Tag Archives: Thru-Hiking

The Sunday Times Magazine and Radio Scotland

Sunday Times Magazine - Riding into the Sunset

I wrote a short-ish article about our adventures along the Colorado Trail for The Sunday Times Magazine last week, which alas I missed seeing in hard copy because I was doing a mini-residency at a cabin in Inshriach Forest, on the edge of the Cairngorms, for The Bothy Project. (It was a joy. Look into it, if you are a writer or artist and enjoy solitude / chopping wood / working by lamplight / cold water washing.)

But here’s a PDF – and I’ve gathered together all my posts about our Rocky Mountain summer here. So far I’ve transcribed 4 of 6 weeks’ worth of trail diaries (1/2/3/4) – I’ll get the final two up shortly – and also published some tips for packhorse use.

Rich and I also discussed our journey with BBC Scotland presenter Fiona Stalker for her Friday afternoon show Out for the Weekend, which is available to listen to here.

Full text of the article after the fold Continue reading

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week Five

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

Week four had seen us hitting our stride and passing the 300 mile mark. Going into the fifth week on the trail, we’d never felt fitter, healthier or hungrier. Continue reading

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week Four

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

At the close of week three we’d crossed the halfway mark, both in terms of the distance we had to cover and the time we had budgeted to do it in. But some tragic news from home, and a nasty bout of heat exhaustion on Rich’s part, had dimmed our sense of celebration. Week four was a late honeymoon in comparison, as we upped our mileage (covering up to 23 miles per day) and found peace and contentment in our long summer evenings in the wild. Continue reading

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week Three

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

By the end of the second week we had adjusted to the rhythms of life on the trail, and felt our relationships with the horses – and our collective relationship, as a herd – solidify. By now we didn’t like to be out of sight of one another for more than a few minutes, a psychological quirk which worked to our advantage: no need to lead the packhorse, unless dealing with rare road crossings, as he or she would simply run loose beside us like a dog. (More here on the use of packhorses.)

Week three would be a section marked by steep gains and losses in elevation as we passed through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness – skirting a prominent group of ’14-ers’ (mountains of >14,000ft), and enjoying some of the most beautiful vistas we’d yet seen. As we reached our half-way point, I also received some bad news from home, which shook me deeply.

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week Two

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All my previous entries on this subject can be found here.

Our second week in the Rockies saw us hitting some serious elevation for the first time, reaching 11,874ft at Georgia Pass, and later 12,495ft at the crest of the Tenmile Range (for context, Ben Nevis stands at 4,411 ft). We also reached our first rest stop, the mountain town and ski resort Breckenridge, where we gave the horses a well-earned day off. I’d felt pushed to my limits during week one, so it was a welcome surprise to find it becoming easier in our second week as our sore muscles eased and we all – humans and horses both – began to hit our stride.

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week One

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve posted logistical information about the trip online for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

Just before my partner Rich and I set off on our 500-mile adventure, a problem with transport left us scrabbling to find a new arrangement at short notice. We were overwhelmed by how the trail community rallied round to find us a friendly local with a horsebox (especially Bill Manning, chief executive of the Colorado Trail Foundation, who made a lot of calls on our behalf). In the end, we received two offers of help – from Richard Johnson, an excellent horseman who came to pick all five of us (two nervous people, three unknown horses) up the following morning and dropped us at the trailhead, and from Pam Doverspike, a true trail angel who we would finally meet a month later at Spring Creek Pass. (Hikers call this ‘trail magic’. this generosity from strangers one meets along the way.)

Both were proven CT experts, Richard having thru-ridden the trail twice and Pam, a trail sponsor, having also completed the trail (on horseback) in sections multiple times. They passed on a huge amount of hard-won advice, which was much appreciated – setting off for a six-week expedition, unsupported, was a daunting prospect for both myself and Rich. I’d love to pay that favour forward, so have typed up extracts from the diary I kept throughout our journey in case it might assist anyone planning the same or a similar long-distance journey by horse. Entries from our first week on the trail can be found below. It was our wettest and perhaps our most challenging week, as we grappled with the basics of backcountry horsemanship and life in the outdoors.
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Pack horses and box hitches: a how to

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

I was warned before we set off that the majority of long distance journeys by horse fail due to problems with the pack horse. Certainly it’s true that this is an aspect of horsemanship that is rarely explored and mastered, at least in the UK, and I found  relatively little information about it readily accessible. So here is a brief explainer for anyone who might be interested.

