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Sweet Pea arrived at Moon Run Ranch as a 3-year-old and lived to the “ancient age” of 41. Her final days were spent happily at Rumble Ridge, the property formerly owned by Ruth Fender above El Jebel.

On Jan. 2, Sweet Pea, my treasured mule passed away quietly, with dusk coming on, in her corral next to her best friend, Stylin. She arrived at Moon Run Ranch as a 3 year-old and she lived to the ancient age of 41. Most recently, her home was Rumble Ridge, above El Jebel.

In the morning, Mauricio fed her mash-cereal grain breakfast, which she ate and I took her an apple slice at 2:30 p.m. At 4:15 p.m. she had laid down and much as she tried, she could not get up. It was her time.

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The McLain family operated Moon Run Outfitters for 18 years, during which time the affable Sweet Pea demonstrated her independent streak.

I got to stay with her until the end. We put her blanket over her to keep her warm. Carlo, my partner, brought a soft towel to put under her head against the snow and I stroked her head, ears and neck.

I reminded her of the many mountain trails that she and I had climbed together through our lives together. My good friend and veterinarian, Melissa Goldyn, was with us to help her along the way and her passing was gentle.

Sweet Pea died with her eyes closed, but her ears pricked forward, as if she was climbing to the summit of the great beyond. She was an optimistic, kind and sweet creature, who helped raise my children, worked for us without complaint and I feel blessed that she was part of my life for such a long time. I will miss her every day of my life going forward.

The Story of Sweet Pea

I will tell you the Story of Sweet Pea.

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Holly Fuller McLain and her Sweet Pea, who lived a long and fruitful life.

My family and I operated a pack trip business, Moon Run Outfitters, guiding clients into the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness, permitted by the U.S. Forest Service. For 18 years people rode horseback with us and shared the beauty of our high-country scenery, the wildlife and the camaraderie around our campfires.

All of our food, equipment and client personal baggage was packed on the backs of our string of mules. Sweet Pea was one of these stoic and noble “beasts of burden.”

She was a real pain to lead from horseback, as she would constantly wander off trail to graze, dilly-dallying along, and literally pulling your shoulder out of its socket. She would mess up the steady march of our in-line pack string, so we would lead her solo. Once we were about half a mile into the wilderness, we would simply let her loose, and she would follow happily along at her own pace and pleasure. She never roamed and always arrived in camp before us, once it came in view.

Sweet Pea was dependable, kind and friendly to every human she met, especially children. She raised my daughter, Afton, who would ride her now and again.

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Sweet Pea was important to Afton’s upbringing.

One July, we had a travel trip that left Snowmass Creek, camping the first night just below Haystack Mountain at one of our permanent high camps. The next day we dropped down into Capitol Creek, riding by Capitol Lake to the pass.

That particular summer we had a heavy snow year with late storms through the springtime. When we got to the lake, the water was so high that the trail had disappeared into the lake. Horses could not see where they were going. There was fear that a misstep of horses with riders and mules with packs could cause a fall into the lake. Heavy packs could weigh down a drowning mule. We were stopped at a snowbank just before the disappearing trail.

I was in the lead and could make out the trail under the water at the lake’s edge. I was sure we would be OK, if my horse believed my direction. I was riding a young horse that lacked experience and confidence, and he refused to go.

All of a sudden, here comes Sweet Pea, as if to say, “What’s the hold up?” “There is no food for grazing here, let’s get on with it!”

She barged in front of me and my horse, and struck out on the underwater trail, never missing a step. Everyone followed her, safely and easily.

That was Sweet Pea.