Clyde Avery Story...
Adventure on a Mountain
Written to Montana Longears members. Auther: Sue-Ellen
Howdy to all you Montana Longears members. Just thought I would write a little note to tell everyone how much my family and I enjoy rubbing shoulders and competing with you at Montana Mule Days. That is a fun and well organized show. I came to Mule Days with Ray Jensen and now am trying to bring my own mules.
Now if you will bear with me, I would like to tell you a story of an adventure on a mountain.
My two youngest kids, that have competed at Mule Days, Trish and Hank, have been working at a pack station in California. The station is near mammoth in the Sierras. It is called Reds Meadows. Reds is owned by Bob Tanner, Sr. who was on of the men who started the mule show in Bishop, California. The last few years they have and between 800 and 1000 animals at this show.
The kids have been telling me stories about the trails they use, and of the beauty of the area. I had been to the station and was in awe of the huge trees. About three years ago they had a forest fire that came right up to the outside boundaries of their corrals. Excuse me if I ramble a bit, because when you get older you have to ramble so you can figure out where you came from and where you are going.
Now back to the story. At the close and start of the packing season they have what they cal a horse drive. They have people that pay to follow about 150 head of horses and mules the 50 miles between Mammoth and Bishop. It takes three days through some beautiful country and if the weather cooperates, as it did this year, it is a very enjoyable ride. The riders are fed very well and many of them have been coming for several years and are bringing their friends.
This year my kids invited me to ride down with them and participate in the drive. We left Idaho Falls ant about 5:00 on the evening of the 24th of September. We all had to work that day. Hank drove all but about 40 miles of the 700+ mile trip. We arrived at Reds at about 6:00am on the 25th. The day dawned sunny with a temperature between 45 and 50 degrees. It was just the right temperature to keep your jacket on. We had breakfast with the crew at Reds then started the prep for the start of the drive on the 26th. They put Hank to work checking shoes and hauling saddles and animals up the hill from Reds to the starting point in the town of Mammoth. Mammoth is a beautiful little tourist town in a nice wooded area at the base of mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Californias largest ski hill. They sent Trish out with a pack mule to pick up some gear for some hikers that had been out for a while. The head packer invited me to accompany him and a young lady in picking up some hunters that they had dropped off the previous week. They put me on a horse named Peanut and gave me a string of mules, Abby, Barney, and a third. Barney is one of the mules that Bobby Tanner, Jr.
uses when he does the 20 mule team on the original Borax wagons. We had a total of seven mules and three extra horses; they had left one horse with the hunters.
We started up the hill, (when I say up, I mean up.) Reds Meadows is almost at the bottom of a deep canyon, so about the only way to go is up. The kids had told me that it was pretty rugged country and it didnt take long to make a believer out of me. The area was mostly granite rock and the Forest Service had made stairways and grooved some of the worst stretches of flat rock so that is not as slick. An interesting point I notices is that there were rocks as big as pick up trucks that were split in half. It looked like they had been cut they were broken that straight. The outside of the rocks was a sandy grey, but the inside was a beautiful blue and white marble. The trail was a series of switchbacks. The head packer kept saying we were just going to the top of the hill but every time we went around a bend, the hill got higher.
By this time I realized that Peanut was a very good horse and he knew how to take care of a greenhorn like me. I had to talk to Abby occasionally when the trail would widen out a bit because she would try and sneak a bit of the sparse grass or shrubbery. About halfway up, we came to a stretch of trail that had worn and the Forest Service hadnt been able to fix it yet. There were places the animals had to step up two or more feet to get to the next level. The higher we got the taller and bigger the trees got. They were not thick, but they were huge. You could build a house with one tree. I also noticed that the trees that had fallen had rotted very rapidly so you had a large mound of sawdust.
We finally got to a point where it flattened out a little, I thought,"Wow! We made it." Not so, we were still going up. The trees got a little thicker, but shorter and the rock was still there. We rode for another two miles past a nice meadow and through a small valley that you would like to camp in for about a week. We arrived at the hunting camp that this family had been using for two or three generations. So long that the family name is on the maps. The four men hadnt gotten any meat, but they had an enjoyable time.
We got the men mounted and sent them down the trail. We took some time and ate our lunch, then started packing the mules with the camp equipment. I helped with the mix and match part, but I left the hard part of tarping and tying down to the experts. With one last look at the beautiful, peaceful surroundings, (and by the way, the mountain got a lot taller surrounding the camp area) we mounted up and headed back down. It is nice to be able to retrace your tracks because there is always something you didnt notice on the way up. The canyons are as deep as the mountain is high, and the huge tree seemed a lot smaller from the above angle.
