What We Found
Photographs by Alexis Greene Photography
So, it rained.
It rained, and it rained, and it rained.
It rained for forty days and forty nights….
Alright, not really, but that is definitely how our trip seemed to be going when we saddled up and took off up the trail in a remote part of Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Eight ladies, from all regions of the United States, all walks of life, and of all ages gathered together in Cody, Wyoming. We were taking part in the annual Sisterhood of the Outdoors Summer Pack Trip – a sold-out experience with Boulder Basin Outfitters in the remote Wyoming wilderness. We drove the scenic route from Cody through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, where we finally met up with our guides just east of Moran Junction. After watching the grueling process of getting all 21 of our horses and mules saddled and packed, we were ready. The sun was out, we had a great lunch, we were pumped.
Off we went, 10 riding horses and 11 pack horses and mules. Let’s face it, we’re women, even in the remote wilderness we seemed to have a ton of stuff. Two of our guides led strings of pack animals, woven together with piggin’ strings that would break loose should one of the horses or mules fall. We were quite the train headed up the hill to our first true mountain riding experience. All was good – we were comfortable, laughing and chatting along the way. When Alexis said, “get your cameras ready,” my heart jumped. That could mean two things: a breathtaking view OR a crazy cliff. It was the latter. After cresting the first true incline on the trail, we were faced with a very narrow trail on the edge of an incredibly steep, scree-covered drop. We’re talking a 1,500+ ft drop. Shocked and now full of adrenaline, I knew that trusting our horses was the only option. I have been around horses enough to know that they don’t want to fall off that ledge any more than we do, so I readjusted in my saddle and followed the horse in front of me. It. Was. Terrifying. But, in a matter of seconds, which seemed like hours, we were across. And off on the rest of our trek…. now in a communal silence.
After the death-defying cliff crossing, I thought we would surely get right back to the chipper vibe we left with. And then it started to rain. Not just a light rain. A heavy, constant, cold rain that blurred your ability to see ahead and soaked the trail in thick, dark mud. All was good – we could deal with some rain. We brought rain gear but getting it out of our packs and saddlebags was a bit of a maneuver, especially on the narrow trails. No big deal, right? Wrong. After riding in the rain for an hour, I was finally able to get my raincoat out of my saddle bag and wrapped around me and my backpack. My jeans were so soaked that putting on rain pants wasn’t worth it at that point. But all was good, we were still on our way.
It rained on us for three solid hours. While there was minimal lightning, the rain was constant, soaking into our gear, saddles, clothes, and boots. Even with rain gear on, we were completely drenched all the way through our layers. On top of the rain, the temperature was also dropping, leaving us with frozen hands and toes that barely functioned to give our horses any direction as they climbed up the rock and mud-covered pathway, slipping and sliding along the way. When we finally settled into a valley and saw tents in the distance, I think we all could have cried tears of joy!
We finally arrived at camp. It seemed like we had taken on an entire adventure just getting there. And once we slid off our horses, frozen and soaked, we also realized that camp was equally wet. Our tents, while waterproof, had allowed water to seep in around the flaps, leaving it standing on the floor. The fly was set up and ready to go, but nearly every inch under it was a sloppy mess. Our guides were quick to get a fire going and we unloaded all our gear as quickly as possible. We huddled around the fire and barely moved or spoke, taking in the warmth and allowing our bodies to thaw. After changing into semi-dry clothes and warming our bellies with hearty chili, it was time to put the day to rest. And by rest, I mean a bone-chilling, shivering night curled up in a ball on a cot with frozen toes. What had we gotten ourselves into?
Morning, however, was a different story. While it rained all night long, we were awakened to the soft ringing of bells, as our horses, who were turned out overnight, slowly moved throughout the valley, grazing as they pleased. It was a much-welcome clear day with sun warming our faces and coffee warming our bodies. The fire was going once again, and the smell of bacon wafted through the air. We enjoyed our breakfast, drank campfire coffee, and chatted away. Once we had unfolded from our frigid night, we enjoyed the sunshine and set up our Orvis poles to fly fish that afternoon. I was oh-so-sore – a recent back injury, combined with an awkward riding position and a night of tossing and turning in the cold had me in rough shape. Fortunately, it was nothing that a nature, sunshine, and a good nap couldn’t fix!
We fished the afternoon away along the north fork of the Buffalo River; everyone was in much better spirits. There’s just something about being along the water, basking in the sunshine, with mountains surrounding you that helps everything fall away. I napped along the riverbank, stretching out in the sun, and getting some much-needed relief from the aches and pains. Ladies were sprinkled about the river, casting, and reeling, with line arcing against the blue sky, the sound soothing to the soul.
Our guides were a dynamic trio of authentic cowboys and a fascinating cowgirl of so many talents from Kodiak, Alaska. They were the epitome of hospitality, tending to all our needs, providing exceptional food, fishing, and camaraderie. Most interesting, was the young woman, named Etta, who was somewhat of a vagabond from Alaska by way of Oklahoma and North Dakota. From cooking to climbing, wrangling to singing, she was the true “Jane of All Trades”. It was so much fun getting to know her and her dog, “Dog”, hearing their stories and watching their bond. While she led a life that was so different from ours, we were still all women, all searching for peace, all sharing the same fireside fellowship.
It was all up from there – each night we enjoyed warm meals by the fire, sweet Tang (which I had no idea was even made anymore), laughter and sisterhood – exactly what we had come for. The slow pace of the following day was much like the previous – breakfast and lunch, followed by a long afternoon spent on the water. Wading in the cold, smooth water, was both refreshing and soothing. Not many fish were caught – one giant CutBow (Rainbow, Cutthroat hybrid) was snagged by Alexis, which quite the prize. While we were there to fish, we were there more to escape. To take in all the nature had to offer away from the bustle – no cell phones, no internet, no amenities. It was beautiful.
Before we knew it, it was time to pack up. I’ll admit, I was eager to see my family, but I was also in no hurry to leave the peace and serenity that this mountain valley had to offer. After watching the amazing game of Tetris that our wonderful guides played to get all of camp packed and loaded, we set out again. This time headed back to all that we had left.
The ride out was much better than the ride in. The warm sun guided our way, with everyone in much better spirits. We reflected on our time together, time making new friends, time spent in the great outdoors, and the sisterhood that we had found. All because of the Sisterhood of the Outdoors. All because we dared to step out of our comfort zone, to join a group of ladies we didn’t know, in a new place, to do something hard. Together. And for that, I am so thankful, so grateful, and so blessed.