The Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness, located in Western Montana is one of the loveliest, most dangerous and smallest wilderness areas in the United States. It has been likened to a miniature Glacier Park with its tall snow-covered peaks and deep bog infested draws.
In August, fourteen strangers signed up for a five-day adventure through this beautiful, treacherous piece of real-estate. Each would ride his own horse.
Their leader, who knew the area well told them that Cut-Away Pass would be free of snow for the week they were making the trip, so they could use that passage through the mountains. The knife-edge trail was the most beautiful, most dangerous trail anywhere in the west. This was the very top of the Continental Divide, the survey line that divides the eastern United States from the western United States.
The morning arrived. August 10, when they were to challenge the mountain. Tiny wildflowers peeked from lichen-covered rocks at the edge of the narrow trail. The climb was steady; the trail free from snow, at least at this level. The clouds grew heavy. They had travelled about three miles of the ten-mile day that would take them over the top to the next and last camp. A clap of thunder, a streak of lightning and the rain began to fall. They hastily pulled yellow slickers or army-surplus ponchos from behind saddles and over dampened bodies. No one stopped. As they continued to climb, the wind blew and the rain cut their faces. They finally reached the end of the harrowing climb only to face the top of the mountain. The blowing rain changed to blowing snow.
Fourteen scared riders grabbed for their hats, jammed them tightly onto their heads and clutched tightly to the reins of their restless horses. Slowly they made their cautious way cross the open, treeless ridge of the Continental Divide. The hoped for “once in a lifetime” view was swallowed in the biting, horizontal snow.
Three-quarters of the way across the hazardous space the exhausted line of riders drew to a halt. Their leader knew of the narrow crevasse cutting across the center of the trail, but he hadn’t thought it much of a problem, so had not mentioned it. But they had to cross it, so with varying degrees of trepidation, one by one they urged their nervous horses across the two foot break in the trail. The line halted as the last rider was having a problem with his horse. The frightened animal refused to move. The rest of the group was helpless. There was no way to coax the reluctant horse. And this was probably the calmest horse in the bunch.
The snow continued to fall; the wind to blow. One could almost see the wheels turn as the skittish animal decided he was alone. As he made the decision to jump to join his buddies his rider was thrown high, only to plummet to the rock-strewn surface a thousand feet below.
Kalli Deschamps (USA)