The trip down goes a little faster, so at about 2:30 pm we had reached the rough spot in the trail. To make it a little easier for the horses we got off and were leading them down. I had the reins and the lead rope in one hand. The animals were on the trail, but I was off to the side jumping from rock to rock. I thought to myself that I might break my leg; experienced packers would not have done what I was doing. When we stopped for a break I went against what my kids had told me never to do. That was to tie the lead rope to the saddle horn, but I thought that as long as I wasnt on the horse, it would be ok.
We started on down the trail and after a short way, the mule stepped over the rope on one of the bad spots. I had tied her too long. We stopped and I made another mistake instead of untying the rope, which would have been easy and the right way, I left it tied on while I went to help the mule. We were on a bend and it was only a step or so to get to the mule and unclip the rope to untangle her. One thing I didnt take into account was that the horse may follow me. I almost had the clip undone when the horse turned to see what I was up to.
This is when I wish that I had a video of what happened next. Suddenly, I was doing the Two Step, Watoosi, Frug, and also making up some new ones as I went along. The lead rope went across my legs just about at the knees, trapping me with my butt just behind the mules front leg. I was still trying to unclip the mule and get the horse to stop. The lead packer said he though the rope was going to saw my legs off. The mule got wrapped up in the rope and ended up falling on her side with me underneath. I could hear the lead packer calling to the other packer to hurry and come help. I was rapidly running out of air. Ironically, what I was worried about was that two of the hunters rifles were on top of the pack and might get broken. The packer said he could hear the mule grunt, then I would grunt. With some fast thinking and action to which I am very grateful, the packer cut the rope and was able to get the mule up. (She didnt even step on me.) I was expecting her to maybe struggle a little and maybe lie on me again. They got things calmed down and helped me to roll over and sit up. The packer asked if anything was broken. I hadnt looked yet, but I knew that something was wrong with my ankle. He looked at it and said, "Yup." The packer then went to help get the horse and mule lined up again.
I was sitting kind of in the trail so I thought that I would stand up and move, I could walk or hobble on a sprained ankle. I got part way up and put a little weight on my left foot and the foot just turned over on its side making that crunching sound that you hear in cartoons. I then sat back down took hold of my knee and moved my foot back straight and it made the same sound. The packer came back and by then you could see the bulge in the side of my boot. Mark looked around and found some small straight sticks to make a splint with. He got some rope and tied my leg up tight, it was a good splint. They got me back on the horse. By this time it was feeling like my foot was
detached. We started down the trail. Mark had contacted the search and rescue, we were lucky that they had just installed a new cell phone tower earlier in the year or we would have been in a dead zone. It started out pretty good, but the occasional bush or branch would catch my foot. I tried putting my leg up over the pommel of the saddle, but then the walking of the horse had my foot bouncing up and down. I found that I wasnt as tough as I thought I was. I couldnt just say, "Tighten my boot and hand me my gun," then walk out like John Wayne in "The Longest Day." Mark was working on the possibility of a helicopter coming to pick me up. I was starting to go into shock. They got me off the horse and laid me on the hillside. Mark sent Sheila on down with the seven mules and he started looking for a possible landing site for the helicopter. There was a meadow about a mile up the hill, or one about a mile down. Search and rescue was ready to hike in and carry me out, or at least to where the chopper could land. I called my wife, Ellen, and son, Hank, Trish didnt have her phone with her. When Hank got back to the pack station, he got on a horse and started up the hill. Ellen started calling the rest of the kids to tell them what had happened. When we were sure a helicopter was coming, Mark put his yellow rain slicker over me so that I would be easier to see from the air. I called Ellen again and gave her an update. As Ellen was telling our oldest daughter what had happened someone tried to call in. All my daughter got was: your dad was in an accident, picture him lying on the side of a mountain with a yellow tarp over him, and then she had to answer the other call. Needless to say, this put our daughter in a bit of a panic. Mark was looking for a landing site closer to us and found two possibilities.
While I was lying there I had a good opportunity to just enjoy nature and the serenity of the high country. There was no wind, the air was fresh, and excluding the broken leg, everything was perfect and beautiful. The tall majestic trees reached up to the sky, the occasional bird call, the shades of the rock in the afternoon sunlight all were very beautiful.
