Smoke Signals

by Gillian Larson | posted: June 11, 2018

Today was my first overnight packing section since having my mother join us on the trail. The advantage of having someone come along to help re-supply the horses and me on our journey is being able to ride without having to carry a lot of gear and to switch horses in order to spare them excessive wear; riding 25-35 miles a day quickly takes its toll on the horses, and I usually have to schedule a couple of rest days every week, which also gives me the opportunity to go to feed stores or find a shoer when needed, etc. But it’s not always possible to find a suitable meeting point that someone driving a truck and trailer can access, so for the next two days I will be packing with the horses as I ride south from Elwood Pass to Cumbres Pass, near the Colorado/New Mexico border.

I also knew that the first few miles south of Elwood Pass were likely to be difficult to navigate, as there is a notorious ridge that accumulates snow and ice, even on low snow years such as this; I had heard from hikers who I met on the trail that there was still a considerable amount of snow lingering there, and that I might have to try to find a way to detour around the area to avoid it.

I have learned from difficult experience that residual snowpack poses a lot of dangers to horses, especially if they posthole through the surface crust, as you never know what lies beneath that layer of snow and ice. Hikers more often complain of slippery footing, which usually isn’t a problem for the horses; between their weight and the raised borium coating on their shoes, they usually don’t have a problem with losing their footing, only with falling through the snow or having it give way beneath them.

But I didn’t want to take any chances, and after getting to the trouble spot and looking it over, I found a workable detour through a lower valley that allowed me to miss it altogether. However, as I attempted to regain the trail, I encountered another snow wall blocking my way, and I had to make multiple attempts to find a way around it before I succeeded. So even my alternate path needed another alternate route in the end!

We continued the rest of the miles without any problem, and I camped at a small pond south of Blue Lake for the night as planned. The sky as we rode into camp was an eerie orange color due to smoke from a bad fire that is burning near Durango, CO. It is a long way away, but the smoke creates a threatening aura.


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