Losing our horses in red castle

March 17, 2011

My Grandpa is a modern day mountain man. One of my Grandpa’s favorite places on earth is Red Castle. It’s in the High Uintah country of Utah. My Grandpa used to take my Dad and their whole family on a backpacking trip there every summer. But they hadn’t been back in 22 years, so when we started planning the trip there in the summer of 2007 I was really excited to go with Grandpa, my dad, my brother Alex, and a few of my cousins.

Even though the hike is a hard and vigorous 16 miles, we were taking three horses to carry our gear, so it sounded like an adventure. On Thursday morning, after breakfast, and after we loaded up the horses, we left the China Meadows base camp and began our hike. Beauty surrounded us. The trees were tall and beautiful, the sky was blue as could be, the sun felt warm like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day, and we were ready to go. We were all hiking well, and we were excited to be on this beautiful mountain. But, without warning, it started to rain. Just a sprinkle at first, but then a heavy downpour that wouldn’t stop. The trails turned to rivers.

We put on our rain gear, but the relentless rain soaked through our ponchos as if they were strainers – we were soaked after about 30 minutes of walking in the wet trail. I prayed and prayed that the rain stop. It made me so cold and numb – my whole body felt miserable. I couldn’t understand why it kept raining even after I prayed for it to stop.

After what seemed like forever, half of our group reached Red Castle and found the first place we could to set up camp. My dad set up one of the big tents and the rest of us looked for wood so we could try to make a fire. Its funny how the Great Outdoors makes the bare necessities of life seem like a luxury. All we wanted was a little shelter and some heat.
Because the wood was so wet it took another 2 hours to get a fire going. When we did, we all took turns holding our soaking wet sleeping bags over the smoke to dry them out. We went to bed tired and pretty wet.

The next morning my Grandpa called into our tent and told us that two of the horses were gone – they had become untied and wandered off. Some of the camp was panicked. We would have to pay $2000 dollars per horse if we lost them. Plus, we now had three heavy saddles, and only one horse left!

We decided to eat breakfast, and then decide where to look for the horses. A ranger came by our camp and said that horses get lost all the time in the Uintah Mountains, and most are never found. Great that just makes everything so much better.

We split up into pairs. I went with my Dad, and we decided that we would walk back down the trail. After a few hundred yards, we noticed a fresh set of hoof prints in the mud. We kept walking and we found 2 sets! We began to track the horses by their prints in the mud. We would sometimes lose the trail, but would spread out and find their tracks again.

Something told me that my prayer for the rain yesterday really was answered – just not how I wanted. If it hadn’t rained so hard, we wouldn’t have had mud to track the horses. Even though I had to endure a trial by being wet and cold, it was actually a blessing today! When I thought of this I was happy that I had to suffer through cold rain. The problem was that after walking for about 3 miles, we couldn’t find their tracks anymore and we couldn’t see the horses. They were just gone.

Then the neatest thing happened. I asked my dad what we should do. Right after I asked him that, a dog came running up the trail. A minute later three hikers came by and yelled out, “Good Morning – are you guys missing two horses?” We said yes and they said they found them and tied them to a bridge about 2 miles down the trail. My dad and I literally ran the whole way to find them. We knew that finally this trip was beginning to be good. We were finally getting some luck.

All the way back my dad and I talked about what had just happened, mostly about trials and blessings and being grateful. As we brought the horses back to our camp we walked along a trail next to a river. My dad made me stop for a moment and just listen to the sound of the river. The river sounded like rain trickling on your window on a rainy day. It’s beautiful and calming. My dad said that if it wasn’t for the rocks and boulders in the river, it wouldn’t make that beautiful sound. That really made me think about how important rocks and hard moments in life are.

I’m so grateful for this experience. It was difficult to hike 10 miles in 2 feet of water after 6 miles of hiking in no rain, and then to lose our horses and need to go find them again. But it ended up being great and beautiful. It’s easy to focus on the negative and pain in our lives. I have learned that if we instead think about our blessings and joy that the negative leaves us.

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