Back to Rainy Pass

I couldn’t bring myself to wake up before daylight. I was so exhausted. We had a lot of work to do to pack everything up. I finally got on the trail about 9am. It began to rain as we were preparing to head out. I had my rain jacket on and Valentino’s blanket in a trash bag but no rain pants. I found a piece of black plastic and draped it over my legs. It poured on and off throughout the day. 5 miles north of Stehekin Gillian branched off on a side trail and Valentino and I continued on alone. She was doing an alternate to miss the last 75 miles. I tried to convince her to ride to the northern terminus but she had a deadline with grad school starting and had to head home. About halfway through the day, we happened upon a young black bear. I’d heard from a few southbounders that there was a bear eating berries near the trail. He was unbothered by the hikers and they were able to walk past him. He was only about 5 feet from us and seemed uninterested but I think he assumed we were just another hiker. Then he looked up and saw the horse and took off. It was super cute. A mile and a half from the parking lot last year there was a huge tree across a creek that took us an hour to get around. It had been cut but the people who “cleared” it left the huge log pieces completely blocking everything. There was no way to get around them to cross the creek. We’d had to go way out and around previously because of a second tree but this year that tree had fallen enough that Valentino could jump it. Then we cut behind the huge root base and dropped into the middle of the creek. It wasn’t difficult but it was very frustrating. There were a few trees the last mile but nothing too terrible. I was so excited to walk down that road to the Rainy Pass trailhead. I can’t even describe it. I rode 2600 miles to get back to that spot. I didn’t care that it was pouring and we were soaked and I had no truck. It felt so amazing to make it all the way back there. I was finally going to get to see the last 60 without many feet of snow to contend with.

I beelined into the bathroom and fed my horse a bucket while I got him unloaded. I put his blanket on, took him to get a drink from a trickle of water nearby and tied him to a tree. I piled my stuff in a corner of the bathroom and cut Valentino a pile of grass. Then I made my way out to the highway and started walking. The third car picked me up and took me into town. I had arranged with another hiker from last year who lived nearby, Geoff, to get a ride down to get my truck. He drove me two hours to my truck. I was so, so appreciative not to have to hitch all that way. It was dark when I got back to my horse but he was right where I’d left him. I camped at the trailhead and decided I would zero in town the next day so I could go to the feed store and gear shop.

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Exhausting zero in Stehekin

At 5am, the 12 teenagers that were piled into the two tents decided to pack up their stuff and lay it all out in the shelter. They talked and banged around for a few hours until we had to get up to tend to our horses and catch the 9am bus to town. There was not an inch of space on the ground in the tiny shelter. They had spread stuff over the entire floor and were all sitting around on the ground. We tiptoed around on their stuff getting our things together and putting our wet clothes back on. Then we went down to feed our horses and carry more water up from the river.

930am rolled around and no bus. We heard from the ranger that there had been a massive mudslide and the road was closed. One of the guys who worked at the ranch was driving by so we hitched a ride to the edge of the mudslide. And what a mudslide it was!! Deep, grey, soupy mud. We went cross country through the forest so we didn’t have to wade through the worst of the mud. We still had to cross a bunch of flows but they weren’t deeper than our shoes. It was quite the ordeal but we finally made it to dry road on the other side. We were still about 9.5 miles from town and 4 miles from where the bus was supposed to be running. We trudged along the road (that was currently a 2 inch deep river) with our blistered feet. Cars whizzed past us heading the opposite direction. Eventually, a truck came barreling along headed our way so Gillian and I both stuck out our thumbs and gave our most pathetic look. It was a park service ranger who was running back to drop a worker off. He drove us all the way to the bakery! It was my most appreciated ride yet. While he was driving us, Gillian was able to get some trail condition information about the alternates she would be taking out of Stehekin.

Ah, the bakery! At last! I’d ridden through hell and high water to get to that bakery. We ordered a bazillion things and took them all to a table to feast. The bakery is two miles up the road from town and we found out the next bus was cancelled, so Gillian and I hitched a ride with the tour bus. We went to the store and bought sandals. My feet had never been happier. Then we took showers, washed our clothes, called our parents, and ate at the restaurant. The road was cleared by evening and we were able to take the bus back up to the horses. We fed and watered them and got to bed early.

