Since we were unable to locate a safe spot to leave our horses at Tuolumne Meadows I was going to have Virginia Pack Station haul us back and went to make the arrangements with Steve in the headquarter lodge. Steve suggested that we just leave from the pack station and told me we wouldn’t regret it as far as the scenery was concerned. So I went back and did a little trail route planning and off we headed towards Virginia Canyon. The trail we needed followed Return Creek but to get there we had to climb, descend and climb again. It was riding canyons in the truest sense with large gains and the same fall but the scenery was unspeakable.
There was on old cabin along the way and lovely lakes.
We met some hikers who were close to a confusing intersection and I was able to take a picture of their map and one happened to be a veterinary ophthalmologist! This turned out to be a very fortunate meeting since I had worried about Issy’s eyes since weeks ago an old horseman told me he would probably go blind. I jumped on the chance to ask the vet to look at Issy and tell me if the cauliflower like growths in his eyes were something to worry about. You know, she stopped her hike and examined his eyes telling me that he was normal and there wasn’t anything unusual in his eyes. She went on to describe that many horses had these and they were not the start of blindness! Trail magic again! I could look forward to many more years of Issy’s companionship! She took our camera and snapped a shot of both Emily and I and we gratefully passed them continuing to enjoy the scenery.
The footing however was really bad and I felt for the professional pack animals who travelled this rugged and torturous trail.
It was mostly rock with very little soft tread. The granite chewed up my Easy Boots and if I had known I could have used my Old Macs which have held up to this kind of punishment before (the lava fields of Oregon) but I had no idea as to just how abrasive the tread was. I wore through one boot in a few miles, tried to fix it, wore through another – fixed that and then I was using my only spare. It didn’t give me much confidence that I would be able to complete the next 45 miles with no spare boot and I was very nervous about the condition of Issy’s feet if I had to take him all the way with a bare foot or even worse. The trail was littered with metal shoes either worn out or just pulled off by the rocks. But the scenery was spectacular and Emily was able to sew one cuff back on a boot giving me 4 “Okay” boots again so I tried to settle down and enjoy my once in a life time travel through the canyons of Hoover Wilderness. Emily was able to even rivet one boot back together again giving me four again when a rock just plucked it right off of Issy’s foot but we pressed on. I have to mention that if were not for the huge drops and gain in elevation I would have turned around and went for my Old Macs but we made it to a lovely lake we thought was Miller Lake at the PCT (turned out to be Hobb Lake) and found graze and some very pleasant camp sites. The horses were hobbled and never took their heads up from the grass until we high lined them for the evening.
Today our goal was to get to Benson Lake which would mean going down Slide Canyon and over Benson Pass; again the trail was as challenging as before. The trail took us first into Matterhorn Canyon by driving us down with great gravitational force on a very steep grade of -8 and adding that to the very rough footing we led the horses with all 4 of us stumbling, torqueing and vaulting over and between the granite boulders. Issy’ s shoes continued to be a real issue, my knee was hurting with every step and I just wanted a way out but it was over 40 miles and I had no way to know if the rest of it was the same or worse! I tightened the brace I wore on my knee, whined a good bit to Emily but continued. We climbed over Benson Pass and then had to look forward to a -9.1grade descent! Into the Benson Lake basin we literally rolled, the surrounds were delightful but I was too distracted by the rough going to truly enjoy it. I was never so glad to get to the trail to the lake as it was level, sandy and with only dead fall to be concerned about. Luckily, a few days ago the trail crew cleared the path to the lake and our path was easily travelled. We decided to camp in a meadow not far from Piute Creek and did not go to the lake. The horses were extremely happy with lots of graze and we found a couple of tent sites one of which I was able to see Issy from my tent so I didn’t have to get up to check on him through the night.
In the morning as we packed up a Ranger came by to check on us. She told us that the lake had a fenced meadow for the horses and there were many sites overlooking the lake. I only wish we had taken the time to look but we were so tired when we got to Piute Creek we just didn't have the strength to go any further. She also said there was a trail which would get us out of the canyons in only 18 miles and she knew the trail to be much easier than what we covered the past two days. I was overjoyed to know that I had a possibility of getting Issy out without hurting him. So I wrote down the directions from her map and we headed over Seavy Pass to Kerrick Meadows following Kerrick Canyon.
What a wonderful reprieve from the past two days of punishing travel! The trail was mostly sand, passing between two mountains along a grand valley with Robinson Creek in the middle offering water whenever we needed it. The elevation seemed fixed at basically level and trees lined the canyon floor to offer us shade occasionally. This was heaven!
We travelled for hours along the basin and enjoyed every minute stopping for the evening on a rock hidden mesa overlooking the creek which had graze for the horses.
Our secluded camp spot was perfect and Kerrick Meadows gets the “Gold Star” from me! We covered 9.8 miles and only had a little less than 9 miles to get to Twin Lakes.
I wanted to check on the location of our trailers and they hadn’t been moved so Virginia Lakes Packing again helped us by moving them right to Twin Lakes. That is one group of fine people! www.virginialakes.com
I might mention that when we came out of the canyon we dropped in elevation of about 3, 000’ but the switch backs and fairly easy footing made it acceptable horse travel letting us stop for lunch; Chaco ran off again, thank goodness I had Issy on the lead and Emily quickly caught him.
The first of Twin Lakes stayed in view for most of the descent and we again enjoyed our travel. Arriving at Mono Village (the area where the first Twin Lake is) we were able to have a great hamburger and then trailered out to Willow Spring RV Park to let the horses enjoy a small fenced paddock.
September 5, 6
We stayed an additional day: did laundry and updated the web site.
We moved my trailer to Minden and left it at a horse farm just off the highway after leaving the horses at Leavitt Meadows Pack Station. They allowed us to use a grassy paddock for a few hours until we could get back and then travelled up to Sonora Pass (climbing a 26% grade in the process.) Our plan was to camp close and then ride to Ebbetts Pass where we had previously placed a cache.