We drove up to Horseshoe Meadows to leave my rig and met with Dennis Winchester who owns Cottonwood Pack Station. He is a genuine classy cowboy with all the wonderful attributes one would expect from someone so sincere. He updated us on the water on the next section we were to ride and gave us information on graze as well. I mentioned that I had a problem with Denica and Brian Brewer at Lone Pine Pack station and they didn’t fulfill their obligation to me after I gave them a good bit of money. Dennis was surprised and told me that they weren’t out of business as I had suspected so I decided to try to see them when we got to Kearsarge Pass where their pack station was. (That’s another story, but don’t do any business with them!) We got down from the mountain and drove Emily’s trailer and the horses to Walker Pass where we would start this section in the morning.
The horses had corrals but it was way too hot for them with no shade so we high-lined them under some ancient trees and I set my tent right off to the side of Issy. I got in the habit of being close when we traveled alone and I wanted Issy to know I was right there. Chaco has been such a great example for him, standing and even sleeping on the high line. Both horses were relaxed and calm.
I was up all night with the horses! Finally at 1:30 I moved them back to the corrals, gave them hay and went back to bed. I remembered that the last time I was at Walker Pass I saw a cat or some such and Issy wouldn’t rest then either. I wondered if that wasn’t the problem again but I didn’t have any evidence to back that up.
We got up and were on the trail by 8:30 to ride the 13 miles planned which was all up! It was hot and dusty and I was ready for another tree which stopped me last year, but it wasn’t there. In fact I could even find where it had been. The horses didn’t get a bit of water for the whole trip except what we put in their noon snack until we got to Joshua Spring.
We pulled off the trail and Issy literally powered his way down to the spring. It was a great little area with a water trough, large old growth trees and a few good tent spots.
Unfortunately, we found where a horseman had tied his horses to the trees and left a big mess with no regard for the Leave No Trace ethic the rest of us so dearly adhere to and we were so disappointed to find the place violated like that.
We had gone from 5,200’ to over 7,000’ and the horses rested well.
18 miles of lovely trail allowed us to enjoy the rock formations, elevation change, scenery and mostly good tread.
The only real issue was water and we found it just south of Canebrake Road by Chimney Peak Campground. I was later told that the faucets in the campground were working in the back of the campground but didn’t know it at the time when Emily rode up to the campground and found the front faucets not working.
We managed hauling water from the small creek where someone had built a rock path over it.
Again we found that a horseman had tied his horses (4) to trees instead of high lining them and they did severe damage again. There was little to do about the bark eaten off of the trees but Emily did fill in the dug out spots. What a shame and a poor showing for horsemen in general. It only takes one like this to cause conscience horsemen to get a bad reputation.
We high lined our horses and settled in for the night.
We trekked 22.8 miles getting water from Fox Spring where there was a water trough and within a ¼ mile found great graze and wish we had known so we could have camped there.
Fox Spring was to be the last water source until we got to the South Fork of the beautiful Kern River. We allowed for this by carrying a small amount of water for the horses and wetting their noon snack. We pushed up to a summit where the trail wasn’t clear but I recognized that the PCT wouldn’t travel far on any roads and we backtracked to the correct trail as it dropped off the summit at 8,020’.
We watched the valley and dirt road for miles as we switched back too many times to count and finally got to Manter Creek hoping to find water, but of course the creek was dry and there were signs where cows scoured the creek bed for any pools of water. We pushed on and started to head into a treed area where the possibility of finding water increased.
Finally, in the distance Emily saw a glimmer of water reflection and she wanted to immediately leave the trail to get the horses water but I insisted that the trail would come up close to the river and it could be even closer to us then the far off tarn. My guess was right and after over 12 miles of no water we were rewarded with a beautiful, grass lined river. The cows were there as well and looked like they found a long term grazing paradise along the river. From here we were just a few miles from Kennedy Meadows and the General Store where I knew we could camp. The trail became mired in deep sand and silt from a recent rain and we hoped and prayed that the footing hold and not be a sink hole so close to finishing the day. The brush whipped the horses but they must have felt the day was almost over and pushed on. Finally, we stepped up on the macadam road and went straight to the Kennedy Meadows General Store where we had stored our resupply. Along the way I looked out to the right and saw Tom Figueroa and his Hikers Place. I waved and Tom waved back but didn’t wave us to come over. I guessed that he might have changed his policy about having horses and since I didn’t have any phone reception I didn’t get his return call telling us to count on his place for a few days rest. About 15 minutes after we had started to unpack the horses Tom showed up with two trucks and help to move us over to his place. What a relief to know that Issy and Chaco would have a corral and shade for a day or two.