The Green Mile

Stehekin is a small town in the northern Cascades with no roads to it. The only way to access the town is to hike in or take a ferry or float plane across Lake Chelan. It’s 11 miles from the trail down to the town but there’s a shuttle that runs up and down the valley. There is a large corral by the road where the trail comes out. Last year, the owners of the lodge in town drove a bale of hay up to the corral for my horse and they were going to do the same for me this year.

It’s 104 trail miles from Steven’s Pass to Stehekin. I had originally budgeted 5 days to ride this section, but I lost a day a week ago when we got in late and were forced to take a zero. I wanted to be able to zero in Stehekin and take the shuttle down to the bakery. If I could do the section in 4 days, I’d still have a day to relax in town before riding the last 20 miles to the next road at Rainy Pass. Normally, that would not be a problem, but I was extremely worried about downed trees slowing us down given the trouble in the previous section.

Gillian and I met back up at the horse hotel in Ellensburg. She had filled in her gap in southern Washington and I’d filled in mine. We were both caught up to Steven’s Pass, so we planned to ride to Stehekin together. Ideally, we could have left a rig at Rainy Pass, but it’s an 8 hour drive roundtrip and we didn’t have a day to spare. I found a DOT lot on our way to Steven’s Pass and arranged to leave my rig there for 5 days. That would make it a 2 hour drive from Rainy Pass to pick it up instead of the 4 hours to Ellensburg.

We got up at 4am the morning of August 9th, loaded our horses in Gillian’s rig, dropped my rig in Leavenworth and drove to Steven’s Pass. We were on the trail by about 9am. The first day we covered 29 miles and camped at Lake Sally Ann. There were 15 downed trees but nothing we couldn’t maneuver over or around fairly easily. We got to the lake right at dark but there was hardly any grass and no trees for highlining. We let the horses graze while we unloaded them and made dinner. There weren’t any bugs and we were getting up at 4am the next morning so we decided to cowboy camp to eliminate the hassle of setting up and tearing down a tent. I tied my horse to a baby tree, Gillian tied her horse to a log, and we gave them their buckets and went to sleep.

The next day we covered 27 miles and it was a very long day. We had 51 trees to get around. It was insane but we took each one as it came and worked our way along the trail. If you don’t get overwhelmed by the number of trees one after another, you can see each one as an individual obstacle and create a path around. I have a folding saw but I’ve never actually carried it or needed it. I’ve never come to a tree I couldn’t find and clear a path around. This section is one of the most remote on the entire trail. It didn’t get cleared last year and no one had been out yet this year. Gillian decided she liked using an axe better and was carrying that so I didn’t bring my saw. I fell in love with her ax quick in this section. There were a ridiculous number of difficult trees and it was a much easier way to get rid of limbs so the horses could get over or the trees could be moved. We also had a few sketchy snow patches the second day but were able to pick safe routes through them. We got to our camp at Mica Lake at dark. There was virtually zero grass and nowhere to highline. Gillian and I both tied our horses to rocks and cowboy camped again. I hiked back up the trail and cut some grass for my horse to have overnight and again the next morning. Mica Lake was completely frozen over and it was really cool to see when the sun came up.