My leg was starting to spasm. It would be all right then every muscle in my leg would tighten and my foot would jump two or three inches off the ground. My butt muscle wasnt used to that much exercise so it started to hurt as well and I was starting to find other sore spots on my body. At about 6:30 it was starting to get dark and a wind came up. I started thinking about how I was putting the helicopter crew in danger and if they would get there before dark. If not, then search and rescue would have to hike up and get me. I am grateful for the many good people who were willing to help.
Finally the helicopter came over the top of the hill. They had flown for an hour and a half from Auburn, California. The medical helicopter that was closer was down for repairs so this was a small California Highway Patrol helicopter. They flew around checking out landing sites. About this time Hank arrived where I was. They decided that the trees were too close to the sites Mark had found. I thought maybe they could
just drop the drugs to knock me out then Mark and Hank could just throw me over the saddle and take me down. They flew around for about ten minutes then disappeared behind a small part of the mountain. There was a lot of dust so I knew they werent very far away. Within a few minutes two young men came up the trail. Hank had sat down and had my head in his lap with his coat over me. It is great to have family. The paramedics got to me and started to assess what had happened. I was trying to keep things light so I was adlibbing a lot of corny jokes. The first paramedic started and IV and gave me a shot of Morphine. He then started to work with my leg and asked if I wanted him to cut my boot off or just pull it off. I told him that if he tried to pull it off my foot would come with it. I had been trying to decide if the boots were worth putting new heels on, this answered my question. They started cutting and talking about my leg. It sounded interesting and being the nosy person I am, I wanted to see what they were doing so I would try to sit up. Hank would take my shoulders and push them back down and say, "Dad, lay down!" They cut the boot and eased it off my ankle. When they got it off hank said, "Wow! Look at that!" and "Dad, lay down!" again. I just wanted to see. When they got the boot off my ankle tripled in size almost immediately. My leg was also hurting about halfway between my foot and my knee so they gave me a pair of customized California Levis by cutting the leg off just above my knee. The morphine was taking over, so I was talking more and the jokes were getting cornier. I talked about riding saddle bronk because they cut my boot like those riders do. They put on an air splint, but my ankle had puffed up so much that it wouldnt fit so they taped it together. After several more, "Dad, lay down!" statements from Hank, they were ready to transport. Hank and the pilot made an arm chair and carried me down the trail. After a little way, the pilot traded off with someone and went ahead to get the helicopter ready. They had landed about 150 yards down the trail on a little ledge not much bigger than two dining room tables, right next to the trail. Mark and Hank sat me on a big rock so we took advantage of the photo opportunity, me on a rock with the helicopter in the background on the edge of a canyon.
They arranged the stretcher so I would be sitting up. With the stretcher in use, there was only room for the three of us in the helicopter. As they loaded me into the helicopter I tried to help and reached back to see if I could help lift myself over, but when my weight got on the stretcher my fingers got caught under it. They were trying to move me over and I was stuck. The paramedic said it would not be good if they broke my fingers too.
Search and rescue had set up the ambulance on Minaret Mountain just across the canyon, about a mile away as the helicopter flies. Another shot of morphine and we were on our way. Hank and Mark went back to the horses and started down the trail. My helicopter ride lasted about five to ten minutes. I can say that I got so rowdy that
they sent the California Highway Patrol to get me. I told them it was so much fun that I might come back and do it again next year. I dont think they want me to.
When we landed on Minaret and I felt sorry for the guys waiting because of the dust storm we created. They had about ten to fifteen volunteers that had responded, ready and willing to take their time and carry me out if the helicopter had not been able to reach me. The dust was so deep the gurney wouldnt roll so they carried me across the parking area to the ambulance. I was still telling corny jokes the whole way.
In the ambulance, the paramedic started another IV and was giving me five milligrams of morphine every five minutes on the twelve mile trip to Mammoth Hospital. I was feeling no pain so you can imagine how corny and off the wall the jokes were getting.
On arrival at the hospital the paramedic turned me over to the Emergency Room nurse. Mammoth only has a fourteen bed hospital and it was the slow season between hiking season and skiing season, they had to call in people to care for me. Being a ski area town, they have good surgeons. It was the fastest service I have seen in an E.R. for a long time. The E.R. doctor examined me and sent me to x-ray within fifteen to twenty minutes of my arrival. The surgeon was there to look at the x-rays. I had broken the Fibula between the ankle and the knee and had broken the bottom end right off of the Tibia. He told me that I needed surgery and he would like to do it at eight oclock the next morning if he could get my ankle back in line. He tried to move it but, it wouldnt move. He got the E.R. doctor and both of them were literally kneeling on my leg while trying to get the ankle back into place, but it still wouldnt move. They were worried that the skin around the ankle would die because of the pressure from the bone pressing outward. Consequently, the surgery was scheduled immediately.