It turned out that both Emily and I were able to have our own mini-cabins with beds and counters and even sinks (but no running water.)
I couldn’t have been more comfortable and once Emily realized the relaxed atmosphere at Tom’s she decided it was well worth moving our stuff a second time.
I have to tell you about Tom: he is a big grizzly bear of a guy but with a heart of gold. He saw to every concern we had and as the next few days unwrapped his kindness was what saved our trip.
As I have come to expect on the PCT when I needed help the most people just somehow appeared and problems were solved by their generosity and kindness. The next few days showed this over and over as people stepped up to help us with all kinds of little and big traumas we had.
Today was to be a layover or “zero” day as the hikers call it. A day to wash, shower and relax and our timing was perfect since the General Store was having Cowboy Night with a live band and dinner.
We realized that we had dropped our black feed hauling bag I had made for this type of long trips and I was concerned that we would have to use feed bags or some such to carry all the feed needed so I asked around if there was a hiker who might be interested in going back along the trail we covered yesterday to try to find it. My thoughts were that it would be easy to find and probably wasn’t too far out. “Paint” a “zeroing” hiker said he could use the workout and the money I offered so off he went in hopes of finding the bag. I let Paint know that we intended to leave out in the morning and hoped he would be back by the time we left. I washed my clothes and hung them to dry on the line at camp (no one had driers since the entire area was off the grid and everyone was either solar or on generators.) I was looking forward to enjoying the music and knew that my cloud of “Ode du Susan” would not be objectionable. Well, it rained and it rained and my only jeans were absolutely soaked. That was sad enough but became more serious when I realized that they wouldn’t dry before morning and the morning temps were in the high 30’s. It looked like Cowboy Night was off for me since I didn’t have anything to wear and as I stewed around Tom showed up with a pair of his old coveralls…..well, I’m big but this Tom guy is a very big man, but as I wanted to go listen to music and just be around some people I pulled on the coveralls and my blue down vest and sashayed up to the General Store. You know what? I was asked to dance…..right off the bat! Me in those huge coveralls would have been quite a scene on the dance floor so I declined but it sure made me feel better and accepted even though I was dressed like someone out of the Depression. The music was “Cowboy Wonderful” and the conversations I had were amusing. Emily and I met a couple of delightful gals who had aspirations to travel the John Muir trail and they became our new found friends. Later that evening Tom lit his small stove in his “Internet Café” trailer and suggested that I go hang my jeans there…sure enough they were dry and toasty in the morning!
Earlier in the day Tom took Emily to pick up her trailer at Walker Pass and move it to Boulder Creek RV below Horseshoe Meadows so we could move it later to Kearsarge Pass where we intended to pull of the trail some 90 miles on. This was an all-day affair and many miles of travel for both of them with me being so very happy to just sit, wash and watch the horses. Issy and Chaco ate the top quality hay Tom went and procured for us and both horses started to look much better and seemed full and satisfied.
We had placed a resupply in Tom’s pickup since he and a couple of hikers were going to camp out at our next campsite. This would mean that the horses didn’t have to carry so much over the next grueling miles that raced up to almost 8,400’ in no time to get to Monache Meadows.
The riding was delightful but the horses just wanted to turn around and go back to Tom’s place. We guessed that the appealing hay and comfortable paddock made a big impression on them. We rode 16 miles and when we pulled into camp Tom and Cush and Paint were already set up with their tents.
There was some nice grass along the Kern River so we let the horses drag their lead ropes and eat while we chatted about the trail. I kept checking the horses and within an instant THEY WERE GONE! How could I have been so trusting to think that they would stay when we fought with them all day not to turn around and head to Tom’s. We all scattered to try to find where they were and Emily found their tracks ……you guessed it…going right back down the trail towards Tom’s. I hurried up to the trail and caught sight of them about 2 miles out. Paint followed me and promised to continue in case I needed him. Such a nice fellow, he had walked 15 miles this morning to try to get back to us since he found our feed bag and now here he was agreeing to walk more to try to gather the horses. I literally ran and called to Issy, who heard me but it was Chaco who stopped and I thought that I had them. Well, no, Issy circled around Chaco and basically herded him south on down the trail. I walked for 5 miles that night with no water, light or anything so I had to turn around when darkness forced me to reexamine my travel. Thank goodness Paint followed and had a head lamp so we stumbled back until Emily caught up with us with some water and her own headlamp. I was devastated, having heard first- hand about horses lost forever in the Sierra and I knew I would spend months looking for those two hooligans! Only snow could stop me from my search. We got back to camp and I just fell into my tent exhausted with the intent of getting up and walking the entire 16 miles tracking Issy and Chaco; at least I would know where they left the trail and where we would have to start a bigger search. Paint said he would hike back with me and Emily would ride back in Tom’s rig and start the search from his place. It wasn’t a good sleeping night!
