We’ve been planning this ride for a couple of weeks, but wanting to do the ride for the last couple of years. In fact, two years ago Bill and I had started up this trail, not realizing where it went, but turned back because we were running out of time and the trail was extremely over grown. We would have needed a whole day for exploring it. Last year, we just didn’t get the amount of ride time we needed. Then we find out Phebe, owner of The Warming House and Footpaths of the World, an inn-to-inn hiking business, knows the way. We are one of the "ending inns" for her WTW tour, so when chatting one day we discovered a mutual like for riding - and the challenge ride was on.
So…about 8:45 a.m. our guide, Phebe, arrives (she’s a bit excited, too!) and we collect the horses. She was suddenly a little concerned, having realized the night before that being “hiking fit” is not the same as “riding fit”. (By the way, two days before, she and her husband had hiked over the Continental Divide to Grand Lake, stayed the night, and hiked back…38 miles round trip.) She had grown up on horses, so was at least comfortable in her ability to handle one.
We had packed lunches, decked her out in an extra pair of chaps, made sure we had raingear, water and hats, and left the Lodge at 9:30, our planned departure time. Prior to this, Bill and I had driven the PU and trailer over to the end of the trail, at the Camp Dick campground, so we would have transport home. I started out on Washoe, Phebe on Jesse and Bill on Ranger. It took longer to reach the trail than expected. Rock Creek road is really hard on the horses’ feet, so we went slowly, and even stepped off to hike about 15-20 minutes, to let my hip rest (and Phebe’s, too). Deciding to hike part of the trail was one of our better decisions!
I had estimated it to be a little over two miles away, but it was more than three, so it was about 11:00 when we actually stepped onto the trail. We mounted back up and started UP, and continued UP, this windy, overgrown path. The horses had to step over lots of undergrowth and sometimes we had to traverse around and into trees to get over stuff that was too high. A couple of times, we stepped off the horses so they would fit through the trees – we would have been scraped off. The horses took it with good grace, doing whatever was asked of them as needed and we ended up in a meadow high on the mountain for lunch.
Jesse maneuvering over deadfall; trail much steeper than it appears.
Unfortunately, due to wildfires burning in CA and some controlled burns going on in CO, it looked like a foggy day and we weren’t able to get many landscape pictures. At least the weather was perfect for riding, though, at about 78 degrees, no rain and just a nice breeze. On top of the mountain the sun broke through the smoke and it was beautiful, but not picture worthy.
We let the horses rest and ate our lunch, spending ½ hour lounging against some downed timber. We mounted back up, this time with Phebe on Washoe and me on Jesse. Now for the fun of locating the trail. Up to now, there had been blue markers along the way, and at least a faint trail to follow, but from here it got a little confusing. On her foot hike through previously, Phebe had built cairns along the path, but even with them it was difficult to find the right path. We did a lot of tree ducking and I managed to bang my shoulder and head when I thought I could duck a large, fallen tree. After I had started under I realized I had misjudged a couple of the smaller branches and barely had room to squeeze through. I called to the others to go around. Then as we were winding downhill, Ranger caught a large branch with one of his back feet, causing it to flip up into his butt and tail. The rodeo was on. Between bucks he was kicking out with both back feet, trying to “get away from whatever had him”. He managed to slam Bill’s right shin into a good sized tree before he got free and calmed down. I’m not sure how Bill stayed on, but thank goodness for chaps. He has a goose-egg swelling, but no lost skin or breaks. Phebe, on the other hand, seemed to have come through unscathed, although she said she had plenty of sore spots from overhead tree branches.
Phebe on Washoe, nearing the other side.
We finally hit the well-marked trail coming up from the other side and decided to hike again. We had come up on a particularly steep, rocky, downhill section, with round rocks about grapefruit size. If one of the horses would have stumbled or had a rock roll out from under them, it would have been a nasty fall. It was hard enough for us to keep our own footing, leading the horses. Just as we were coming off the rocks onto a 4x4 road, we heard a gunshot! Just what we needed; someone target shooting. We hollered out so they would know there were others about. Sure enough, as we came around a corner, a couple of guys were firing off some rifle rounds. They graciously waited for us to walk the horses past…teasing us about walking, not riding.
By this time, we were noticing a large influx of horse flies and bees. Quickly mounting up, we headed down the road to our final destination: the campground. Our final obstacle was crossing a wooden bridge completely surrounded by bees. Some of the campers had the campground host cornered, complaining about all the bees. As we passed that group, Washoe managed to snuff one up his nose and started dancing around. Phebe hopped off, I grabbed at his headstall and the two of us managed to get him across the bridge. Fortunately, that’s where our trailer was parked and the horses wasted no time climbing in.
When we got back home, I couldn’t convince Jesse to unload. She had literally fallen asleep in the trailer and was planning on staying right there! That’s the first time I have ever had her not want to get right out. They were tuckered out little puppies. We made the ride over in five and ¼ hours, including our lunch. Not a ride for the faint of heart…or untrained trail horses. Thank you Phebe for being such a good sport. You were great with both my horses! And thanks to Bill for handling the camera work.