a little tired of walking so I decided to see if Joe, would let me ride
him bareback for the next 4 miles.  After fashioning some reigns out of the lead rope and
letting the wilderness guard at Packwood Lake hold Pete, I found a log and jumped on
and waited for the rodeo.  Well, we went around a couple of time but Joe didn’t seem to
mind all that much and after all, we’d built up quite a repore’ in the last three hours.
Bidding the guard good-bye I grabbed Pete and off we headed for the trailhead.  All went
pretty well on the way out; even the bicycles that came up behind us didn’t seem to phase
Pete and Joe.  I guess I stirred up a bee’s nest and one of the cyclists got stung.  I slipped
off old Joe going up the short cut trail to the parking lot - to steep and a roach mane.
There was Cal, right on time and I gotta tell ya, my butt was glad to see him and that cold
beer.  Cal was gracious enough to keep the horses at his place until Saturday when Ken
could retrieve them.  Bar and I has already made plans to be at the Club gathering at
Green River Horse Camp so I didn’t get to meet Ken, but to show his appreciation he
gave Cal and I a nice reward and two half gallons of Black Velvet.
 I intend to drop by someday and check in on Joe, Pete and Ken and to let him
know that it was reward enough for me just to have the experience of finding these two
horses and having this tale end as well as it did.  Special thanks to Cal Slocum for helping
me out and to Barb, my wife, for her enthusiasm and support.  Writing this story let me
relive this truly wonderful experience

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