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[pct-l] Echo Lake to Toulome on Horseback(long)

Just spent 12 days riding from Echo Lake to Toulome.  Special Thanks go to
Ralph Looney and to Don Bennett who were my companions and mentors(might
include horse companions Ben, Maverick, Thunder and Soxie who did a lot of
the work).  Ralph plans to finish the PCT next year in his 50th year of
riding this trail, He was the "peach man" who supplied me with the most
delicious peach I have ever eaten (at Humboldt summit last year on my
thruhike).  Every year, he helps keep a 30 mile stretch of the PCT open. 
Don Bennett spends the majority of his year volunteering for trail
maintenance in Pete Fish's territory which is the first 700 miles of the
PCT in S. Cal, and he has probably worked on much of this 700 miles. I feel
that the time and faithful dedication to trail maintenance of these two
volunteers is to be lauded above all else.

Trailering a Horse for a 1000 miles(one way), in hot weather, with a V6
engine, when you're a real greenhorn, and you've got a horse that paws in
the trailer(went thru the metal casing) and tends to bolt when he gets out,
can be a real adventure in itself.

Well, what I remember about the area North of the Toulume was that it was
the roughest on the PCT, and that it is nicknamed the "washboard" - a very
rough trail, not graded to the PCT standards, plunging in and soon out of
the Toulome, Cold, Virginia, Matterhorn, Wilson, Piute, Kerrick,
Stubblefield, Tilden, and Falls Creek Canyons.  Ralph did not believe that
it would be as rough as the high Sierras South of there where he had a real
problem with his horseshoes.  The extreme rockiness caused the shoes nails
to break of metal fatigue.  My experience of the high Sierras was 2 months
earlier and much of it under snow, so I felt that my experience of these
two areas might not be comparable to his.(He later described this part of
the trail as "treacherous" for a horse -or person leading a horse, and
thinks that mules may be a better choice for this area)  

The most terrifying experience for me on the PCT last year was trying to
cross Kerrick Creek Canyon, Even at 5 in the morning, there was enough
water coming down the canyon, to make it the worst experience of the year
for me(the Kings was a close second except that I was able to find a log
that went most of the way accross that stream).  I was anxious to match
last years end of June walk with a late August ride, and my first on the

And how does memory work?The most poignant places , the photos in my
mind,it turns out were asssociated either was a strong experience(trying to
cross the rivers, sudden vistas at passes, walking thru an "alley" and
suddenly coming on a lake, expanses of polished granite, big waterfalls),
or with where I stopped for something or there was an "event" with a
person.  I could point out every place where  a message had been left,
where I had stopped for water, for a nature call, for lunch, for a
converstion, or for the night.  I knew the exact spots where I was passed
by Troubadour, by Jason, by others.  Without looking for them, I knew all
the places where I had taken photos,and I recognized each of the spots
where I had last seen Smokey, Heiko, and Dawn.(I would follow their
progress North in other ways.). I remembered the whole trail and could
usually tell Ralph what was coming next.  Sometimes my memory would do a
mix and match thing - and I would have very keen memories but they would be
in the wrong place (Were all those stream crossings near Benson Lake or
were they in Stubblefield?).  Still, because I was going North to South
this time, it often seemed like new country. Most of the wildflowers were
gone, as were all but a few snowpatches, and the water sources were
frequently dry or so low as to lose their beautiful pools and mysterious
depths.  The very rock that I had attempted to cross twice last year in
Kerrick Creek, that I had stood thigh deep on and on which the current
pushed me from one end to the other, was out of the water! the GRANDEUR was
certainly gone from every creek that I crossed.  Nobody can really know
these creeks unless they see them in June when they are entirely whitewater
and with a roar that puts fear in your heart.

From Echo Lake we started slowly - about 10 miles a day and worked up to
the last day into Toulome which was rough trail and 20 miles of it.  Ben
wore though his hind shoes in this 150 miles to the extent that the outside
nails were gone and he was only keeping the shoes on with the inside nails.
 I had him shod coming to and from the trip: the farrier was impressed with
the amount of wear on that short of distance.  He had previously shod a
horse for the 100 mile Tevis cup, and said that that race produced 
relatively little wear compared to the 150 miles Ben had covered.

