But it didn’t matter. Soon my goats and I settled back down while Alexa and Gayle wrestled with Tuvoc and Spot. Tuvoc kept kicking while Spot turned saddling into a full-fledged rodeo. When she wasn’t bucking, charging, and spinning, she was laying down in protest.
The trip out ended up being much easier than the trip down, despite the uphill climb. We stopped wasting time searching for a trail and instead we stuck to the creek bank. We crossed and re-crossed the creek many times to stay on firm footing. I imagine this valley is pretty tedious during a wet year. In fact, I wonder if the trail was obliterated last summer when we had so much rain.
We picked up the trail at the base of the boulder field, but it branched off in several different directions near the top. Gayle and Tuvoc took the high road, Alexa and Spot took the low road, and my goats and I took the one in the middle. Alexa and Spot met some hikers going the other way. Finn and Sputnik studied them with interest from above.
We crested the saddle and stopped at the pond on top for an hour or so. Alexa wanted to fish. The sun was warm and the grass was soft. It was the perfect place for a picnic. I unloaded Finn and Sputnik so they could have a proper break. If I hadn’t left their brightly-colored saddles on, you’d have a hard time spotting my goats among all the gray and white rocks!
I haven’t seen Gayle’s photos yet, so I hope she got a good one of me and Finn. Finn plopped down behind me on the grass, so I leaned back and used his warm, soft belly for a pillow. That’s when he curled his head around me, rested his chin on my shoulder, and promptly went to sleep with his cheek against mine.
After our rest at the pond, Gayle and I headed down the mountain to start setting up camp while Alexa finished fishing. The llamas were going well because they were headed back, so Gayle was able to string them together and lead them by herself. It was the goats that had problems on the steep descent! Sputnik uses a Sopris saddle with a flexible tree, and it isn’t always the best at staying put. The steepness of the hillside caused it to inch forward until the cinch worked its way up to a narrower part of his chest. Once that happened, the saddle promptly slid off to one side. Sputnik stopped and waited for me to come back and fix it. I did my best, but the hill was so steep I couldn’t find a good spot to readjust the saddle. I would have liked to remove the panniers and start from scratch, but I was afraid if I took them off they would go rolling down the mountainside. So I had to fix the saddle as best I could with the panniers attached, which meant I couldn’t tighten the cinch properly. Naturally it happened again… and again… and probably one more time after that… before we reached the bottom. Sputnik was very patient. Every time the saddle slid off, he just stopped and waited for me to go back and fix it. I think many animals would have run off with the turned-over panniers flapping and spilling their contents all over the mountain.
Finn’s wooden John Mionczynski saddle stayed centered, but the front edge of the saddle slid up against his shoulder blades and made him a bit sore. This is where I wish goat saddles were made with an upturned front edge like horse saddles. That straight edge can really dig into their shoulders when they’re carrying a heavy load down steep terrain.
All this fiasco meant that Gayle and her llamas got well ahead of me before I reached the valley floor. This was a novel experience and I had the opportunity to stop and take some beautiful photos of her in this breathtaking green valley. I love the creek meandering through it.
Gayle and I reunited in the valley and Gayle had me lead Tuvoc down the next steep section. It had some tricky spots on it that required more maneuvering than she she thought she should do with the llamas strung together. The goats had no difficulty crossing a large, steep boulder the size of a dump truck, and they went on ahead of us down the trail. Little did they know that I planned to take Tuvoc around the far side of the boulder. When the goats looked back and didn’t see me following them down the rock, they panicked and ran back up to look for me. They came bursting around the boulder just as Tuvoc and I were about to carefully negotiate a series of smaller boulders. Tuvoc spooked and leaped off the rocky hillside, smacking me square between the shoulder blades with his right pannier in the process. I almost lost my balance on the rocks and started to fall as Tuvoc pulled the rope out of my hands. I know I should have held onto him, but I was afraid he was going to pull me right off the edge, so I let go. By some miracle I managed to stay upright, but Tuvoc was trotting down the mountain as fast has his old legs would go and the goats were chasing after him. I called the goats back while Gayle jogged down the trail after Tuvoc. Thankfully it was the old, highly trained llama that had escaped and not the wild, unhandled one. Tuvoc eventually stopped in some thick brush near a creek crossing so he could wait for Spot and that’s when Gayle managed to catch hold of his rope.