We got on the trail a little later the third day. We were so exhausted from all the 4am mornings. We had planned to go 26 miles but that proved to be impossible. We only made it 14 miles by dark and had gone around approximately 52 terrible trees. Our last tree we actually did in the dark. We needed to get a little further to water so we could camp, but this tree was huge and about face height where we couldn’t go under or over. It was also in a really bad spot with a huge tree graveyard as far as I could see with my headlamp in both directions. I tromped around in the woods on either side of the tree but could not see a safe way to get around – even way out and around. There were just so many trees piled on top of each other. It was pitch black dark so we were doing everything by headlamp. Gillian decided to try to pick her way around so she headed off into the madness with Shyla. I tied my horse to a tree. I cannot drag him into a situation where he will undoubtedly get cut. If I can’t walk the route and clear anything dangerous first, I won’t do it. I decided to follow behind Gillian in case she needed help. She made it a ways out but then she got to a point where it seemed impossible. There were so many dead branches and trees and sticks. One wrong step could fatally wound her horse. She left Shyla and hiked ahead a ways. I caught up to her at that point. She went back for Shyla and brought her along, but they were still very far from the trail. They came to a tree Gillian had planned to go over but Shyla sunk in and couldn’t get her feet under her and she clipped Gillian’s ankle with her hoof in the process. Shyla was thrashing around and could not stand so she just lay in the brush while Gillian sat and cried. She knew she’d gotten her horse into a very dangerous situation. It was just as risky to go back as it was to keep going forward. I hiked up and slowly found my way back to the trail. It wasn’t anything I’d ever consider taking my horse through, but I cleared what I could. It wasn’t any worse than what she’d already taken Shyla through, so I thought it might work to get her horse out of the mess. Gillian was able to get Shyla to leap up and turn herself around. They followed me as we made our way up to the trail with Shyla only getting a few cuts through that whole ordeal. But we still had a major dilemma. Obviously, there was no way I could or would take my horse through that nightmare. We went back to re-inspect the original tree. I was prepared to stay up all night and axe through that tree if I had to. First, I took all the gear off my horse. He’s a little guy so I thought there might be a chance that he could squeeze under but that didn’t work. His withers were just a little too tall. This might have been more obvious in the daylight, but there was a curved branch to the right that he could fit under after we removed a nub with Gillian’s axe. There was a tiny flat space after he went under the tree where he could get lined up. The main tree was resting on two logs that made stairs for him to get over. Valentino jumped up on the first log, over the main log, landed on the third log, and then down onto the trail on the other side. Woohoo! I saddled him back up and we went a short ways to the creek. We each found a root to tie our horses to and unloaded them. It was so late, we were exhausted, and both our feet were so raw we could hardly walk. We got the horses watered and fed and laid our pads and sleeping bags in the trail. Neither Gillian nor I could even walk between each other’s pads. We made a quick dinner and passed out.

We woke up at 5am on our 4th day. We had 35 miles to go if we wanted to get to Stehekin that day. After everything we’d been through, we had no idea if that would be possible. The previous days we had talked to several hikers who gave us (what turned out to be) very accurate descriptions and locations of the bad tree sections. We had 22 bad miles but then the last 13 were supposed to be clear. We knew if we could make it through all the trees by dark we could night ride into Stehekin and there was a corral and food waiting for our horses.

We loaded up and headed out for what was likely to be a very long day. We conquered 75 trees that day. Our last tree obstacle was an avalanche area. The first group was fairly simple in comparison to what we’d been doing. I hiked through the mess and found the trail on the other side while Gillian cut nubs off the trees the horses had to step over. The second group was a nightmare. Gillian went first and her horse was able to tromp through and then took a flying leap over the last trees. When Shyla landed, she rammed into Gillian and sent her flying into a tree. I was watching from a distance but they seemed to have made it through okay despite the ending, so I broke my own rule to walk the route first and I seriously regretted it. Valentino followed me through the first part but then we got to the huge blockade of three trees (the ones Shyla had taken a running leap over) and it was very unsafe. All of the trees had broken branches and the sharp nubs were sticking out from every angle. I stopped Valentino to assess the situation. I was so incredibly mad at myself for not checking things out the way I always do. Valentino was nervous and dancing around me with sharp branches all over the ground. I was so worried he was going to get cut. I moved a few branches from in front of us and then Gillian and I moved one of the trees a little bit but they were still too close to jump individually and too far apart to jump together safely. I can’t “go for it” and hope my horse doesn’t get hurt when I see a dangerous obstacle. Gillian was able to bear hug the three trees to bring them close enough that I felt okay asking Valentino to jump them. He made it safely to the other side. It was 9pm and getting dark rapidly but we had successfully overcome all the trees between us and Stehekin and were 13 miles away.