We gathered up our gear and Emily, Cush and Tom carried the saddles and all the equipment to Tom’s truck which he was able to move a good bit closer than the 1.5 miles we had to go yesterday to retrieve it. Paint and I headed back down the trail following the drag lines all along the way. Often there were lush meadows but those two horses continued right past all of them, once through a locked gate by way of breaking the adjoining barbed wired fence and past all of the good water sources. It just didn’t make sense to me that they would march on and not stop to eat or drink. But mile after mile the drag ropes channeled in the sandy soil with one set of big hoof prints (Chaco) and a set of smaller ones (Issy) along side. It was hard to tell who was in front but often it was Chaco and then it was Issy. 12 miles back we all knew there were gates and fences they absolutely couldn’t get through and my hopes were that Emily would find them before they worked the fence lines and got off track too far. My emotions were at the edge as Issy and I had established a partnership several years ago and I just knew that my trail days would never be the same if I didn’t find him. Paint pushed on with me but I was aware that he had to be worn out and when he tried to stop even for a few minutes I just couldn’t. Finally, Paint pulled off his shoes and his feet looked like swiss cheese with so many blisters and hot spots. I don’t know how he was able to continue but he did until we got to a lovely creek with inviting swimming holes. Paint immediately jumped in dunking his entire body from head to toe, I just couldn’t enjoy the scenic boulder strewn creek so I continued on leaving Paint to cool his feet, rest and relax. I trucked on up over the creek bridge and on down the trail running on only adrenaline and worried emotion. I slowed my pace so Paint could catch up but just couldn’t stop my feet from moving…Issy was missing and I just kept blinking my eyes to hold back the tears. Finally, I saw the gate I knew the two horses would have to turn at and thank goodness, Emily had the two offenders and had left a note saying they were safe in Tom’s pasture and they even left us a vehicle to ride the last 4 miles back. I handed the note to Paint with swells in my eyes and we both joyfully drove back to Tom’s.
We took the day off and reiterated our stupidity. Issy and Chaco were again enjoying that very lush hay which I think started the whole “We want to go back to Tom’s” in the first place.
The past two days were catching up with me with my feet, hips and knees extremely painful I really didn’t want to go back for the third time over the trail to Monache Meadows so we agreed to haul to Horseshoe Meadows and ride south the 20 miles we were missing. This all day hauling took us to cooler temperatures and the campground had safe corrals along with water. We arrived and tacked up so we could take a short ride south out to Trail Pass Trail.
It was a steep climb and I felt like it was pay back to Issy for causing me so much anguish!
We lulled around during the morning and then rode back to Trail Pass to ride to Mulky Meadows but the horses were winded and the elevation was over 10,000’ so we headed back after trying to get through the PCT between Trail Pass and Cottonwood Pass.
There were trees down and it looked like the F/S hadn’t cleared any of the trail so we again turned back. I just wasn’t up to fighting an uncleared trail for a day ride.
We got back and decided to take Emily’s trailer to Kearsarge Pass at Onion Valley so it would be there for our resupply. I was able to speak with Danica and Brian Brewer about the deposit I paid them and didn’t get any service in return. They agreed to bring our resupply to Tyndall Meadows so we wouldn’t have to carry so much. I was suspicious but pleased they were trying to make it right.
We spent one more day letting the horses acclimate and headed to Cottonwood Lakes for a day ride. The views were incredible but the footing was rough and very difficult for the horses.
They worked very hard, struggling to climb over boulders and up granite steps so we finally called it quits not getting to our goal of one of the lakes. Tomorrow would be hard enough on them so we headed back.
We got up and packed, moved my trailer to the overflow area, said goodbye to Dennis Winchester of Cottonwood Pack and headed out for Kearsarge Pass a 4 or 5 day trip.
We traveled to over 11,300’ and worked our way to Siberian Pass and Rock Creek where we initially had planned to camp, but when I called Burton on my daily call he told me the packer would not be able to meet us (as I had felt all along) and we would not have our feed for the horses as planned.
