Written by: Al Ellis
Tenoch ignored my efforts to comfort him, as I didn’t understand the severity of our situation. In any event, it seemed prudent to defend our camp.
The 3 of us left the trailhead intent on a 5-day multipurpose adventure. Tenoch, a big strong 4-year-old was ready to progress to game trails & bushwhacking strung with a single mentor. Rusty his mentor was experienced, trail wise & excelled at both leading & following, besides he needed to counteract the effects of lush summer pasture.
Our destination, a high country basin (a very long trip via horse trail) offers a challenging “llama cutoff.” We follow the horse trail for a few miles, then dive off into the timber, bushwhacking over, under & around deadfall, encountering several deep eroded gullies with only a few possibilities to cross. Finally reaching the tumultuous, boulder-strewn steep bank stream that drains the basin far above. We wade across at the only possible spot I know, and turn up the drainage through the timber connecting small segments of game trails, twisting & turning, more gullies to negotiate then reaching the edge of a steep 1500 foot deep ½ mile wide rock slide (the main horse block) with only a single poor game trail traversing its expanse. A little more timber & we break into the open & start climbing (no trail) toward a little-timbered bench, our first camp.
At first, we could hear distant bleating, but upon reaching our campsite we could see the slopes covered with sheep. Apparently, they were drawn by the same abundant feed & water that attracted us. (This was a year of drought.) In the morning leaving the llamas grazing in camp it was time for a little exploring. Some rather insistent alarm calling cut our explorations short. Upon reaching camp the source of dismay was apparent. 3,000 to 4,000 sheep were descending the slope across the creek headed for our bench. Tenoch ignored my efforts to comfort him, as I didn’t understand the severity of our situation. In any event, it seemed prudent to defend our camp. Finally, the alarm calls ceased, I assumed my efforts met with Tenoch’s approval. Upon returning to camp after the crisis I discovered Tenoch had disappeared, his lead still attached to the picket. Grabbing the treat bucket & following his running tracks to an overlook of the open slopes below revealed he had already entered the timber.
Thinking it best to move camp down to the timber to begin the search, Rusty ended up with 2 saddles & 4 panniers. Reaching the timber, We saw that Tenoch’s tracks entered on the same game trail we came up, still running. Each & every spot we had to cross there were his tracks, so we continued on. He found his way across the rock slide back down through the timber & eroded gully exactly backtracking to the creek crossing. As unbelievable as it seemed, I realized he was finding his way to the truck. We sped up now, only catching a track once in a while & when we saw his tracks reach the horse trail, we hurried on to the truck. Tenoch’s tracks were all around the truck, leaving & returning, but no Tenoch. Of course, by now we were several hours behind him & he must have got tired of waiting. With Rusty unpacked & loaded in the truck, we started down the road looking for signs when we saw him ¼ mile ahead. In case he was still spooked I didn’t want to push him & parked 200 yards away then called him. Here he came at a full run, I guess he was really happy those darn sheep didn’t get us.
Tenoch went on to a distinguished career with thousands of miles on the trail. He served as an ambassador bringing joy to hundreds of rental and outfitted guests. Despite having “been there and done it all” he never quite got over his distrust when it came to an ocean of sheep. Tenoch always thought it prudent to either rush ahead of them of lag back until they cleared the area.