This Story is a chapter from the book-
Bob: A Long Way To Zimbabwe.
One of over thirty stories of adventure from my long time friend Robert T. Mullis. With over 30 trips to Africa and a similar number to British Columbia, this is one of the exciting adventures. This is a story of a near death adventure on a horse in British Columbia. If you like this story, you can find the book at www.Amazon.com and www.BarnesandNoble.com in hardback and in eBook Versions.
I hope you enjoy this adventure that we call in the book: “Helluva Wreck”
(A Wreck on a Horse)
On this trip to British Columbia, we have come to the Williston Lake area. Williston Lake, with over 60,000,000 acre feet, (About 680 Sq. Miles) is the largest manmade lake in North America. The largest manmade lake in the US is Lake Mead at 26,134, 000 acre feet. (247 Sq. Miles)
Over the years, a lot of clearcutting had taken place near the northern end of the lake, allowing a lot of sunshine to get in to that area and encourage the growth of various plants and berries. I assume that is why there are more bears here than any other place I have ever seen. There are lots and lots of black bears and a good many grizzly. Some of both the black and grizzly bears are of really good size and, again, I make the assumption that is because they have a long feeding season on the growth in the north end of the lake and because of all the abundance of fish available to them in the north end of the lake as well as the streams and rivers going in to the lake.
We’ve hunted bear up there many times as well as used the lodge as our main camp for getting organized and going out with pack string and horses into the more remote areas. That is what we did on this trip, and, as was the case with other trips to British Columbia, we were hunting pretty much whatever we came across but our highest designs were on goat and caribou.
We packed off for several miles, probably fifty miles or so from the lodge, and made a camp and there we began hunting around the area of that encampment. After a while I found a place that looked promising and climbed up to it. Again, we had an Indian guide and we hiked up to where there were some goats on a
ledge. I was able to spot and shoot a very nice billy. We secured him and brought him down where we skinned him and fleshed him out and left him there at the camp. We were off to a very good start.
Warren Selby, who was with me on this trip, as well as other trips, had also killed a goat. We processed all that for packing farther on back in.
Warren and I, along with the outfitter, were going up to some caribou barrens to look for caribou. After you get above the timber line there are game trails but no defined trails. You have to just find whatever game trail you can and make it work out. We went about another twenty five miles and established another camp. We hunted close around there for a little while. The next morning we got up and the outfitter, Warren, and I took off to go up to some barrens that the outfitter knew the caribou could frequently be seen with the hopes of finding a nice bull.
Being the expert horseman that I am and the great judge of all things to be, I separated from the outfitter and Warren and took another route across the very deep ravine, or more appropriately, canyon, with a river down at the bottom and I was going up the other side. I have owned a number of horses and my daughters were involved with horses as teenagers. I do have experience with horses and ridden them extensively on hunting trips. I am not really an expert but certainly have more experience with horses than a lot of hunters who might come to the area.
I was not at all concerned about keeping up with those two guys because once you get up in that barren country you can’t always see in a straight line and see somebody because of the rolling nature of the terrain. But, if you move around a little bit, you can usually find your other party. So, I wasn’t too concerned about
about hooking back up with them. And if nothing else, we could always meet back at the camp later.
I had gone all the way down to the bottom and crossed the river and I had the horse going up the other side, guiding the horse as to where I wanted him to go, since there wasn’t a real trail for him to follow. We got into a spot where it was very difficult for the horse to stand. Of course, we were taking a zig zag course up the hillside.
Though it was difficult it did not look impossible and I wasn’t overly concerned or scared about the situation in any way. We had made it a ways up out of the river bottom and things seemed to be going along as it should.
Suddenly, without warning, we got into a position where the horse simply could not stand! The horse and I fell off the side of the mountain! Down we went, into the river!
Luck being what it is, I separated from the horse as we went down and I fell into the river! The horse fell into the river, also, and he landed on top of me! We had landed in the edge of the river among the rocks and I hit my head, and all the rest of my body, on the rocks and I was knocked un-conscious! I do not know how long I was out, but in retrospect, probably not more than a minute or so.
When I regained my senses (maybe had I had any sense, I would not have been in this predicament in the first place) and I began to evaluate the situation, the horse was lying on top of me. He had three legs folded up under him and the right front foot was extended out in front of him and it was in the middle of my chest!
My first impulse was that if I made the horse get up, he was going to crush me! And if he decided to get up, in that state of mind, Lord only knows, there was no telling what he would do to me! If he had blown up (gone crazy), I‘d had it!