Then the real fun began. It started to pour – the wettest torrential downpour ever. Gillian and I threw on our rain jackets and pushed on down the trail. We had a long way to go. It was also pitch black dark and we were soaked. I could hardly see the trail because of the steam coming off my horse and blurring the tunnel of light from my headlamp. We went through miles and miles of overgrown trail. It was miserable. The first big creek crossing we came to was not obvious. The bridge was out but we could hardly see anything in the dark. We accidently went a short ways down a side trail but ended up turning around and fording the creek right near the bridge. The second creek had a one log hiker bridge and then a trail down to where the stock fords. I asked Gillian if she wanted to go first because there was a drop off to get into the creek and her horse loves water and mine hates it. Shyla decided this was the one creek she would not cross. I tried asking my horse to go first but I was not optimistic. It was so dark so I couldn’t see any bad spots in the creek or the other side. I asked Valentino forward and Gillian tapped him on the butt with her rope and he went, no questions asked. We dropped into the creek; he marched through and out the other side onto the trail. I was so proud of him! We just kept going and going and going in the dark. It seemed endless. At some point, it stopped raining but every wet leaf or branch soaked us with cold water. We FINALLY made it to the road above Stehekin at 230am. I love my horse. He carried me and led the whole way.

We had covered 104 of the most treacherous miles of the entire trail in 4 days. We went through badly eroded sections, very overgrown sections where the trail is about a foot wide with a drop off on one side that you can’t see because of the brush, steep, sketchy snow patches, and hundreds of downed trees. We had cleared countless mountainsides and then scrambled our horses up and down around trees. Our horses had jumped trees on steep slopes from every angle. We had literally moved multiple trees. One tree Gillian and I both climbed up to, put our feet against it and our backs against the rocks and pushed it off the cliff. That made space so our horses could walk around. Another bad tree section looked like pick up sticks. With a couple trees I would dead lift and she would push and we were able to moved them off the trail an inch at a time. We had crawled through spiny brush, hacked through trees, cut tons of branches, heaved and sweated and cleared trail to get our horses through. Our feet were blistered, our arms were scratched up, our hands were blistered and covered in pitch, and we were soaked and cold and hungry and tired. But we had made it to Stehekin and we were incredibly proud of ourselves.

Gillian and I pulled our horses up to the shelter to untack them. There were random items strewn all over: a pair of boots, 4 or 5 pairs of panties hung around, a couple packs, miscellaneous items on the bed, etc. But it was 230am and there was no one around. There were two tents nearby but we never saw a light even though we were making significant noise, so we assumed no one was there. We moved all the stuff and piled it under the bed area. Then we unloaded the horses and took them down to the corral. Our bale of hay was neatly wrapped in a tent fly. Gillian and I had both had boxes of feed sent to Stehekin that were also delivered to the corral and hanging from a tree. We cut them down and fed our horses. Then we used our two highlines to put up a barrier across the corral. Next, we had to carry buckets of water up from the river. I don’t even know how we were still functioning at that point. We got back up to the shelter at 4am, set up out beds and ate dinner. We finally laid down to sleep at 430am. It was so amazing for 30 minutes.

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Cascade Locks

I’m planning to complete Washington before we have to drive home in 2 weeks. Washington begins at mile 2155 at the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia Gorge. On Saturday, we drove back down to Cascade Locks to complete the first half of Washington up to Snoqualmie Pass. I had dropped a couple feed caches on our drive up to Ellensburg and I dropped the rest on our way back down to the border.

I left my rig on a dirt side road 3 miles north of the bridge where it would be safe for a couple days until it got moved. I only had 6 days to get to Snoqualmie, so I decided to shorten our last day by riding a few miles that evening. First, I rode south to the highway and back. Then I loaded my horse up with his saddle bags and we headed north. It was dark but I knew exactly where we were camping and had already left feed, so I figured I could get in a couple hours of riding.