Ralph and Don had a Pack horse for most of their duds.  I had made 3 packs
for Ben and carried a base pack weight of about 30 pounds in 2 pommel bags
and one Cantle bags. Add 3-4 pounds of horse and human feed per day.  We
were resupplied at Ebbetts and Sonora Passes(3 and 6 days respectively) 
The bags were made from Spectra cloth (Kevlar and very white) with zippered
closures, and survived encounters with trees,  chewing by other horses,
relentless rubbing on trees, and even a dust roll on the ground (Ben
decided to roll, saddle and all, during the  lunch break of the last day). 
Because Ben was often carrying about 220 lbs, I would frequently walk on
the downhill or where the trail was very rough. A few days I walked as much
as I rode.  Inthe end, his back was not sore, not did he get sore footed,

I am still thinking about doing the trail with a single horse.  Not to have
a pack animal decreases the margin of comfort and saftey, but it also makes
it a lot simpler and perhaps in some ways more safe (frequently it is one
of the pack animals that balks or goes a different direction in an awkward
situation that causes a problem).  Can this be done without major support
at every crossroads?  I have evolved this strategy mostly out of the fact
that I only have one horse.  But it is beganning to hold a certain
facination for me.  Still, I am casting about for a good mule, and am
finding that as difficult as it is trying to find a good horse, it is even
more difficult to find a really good mule.

So the crux right now for me is weight. I am using the exact 15 pounds of
pack weight riding as I did packing (I even wore the same clothes and shoes
as last summer), the other 15 pounds is for the horse  I shaved 8 pounds
off my saddle by taking off the western style stirrups and replacing them
with deep endurance style ones(more comfortable), making fenders out of
blue foam and covering them with packcloth, and using1 and 1/2 inch
biothane instead of leather to attach the stirrups to the tree.  I made a
horse sheet (for warmth and wind protection), 2 buckets, and a feed bag out
of Tyvek Housewrap (Dupont).  So far ,after 3 weeks of use, the closures on
the sheet have held up (I put them on with contact cement, you can't really
sew this stuff), and the sheet has kept Ben warm during windy freezing
nights - it weighs 1 lb. The added benefit is that it is very easy to see
and find him with a white sheet on.  There is a small tear on one rump
where he perpetually rubs it on any tree or object that he can find.  One
of the buckets I use nightly to soak Beet pulp for his morning feed.  One
has to see it to believe how much water this stuff soaks up.  It is the
heaviest feed with the most nuitrients that I could find without being
mostly carbohydrates (I have a tough enough time getting this horse to walk
with out giving him more "hot" grain).  When I get into camp, and the
horses are out grazing, I start to cut grass after I get settled down and
often when my dinner is cooking or cooling. I fill up my small tyvek feed
bag with about 5-10 lbs of grass cut with my Leatherman knife.  This takes
about 30 minutes.  I had noticed on other trips with a hay bag that much of
his eating is done in the middle of the night. But in the mountains, he is
tied all night without feed  So I get up in the middle of the night and
feed him this hay.  This has raised eyebrows on every horseperson I have
been with.

I have learned a lot cutting this grass hay:  First, there is a technique
to it  - you have to make a sweeping circular motion to gather, twist, and
compact a handful of grass or you will be cutting it a stalk at a time
instead of in bunches.  Then you quickly learn that even the same type of
grass can be tough in one spot and tender in another.  Grass that is left
in the morning teaches horse preferences. Variety also seems to be a key:
the horse moves wisely from one place to another as he grazes.  The more I
cut, the more I watch horses.  In the night, Ben nickers softly when he
hears me coming, and the sound of his munching hay has become a sweet,
sweet sound as I fall asleep again.  This high mountain grass is more
nutritious than anything that he gets at home (changes with the seasons
tho), and he has precious little time to graze during the day, and when he
does, it can only be for so long - after about an hour he is filled and
will wait for a while before continuing to graze. If I can increase his
energy consumption without carrying more weight, it may be the diffence
between making the PCT for 3 months or making it for 5.  I don't know how
long he can last, nor what he will need on a thruride, but this is an

And the question plagues me: what will I do if something happens to Ben and
he can't or wouldn't move?  I have one more weapon at my disposal: if he
can not go to grass, I will bring it to him.

I am looking for support and companions on my ride,and any help will be
appreciated.  I have also been toying with starting from Campo in November
and trying to get as much of the PCT done to Kennedy Meadows as possible -
that is, doing the trail in a calender year.  There might be people that
could help in resupply in the late fall that would be busy in the summer. 
Also this would give Ben a shakedown cruise and time to rest in the winter.
 But the grass and water and possibly weather might be a problem, and
Springtime in the desert was my favorite part of the trail - I would hate
to miss that.


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