So I thought about it for a second or two about what I should do. The horse looked content with his injuries to stay right there on top of me. So I reached up with my right arm, put my hand underneath the horse’s hoof, bracing my right arm up with my left, and pushed it up into the horse’s chest as far as I could until I finally got my right arm fully extended bracing with the left arm. The horse began to unfold just as if he was a trained circus horse! It was incredible thing and difficult to explain!
As he unfolded, he was putting all his weight on my arm that was holding his right front foot to keep it off my chest! He kept getting into a full standing position and he eventually was standing on all fours. He was standing straddling me! That posed a problem, but so far, the horse was exhibiting a very calm demeanor considering what had just happened to us. It would not have surprised me if he had bolted out of there!
I started moving, not wanting to frighten the horse so that he might do something I did not want him to do, and I suddenly realized that I could not get up! So I pondered my limited options as I saw them at that moment.
At that point, I put my left arm through the right stirrup on the saddle and the horse, that was just a common mountain horse with no particular training other than being ridden in the mountains, turned around and got himself straddle of me with my left arm still in the stirrup.
The horse began to pull me up the side of the mountain! We had a pretty good ways to go and the horse had to go in a zig zag manner to traverse the steep ground.
Some things defy explanation! The horse was doing all this on his own with no instruction from me!
Incredibly, all the way up to the top, the horse never touched me with his hooves although I was hanging directly underneath him! I don’t have any way to explain why he didn’t step on me because in any other circumstance he would have and it would have made a bad situation worse. When we got up to the top I just lay there for a little while with the horse still standing over me.
I finally did manage to pull myself up by holding on to the stirrup and stirrup leathers. At that point, I was able to somewhat assess my condition, which was very bad! And I looked at the horse and his condition was pretty bad too. He had some knots on him as big as basketballs.
We had left two Indians back at the camp to do some things that were needed there and at that time I could not see the other guys (Warren and the outfitter) anywhere. Of course with my condition and the horse’s condition, I was in no state of mind to ride around looking for them. But, I did finally manage to get myself up on the horse.
I felt my best plan of action was to go back to camp where we left the two Indians. I knew that Warren and the outfitter would eventually end up there, as well. The Indians were the nearest human beings I knew anything about. (There were no cell phones, SAT phones or any other communication device available at that time).
So the old beaten up horse and I headed back in that direction and after some time we made it! Warren and the outfitter had not returned to camp as of yet.
On the way in there, Warren had bought a fifth of whiskey and I had bought a pack of cigarettes, even though I had long since quit smoking at that time. I had thought I might want to have a smoke while in the wilderness. (My major vices that I admit to are eating Chocolate Covered Cherries, Snicker Bars and Peppermint Candy. Don’t laugh, some peppermint candy probably helped me and my outfitter avoid a shootout in Africa. This is very powerful stuff!)
So after getting off the horse, I went to the cook tent where the Indians had it nice and warm to try to get warmed up after being soaked in the river. I thought about those cigarettes and the whiskey. I went over and dug out the cigarettes and Warren’s whiskey, hoping he wouldn’t mind too much under the circumstances. This was, after all, a medical emergency! I started smoking cigarettes one right behind the other and drinking the whiskey straight out of the bottle. Neither helped my condition much, but between the two of them, I soon was in a position that I did not care!
Shortly, I heard what sounded like a scene from a cowboy movie. Someone was coming on a horse wide open! I opened the tent flap to better see what was happening and there was Warren, looking every bit like a young stunt man in a western movie. He was coming in hell bent for leather and hit the ground running before the horse got stopped. He came running to the tent to check on me.
Somehow, they had figured out that something had gone badly wrong. By the time he got there, I was pretty polluted from the effects of the whiskey, cigarettes and several unknown as yet physical problems.
Warren was very concerned about the whole situation and examined me as best as a building contractor with no medical experience could. We concluded that my back, hips, right arm, and head had received some considerable damage. In a few minutes, the outfitter showed up and, due to the lateness of the hour, there was not much we could do but spend the night there, such as it was. There was little or no sleeping going on for me
The same was true for Warren. Every time I moved a little in the sleeping bag and it made the little nylon “swish” noise that it does, Warren was up on his feet to check on me. I’d fuss at him for getting up and he would say he was getting up to take a leak. I would guess that he must have had to go about one hundred times that night, if that was the case, because every time I looked he was standing there. The truth was, he didn’t sleep a wink and had stood guard in case something happened.
The next day, after having all night to think about it, I figured that the best thing for me to do was to get one of the Indians’ horses and to do the best I could to ride out of there to see about getting some medical treatment. That meant riding back to the cabin from which we started and that was about thirty miles. A long way when you are feeling good. A lot further when a thousand pound horse has just landed on you in a river bed!
