So, we’re in the Escalante out of Harris Wash, and there’s this area called Red Breaks. It’s really no formal canyon, as much as a series of them. The rock formations are very colorful. The structure of the hike is a walkabout, follow your heart. Pitney and I, many years ago, go on over to the place. I pull basically what I pulled the other day … I ended up going in a different drainage, a little — of that, and it was very satisfying. We had a great day and everything. It wasn’t till a couple months later, when I came upon another map, that it was as clear as could be — I hadn’t been in Red Breaks. I had been in a completely different area, actually still not publicized anywhere. One of my secret gems. It was a mistake. So, OK, let’s go to Red Breaks.
Steve Waldvogal to the rescue
It was a couple years later and we were going to go there but, well, there were other priorities … so we gave it a pass. Then, the next time we were going to go there it rained and—you know its dirt roads down there—so we didn’t go then either. So, I’m sitting there, 0 for 3. Then I think—at about the ten year point from when I first tried to go—I got a new crew: this guy who soloed Denali and his girlfriend at the time, who didn’t end up being his wife; also this artist from Southern New Mexico—wild character, sees things other don’t.
So we start in the proper place, the proper starting point. Very, very boring wash for about a mile. Until about ¾ of a mile into the wash, we come upon this cow, just lying down in the wash. I’m looking at the scene thinking, ‘nope, you’re not even going to make it to hamburger.’And these other three people, who were with me, start to pour out all this compassion and emotion and stuff like that and start hiking feverously around looking for water … but we’re in a place with no water … but, they find some. They’re filling ziplocks with water and bringing them back for this cow.
I’m sitting over on the sidelines in the shade, going, “I can’t believe this is happening,” smoking cigarettes. And I’m like, “come on guys — you know — hamburger!?”
One of the guys is pacing back and forth, saying, “What are we gonna do, what are we gonna do?”
Water from a ziplock
Finally they decide they’re going to push this thing on its side. So they push it on its side and a huge placenta comes pouring out the backside of the cow. OK. I say to myself, ‘this is definitely not happening now.’ So it’s more, ‘what are we gonna do.’There’s now major indecision in the group. And I realize nothings going to happen unless I do something, cuz at this point they’ve all kind of frozen. I had these glacier gloves with the fingertips cut out and stuff like that. Now this was probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I decided I’d try to deliver this calf …
The event so far from start to finish was an hour and a half or so, and I must say that the eyes of the beastie showed appreciation, as it was lapping up the water from the ziplocks. There was no water there—how did they find it anyway? The placenta was huge and sticking out. It was 18, 20 inches wide where it was sticking out, it was probably eight inches wide where the child was. OK … So at this point I reached my hands in the equivalent of horizontal on both sides, and slipped my hands in, reaching all the way in. I started to tug and tried to pull. I didn’t know if this was the right thing to do but it was action. There are three people dying over this big piece of hamburger, and no one can do anything because they’re paralyzed … so I figure well, what do I have to lose. It’s slimy. It smells. Fluids all around. Purple and blue, the richness of it.
And what’s happening is the placenta is too slippery. As I’m pulling, I’m losing grip. Actually, this would possibly be considered like a canyoneering technique, because people are behind me, putting their arms around me, pulling on me to get more leverage. A team effort at this point. And finally, pop. I stumbled for a second.
The placenta popped on out. And all of a sudden there are a pair of hooves sticking out. It’s breached. I reach back inside and around to the top of the thing, to the top of the head, and push it down. And finally with a great deal of effort, two or three misses, the head pops out. Rest of the body comes pretty easily. And I’m sitting there, like, just covered in f—ing embryonic cow fluid. And sand.
Q: Did it turn to you and go, “Daddy?”
No. What happened was, we brought it over to Mom and she licked it clean and nudged it. My friends took the role, and I also to some extent, to get it up on its feet. It was shivering. I got naming rights. His name was ‘Breaks.’
At this time, right during all this, a Search and Rescue team from Ft. Collins, about ten or 12 people, show up there on an exercise—from my hometown—they call themselves the ‘Straw Dogs’ or something. They kind of took control. They had latex gloves and a lot of stuff I wish I had had just previously. I sat there and said, please douse me in alcohol. I took an alcohol bath, took my clothing off, packed it in a garbage bag, and wore other people’s clothing. Anyway, at this point I felt I had earned what I needed, and I was like, “Guys, can we go on the hike now?”
Ram with "Breaks"
These Search and Rescue guys had taken control of the situation. A funny thing is that one of our guys, the guy who had soloed Denali, had run out to the trailhead to find the rancher to let him know that this critical situation was going on, right. As soon as he hit the parking lot and jumped in his car and drove like 15 seconds, he passed the rancher who owned the cow, who didn’t find out about the situation until hours later.
OK … so, we go off on the hike. Breaks is all cleaned up. He’s now up on his legs. And it’s a lovely hike. We don’t have the energy to do as much as we might have. I have good pictures from that day. So we come back and we stumble on the site again, right. There’s a note from the rancher, thanking us for saving the baby. And there’s the mother cow laying there. It’s throat is slit. They shoot horses, don’t they. It affected me, but it devastated the people around me. All this drama had happened all around us, and it touched me despite my best efforts to have it not do so.
Bobbi and Steve give more water to mom
Anyway, I’m exhausted later at a restaurant in Escalante, and I call my wife, and get the answering machine. So I tell the machine a brief outline of what happened. The “well, you always worried I’d touch another woman”–quote that I made was the only thing she heard and for 3 days—until I spoke to her next—she was devastated with the impression that I had had an affair. Got to see the canyon, anyway
• Epilogue •
Telling the story recently, this city slicker was told, with some deserved ridicule, that ‘hoofs first’ is natures way with calves. Clever of me to switch him around! Our rural expert assured me that Mom was in ‘deep trouble,’ based on how we found her, and that we probably saved the calf while not killing the Mom, who was too far gone. Sure I didn’t help her, though. Hope you enjoyed
Though Steve "Ram" Ramras hails from Fort Collins, Colorado, he spends most of his time further west, in Utah's canyonlands and Washington's Cascade Range. Defying his age, his body, and often common sense, Ram continues to roam the wilds at least 120 days each year, doing his part to help others drag him up and down this country's moutains and canyons. When Ram is not outside, he is typically cultivating goodwill in the canyoneering community by posting stories, answering questions, sending out trip invitations, and being his lovable, affable self.
Posted on Apr 6th, 1993
Canyoneering, Escalante, Steve Ramras, Trip ReportFort Collins search and rescue , live cow birth , Red Breaks , Steve Waldvogal