Today started almost routinely, or what passes for routine on the second trail morning. Boulder Oaks is half horse camp and half people. The Cleveland National Forest Website says the camp doesn’t open until June however the gates are open, the water is turned on and there was a contractor cleaning the restroom that is open, the one closest to where the PCT goes through. We were the only horses in camp; in fact all the other campers were PCT hikers, mostly college age young. There was a bit of carrying on coming from one of the camps, however Janis’s selection of a shady camp at the far end prevented us from being much disturbed.
The routine pretty much ended as BG and I left camp. As wound up as Mercedes had been I thought I would lead BG out of camp a ways and let her settle down. I’m thinking horse fractiousness is graded similar to the Richter scale. Every whole number represents a doubling of power from the number before. A 6.0 earthquake is twice as strong as a 5.0. A horse with four days inactivity while consuming dynamite feed is twice as stupid as one of three days. A hundred yards from camp and it is still a battle of wills with BG as to who is leading who. That distance put us in front of the previously mentioned revelers, even though obviously nursing hangovers I could hear them placing bets and odds on how long the “old guy” would stay on his horse. Pride just wouldn’t let me keep walking, taking advantage of a couple of rounds from a fallen tree I wedged BG in between thinking that would give me enough edge to get on, after which I was pretty sure I could stick with her, BG being known for fast traveling, not bucking or jumping. The plan would have worked too, if only I hadn’t got my pant leg hung up on my saw as I swung my leg over the stirrup. BG, bless her pointed little head, slowly walked in circles while I extricated myself from my tools. The hikers loved it, with many a Wahoo and a doffing of my hat BG and I headed for the open countryside.
Today’s trail was another twenty six miles. Only one main hill to go over, at 6500 feet it was a good 4000 feet above our starting point. Again the trail tread is in poor condition, extremely rocky. Water was again plentiful, only a couple times have we had to go more than ten miles between sources. The trail is used enough now, and there are plenty of markers so that it would be pretty hard to get off trail. The signage is much improved over when we were here in 2000. Another eight hour day and I wasn’t nearly so cocky coming into camp. Maybe I am getting too old for this stuff.
Yesterday was Mercedes and my first day on the trail. Despite being wooly and out of shape I thought we could take our time and squeeze in the 26 miles to Boulder Oaks Campground. Leaving the campground at Campo, Mercedes had other ideas. Two days in the trailer and another one in camp eating trail food left her with energy to spare. Her hooves stomping quick time on the packed trail gave hikers plenty of warning we were coming. At that stage of the game everyone is happy, finally on the trail, cool weather, and sunny day. All the hikers were pleasant as they made way for Mercedes; in return she posed for pictures without complaint even though she would have rather been traveling down the trail. After a couple miles of steady climbing Mercedes found her trail walk steadily eating up the miles.
One of the goals of this trip is for me to get back into the Levis that were plenty big before my horse wreck a year ago last October. Nearly eighteen months of inactivity stretch my denim to the limit and beyond. My plan is, ride five miles, and walk a mile. The plan held for the first ride and walk and the second ride but the second walk came on a relatively flat section and it felt so good I ended up walking three. Now I’m all confused, do I ride fifteen miles before walking to get back on schedule? That would have me riding clean past camp; I decided the best thing was to quit planning.
It was a good thing too; as it happens the trail tread is in poor condition. The extremely heavy use since 2010, the drought and fire caused vegetation die off, and last winter’s heavy rains washed the trail down to rock except in the levelest of sections. There are two good sized ridges to cross the first day, the portions into and out of Hauser Canyon are especially steep and littered with boulders ranging from basketballs to Smartcars. It’s not too bad scrambling up, but looked like a leg breaker on the way down. So to aid Mercedes I stumbled down those parts as well. There was a lot of slow going, no gaiting for miles. It ended up taking Mercedes and I eight hours.
Hikers abound. The trail volunteer at the terminus said he was getting around 30, of the 50 allowed to start each day. His high was 45 before his day ends at noon. Some of the hikers commented that due to transportation issues to the trailhead, they didn’t start until after Terminus Tom was gone on their day. At any rate I was well into the thirties by 11:00 when I lost count, I’ve started asking which day they started, the last ones I passed today started eight days before me.
Mercedes and I were feeling pretty good as we came into sight of Janis. I’m thinking all my worrying was for naught, I’m not as old as I look.
Lift-off minus one
We arrived here in sunny Campo last night after an eleven hour drive that stretched into fifteen due to LA & San Diego traffic. I don’t know how the locals deal with daily commutes under those conditions. Dog, horses and people were more than happy to get out of the truck upon arrival at the Camp Legett Equestrian Events Facility, CLEEF. Nice pull through camp sites with what appear to be fairly new pipe corrals. Except for a couple guys doing some maintenance on the big arena and the Border Patrol, in trucks, SUVs, quads, side by sides and helicopters we have the place to ourselves.
File this under good to know.
I purchased a couple Garmin inReach communicators so that Janis and I would have some means of sharing information when not in cell phone range. Being the cheapskate I am, I bought the SE model instead of the slightly more expensive Explorer model. The big difference in the two models is the Explorer has an integrated GPS in addition to the SOS locater beam and the texting capabilities of the SE. Since I already have multiple GPS units, and most of the reviews gave very poor ratings to the Explorer’s GPS capabilities I opted to save a couple bucks. One of the features that I was looking forward to using was the track log. My inReach would send signals to a web site, https://share.garmin.com/GaryPegg , from which you could track my progress. What I didn’t see in the fine print was only the Explorer model will the trail of where I have been. The SE model I have only shows where I am at the current time. Live and learn.
