Takoda on the way to Berthoud Pass

After Shyla’s rough time yesterday, we decided to give her several days off, which meant that Takoda was going to have to step up to the plate, and he and I were going to have to do three consecutive days together.

Climbing toward the pass

Normally I ride Shyla on the longer mileage days, because Takoda can be quite slow at times. Takoda and I had to do 27 miles today, and due to the horrible road and the fact that the trailer had been left overnight halfway down the hill (which was a far as Mom could bring it), I handwalked the horses two and a half miles down to the highway, while mom drove the truck (and stopped halfway to get the trailer). I made it down before she did! We loaded Shyla in the trailer, and Takoda and I set off for the rest of the day’s distance, which Takoda did surprisingly quickly.

I followed a bike path (literally, a paved one) for a couple miles, then crossed under Hwy. 70 and got to a major trailhead, where I joined literally hundreds of hikers and their dogs out for a Saturday walk. We were on that for about six miles, then left that for a more secluded section of CDT.

The trail began to climb toward a ridgeline, where we had stunning views (and still a trail that we could actually see!). We pretty much had the trail to ourselves the rest of the day, as thunderclouds were gathering, but despite the threat, we never got rained on.

Finally we met up with mom and Shyla at Berthoud Pass, where we spent the night.


Shyla on the ridge to Gray's Peak

This day’s section of trail was one I had been concerned about ever since I first started planning this ride, as it crosses over the highest point on the CDT, Gray’s Peak, which is one of Colorado’s "fourteeners."

no trail, just ridgeline to follow

I hit the trail pretty early and by late morning I had reached the northernmost point where the CT and the CDT share a tread. As a result, the trail itself essentially disappeared; the CT is well-maintained, but hikers often call the CDT the "Constantly Disappearing Trail," and that proved true here.

mountain goats!

I was just supposed to follow spine of a ridgeline for several miles. This resulted in wonderful views, even if not much trail.

rocky and very narrow

On the advice of some horse packers that I met in northern New Mexico who said that they had ridden this portion of trail a couple of years earlier, I left the CDT to follow dirt roads through the town of Montezuma (although “town” is a generous word for a place with no paved roads and nothing but a few residences). I followed this road out of town to another forest service road and back onto CDT, as soon as I regained the trail, I realized they probably meant for me to avoid this instead. It was extremely narrow, only inches wide at times, and nothing but rock; it would have been safest to crawl on all fours if you were a hiker. I tried to turn around after coming down a steep shale ridge, but Shyla couldn’t go back up the shale, as we were in a low point of a saddle between two peaks, so our only choice was to continue going down the slope. Shyla and I slid our way down the scree to the base of the peak and regained the trail. Over 45 minutes, we dropped about 2000 feet in elevation. From all the scree and sliding, the back of Shyla’s pasterns had all the hair scraped off, and I felt terrible about taking her into an area where we certainly shouldn’t have ventured, but I was grateful that she trusted me enough to follow me down the mountain to better ground and that our only wounds were superficial.

That's where we're heading

From there I walked Shyla down to meet mom, who had been having an equally difficult time on her end. I had hoped she could drive up the access road to the Gray's Peak trailhead, but it turned out to be a horribly rocky, steep, eroded road that was almost impossible for the truck and trailer to go up. About halfway up the hill, she found an intersection and was able to park the trailer and unhitch, continuing only with the camper, and she managed to find a place to camp. She rode Takoda up the road since she couldn't bring in him the trailer, and set-up a highline for the horses for the night. Overall, it was a much harder day on all of us than we had bargained for, but sometimes you get days like that, and I was just grateful we were all safe.


camping in the rain

We packed up camp at our spot on FR 714 and drove back to the crossing on Highway 91 south of Wheeler Junction, and this time I rode Shyla, going north towards the Breckenridge area. My mother drove ahead again with Takoda and managed to make her way up the Middle Swan River Rd to a campsite there; it was a very narrow, rough road and when she stopped to ask a sheriff officer about it just before she reached it, he tried to persuade her to take another route (one that I didn’t want her to because it would make the next day’s ride too long). At last he admitted that, yes, there was camping up that road, and yes, there would most likely be a place where she could turn the trailer around, and he did say that she had the right 4WD truck at least. So she went on, although at more than one point along the way she began to think it was a mistake. In the end, though, it worked out, and she managed to find the perfect site to camp in, which someone else was just in the process of leaving, so she felt very fortunate to get it. Meanwhile, I was making my way through some rainy weather, which turned particularly nasty as I climbed the highest part of the trail, with thunder, lightning and hail. Then, on the downhill side, I ran into my hiker friend Patches and we walked together for a few miles, catching up on our separate trail adventures since the last time I ran into her, all of which helped make the journey more pleasant. By the time I arrived in camp, the rain had ended, too.