So, that is what we did. Warren, the outfitter and I made the very long ride back to the cabin. There were no telephones there but there was a 2-way radio and at times, when the weather conditions were right, you could get a message out to someone, if anyone happened to be listening. You never knew who you might get but people tended to listen out and would help one another in
time of trouble. They could phone or would otherwise contact someone for help.
So we did get a message out to someone and they called a helicopter rescue service. The helicopter came and picked me up and flew me to the big city of Hudson Hope. The current population of Hudson Hope is 1157 people. It was even less at that time. At the height of the construction of the dam it reached 3068. It was settled in 1805 and was incorporated in 1965. This was not exactly the area where you would find a Mayo Clinic.
There was no actual hospital in Hudson Hope. What they did have was a two bed emergency center with doctors who work there on rotation to serve the community. There is usually one doctor there along with one nurse.
They examined me pretty thoroughly and told me what I already knew. I was busted up pretty good! They suggested that I stay there and rest for a time and that I take some pills for the pain, etc. Once I was rested enough, they thought that I should get my travel arrangements changed and get home for more thorough medical care as soon as possible.
They did have an x-ray machine and did some x-rays. The showed me that my right arm was fractured in three or four places. I knew that happened when the horse stood up and I was holding his hoof to keep him from crushing in my chest. He had exerted a lot of pressure on my arm during that struggle.
My lower back was fractured, in addition to the lumps and bruises. That became an ongoing problem that has resulted in multiple operations and treatments over the last several years to correct the damage. Most of those proved unsuccessful until just recently as procedures have improved. Needless to say, I have had a constant reminder of the event with me every day since.
So, I thought about their advice that I should go home for a while. Since I had come all that way to hunt, it would be silly (in my mind, anyway) to fly back out to wherever at that point. So I decided to go back to the lodge and resume, to the extent that I was able, our hunting activities. So we made our way back to the lodge. This was a day and a night of going and coming.
When we got back to the lodge, I wasn’t feeling too good but I could get around, such as it was. So, Warren and I took the lodge’s old van and rode to see what we could see. Maybe a bear, or whatever. As it turned out, as was fairly usual in the Lake area, we did come upon a bear and I shot a pretty good black bear, about a seven footer.
Warren and I had to leave the bear there because I wasn’t going to be very much help dragging it to the van or lifting it in. We left and went back to get some of the Indians from the camp to come back help us get up the bear.
When we returned with the help, there was another bear eating the first bear! Warren shot that bear, so now we had two bears on the ground! Warren’s bear was about eight feet! This was a huge black bear!
You don’t often see black bears that size. It may be that he had a steady diet of eating the other bears! Between us and the Indians, we got the two bears back to the camp. Other than having a few uncomfortable days following that, our trip came to a conclusion.
It is easy to over embellish events like I encountered in British Columbia on this trip. To get the hunt that I wanted required being in a hostile environment. I know there is often a tendency to over dramatize events to seem more macho or to look like a bigger thrill seeker. In this case, it is hard to express in words how close my horse and I came to meeting our Maker! A fall of some distance and a horse landing on you could easily be fatal.
Most extreme outdoor activities have an element of danger. There are problems with unexpected weather, confrontation with animals, dangerous terrain, confusion with directions, falls, and the list goes on and on. Simple mistakes and errors in judgment have proven costly for more than one outdoorsman. Training, preparation, and experience can help minimize some of these but accidents still happen.
I pushed the limits of the horse’s ability and paid the price for it. The horse did nothing wrong. But, looking at the fall we took, I was lucky to be able to walk away and hunt another day.
I will always wonder how the horse that I was riding could remain so calm and never seemed to “lose” it. How the horse managed to stand up without trampling me is a mystery. What prompted him to turn himself around and start up that hill that we had just fallen down, dragging me by the stirrup underneath him, cannot be reasonably explained. The fact that he did not run and abandon me at the bottom or when we finally reached the top elicits more questions. Why?
Whether its falling down the mountain on your horse, being stranded on a shear rock ledge in the dark, meeting two male lions face to face in Africa, encountering a band of thugs with
AK-47’s or landing your airplane after dodging thunderstorms with one gallon of gas left in the tanks, “good luck” and “good fortune” don’t quite seem to be adequate explanations.
Without trying to sound too pious, which I am not, I think I have been “blessed” to enjoy the things I have been able to do and to have escaped some situations that I have encountered. I have had to walk around with a buggered up back for many years as a result of that fall with the horse, but I have been “walking around”. “Blessed” carries a hint of a Higher Power and that may be the only explanation that fits.