The following day, I was up and packed before the crack of dawn. The next 5 days were going to be VERY long. I was just hoping more than anything that it wouldn’t rain. We were on the trail by about 4am and didn’t get to camp until 10pm. We were camping at a lake so didn’t have any cached feed. Therefore, we took our day much slower so Valentino could graze as much as possible as we went along. Our third day out (but second full day) we picked up the pace a little. The terrain was very gentle and there was feed waiting that night. 15 hours vs 18 hours makes a huge difference for me. There was still a little snow around Mt. Adams but nothing alarming or impassable. Tuesday we went through the Goat Rocks Wilderness and over a narrow stretch of trail along a ridgeline called Knife’s Edge. This was by far my favorite section of trail last year. We had beautiful weather, the trail was challenging and awesome, and the views were amazing. It wasn’t quite as spectacular this year. There was a lot of smoke in the air from all the fires currently burning in northern Washington. But it was still gorgeous, nonetheless. There were also a few snow patches, which always break up our rhythm, but we were able to get across them just fine. That night we made it down to White Pass. There’s a horse camp at the highway where the trail crosses but it doesn’t have any amenities. I still had to set up my highline and haul water from the pond, so it wasn’t much different than a night on the trail. Still, we were at a road so I had left feed for Valentino and he was happy. We had some downed trees to contend with in this section but nothing like the last one. Most of the trail in the first half of Washington is not on those steep slopes so trees are easier to maneuver around.

Miles were very important in this last section. We only had a certain number of days to get back to Snoqualmie if we wanted extra days to do northern WA (and we did!). Therefore, we pushed for as many miles as possible and camped away from a road our fifth night. There was basically zero grass. I definitely couldn’t set up the highline near any grass, so I walked around with Valentino for about an hour before I left him for the night. We were only away from a road for one night, though, so I was able to carry a lot more feed. I gave Valentino a huge bucket on his highline so he’d had something to graze on for part of the night, at least, and he also had a good bucket the next morning. Our sixth day we came to Government Meadow only a quarter of the way through, but we stopped for a long break. I took Valentino’s gear off and let him out in the meadow for a bit. He rolled about 5 times while he was out grazing. The mosquitoes were bad off and on. We went through sections that were horrible, then nothing for a while, and then horrible again. I was prepared with a head net and lots of bug spray, though, so it wasn’t too bad. We camped near a dirt road that night, so Valentino had a full dinner and hay for the night. Our last day put us 184 miles from Canada! We only had to do 18 miles, so we got in before noon. It feels great to be done with over half of Washington but that also means it’s time to head into the longest, toughest stretch of the entire trail.

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Final vet check

To enter Canada, Valentino has to have a special health certificate that is signed by an expensive USDA certified vet. I cannot take him to this vet, however. I have to take him to a regular vet, pay to express his health certificate to the woman with the USDA stamp, pay for the federal people to express the health certificate back to the regular vet, and then pay to have it mailed to me.

Snoqualmie to Steven’s

I am trying to be more strategic this year given everything I learned during my ride last year. One thing I know, northern Washington is treacherous and stressful on horseback. There are two long stretches without roads and with little available grass. I decided I was going to split these two sections up instead of riding them back to back. I can cache feed every night through the first half of Washington so it is easier on my horse and less stressful for me. Washington starts at mile 2155 and goes to 2660 at the northern terminus. We skipped the first half of Washington and drove all the way to Ellensburg, which is near mile 2402, Snoqualmie Pass. I was planning to ride 74 miles from Snoqualmie to Steven’s Pass and then drive back down and do southern Washington. Gillian, the other thru-rider I met earlier at Ebbett’s Pass, was staying at the horse hotel in Ellensburg when I got there. We had been keeping in touch and hoped to cross paths again eventually. She decided to skip ahead 140 miles and ride from Snoqualmie to Steven’s with me.

My alternator died on our drive from Oregon to central Washington on Tuesday. Fortunately, the battery carried us through to the horse hotel. I was extremely frustrated, however, because I did not have a day to wait for my truck to get repaired. I dropped my truck off at a mechanic in town and Gillian and I took her rig to Snoqualmie Pass the next morning. We had planned to leave one rig at Steven’s Pass, but mine was currently out of commission.