They called in the operating room nurses and the anesthesiologist. The anesthesiologist gave me instructions and told the nurses that they may want to give me a bath before we went into surgery. I had been riding last in the line up going down the hill and then lying in the dust on the trail. They had a dry summer so imagine what I looked like. They told me I was the dustiest patient they had that day, but not the dirtiest. I then was taken back to x-ray for chest x-rays before surgery. The jokes were still coming, as well as the morphine. By this time I had been asked the standard questions: did I have asthma; did I have heart, liver or mental problems; did I smoke or drink; did I have high blood pressure? I had been asked the same questions by the CHP paramedic, the ambulance paramedic, the E.R. nurse, the O.R. nurse, and the anesthesiologist. Im in pretty good shape, so I answered no to all questions. The surgeon stopped back in on his way to the O.R. and talked to me again. As he was leaving he asked me if I took drugs or drank, I answered no and gave me a funny look as if to say, "yeah, right." In my discharge papers they had a copy of the list of
questions that all of these people had asked me. They went down all denied except for smokes it said no and for drinks it said rarely. I guess I cant handle my drugs and my corny jokes werent very good.
Off we went to the O.R., through some automatic doors, past O.R. room 2, then the morphine finally won and the last thing I remember was making the turn into O.R. room 1. I opened my eyes, or eye, at 12:35am according to the clock that just happened to be where I could see it. The nurse told me they were taking me to a room and the next thing I remember is waking up at 8:30am in a room. I had oxygen, another I.V., a catheter, a splint on one leg and a pump on the other. I also got to see pictures of the four screws and the two plates that had been installed in my ankle. They used two drill bits on my leg, one cost $920 and the other cost $395, and they didnt give them to me afterwards.
About that time Hank, Trish, and two other station crew members stopped in and brought me some clean clothes and my wallet. The surgeon came in and took the drain out of the splinted leg and game me instructions. He told me I could go home in the afternoon if the Physical Therapy people said I could handle crutches all right.
Trish and Hank left to go on the first day of the horse drive. They arranged fro one of the other crew members to pick me up and take me to Bob Tanners house in Bishop. We decided that we would get up early and ride out and have breakfast with them on the trail. The gal I was with had just had rotator cuff surgery a few days before so she only had one good arm and I only had one good leg and the crutches. She had a load of saddles on her truck that needed to be unloaded, so she got on the truck and handed the saddles to me and I arranged them on the ground as I leaned on the truck. We were quite a team. We drove out and had a good breakfast with the group. I spent the afternoon sitting on my butt with my leg up watching TV.
Day two of the drive I rode out with Bob Tanner and we had another excellent breakfast. The rest of the day was about the same as the first, only as I was watching the news, they said they had found Steve Faucet an adventurer who had flown around the world in a hot air balloon. He had disappeared about a year earlier in an experimental airplane. They were showing pictures of the area that they found his remains in. It was probably less than half a mile from where I had been with my injury.
Day three Bob Tanner and I drove out and had breakfast again and watched them go down the road a ways then went back to the ranch to await the arrival of the herd. About mid afternoon the plume of dust could be seen coming across the desert. Forty-five minutes later the thundering herd arrived. The animals knew where they were and were happy to be there. Once in corral, the crew started catching the animals and
pulling shoes in preparation for the next days ride by semi to the winter 4,000 acre pool field that is shared by several of the area packers.
It was fun listening to the riders tell how they wouldnt have missed the drive for the world. One lady said she had seen the herds of thousands of water buffalo in Africa, but this drive was more exciting. Others were making reservations and paying for next years drive. We were treated to a steak dinner cooked by the police chief of Bishop.
The next morning the semi arrived at day break for the first load. The kids and I helped (I watched the gate) catch the animals, and started preparing for the drive home. Broken leg and all, I wouldnt have missed the experience for anything.
I am proud of Trish and Hank and how they handle the animals and the people. Family is worth a million. I want to give a big thank you to Bob Tanner for his hospitality and for giving me the opportunity to have this experience. I give a special thank you to Mark Midget and Sheila for their quick thinking and action that may have saved my life! Also, a thank you to the Mono Search and Rescue for being there to help if needed, to the pilot and paramedic on the helicopter, and to the staff at the hospital in Mammoth, California for the good care that I received.
See you all in Hamilton in June.
Trish & Clyde 20 Mule Team, Bishop, Cal. 2003
Clyde & Dad "Gib Reid" SandPoint 2002
Clyde & Patti at SandPoint 2002