The Wall: A Lesson in Being Prepared, Part II

The wall was the only trail that would take us directly to the Sierras of Real del Castillo; which is exactly where we needed to go.   In other words, it was the wal, or nothing.

I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when listening to veteran wall climbers describe their experiences.  Some described it as a giant, monstrosity of shale, and rock, while others referred to it as the biggest challenge they’ve ever taken upon themselves by horseback.

The closer we got to the trail head, the more vivid, and animated their descriptions became. Raul loved adding to the excitement by enthusiastically pointed out the tiny sliver of a trail, as it wound its way,  twisting, and turning up the enormous, mountainside.  Riders squinted their eyes in effort to follow the trail along the mountain, but soon lost track of it because of the distance, and sheer height of the mountain itself. Others asked hesitantly, “That’s it?”

In case anyone became overly anxious about it, I reminded everyone how sure-footed our horses were, and how well they climbed.  In addition, I also reminded them Raul and I would never take them anywhere we hadn’t been before, or that was too dangerous.  For extra encouragement, I told them if they conquered the wall, they could conquer anything!   I think this helped, a little.
At exactly 1pm, we arrived at the Wall’s trailhead hidden along the edge of a dried riverbed.  After tying up the horses, I made a dash for my saddlebag and whipped out my bean and cheese burritos .  The “suero” I had taken earlier certainly helped, but I needed food now.  Those burritos never tasted so good! That, along with a few pieces of dried fruit really did the trick.
We rested under the trees until Raul announced it was time to push on.  It was either adrenaline, or dread, which urged everyone to spring into action, and tackle the hardest part of the trail.
Raul and Ricky checked cinches, and made any adjustments our group of riders needed before heading out.  After everything was secure, Raul reminded us of four, very important rules to remember while climbing this next part of the trail.
“First, keep the left foot slightly out of the stirrup, not entirely, but flexible, if case you need to bail out.  Second, lean forward in the saddle.  If needed, grab hold of the horse’s mane for support.  This helps the horse get his weight, and yours, up the mountain.  Third, don’t stop at any moment, unless you are in a flat area.  The horses kept up their momentum by using their neck muscles, and rear legs to hoist themselves up and forward.  The last thing anyone should do is stop at an angle, which makes it extremely difficult for the horse.  Especially so, with a train of horses coming up right behind you.  Fourth, if you decide to bail, don’t forget, jump to the left, that’s where the hillside is.  Bail right, and you’ll be flying in thin air.”
After that hearty speech, tequila flasks quickly appeared.  Tequila has incredible qualities for calming the nerves, and we never hit the trail without it.   We sipped tequila for a few minutes, laughed and joked a bit which gave the tequila time to settle in, and work it’s magic. Finally, when we were relaxed, and thinking of other things, rather than the gargantuan wall in front of us,  Raul suddenly held up his hands, and said in a stern voice, “It’s time to go.”   The group fell silent.  We all knew the task at hand, and we were much more relaxed now, thanks to the tequila.  We quickly mounted up, and turned our horses in the direction of the Wall’s trail head.  It was time to concentrate on the mission at hand.

                                    THE ASCENT

The horses moved steadily up the narrow trail.  Raul was in the lead, I was in the middle of the group and Ricky in the back with the pack-horse.  A thick silence filled the air.  The only sounds heard, were the horse’s hooves, as they placed their feet carefully over rocks.  The was the gentle sound of brush, as it moved, and swayed when their heavy bodies pushed through the leaves, and branches. There was also the sound of my heart which boomed loudly inside my chest.

I looked at the trail underneath my horse, and watched him carefully.  He moved with ease up the hillside, not without effort, but he appeared calm, and relaxed.  He wasn’t at all over winded, or stressed.  I noticed the horses in front of me were the same way.  Raul made sure they rested in the few flat areas there were at different intervals along the way.  We arrived at the top within 45 minutes.  The view was spectacular.  I literally thought I was on top of the world.  Could it possibly get any higher?  I wondered.
I was one of the first few to reach the top.  As riders cleared those last few feet at the crest, their facial expressions changed from ones of serious concentration, to relaxed, and very relieved.  I knew for many, including myself, the wall was a challenge they would not likely forget.
Raul reached inside his saddlebag, pulled out his tequila flask, and offered it to everyone.  This time instead of calming our nerves, we celebrated having conquered the famous wall.
When one of our guests jokingly asked Raul, “Is that all you’ve got for us?”
He quickly replied, “Oh you want more?  Okay, I’ll give you lots more!”
We immediately cried out in unison, “NO!!”
He smiled devilishly and said, “Aha, that’s what I thought!”

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