We pushed on to Carter Meadows and arrive at about 2. Carter Meadows at 6300’ outside of Etna, California had the Back Country Horsemen’s gathering and we are members of this unit (Top of the State) so we joined in lending a hand clearing brush and enjoying meeting some great people! Burton would have company for a few days as I rode off with John Lyons the team leader. John told me I wasn’t getting very far over these mountains because of all the snow. I was disheartened but felt I might still get through since Issy was such a special horse. John must have seen the perseverance in my face so he suggested we ride out to the first bad snow section so I could see for myself. Tomorrow we would finally ride the PCT!
Saddled up and was riding out at about 9:30. John rode his big chestnut mule and led one with the pack tools. We headed up the PCT and covered the mileage in short order to arrive at a crest where the manzanitas had over taken the trail. John wanted to clear that spot since we were there anyway.
We tied the animals to the bushes and John led me over the crest to look at the trail where the snow was covering it. I have to say that the amount of snow and the precarious location on the wall of a granite cliff made me immediately rethink that Issy and I could pass through such a barrier. The snow was about 6 feet deep, 50 feet wide and just hung over the cliff leaving the 3 foot wide trail location to one’s imagination. Well, not me! Even though you could see where the hikers had risked the cliff drop off by walking on the edge of the snow, a horse would immediately drop through and onto rocks at best or nothing and fall down the cliff for several hundred feet. No, I was not that brave or fool hearty. We would have to wait. So we cleared brush for a while, had lunch and headed back to camp covering about 14 miles.
The Back Country Horsemen left today leaving Burton and I with only one other camper. John had mentioned that Burton would enjoy Hidden Lake and since it was only a mile and half walk we decided to walk with me leading Issy in case the trail was too tasking for Burton. The trail started out on a modest rise but quickly took our breath away. We walked for a short time and then had to rest for several minutes to slow our hearts down. It was a serious climb but well worth the effort.
The lake was pristine, shadowed by mountains and fed by a mountain run off of melting snow. Issy thought we had forgotten about riding him and happily munched bits of grass and drank from the ice cold lake.
So nice to be able to share Hidden Lake with Burton!
Today the ride was to be just exploratory in nature. We headed out to Trail Gulch Trail and were able to find the trail head in short order with a great down hill ride from the group camp all the way to Trail Gulch. The trail head had minimal parking but we could have gotten the trailer there if we really needed to. Since we were so comfortable at Carter Meadows we only wanted to move if necessary. The footing was mostly rock but well defined and wide enough to skirt the larger boulders. We came to a great meadow with a creek running through and lots of graze which Issy refused to pass.
It was basically a canyon with tall mountains all both sides. The trail went up and headed to Trail Gulch Lake but we fell short by about a quarter of mile with me turning around to head back knowing my next ride would be the loop from Long Gulch to Trail Gulch.
I was able to find the trail going from the group camp at Carter Meadows right to Long Gulch which saved us a tedious road ride (not to mention dusty.) Crossing the road we headed south west climbing rough rocks, passing through many downed trees where the trail was opened by the Back Country Horsemen. Some of the trees were so large I understand that they cut them and then rolled that section to the side of the trail with pry bars, hours of work but well worth the effort for riders who want to just enjoy the scenery and not have to worry about getting around large dead fall.
We soon found a lovely meadow but I urged Issy on since I didn’t know if the trail would be passable the entire way since the trail crew couldn’t get through because of snow which was higher up on the canyon wall. The footing was rugged but Issy had seen much worse and didn’t hesitate to pull forward.
We came to a small pond and I was disappointed to think this was Long Gulch Lake.
Of course, it wasn’t and we came to a lovely lake with snow cascading down the canyon wall into it.
There was a few hikers camped there so I asked where the trail went from the lake and they told me it went directly across a sensitive marsh at the other side of the lake.
I found it incredible that the path wasn’t diverted around the wet area but I guess the minimal use keep the impact from destroying the run off. We quickly climbed switch back after switch back leaving the lake below. The trail crew hadn’t gotten this far since there were a few downed trees but Issy gave little awareness as to their existence and just moved upward. Finally, we got to some snow and I had to dismount to see if we could safely pass. Since riding off the trail would be difficult in the big rocks I opted to lead him right over the snow. He followed as if this was just a normal trail impediment and never missed a step. We crested at a nice saddle so I gave Issy lunch with Shanty trying to pick up the scraps causing Issy to try to chase her away and knock me down. Now that may not seem like a big deal but we were on a narrow saddle and a fall in the wrong direction could have been fatal. Finall, we moved on over to the south side of the ridge and followed the trail along the side of the mountain crossing diagonally under the cover of trees. The scenery was superb and we only had one small tree trunk overhanging the trail to contend with. Coming off the mountain we headed to Trail Gulch Lake and were rewarded with another lovely lake clear enough to see the bottom. The mountain shadows in the lake made the scene post card perfect.
We headed out to ride the 4 or so miles home and enjoyed some graze time in the canyon floor before we travelled back up to camp.