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Saga of the urban buckarettes.

As several million people stream out of office buildings in New York City, Casey Feutsch looks out through the smog in front of her 20th-floor window. Staring at her "view"-a blank wall the Doubleday editor agonizes over a rejection letter and dreams of July.

In July she will be back on a horse in the Jarbidge wilderness in the high country of northeastern Nevada's outback, where, she says, "Everything is bright, and even with the desert's muted grays and browns, everything seems so incredibly brilliant. "

Casey and three of her four sisters (but none of her five brothers) meet each year at the Cottonwood Ranch in the O'Neil Basin: their purpose, the Smith family's Jarbidge Wilderness Pack Trip.

The airport nearest to the Cottonwood Ranch O'Neil Route, Wells, NV 89835) is 21/2 hours' drive, the last hour on dirt. Salt Lake City is five hours away; Reno, seven. Nearby towns are virtually ghosts with some populations under a dozen.

When Horace Smith took over the ranch from his grandfather in 1952, it was little more than a cow camp in the sagebrush, a four-room log cabin and a round corral. Horace, who originally guided hunters through the Jarbidge Mountains, expanded into sightseeing and photography trips almost a decade ago.

His carefully planned pack trips pass through territory filled with mule deer, bobcat, coyote, golden eagle, beaver, porcupine, and mountain lion. The region provides some of the best stream fishing in the West for rainbow trout, brookies, German browns, and Dolly Varden. It is a photographer's dream.

"This is my homesickness fix," Casey says of the Smiths' getaway. I I I don't have to talk about work. I don't think about the phone ringing. I don't have to tell people what I do because no one cares."

Her sisters are all professionals too-an independent CPA, an accountant in a large company, and a real-estate broker. Several of them have been to Hawaii and Mexico, and one even lived in Europe for 18 months, but they prefer Nevada's wilderness. "We wouldn't have enjoyed this when we were younger," Casey says. "We only see each other at Christmas, and on the pack trip we have plenty of time to talk and have fun. "

Even to novice riders and first-time campers, the trip and sights are tough to equal. Pat Feutsch, at 42, had never camped before. "I am not an outdoorsy person," she claims. "I ride a bike in town and play tennis but would never think of going camping where there are no bathrooms and you have to cook for yourself.... I don't want to work at a vacation."

But she soon found that work was not part of the itinerary. Instead she sat with her sisters and the other guests around the campfire as the Smiths' crew fixed dinner and took care of the horses.

Even though the sun rises well before six, the sisters don't crawl out of their bedrolls until the smell of breakfast and coffee wafts by their tents. "None of us likes to be called real early," Terry Feutsch says with a laugh, because she and her siblings thoroughly enjoy doing absolutely nothing. "We think it's fun to sit around the campfire and eat! "

Sometimes talk around the campfire drifts to Horace Smith's grandfather, Horace Agee, who bought the land from some former cattle rustlers, the respectable" O'Neil family, in 1922. He had been running sheep in the basin, and the closer the flock got to the O'Neils' cattle, the more nervous the one-time rustlers became. "The O'Neils sent out a hit man to shoot Horace Agee, but the guy wasn't very good at his job," says Agee Smith, Horace's son. "My great-grandfather took the gun away from him. " Legend has it that he sent the gunman back with the message, "If the O'Neils are going to send somebody to kill me, they had better send a real man."

The Smith family pack outfit is a growing portion of the 800-head, 37,000-acre ranch, partly because of bad economics in the cattle business but also because the Smiths enjoy the work. A favorite pack trip, from the ranch to the old gold town of Jarbidge, takes five days. Because the Smiths are one of only three licensed guides allowed to pack into the wilderness, their trails are marked by the U.S. Forest Service but seldom used.

The trip starts in sagebrush country, moving up Cottonwood Creek through mahogany, cottonwood, and high wild grass. As the trails wind higher, past dramatic rim rock, huge leafy cottonwoods are left behind, replaced with quaking aspens, willows, and limber pine. Meadows are filled with pentstemon, larkspur, sunflower, lupine, and hundreds of other types of wildflowers-many uncataloged. Sounds come from a variety of wild birds, from the horses' hooves when they hit hard ground, from wind rustling leaves and grasses.

The first night's camp may be in God's Pocket near Humming Bird Spring. Or it could be at the top of Big Buck Ridge, where, Agee says, "you can look over the longest stretch of mountains over 10,000 feet in the State of Nevada." The Feutsches and new friends gather around the campfire as the sun sinks behind the ragged rock of Cougar Peak (elev. 10,563 ft.), the Matterhorn (10,839), Square Top (10,687), Jumbo Peak (10,643), and Jarbidge Peak (10,789). Streaks of red, pink, and orange can be seen at the edges of clouds, in pockets of snow, and on the tips of evergreens. The riders are ready for drinks, steak, salad, and baked potatoes.

Kim and Agee usually rest the horses at Bourbon Springs, an Indian hunting camp that seems to tower above half a dozen mauve and gray mountain ranges drifting into Utah and Idaho. They traverse steep, grassy hills; they lead the way through passes of twisted evergreens, drop violently through a pocket of bright, red rock above yet another extraordinary basin. They ascend barely discernible trails, crossing piles of rubble from avalanches and snowslides. At times the duck to get through the dense underbrush covering a furious stream, always to rise again and traverse yet another splendid ridge.

One camp sits in a meadow below Emerald Lake and Cougar Peak, at an altitude of 9,800 feet. Deer graze, unperturbed, close to the group. Side trails lead to long-deserted miners' cabins, some still filled with pots and pans, personal items stacked neatly on the shelves.

Agee and his packers can show the campers Lost Draw, Gold Knob, Bonanza Gulch, and many more places like Big Buck Ridge and God's Pocket. They can also point out the site of the country's last stagecoach robbery, and where the O'Neils' hit man flubbed his assignment.

The last evening is often spent at a restaurant-saloon called the Outdoor Inn in Jarbidge; the last sleep, in a barn-motel at the edge of town. As Casey, Christine, Ann, and Terry leave Jarbidge for home, they hug the other campers, the population of Jarbidge, and every Smith in sight.

"The first year I cried for two days after I got back to New York, " Casey admits, then adds, "but now it has a very therapeutic effect-my Nevada high lasts for weeks. Something happens inside when you are able to see for miles and miles. Everything is so bright. It just feels like heaven out there. "
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Title Annotation:four sisters meet annually for Jarbridge Wilderness pack trip in Nevada
Author:Hadley, C.J.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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