Thursday, February 3, 2011

Adventures At Sheep Camp: Battlement Base Camp

When last we saw our intrepid heroines, they had just conned the Northern Geophysical crew chief into dispersing their cubies all over Battlement Mesa - or at least, one of them had. The other one pretty much just distracted the remaining crew so that the first one could get down to business.

The next day we hiked up the mesa to establish our base camp.

This entailed getting up early and settling our dogs in with their respective babysitters, stashing our day pack gear in the truck and then and driving our rig as close as we could go to the mesa. There were some cow pastures to walk through on the skirts of the mesa, where a pretty little stream trickled through, irrigating the meadow and providing a mud hazard where we had to negotiate. After that we entered the trees and began winding our way up the flank of the mesa. It was a pretty summer's morning, and small blue and white butterflies flitted over the wildflowers, disappearing when we entered the relative cool of the trees.

Most of the climb - and climb it was - was mercifully shaded by spruce and aspen. Sometimes we found ourselves out in the sun on hot, shaley scree. Every so often we'd pause for a minute or two, mainly so I could catch my breath; Maggie, having worked this project for some months before her accident, was unfazed by the hike, and continues on up the slope like a pretty little machine.

A few hours later we were on the plateau atop the mesa. And there, lo and behold, is our equipment, all neatly mounded together by the NG guys who had dropped it off for us - minus five of our eight cubies, of course, since they'd already been scooped up and swooped off to their designated drop points.

First order of business was to have lunch, of course, and a little sit-down while we surveyed the terrain, scoping out the best place to put up our wall tent. The mesa top is generally flat, but not completely level; it undulates gently in the area of our base camp, and rises to a ridge to the southwest of it. Still, there is a broad, flat short-grass meadow stretching around us, dotted here and there with vigorous, wiry shrubs. Maggie and I mow down some cheese and tortillas with picante sauce, deciding on the direction we intend to orient our tent. That done, we begin scouting for tent poles: four saplings sturdy enough and long enough to form crosspoles at either end of the tent, and a fifth to act as the ridgepole down the center line of our soon-to-be home away from home. Luckily for us, there are suitable deadfalls for all positions, and only a moderate amount of hunting and poking about is required before we have dragged our lodge poles to the camp.

Now, I've never put up a wall tent before, but Maggie is an old pro. I have two good hands and Maggie doesn't, but she's not the type to stand there shouting directions while someone else does all the work - and realistically, putting up the tent poles is really a two-person job. From time to time Maggie stops to take pictures of our progress - or has me do so - because at some point she will have to present progress reports at meetings, and photos are always a welcome adjunct.

Once we have the tent hung from the ridgepole, we need to put in tent stakes. We have a supply of those, and don't need to scavenge them from the woods. The first hints of evening are coming on; the shadows are lengthening now, and the the heavy weight of the afternoon heat is lifting, softening its touch to a caress. I take the sledge and pound the first stakes in.

"Here, let me do some,"Maggie says.

"Are you sure about that?" I ask doubtfully, eyeing her splint. While the day has proven unequivocally that Maggie can hike circles around me any day of the week, she knows my upper body is stronger than hers; I'd wowed her on my second night in town by pulling the cork out of a bottle of wine (which, in my view, didn't require much effort, but was evidently something of a feat from her point of view.) "I don't mind doing them all," I say, trying to look sturdy and muscular.

"No, I want to," she says, so I hand her the sledge. Frowning with concentration, she positions her stake just so; this is something of a challenge with the splint, but she manages it after two tries. Using her unsplinted right arm, she taps the stake to seat it and then gives it a bigger swing to drive it. So far, so good. The second swing glances off the tent stake and bounces off her shin with a thump that sets my teeth on edge.

"Give me that," I tell her, snatching it out of her hand while she giggles. It's only a five-pound hammer, but still: that had to hurt. We are, admittedly, punchy after our long hike and the heat of the day (and maybe not as much sleep and a bit more alcohol the night before than would have been wise), but the whole reason I'm here is to help Maggie get out into the field again, which help she only needs in the first place because of her injury. Somehow I have an idea that letting her fracture her shin with a sledgehammer might be more or less the opposite of what I'm there to do. Call me crazy.

I pound the rest of the tent stakes in while Maggie scouts a latrine site for us. I go dig it deeper with the folding shovel while she starts organizing our gear. We have a stove for the tent - which, in this weather, is needed more as a food-safe than it is as a source of heat, but it's handy for that. When I come back over the rise to base camp, it looks secure and homey: Maggie has the tent flaps tied back and most of the gear neatly stowed inside.

The shadows are deepening now, indigo and violet, and the evening is cooling off. A brilliant scatter of stars is appearing overhead. We inflate our therma-rest pads and shake out our sleeping bags, laying them out on the roomy canvas floor of our wall tent. I don't know about Maggie, but I'm beat. Tomorrow will be our first day of scoping sheep; it's that that is on my mind as I fall asleep in the cozy gloom of our home away from home.


Dragon43 said...

Can you stand in the wall tent?
If the good guys had not taken the stuff up, how was it going to get up there?

Digging the loo is always the fun job, just like filling it in.

Did you take any weapon out there with you?

How long did you have food for?

keep typing, I'm hooked now....

MaskedMan said...

Setting camp is an art.

And yeah, it usually goes better if one hasn't busted one's shin.

AKDD said...

@ Dragon: Yes, you can stand in the wall tent (in the center of it, at least); It was probab;y around 8 or 10 feet wide, 12 or 14 long, and at the peak of the roof it was about six or seven feet, maybe - no problem for two chicks no more than five and a half feet tall.

No weapons; bears live up there, but they're pretty sparese and peaceable. No moose, and the elk and deer are pretty mild-mannered. Sheep are actively shy.

We had some staples for a couple of weeks (dehydrated foods, etc) and every time we went up on the Mesa we took some "fresh" foods, which we just replenished each time. We were on the Mesa for anything from 2 to 8 days at a time.

@ MM: Yeah, it is an art, and luckily Maggie had some experience with it. I'd only ever set camp for myself alone, which is a whole different animal from setting up a work camp.

AKDD said...

Oh, sorry Dragon, missed one: If Northern Geo hadn't taken our gear up we would have had to pack it up on horseback. Which would have also been fun, but maybe not as fun as the helicopter ride! ;)

EvenSong said...

Anxiously awaiting the next chapter.
btw, How's your book coming? Did I miss the release?
I have an award for you over on my blog. You may take it or leave it as you please. Just wanted to send some new readers your way, and thank you for a great site.

AKDD said...

WOW! Thanks, EvenSong! I will trot over there and have a look!

The book thing hit a snag when my agent became to ill to agent. Now I have to find a new one. This is much harder than it sounds.

I've got only one day off this week, but I'm trying to spend it catching up on many many things I need to catch up on... including blog maintainance, so with luck I'll get chapter number next up today...