Carl Murry: Adventure on Relief Trail

By Guest Contributor December 7, 2014 01:23

   Another FANtastic Tale of Adventure

Carl-Murry-photo-3By Carl Murry

“But Daddy, where will we sleep?”

“On the ground in our sleeping bags,” Hal answered.

“With the ants and bugs?” she questioned in disbelief.

We had invited our friends, Hal and Anita Carlton and their 5-year-old daughter, Mindy, to join us on a weekend pack trip from Gianelli’s cabin trailhead to Kennedy Meadows and were in the process of setting up camp at Upper Relief Lake.

“Oh sure, there is plenty of room and they don’t mind sharing with us,” I assured her.

Carol and I had been taking our children, Sean (8), Kerry (6) and Heather (5) packing with our donkey, Jack, for the past two summers and had recently purchased a second donkey named Jenny. It was August 1974 and the first trip for Jenny and the Carltons.

After camp was set up and some strategies for dealing with the voracious mosquitoes were implemented, I persuaded Hal to join me in a “cross-country” hike over Granite Dome to several high lakes nestled in the granite and inhabited by elusive golden trout. As we were bolder hopping down the face of the mountain just above our camp, Hal suddenly yelled out in surprise and disgust as he landed beside a huge bolder.

“It’s my knee!” he exclaimed as he grasped it with both hands.

“Do you think it’s broken?” I asked.

“Nah, I don’t think so but something popped and it really hurts!” he grunted.

It was late afternoon when we hobbled into camp. The best plan seemed for me to get an early start and hike down to the PG&E cabin and borrow one of Jerry Keith’s horses, or if he was not there, go on down to Kennedy’s and rent one from Sardella.

The next morning, a packer with several horses and mules came down the trail. He had dropped off a party yesterday and was returning to Kennedy’s and agreed to let Hal ride one of the horses down. All primed to do a fast hike, I came up with a great idea: pack up Jack and Jenny and send Carol, Anita and the four kids down the “easy” trail to Kennedy’s while I returned the 10 miles to Gianelli’s and drove the Jeep and trailer around to Kennedy’s where Hal had spotted his truck. It would save time.

Arriving around 2:30 pm, I found Hal sitting in his truck.

“Hey, how are you doing, good buddy?”

“Well, I am sure glad to see you,” he replied as he shifted the ice bag on his knee. “The packer was very helpful. Any idea how long it will take the gals to get here?”

“Well, I figure it should take them about five hours and it’s been four and a half since they left. I expect them to saunter in at any minute now, but I am going to head up the the trail to meet them.”

Starting up the trail, I felt stiff, sore, tired and my feet had swollen so much that I doubted that I could get my cowboy boots off. An hour later I reached the PG&E cabin at lower Relief Reservoir with a growing concern. Had someone been hurt? Were they lost? Nah, they are probably just talking and fooling around, I thought, as I fought back my anger and checked the side trails for signs they had made a wrong turn.

My crotch seemed to ignite as I continued on the trail around the reservoir. Since there was no way I could get my boots off, I dropped my pants and cut the crotch out of my shorts with my knife. Too late, damage done. At the end of the lake there still was no sign of them. Dehydrated, and a little grumpy, I began to yell and whistle as I headed down to Summit Creek. I was astonished to see how full and fast it was. Making my way upstream, looking for a crossing, I saw clothes and gear hanging all over bushes on an island between Relief and Summit creeks. I had found them!

“Holy cow! What happened?” I cried out.

“You really don’t want to know!” Carol replied. “First, the packs kept sliding down Jack’s neck as we were coming down the trail, then the kids saw a big snake and were frightened and when we finally got to the creek, Jack refused to go across. We pushed and pulled Jenny until she finally started across, but she lost her footing and was swept down stream about 50 feet before she could regain her footing and get out. Four of the sleeping bags, extra clothes, and some of our food was soaked. We carried Jack’s packs across while trying to keep the kids in one place and out of the creek. We have a fire going and are trying to scrape up something to eat.”

“Oh!” I responded.

The smart choice would be to build up the fire and do the best we could with the three dry bags until morning. The popular and unanimous choice was to head out and go as far as we could. A double trucker’s hitch was used to winch Jack across the creek and persuade him to join us.

It was almost 8 p.m. by the time we had crossed both creeks. There was no moon and the skies were overcast blocking out any helpful starlight. We could see the lights at Kennedy’s at times. Carol and Anita each had a flashlight with the four kids between them and I brought up the rear leading Jack with Jenny’s lead tied to Jack’s saddle. About halfway down, the lights went out and the hum of the generator stopped. It must have been midnight or 1 a.m.

The trail was a series of switchbacks at this point, with many shortcuts between them. We got turned around somehow, and were heading uphill on a narrow trail. To turn around, I dropped Jack’s lead rope and squeezed by him so I could untie Jenny and turn her around first. Jack tried to turn and follow me, pulling Jenny to the very edge of the trail. As I reached for Jenny’s lead, she slipped over the edge and slid down the hill, pulling Jack backward. I dove for his rope as he fell, rolling down the mountain. I lay there listening to the screaming, kids crying, donkeys squealing, brush breaking, rocks rolling and my heart thumping.

Death would be better than serious injury. Thirty feet below, I found Jenny standing next to Jack who was lying on his back with the packs pontooned on each side. His front legs were folded down at the knees with his back legs stretched out behind him, like a puppy dog wanting his belly scratched, and he was grunting. Quickly, I cut the cinches and ropes, grabbed his halter and rolled him downhill until he gained his feet. Just a few scrapes, cuts and bruises … oh what a relief!

We agreed to find a flat spot for the kids to lay down until morning. After several trips to the accident site to retrieve the gear, I packed up Jenny and led her the two miles to Hal’s truck, arriving at 5:15 am.

“It’s a long story, but everyone is safe and sound and I’ll have them out by 8 a.m. if the Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise,” I informed him.

Taking Jenny back in to carry Jack’s packs, I woke them up with a promise of pancakes at Kennedy’s. The three little girls rode Jack out to conclude our “Adventure on Grief Trail.”

Carl Murry lives in Tuolumne, California.

To read our Tales of Adventure Contest winners’ stories, see the Winter 2014 issue
of Friends and Neighbors Magazine, available at these locations and by subscription.


By Guest Contributor December 7, 2014 01:23
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