Emily felt we should continue on and try to add half a day mileage and try to get to Kearsarge in less time. We were lucky and found a great small camping area at Crabtree Meadows with lots of graze and water at just the right time. The horses grazed and then we high lined them for the evening. They were quiet and peaceful for the night.
We gathered our tack and headed out early with our intended camp at Tyndall Creek around Shepherd Pass. This would put us at the base of Forester for the following day and it was exactly where we should be for the horses sake.
The trail started to climb and rose to the Whitney junction with lots of gain and was very scenic but was sandy and it gave the Easy Boots Issy was wearing a fit. I had to stop several times to remove the packed sand and small pebbles only to have them accumulate in short order. It was easy to tell when Issy had sand because he slowed to a crawl.
There were remnants of old trees some twisted in odd shapes and many had little bark to sustain their sap.
The terrain was high desert and there was little water. We arrived at Tyndall Creek early in the afternoon and made camp at a lovely campsite with water and graze.
The big deal today was to get over Forester Pass and camp at Vidette Meadows. I was thrilled to finally get to ride famous Forester Pass- the highest point on the PCT at 13,180'.
It was only 5 miles to Forester from Tyndall but it was some of the most scenic so far. There were lakes, views of far mountains and canyons and the wall of rock where the pass had been blasted from the granite wall crevice.
We found several resting spots and let the horses snack then we headed up. Emily led the way with Chaco just pulling forward. Can you see the trail?
Yes, that thread about 2/3's up on the right of the picture!
We had to stop several times to let the horses catch their breath and each time Emily shouted upward to let any hikers know that we were coming with horses.
The tread was narrow and if hikers came it would be difficult. We only had two hikers and we passed by both without incident. Pulling up the last three switch backs was tight with no room for error but the horses did fine and we were rewarded at the pinnacle by several hikers who quietly cheered us. These hikers were enjoying the same feelings of accomplishment of bagging Forester!
But, with so little room for people let along horses we had to move right on and so off the other side of Forester we went dropping immediately thousands of feet in just a few miles!
The trail going down was sandy and much easier and there were views of green trees pulling up forward.
I had hopes of finding Vidette Meadows lush and good grazing for the horses.
Within 7 miles we arrived at Vidette Meadows and indeed we found graze and Bubb’s Creek so we stealth camped with the horses enjoying tender and moist grass.
Hating to leave Vidette Meadows we packed up after some hikers gave us a little gas to heat up our coffee/tea. We in turn gave them our emergency blankets because they were complaining about being cold and we knew they would be even colder at the next few camps.
We headed to Kearsarge Pass but took the first trail marked and it turned out to be the one restricted against stock travel. I realized our error but only after we were at Frog Lakes and I felt it would be just as much damage to turn around so we went on being careful to stay on the trail and tried not to disturb the area. We finally joined the correct trail just before Kearsarge Pass and switch backed our way to about 11,000’. The trail to Kearsarge was very rough and the trail down to Onion Valley was twice as bad with boulders, rocks and rough footing. The trail was very popular, with many hikers and I would not recommend this as a resupply point since you would lose so much elevation and then have to gain it back to get on the PCT again. Issy seemed to know that we were ending the trail at the base and travelled fast and purposefully right until we got to Emily’s trailer!
We spent 2 nights at Boulder Creek RV Camp so we could do laundry and catch up on the web site. The horses had the same corrals and rested pretty well considering the huge bugs trying to bite them.
We drove to Virginia Lakes Pack Station when I failed to make any contacts for the horses at Tuolumne Meadows. This proved to be a great place where the horses had a large pen and lots of horse neighbors.
At first we were going to have them drive us back to Hwy 120 and drop us off at Tuolumne but after discussing it with Steve and Nick we decided to leave right from the pack station and they would move our trailers to Sonora Pass for us. Perfect…so we went to sleep me in my trailer and Emily in the pack station’s base camp tent.
At about 3 AM I heard a noise but couldn’t see anything so I just went back to sleep.
Up at 5, I walked around Emily’s truck to go give the horses some hay and I found her rear vision mirror on the ground and then the alarms went off.
Her whole driver side window was torn out and broken and the front seat was littered with scrapes of her groceries she purchased on our way here. A bear had broken in, eaten all the food and basically messed up the front seat. Luckily he didn’t tear up the seat but it was sure a mess and he left his prints on her door as he climbed in!