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Preparation and kit

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. Other entries on this subject can be found here.

Our journey along the Colorado required a lot of preparation, not least in ensuring we had all the kit we needed to travel through the backcountry safely. I’ve ridden since I was a little girl, and spent all my weekends competing as a teenager. But travelling long distance, and using packhorses, was a whole new arena for me and required a lot of advance study. For a brief how-to on the subject, see this post.

An Australian friend of mine, Tim Cope – who rode 6000 miles across the Eurasian steppes for his bestselling book On The Trail of Genghis Khan – was kind enough to spend a few days with me, running through the equipment and knots he found necessary during his three years on the road. He also introduced me to some of his friends in the area – the Baird family, of Bogong Horseback Adventures, and the mountain man and stunt rider Ken Connley – who taught me to tie box- and diamond hitches for the pack saddle.

CuChullaine O’Reilly of the Long Riders’ Guild and Megan Lewis, who recently completed a round-the-world ride, were also extremely helpful, answering questions by email and over the phone. We gratefully received a financial award from the John Muir Trust’s Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant towards the costs of the trip.

Getting the right kit together was important: weight was a huge consideration. Over such rugged terrain it was important to keep as much weight off the horses’ backs as possible –  and carrying ‘dead weight’ in the form of bags/boxes is much more difficult to manage compared to the ‘live weight’ of humans, which will balance itself (and can easily jump off in a crisis!).

After the fold, find a full kit list of what we packed – plus a few notes about what worked and what we had trouble with. Price too was a big factor – I made a lot of judgement calls about what was safe to scrimp on, and what would be worth investing in.

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Horseback along the Colorado Trail

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This summer, my partner Richard and I spent six weeks riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains along the Colorado Trail.

It’s a fabulous route through a very dramatic backcountry landscape, taking in eight mountain ranges, four designated ‘wilderness’ areas, and gaining (and losing) around 89,354 feet over its length.

Our journey was an amazing adventure – a wild, lifechanging summer in the forest, during which we crossed mountain passes and high mesas, camped in wildflower meadows and bathed in freshwater lakes – and we had a lot of interest from other horsey people that we met along the way. For those interested in organising a similar expedition, I’ll post to this site in the coming days some information about how we planned it, the equipment we used and a few lessons about ultra-long-distance riding that we learnt the hard way.

We travelled unsupported, with three amazing quarter horses I hired from an enormous equestrian venture called Sombrero Ranches. To do so was remarkably simple – I just had to arrange to visit their ranch near Boulder, CO, a few days in advance to pick them out, and to find suitable road transport for them to the trailhead near Littleton, south Denver. After that, we were on our own – carrying all necessary equipment with us in our saddlebags and on the pack horse.

The horses – two paint geldings and an Appaloosa mare – came branded with ID numbers, but with no names, so our first challenge was to select them some suitable ‘trail names’: after some back-and-forth we settled on Pepper (for the little salt-and-pepper Appaloosa), Pinto and Numero (for the two paints). They made a beautiful little herd, and did us proud, taking the most hairy situations in their stride.

As they were unknown quantities at the start, we decided to travel at a fairly leisurely pace until we got acquainted with each other (and our new equipment). Potentially – if one was using one’s own (fit, trail-savvy) horses, and had road support supplying equipment and feed – the distance might be achieved in as little as 4 weeks, but for us the journey is far more important than the destination.

I received some financial assistance towards the costs of this trip from the John Muir Trust’s Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant. I strongly recommend any others interested in “life-changing experiences in wild places of the world” to consider applying for this wonderful fund, and help keep the memory of these two remarkable outdoorsmen alive.

Before departure we made an interactive map of the full route, from Denver to Durango (near the border with New Mexico), on CalTopo, which can be viewed here. A flat image of a map created by the amazing Colorado Trail Foundation can be found after the fold. Continue reading

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