Closer Than Heaven

The Outfitter’s World

Story by Gail Craig

Photos by Brian Messersmith and Sam Breitenstein

One particular trip our outfitting company made in April 1979 to Pass Creek in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness was quick, because we’d be stocking the provisions for bear hunts that we’d guide later in the spring. Everything was packed in by horses and mules, and the supplies served double duty. For example, the hay bales that the stock would later eat were used for our bedding. In the daytime we got all the necessary work done and that night we literally hit the hay. I woke up the next morning to a loud munching, crunching sound, not nearly as unpleasant as an alarm, yet unfortunately attached to a very large brown nose that poked inside the tent flaps. It was a starving moose. We figured we’d better get out of the tent, away from the hay. 

As any guide will tell you, the outfitting life is a labor of love and dedication that is not to be taken lightly. That’s why when my husband Tim and I moved from our lifelong home in flatland North Dakota to Idaho in 1978, we immediately decided to buy a backcountry hunting business. We’d be based in the rugged Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, which features grim elevations of higher than ten thousand feet, but we weren’t going to let a few mountains get in our way. We’d become experts.

It took a little while. 

On the provisions trip to Pass Creek, we were accompanied by a mule string of greater and lesser mules. Among the lesser was Shorty, who brought along his usual attitude of the conviction that he was being bullied by the other mules because of his short stature. Consequently, he tried regularly to hang himself at the hitching post. A bit of drama. We loved him. He got special treats and ear rubs, which of course was his motive.

The others just worked—other than Oly, a long-legged brute of a white mule, who did work hard but also wanted to kill you, and tried to do it every day. Nevertheless, it was mostly a successful trip. Pass Creek in the spring is a journey to heaven, except it doesn’t take as long to get there. And getting there on a horse was a part of that heaven.

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Gail Craig

About Gail Craig

Gail Craig was born and raised in North Dakota and moved to Idaho in 1977. She worked in Clarkston, Washington for four years before becoming a partner in an outfitting business. Today she is retired and living in Lewiston. Her hobbies include photography, hiking, and enjoying the beauty of Idaho.

One Response to Closer Than Heaven

  1. Rose Gitter - Reply


    Love your stories, cousin ❤️

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