parade through Leadville, CO

It might be a national day of celebration, but there was no holiday planned for us, although we left the camp by the lake early enough to get breakfast in Leadville and catch the tail end of the parade down the main street of town.

Takoda riding south from Wheeler Junction

Then we continued driving north of town, to where the CDT crossed Highway 91 south of Wheeler Junction. The plan was to ride southbound back to the same spot where we camped on July 1st after I picked up my mother in Silverthorne, on FR 714 off highway 24.

This was to be our last southbound day, and I am excited to be riding north (like a normal person on a journey to Canada!) once this day is over. I will be able to ride northbound until late August, when my mother has to go back to L.A. to begin teaching again and I will still be completing the last sections of trail through Montana to Canada. At that point I will once again be on my own, leapfrogging between the two truck and trailer rigs, so I will be driving north and riding south each time until the last part, when my mother will pick me up after I ride into Canada. This section of trail today was a fairly easy 25 miles, but it brought back a lot of not-so-good memories from last year, because it was in this area that the horses broke out of their portable corral and went racing over about 10 miles of mountainside before I was able to catch them at last with the help of the security staff at the mine complex that they got into! We passed along the perimeter of the same mine this time, and I was just grateful to be riding, not chasing them on foot (in my pajamas, even!).


riding along Twin Lakes

I rode out from our Mt. Massive camp today on Takoda, giving Shyla a break and letting him take over the trail duties. This was the last remaining bit of trail to get us back to the area near Winfield when I had to detour onto the CT after getting blocked by snow above Lake Anne. We headed south and wound around the shores of Twin Lakes, which I also passed on 2017 while riding the CT. We had a relatively short section planned today, although it got longer than I had anticipated when Takoda went AWOL after we stopped for a brief lunch break and I had to chase him as he cantered off in the wrong direction, determined to return to where he had left Shyla. Thankfully, another camper caught him about a mile later, but I was furious at him!

We were meeting Mom at the campground near the Crystal Creek reservoir on the road to Winfield, and she had a nice, big, level spot that even had some grazing. We talked about how impossible it would have been to find such a place in California at 6pm on the evening before a national holiday, especially located midway between two towns (Leadville and Buena Vista) near a lake. What a difference a state makes!


riding south to Mt. Massive trailhead

This was my first day back on the trail since completing the section through the San Juan mountains on the 28th. Since then the horses have had several rest days, although that doesn’t mean that I was taking it easy! On the 29th, we spent most of the day on the road, which wasn’t very restful for any of us; I packed up our camp at Lobo Overlook and drove south to Pagosa Springs to pick up the dogs from the kennel where they were boarded while my mother has been in Idaho, and then we all turned around and drove north to Leadville, where I stayed at an RV park (Sugar Loafin’) that kindly agreed to let me set up camp in an overflow area with the horses. On the 30th I enjoyed some of my favorite spots in town in Leadville, and then on Sunday, July 1st, I moved the horses to a new camping spot north of town, on FR 714 off of highway 24. I set up their corrals then unhitched the camper from the trailer and drove into Silverthorne to meet my cousin Cheryl and pick up my mother. Cheryl and her family live in Boulder, and she had driven my mother from the Denver airport where she flew in from Spokane after spending the past week at her parents. It was great to see Cheryl and her baby Thomas, who will be having his first birthday soon. He is a very happy, easy baby, and we all enjoyed a stroll along the river and then had a nice dinner in a restaurant by the water, before Cheryl and Thomas headed back to Boulder and Mom and I drove to our campsite with the horses, arriving about 10pm.

