It was the last day of our hike through the High Uintas in northeastern Utah. We had weathered the lightning storm that echoed through the valley like the cries of some great god, lived through hiking in the hail that pelted us every step for miles on end, and could now tell stories of days of living perpetually in the rain. The morning was clear and bright, and we had risen early and climbed above the tree line before we ate breakfast. Cheerios on the tundra of the high ridge of Bald Mountain, the thought still brings a smile to my face this day.
The High Uintas, if my memory serves me, have the largest alpine environment in the contiguous United States. Although the highest point, Kings Peak, is around 13,500 feet, the amount of elevated terrain above tree line is impressive, even to someone who has lived in the tundras of northwestern Alaska. We had left the alpine ridge and the five of us were hiking through the trees on the other side, leading down to the valley where we had parked. Having just found a creek and filled our water bottles, we were all set for a leisurely 8 mile hike back out of the wilderness. We were ready for many things, but not for them.
At first no one was quite sure what they heard. I, myself, thought it had sounded like a far away group of ATV’s sitting on idle while their occupants were looking at a map. Justin said it reminded him of chainsaws in the distance. We knew that there might be rangers in the area, servicing trails, but unfortunately the reality was that the sound was far from human.
The noise grew louder, until it was a subtle rolling roar sounding from everywhere but directly behind us. Each step grew a little more wary, all of our eyes peeled on the forest before us, looking for the unseen horror that waited.
We all heard the cry at once, the distinguishing anguish that pierced through the roar and gave us a chilling shock as it told us, without doubt, what evil we would find ourselves faced with.
It seemed they appeared everywhere at once. When first the woods had been empty but for us, the rim of our visibility seemed to fill instantly with thousands of foul, disgusting, bloated, evil sheep.
We stopped walking to look at them in fear. They moved like a swarm, no unity but the push of those behind them, constantly changing, forever in turmoil. The mass seemed to notice us, as the individuals at the extremities seemed to be staring at us with the same concentration that we studied them. Stunned by the sheer massive clump of sheep surrounding our party, it slowly dawned on each person that this was no stationary army. It was moving towards us.
Panic set in. Our packs disappeared in our mental images and we became fleet of foot, and we hustled to the left of the flock, moving uphill to try to dodge the relentless crawl of the sheep. It seemed to forever to finally near the edge of the army, and we had to move closer as we avoided natural obstacles such as brush and rock formations.
As we evaded the swarm, I couldn’t help but notice the attention the sheep closest to us always gave. Those beady black eyes, staring, staring into you like they knew you were afraid, like they knew that they had such power over you that it wouldn’t even be a fight. Shake it off, ignore them, I told myself, continue hiking, and don’t let them know your fear.
We hiked on, the army of sheep baying and flowing through the forest of trees, as our lonely band of five adventurers moved through the wilderness. We walked an endless detour around the trail to get past the army, and finally upon regaining the trail at the very rear of the sheep, only then did we meet the general.
He was a sheep rancher who took his herd up to the High Uintas to feed every summer for several months. A couple of his friends would be coming up in a couple of days with more supplies, and they set up a camp and basically live up above 10,000 feet for the entire time. The herd of sheep eats the tundra and everyone is happy. Everyone is happy, yeah right.
We saw death in several thousand white fluffy animals.
We hiked down the rest of the day, the memory of the army covering the crest of all that we could see still fresh in our heads. It has been over a year since that fateful trip, which stands as one of the absolute most interesting backpacks I have ever been on. If you do get a chance to meet an army of sheep on the field of battle, know this: your only chance is to run!