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Re: Local Info on trails, etc

Well, you asked for it! ;-D

My Sunday plans for a nice ride in the mountains started in an incongruous
manner. Debi showed up with her stallion Novah to pick up Vic (my stallion)
and I at about 10:30 am. I had spent the morning scanning in some maps and
planning a nice training loop for us. Since Vic is used to riding in the
mountains, and Novah is used to 100 mile rides, I planned a loop of about
25-30 miles. This was to be our "long" training ride for the ride that we
are both planning on doing at the end of the month in New Mexico. I figured
that it should take us about 5 hours, if we took it easy........ We started
our ride at 12:25pm.

The trip that I planned for us is online at where you can see two different
maps with our trail highlighted. I'll explain the other markings in the
story. :-)

We drove up to the old mining town of Caribou which is marked with a red "x"
on both maps - about the center of the right side of the trail loop. We
unloaded the boys (both stallions, for those of you that don't know) and
tacked them up. We rode off down forest road 505 heading south towards the
small town of Eldora. The "road" (and I use that term lightly) wound through
open meadows and then dropped down through the woods. It was pretty rocky,
but quite pleasant. We just dawdled along enjoying the scenery and laughing
to ourselves at the two 4x4 trucks that we passed that were stuck. ;-) By
mostly walking and a little bit of trotting, we made it down to the town of
Eldora in about 2 hours. I hadn't thought it was that far, but then again,
we were going pretty slow. So, maybe 5 or 6 miles. Oh well, there were a lot
of switchbacks that weren't really marked on the map...

We decided to cut out a section of trail that we had planned on doing, and
just ride the 5 miles up the dirt road (111) instead. We trotted, cantered,
and walked up to the end of the road where we hit the trail called "Fourth
of July" (a.k.a. Arapaho Pass Trail) - named after the mine that was up at
the top of the trail. At first this trail was pretty, winding through the
trees and such. Then we came to an area where it was a little boggy. To help
the hikers, the trail people put in a nice little 'boardwalk' that was all
of two 6" planks wide! We had a few tense moments getting the boys to stay
on the planks, but they did pretty well and we made it through. :-)

Further up, the trail started to really climb and became quite narrow. It
was still pretty wooded, but off the side of the trail was a very steep
slope, so we were going pretty slow and being REAL careful. We kept coming
across hikers. Most of them were very friendly and considerate, moving off
to the side to let us pass. We should have gotten a clue though after the
fourth or fifth group made the same comment - "I've never seen horses up
here before..." The trail then opened up a bit with scattered trees and open
spaces. We crossed a couple of creeks that were incredibly rocky, straight
up to the right, and sheer drops to the left!

Note that the trail we were going up here starts from the bottom right of
the red circle in the first map. The bright yellow speckled line on the left
side of the map is the Continental Divide! Where the underlying color
changes from green to white is where the tree line ends.

As we get further up the trail, the views get more spectacular, and the
trail gets more and more difficult. The trail is only 12-18" wide in most
places with a very steep slope up on our right and very, very, very steep
slope down on the left. I kept asking Debi if we were nuts... I knew the
answer when Debi told me that in her almost 3000 competitive miles on Novah,
which includes an attempt at Tevis, and completions at Pan Am and Cosequin,
she had never been on a trail this difficult and technical. She told me that
this was worse than the worst that Tevis had to offer....

(I am going to try to go back next weekend and hike this part of the trail
and take TONS of pictures!)

There is no way that words can describe what it was like for Debi and I as
we climbed to the top of the trail. We passed the tree line and just kept
climbing. By the time we reached the split where we headed back east along
the ridge (on the Arapaho Glacier Trail) and then down the north side of
Baldy, we were well over 12,500 feet! We could see down the west side of the
Divide! Our biggest problem was that it was 4pm when we hit the high point
right there at South Arapaho Peak, and we knew that there was no way we were
going to make it back before dark!

We started heading East down the Arapaho Glacier trail, which was snow
covered and very rocky, so we had to stick to a walk. The switchbacks were
getting a bit ridiculous, so we started to cut corners whenever we could. We
were still above tree line and the light started fading fast, but it was
still too rocky and frozen to do more than walk. Since we were walking
anyway, and we were both cold (Debi and I), we hopped off the horses and led
them down. We hit treeline just about the time all the light faded from the
sky. The blue circle shows the part that we rode in the pitch black. Of
course, it was a night with a new moon...

I have NEVER ridden Vic at night before, so I was just a wee bit nervous. In
fact, my hand was still sore on Monday from having it clenched so tight and
for so long around Vic's mane. ;-P Debi helped me to relax by singing
Broadway tunes. Either she has a pretty good voice, or I was in pretty bad
shape. <VBG>

Well, Vic absolutely amazed me with his outstanding attitude and ability to
find the trail that I couldn't see at all! At one point, we were riding
along a ridge and had the most AWSOME view of the city lights beyond the
mountains. It seemed like we were riding forever through the woods trying to
get back down the mountain. I had studied the map real well before the light
was gone so that I would know where to go without it. I knew that we were
supposed to reach a dirt road, where we would turn left. We would follow the
road for a while and then turn right down the other end of forest road 505
for an easy shot back up to the trailer.

It was over an hour and a half coming down the trail before we reached the
road, but at least we *did* finally find the road. We both felt better about
that than being on dark narrow forest trails on a moonless night! We trotted
down the road until we saw what looked like our turnoff onto road 505. It
was and we headed down. Road 505 is a very popular 4x4 trail and has turned
into a major maze that is difficult to navigate during the day! I had ridden
this road on Friday, so Vic had at least covered the terrain once. I didn't
know if that would help us though. Vic has NEVER been a horse that rushes
towards home... he's happy to be out riding all day long. :-)

We came down to a creek crossing and it was real difficult to tell which way
the road was supposed to go. I was sure it was to the left, but Vic REFUSED
to go left and yanked us to the right. I yelled back to Debi that I thought
we were supposed to go the other way, but Vic was insisting the we go *this*
way! He was right!!!! ;-D Half an hour later we came around a corner and I
saw headlights illuminating the trailer. I screamed back to Debi that we had
made it!!! Then I heard a voice coming from the headlights saying
"Stephanie?" I thought - who the heck is that??? Then I realized that it had
to be Candy - the person who showed me the trail on Friday and who had
helped me plan our route on Saturday! We asked her to turn off her lights
'cause we were being blinded. <g>

She called back the rescue team to let them know that the people that she
had reported missing were found and okay. What a news story THAT would have
been!!!! The boys were both pretty hungry but healthy. We loaded them up and
headed back to my house for some serious hot-tubbing!

All in all, it was the most incredible experience I've ever had! When you
can ride a trail like that, you wonder why anyone would ever need drugs. The
adrenaline rush was better than any artificial buzz I've ever had! ;-)

I've promised Debi  a nice warm windproof Polarfleece jacket and riding
mittens for putting up with my so-called short trail with such good grace,
so expect to see her all decked out and cozy at the next cold ride! :-D

I'm heading back up the trails that we rode later this week to take pictures
and I will post them and the revised story to the webpage when I get them -
that way everyone can see what real LUNATICS we are!!!!!

If anyone would like to see a few pictures of the trails that we rode on -
follow these links:

Arapaho Pass Trail:

Arapaho Glacier Trail:

I will definitely be going back up to take pictures and posting them at the
site later, so you can see the whole thing! :-)

Stephanie McCray
Visions of the Wind
11920 Spruce Canyon Cr.
Golden, CO 80403
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