Leadville main street

Today I rode south again, skirting to the west of Leadville as I head back towards the area outside Winfield where I got blocked by snow and had to take an alternate on the Colorado Trail. I met my mother at the Mt. Massive trailhead area and camped along the road leading to the trailhead. Mt. Massive, as the name implies, is one of the big “fourteeners” that Colorado is so famous for, and I was concerned with the holiday coming up it might be a popular destination, which would possibly make finding a campsite big enough for our truck and trailer difficult, but we managed to find just enough space for the night.


Takoda keeps his balance on a steep slope

This was my last section in the San Juan mountains before I would arrive at Lobo Overlook in the Wolf Creek Pass area. It was a really gorgeous day. In the morning, the trail did a lot of climbing, which resulted in some amazing views.

Definitely this was my favorite stretch of the San Juans.

Then in the afternoon, I was focused on trying to get to Lobo overlook in good time, as I always get a little anxious (especially after Tuna Can got towed in New Mexico) when I am supposed to arrive at a rig had has been left behind at a trailhead.

But along the way I met some nice hikers and chatted with them about the trail. I also had to negotiate some downfalls along the way and still managed to get to the trailhead by 6pm where I was very glad to see camper and Bombshelter waiting for me.

I set up portable corral for the horses in the same place where my mother and I built it on June 9th and camped there for the night.


I covered only 23 miles day today, so not as long a ride as the last two days. But I had a tricky section of trail where we traversed a place called “knife’s edge” although it was not a true “knife” (with a drop-off on both sides). Instead, there was a wall on one side and a drop on the other, and the narrow track was hardest on Takoda because of his panniers. There wasn’t much room for him to safely walk without bumping against the rock wall on one side or getting too close to the ledge on the other.

The worst part was a couple of badly eroded areas with rock slides that the horses had to navigate over. One particularly bad one Takoda wouldn’t cross on his own, so I had to walk over it with Shyla, tie her up, then walk back to help Takoda get over. I was definitely relieved to get that part of the trail safely behind us.

Takoda on a narrow ridge of trail

We stopped for lunch not long afterwards and I let the horses graze while I cooked ramen noodles for myself. A very curious weasel kept poking out of the rocks to watch me!

curious weasel

A few miles later I ran into a CDT section hiker and asked about campsites ahead and he suggested some lakes just off trail where there were still some trees, which was helpful as I knew that highlining was going to be the hard part again since the trail was still so high. His suggestion was good (which doesn’t always happen when relying on others for info) and we got there about 7:30 and had a really beautiful sunset while the horses were grazing on another nice meadow.

a beautiful sunset


Today was another decently long day of 27 miles. We started off going past a couple of pretty lakes, then climbed some steep passes. The trail is not graded the same way as the PCT, so there are some steep climbs and drops.

Along this section the trail also fades to a faint path that looks as if it doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, maybe because it is so challenging. Every time we dropped below treeline there were always a lot of downfalls because of the huge number of dead trees as a result of the bark beetle infestation. The forest looks more like a collection of matchsticks than a typical healthy green forest, and that also creates lots of obstacles as the dead trees fall down.

When I got to camp around 8pm, it was by a couple of shallow oversized ponds, where it was hard to extract water because of being so shallow. I was hopping on rocks to get as far out as possible to where it was deep enough to actually fill the buckets with water for the horses. But there was lots of grass so the horses were happy grazing as I was out there struggling on their behalf! Highlining was a challenge again due to lack of trees, so space was a little cramped, but the horses are good together and made do with a more confined area.


still snow at the highest peaks

It was super cold overnight, so there were layers of ice on the horses’ water buckets in the morning, but the sun hit us first thing on our east-facing slope to help us thaw out.

I packed up camp and got on trail with 28 miles to cover today; this is the last section of trail in the San Juan mountains that is still part of CT and that I covered last year. After 20 miles, I left the CT, which continues on to Durango, and I was now on new trail on the CDT that I hadn’t traveled before.

I was supposed to camp at a lake, but the mosquitoes had been so bad at some stream crossings that I decided to avoid the lake and camped a half-mile early at a stream where there was some grass. It turned out to be a good decision because when I passed the lake later the next day, there was no grass at all. I outfitted the horses in their anti-mosquito netting and blankets and fly masks and some DEET for the night and that helps them rest and not constantly fight the bloodsuckers.


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