Horses Around Denali
Posted on 09/27/2021 Evan Swensen
It was a blue-bird day. Not a cloud in the sky. The kind of a day movie makers dream of. Our film crew was headed for Denali on the Alaska Railroad. The railroad before dome cars and plush seats. We were going to film a wilderness horse pack trip.
As we stepped off the train, we immediately recognized our guide and he us. We were the only ones packing camera gear and tripods. He looked like what we’d expect our guide to look like: ten-gallon hat, pointed boots, and, of course, he was bowlegged. He looked like a horse wrangler.
He was well prepared, and before you could say “Road apples,” we were getting aquatinted with our mounts. Two young ladies accompanied us, Carrie and Alice, and we were going to film their Alaska wilderness horse packing trip. Neither had experience with horses.
Not knowing cowboys or horses, Alice about died when told her horse’s name was Buck. “Buck! I’m supposed to ride Buck?!”
“No! No!” the wronger said, “It’s not what you think. He’s as gentle as they come. We call him Buck—short for buckskin. That’s his color. Buckskin. He’s our best horse, and we reserved him for you.”
Horses, wrangler, young lady movie stars, and wilderness all cooperated, and we “burned film,” as they say in Hollywood. We had the makings of an excellent segment for an Alaska Outdoors TV program, but as evening approached, all that changed.
Without warning, unexpected, low, grey clouds burst over the land. The wise wrangler called it a day and started pitching camp. No sooner than he began to break out tents, grub, and cooking gear, it began to snow—big snowflakes, and lots of them.
The Wrangler allowed Carrie and I to ride our mounts aways back down the trail through the snow. It was an exhilarating ride. We wore warm clothes and rainwear and enjoyed the quiet of the wilderness as it turned from fall-brilliance to pure-white. Gone were the sounds and sights of today, and we felt like we were riding the range in some western movie.
Returning to camp completed the western movie dream. At the end of our trail, we could see our tent through snow-covered trees. A fire was burning, and dinner was being cooked over the open flames. The wrangler had a lean-to tarp set up over a big sitting log next to the fire. As soon as we arrived, we were handed plates loaded with grub: fried potatoes, canned corn, and a perfectly cooked Porter House steak.
Carrie and I were having about the best Alaska wilderness experience people are allowed. Next to us, sitting on the log facing the fire, sat our assistant director, fresh from California. “Boy, this is grim,” he muttered. “This is really grim.”
And there you have it. Life in a capsule. And it’s all attitude. The snow, the wet, the cold had depleted our friend’s spirit, and at the same time, had supercharged our wilderness experience. It’s all attitude when it comes to wilderness—it’s a memory builder both ways. Either it breaks you down or builds you up, but it’s the same wilderness—it’s you that makes the difference.