Introducing the Ladies.
The credit for any success this trip might have deservedly belongs to the four lovely ladies I am traveling with. I would like to express my appreciation firstly, lastly and forever to Janis, who makes the whole adventure possible. Next are Mercedes and BG, my trusty, I hope, mounts. Rose doesn’t really do anything to keep the wheels turning, but she is a good traveling companion.
I’d like to give thanks to a couple of people who made my life easier the past couple of weeks. Brent Skill, of Big Hat Saddlery in Washougal, was able to affect last minute repairs to one of the saddles I wanted to use with his usual quality work at a reasonable rate. Dr. Dustin and Ben at Valley Veterinary Clinic took care of all the travel permits and vaccinations, relieving me of one big thing to worry about. Thank you all.
BG and Mercedes are extremely interested in a couple of barrel racers that have just shown up for practice.
At long last the truck and trailer are loaded and are ready to to. Janis and I are in the truck, horses are in the trailer and we are headed south on I-5 to begin our adventure. It is my intention to use our inReach communicators to produce a track so that you can follow our trail in real time. My goal for today is to figure that technology out and get it posted here.
Janis had a dream the other night where I confessed that in fact I’ve talked about this trip for so long to so many people that I felt trapped into going. There is more than a little truth in that assessment. It seems that in the past six months events have conspired to hamper my success. The snow, Bill’s problems, ill prepared horses and a growing concern of mine regarding my aging physical status. On the other hand, I am going, WHOOOHOOO, there are good times to be had. New trails, new people, new experiences, it doesn’t get much better than that. For those who are considering joining us for some of the trip, Southern California can be very nice this time of year!
Time is getting short. Anxiety level getting high. Several factors have changed our plans this past year. First, my buddy, Bill, due to unforeseen personal reasons had to cancel out. We have been dreaming about this trip since the early seventies, it was a hard decision for him, but one that couldn’t be avoided. Then wouldn’t you know the year we chose to go would have record high snow levels in both the Sierras and Cascades. Good new for the farmers, bad news for me. I’m thinking the next time California gets into an extended drought all the need to do to alleviate the situation is get me to plan a PCT trip. The winter weather here in Rainier may not have set records, however the near constant snow and rain storms have limited conditioning rides to next to nothing. We will be headed for Campo with winter shaggy, far from the peak of condition horses.
The horses aren’t a real big issue. It was always our plan to do the desert then come home and wait for the snow to melt. So riding shorter days while the horses toughen up won’t really affect our overall time line. The deep snow has definitely thrown a monkey wrench into the gears though. I gave up on the idea of a straight through linear trip as the snow got deeper. The plan now, option 2, is after our break when we finish Southern California we will skip the Sierras and ride the trail through Northern California and Oregon, starting in June. We should finish at the Columbia River and be able to go back and pick up the Sierras after the snow has melted some. We will finish off with the state of Washington and the North Cascades. Option 3 would be to switch up the Washington and Sierra riding, depending upon where the snow melts first. Option 4, would be to ride where I can as much as I can, then go back and pick up days in the higher country however I can.
With only a week left until Janis and I head for Campo it is time to start loading the trailer. Final adjustments to the truck and trailer have been completed. Now all that remains to be done is load the gear we plan to take. I don’t know how prepared I would be without Janis. Her organizational skills and attention to detail is second to none.
I’ve been dreaming about this trip for nearly 50 years. Bill Aberle and I have been talking about this trip since we were in the Army together, over 40 years. I had previously ridden, a chunk here, a bit there, one vacation at a time most of the trail between Lake Tahoe and Hart’s Pass. A few years back I went down to Campo with the intention of riding north. That was the trip that showed me I wasn’t nearly prepared for a trip of this complexity. Although we did make it as far as Hwy 74 we spent nearly as much time in the cab of a pick-up as we did on the trail. In order to complete the trip some changes were going to have to be made.
In 2011 Janis and I rode the Pony Express Trail. That was a series of 50 mile endurance rides, covering 2040 miles in eight weeks. The XP demonstrated to us what was possible and when we got home we started the serious planning for the PCT trip. One thing we learned on the XP was a horse can go 25 miles every other day, at an easy traveling speed, virtually forever. Except in those few places where it is just not feasible our plan is to meet the truck and trailer each night.
To that end Janis and I have been successful finding spots approximately 25 miles apart, where we can get the truck and trailer to the trail. There are a few places where the horses will have to be ridden off the PCT to a trail head but not as many as one might think. Our shortest ride is 17 miles and the longest 39. Being flexible on rest days will mitigate undue hardship on the long days.
Basically we are going to treat this trip as if it were a conditioning ride for Endurance. Long, slow miles, I’m hoping to average five miles per hour, 25 miles more or less each day. Meeting the trailer each afternoon will allow the horses more rest, better feed and the best hydration. Those places where the use of a pack horse is necessary I hope to maintain a more moderate four miles per hour and 20+/- mile days. Using two horses per rider means the horses shouldn’t travel more than 75 miles per week. Traveling light, shouldn’t need more than a lunch, water, saw, and tarp as well as the normal items needed on a day ride should make this schedule very doable.
That figures out to about 108 riding days. Depending upon snow levels we intend to start around the 1st of April, reaching Kennedy Meadows the middle of May. Then we will come home until the snow melts down in the Sierras and if needed adjust our plans based on what we’ve learned up to that point.