Trail Symphony; The Beauty of Trail Riding
As published in the November – December 2012, issue of The Trailhead News.
I recently had an opportunity to assist our own Ed Haefliger in the Olympic National Park. Ed is not only a prolific writer and member of the Back Country Horsemen of Washington; he is also a longtime volunteer packer for the National Park Service where he provides sturdy and reliable mule power to haul in the gear, food, and supplies required to keep the Park functioning. Just as a pickup truck needs a driver, a train of heavily loaded mules needs a leader and that fellow is Ed.
The project at hand was rebuilding the historic Bear Camp Shelter located deep within the Park’s interior. Ed was tasked with transporting the equipment and food required to keep a party of backcountry carpenters supplied for eight days while they repaired and restored the aging structure.
The trip started in inky blackness at 4:00 am to arrive at the trailhead with time to saddle and ready the mules prior to the appearance of the work party. The Park employees were delighted to find us waiting for them and able to accommodate the extra few comfort items that each had brought for their week plus stay in the backcountry. After carefully loading, weighing, and securing the gear we embarked on the trek to our destination nearly twenty miles and six hours away. Blue sky was scarce as we made our way through the darkly forested valley of the Dosewallips River. Along much of the route, the trail meandered across gently rolling fields of emerald mosses punctuated periodically by broad tree trunks supporting the dense canopy that casts a deep shade on the ground underneath.
As we made our way up the deep Dosewallip Valley the trip became a musical event with the sounds of the pack string swirling through the air. Indeed; to think of this as a trail symphony wouldn’t be out of place.
The steady beat of hooves forms the percussion section keeping a constant rhythm as we head down the trail. The brass section is, of course, our bear bells. The steady ringing provides the melody of the trip; cowbells with their flat notes for cadence, Swiss bells with their higher pitched harmonies, and the lone horse’s sleigh bell providing musical punctuation for the tune.
The symphony isn’t just a percussion piece. The trees and the wind combine to form the woodwind section bringing resonance into the music with the wind softly rustling the leaves and limbs overhead. The continuous rushing of the river provides a soundscape as its waters inexorably seek their way to the ocean far away. The frequent water crossings bringing periodic crescendos that slowly die away as we travel further down the trail only to gradually rebuild as we near the next tributary.
The symphony ended as the evening’s lengthening shadows welcomed us into our base camp destination. The process of unloading was commenced by the light of headlamps, followed by unsaddling and caring for the hungry animals, and only then sharing a meal around the flickering light of the campfire. Needless to say after a long day there was no late night revelry and soon the sounds of mules on the highline permeated camp. My last recollection of the day was a brief glimpse of a meteor shooting across a small window in the forest canopy high above.
Our trip was a success for everyone involved; Ed continued his volunteer efforts to improve the Olympic National Park with an uneventful pack trip, the Park will have the Bear Camp Shelter improved, the backcountry carpenters didn’t have to carry nearly 1,000 pounds of equipment on their backs, and we attended a noteworthy trail symphony.