by Laura Crum
And yes, I saw that old movie. But today’s post is about my own vacation last week (with horses) in the high Sierra of California and the nearby Glass Mountains (we were 8000—9000 feet high, to be exact). We had a wonderful time—and a few adventures. But adventures, once they are successfully completed, are part of what make a wonderful time. So here’s my story.
First off, I was a bit dubious about this trip. My son wanted to ride to a Sierra lake and camp with his horse, Henry (we had done pack trips on rented horses to lovely Sierra lakes, but it just isn’t the same as going with your own horse). The problem is that my son’s horse, Henry, though healthy, sound, and still pretty darn capable, is 24 years old. I am the veteran of many, many mountain pack trips, and I have seen first-hand how stressful they can be on older horses, or for that matter, young horses. It’s a combination of things. We live on the coast, and the horses are not used to altitude, the rides on pack trips tend to be longer than the horses are accustomed to, the horses often have to be tied at night, the hauling to get there can be hard on them…etc. I have seen many horses colic due to stress, and though I have treated this myself—with Banamine—successfully in every case I was involved with, it is very worrying when a vet is simply not available. I have seen other horses get hurt in the rocks—sometimes badly hurt. Never my own horses (thank goodness), but I am careful. I know the dangers. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt, or God forbid kill, my son’s healthy older horse by taking him to the mountains.
But we had a unique opportunity. Our friend Bill had recently purchased a house on forty acres in the Glass Mountains (a small range on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California) that was twenty miles from any other dwelling. Surrounded by National Forest. Absolutely lovely. And he was willing to put up corrals for our horses and let us camp there. So Henry could have space to move around at night, rather than be tied, and we could do short day rides from a base camp, rather than longer pack trips. I thought it could work.
I asked knowledgeable friends for advice (thanks, Aarene), I listened to my gut, and eventually I decided it was a go. So last week we hauled my horse, Sunny, my son’s horse, Henry, and our friend/boarder’s horse, Twister, eight hours, through Yosemite and over Tioga Pass, to the Glass Mountains, just east of the Sierra Nevada, and just south of Mono Lake, to ride and camp in the high country. And it was a blast.
I have to admit, the haul was hard. Tioga is sort of scary coming down. A LOT of exposure. But we made it just fine. And put the horses into their (very nice) corrals around four o’clock. Here they are.
The next day I got up and fed at sunrise.
And then, after breakfast, we rode away from the corrals, on pleasant sandy roads, for a seven mile loop, through lovely, wide open country. There were aspen groves and meadows and stretches of sagebrush and big pine forests. There were dramatic views of the Sierras and Mono Lake. We never saw another human being the whole ride. We did see deer and hawks and jackrabbits. Here we are—tiny horsemen in a big landscape.
Sunny looks out at the eastern range of the Sierra Nevada.
The next day we rode into the Sierra Nevada Mountains on a trail that had been recommended to me as “easy” to a lovely lake. Well, it was mostly easy. It ran through chapparel and then climbed a bit to follow a pretty creek through aspen and pines to a gem of a high Sierra lake called Parker Lake. There was just one small problem. The part where it climbed a bit? That part included a truly severe and very tricky hundred feet of steep trail in loose rock with a lot of exposure. Not good.
I’ve been on many mountain pack trips and have ridden my horse through some rock slides. But I was younger then, and I was riding an immensely strong, athletic horse named Flanigan. Now I am riding the clunky, if level-headed Sunny, and providing a lead for my young son on 24 year old Henry. I didn’t want to ride down any rock slides.
I don’t mind steep, if there’s no rock and no exposure, and I don’t mind rock, if it’s not steep and there’s no exposure. I don’t mind exposure if the trail is level and not rocky. But this was a steep bit of trail, with lots of loose rock, and a sheer drop down a couple of hundred feet to a canyon on one side. LOTS of exposure.
Still, Wally and my kid insisted we could get up it, so I rode on, and up we scrambled. We all made it just fine, though my son admitted it was scary. The trouble was (which I wasn’t forgetting) that we had to come back down.
The rest of the way in to the lake the trail was just lovely. Level and easy, running through chapparel, aspen and pines, and along the bank of a pretty creek where the horses could drink.
The trail to the lake.
Sunny at the creek.
Finally we reached Parker Lake.
Parker Lake and the high Sierra.
And then we had to come back. I will confess that I was thinking about that steep, rocky bit of trail quite a bit of the time as I rode back, and wondering what to do. I know lots of people would have gotten off and led their horse and I did tell my son that we could do this. But my son said firmly that if Henry could walk down it then he could ride him down it. “Believe it and you can achieve it, Mama.” Well, OK then.
Hoping I was being a responsible adult by letting my kid make his own choice, I put my faith in Henry—and it was not misplaced. My horse, Sunny, balked a bit when faced with the rocky drop off (I could read his mind—“I don’t want to go down here”), and stumbled once, but calm, unflappable critter that he is, we still made it down through the rocks unscathed, though my heart was in my mouth. Henry, on the other hand, never put a foot wrong. He made it look easy. My son rode quietly and competently, and they came down with no trouble. I was so proud. Twister scrambled a little, but did OK.
Of course, I do not have pictures of this cause I was way too busy/scared to take photos. (I never have photos of any of the slightly exciting moments on our rides--for the above reason.) But after the bad spot, I took a few more.
Twister and Henry coming out of the high country.
Lovely view of Mono Lake on the ride out.
Here we are back at our camp in Sagehen Meadow. Wally and Twister, me and Sunny, my kid and Henry.
We had a wonderful trip. Rode every day, not long rides, about a couple of hours. Just right for us. The weather was lovely, the country spectacular. The horses, Henry included, did great, and really seemed to enjoy being there. They walked with their ears up the whole way and about one mile an hour faster than their usual gait. It was fun. I’m so grateful, and so glad we did it. I did have one negative experience, but I’ll save that for another post.
So, sorry for the perhaps boring travelogue, but I did enjoy our trip to the mountains very much and wanted to share it. I hope you all are having a lovely summer as well. Cheers—Laura