Bennet Bergman attends Deep Springs College in California and will be writing about his life in the Sierras. Read Volume I and II here and stay tuned for more “Notes From Deep Springs” in the coming weeks.
The floor of the valley I live in is covered in desert scrub—mostly sagebrush—so even in the wettest months of the year the desert barely achieves a greenish hue. To be sure, Deep Springs has a sparing beauty for its thousand shades of dust, and climbing a ridge to watch the occasional storm spill over the lip of the valley is striking in its own right. But spend a few months out here and you start dreaming jungle scenes. With that in mind, last weekend I tripped up to Dead Horse Meadow in the White Mountains, where I was told I could find some real greenery. It’s true, it’s up there—something short of a jungle, but not half bad.
I hiked the five miles up from the trail head with a group of boys from Deep Springs. All told, the ascent is a couple thousand feet from the floor of our valley, but the change of scenery is complete. On the way up we passed through some stands of Bristlecone pine that are supposed to be the oldest living organisms on the planet, and by the time we reached Dead Horse we were moving through creeks and green meadows that elsewhere might not seem so spectacular if it weren’t for the desert we scrambled up from.
It happened that there were two cowboys, both recently-graduated students from Deep Springs and good friends of ours, camped at Dead Horse for the week. It’s their job to push the cattle up from our ranch and into summer pasture in the White Mountains. They came to greet us as soon as we’d set down our packs and showed us where we could fill our bottles from springs that spat clean, cold water right out of the ground. Then, like real gentlemen, they invited us to spend the night in their camp.
We had come with the standard fare in our packs: sleeping pads, bags, a white gas stove and a tarp (no tent), but I’ll tell you, it’s a whole different kind of camping up there. The cowboys sleep on cots in a pretty enormous army green tent-cabin and cook on what looks like a well-loved stone stove. They’ve got a solar water heater attached to a hose that runs up from the creek, and a pretty nice set-up for using the lou. Also, four horses to ride around on and a cold mountain spring. In other words, those two are well outfitted.
That night it got colder than we’d prepared for. We abandoned our plans to sleep out and bedded down instead on top of saddle pads next to the halters and horse brushes in the cowboys’ tack tent, where we kept much warmer than we would’ve under our tarp. In the morning, after some strong coffee (brought to you by centrifugal force), we traipsed around a bit, stuck our feet in the creek, and hiked out after a shady nap and some tuna from the pouch.
The cowboy camp at Dead Horse Meadow was of a distinctively older outdoor sportsman’s culture than the one I know—no ultra-lightweight gear, no technical packs, no Crazy Creeks. I don’t know what camping in the ’50s was like, but I can’t imagine it could’ve been much different, and I was totally suckered in. Not to be misunderstood, I like my nylon as much as the next guy, but being up there got me thinking about how it might be to kick off my boots and stay out for more than a night. Really settle in. Heck, plant a garden. I do like the idea. It’s a different world up there.