I budgeted extra days for the second half of Washington because I didn’t want to run into the difficult obstacles in northern Washington on too strict of a schedule. Gillian and I took three days to get from Snoqualmie to Steven’s Pass. We left the horse hotel early on Wednesday July 30th and drove up to the trailhead. There have not been any trail maintenance crews out yet, so this section had a ridiculous number of downed trees. It took us almost 12 hours to do 22 miles the first day. Most of the trees fall straight across the trail so they are usually too tall for the horses to jump directly across. The low point is on the edge of a steep mountain face and it is very difficult, and many times impossible, for them to jump the low point and land safely on the other side. One of our first trees was like this. It was very steep above and below the tree. Gillian climbed over and Shyla willingly jumped, but she landed on the edge of the mountain face and lost her footing. She ended up with her front feet closest to the trail and her hind feet down the mountain below her. Gillian was hanging on her reins trying to keep her horse from going over backwards. Somehow Shyla was able to heave herself back up onto the trail safely. I walked down the mountain to check the jumping possibilities lower. It was steep getting down but not as high of a jump. There was also a level spot to land but it was very small because there was a boulder on the other side of the tree. I decided this was the safer route so I asked Valentino down the mountain and stopped him before the tree. I climbed over the tree and then asked him to jump it. He hopped over and landed perfectly on the other side. The mountain back up to the trail was very steep and covered in pine needles. I scrambled up on my hands and feet ahead of my horse and he heaved and leapt his way up behind me. We repeated some version of that all day long. We would only be able to go a short ways before coming to another tree. We’d spend an hour clearing branches and brush, ask the horses to scramble up or down and around, get loaded back up and continue down the trail. Another memorable tree that day was a big one that had a break in it just above the trail. We cleared all the branches and used rocks to chip away the sharp edges. It seemed just wide enough for the horses to step through. I asked Valentino first. He charged up the short, steep slope to the tree, carefully stepped though the gap and then speed walked/skidded down the other side onto the trail. Shyla did not make things so simple. She was very willing to run up to the tree but would not step through the gap. She looked terrified and just did not think she could do it. She kept rushing backwards down the hill and back onto the trail where she’d started. We tried over and over but she just got more and more flustered. Gillian tried riding her up through the gap and then riding her over the tree but Shyla had already decided she couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. Gillian was able to plow through the brush on the downhill side to get around it. It was a steep climb back up so she sent her horse up first and followed behind. A half mile before camp, we came to a nearly impossible tree. I hiked all around from both sides looking for a safe way around. The mountain sides weren’t terribly steep but there was so much brush and small trees that it was very difficult to think about going through it. The uphill side was mostly doable except it was too steep right where it left the trail. We decided we had to go down. We cleared some branches and then Gillian chose to head down with her horse. Shyla slid and hopped and lifted herself over all the branches and rocks and brush. Once they were in the gully, it was fairly easy to maneuver back over to the trail. I spent a little more time clearing branches until I felt it was as safe as I could make it under those circumstances. Then I asked Valentino down, but he backed up a few steps. I’m sure it did not look like the safest route. I asked him again and made sure he knew this is what he had to do and he followed me as we plunged down through the rocks and brush. We made our way back over to the trail and, at that point, could celebrate being a half mile from camp. We still had one creek to ford. It is considered dangerous for stock and pcta posted an alternate route around it. I didn’t know about the alternate last year but it was no big deal so I wasn’t at all worried. I figure if the hikers can ford it then horses will have no issue whatsoever. We camped at a nice meadow so the horses at least had grass that night and the next morning, but there was no way to highline them on it overnight.

Our second day on the trail was a repeat of the first – tree after tree after tree on steep mountain slopes. By the end of the day, Gillian and I had bruises and cuts from all the clearing and scrambling we were doing. Jumping is not Shyla’s strength so she had gotten some scratches and cuts on her back legs. Valentino was the only one who did not have any injuries. He assesses every obstacle and is very careful about where he puts his feet. We got to our camp near Deep Lake close to dark. It had been another long day even though we only went 22 miles. The mosquitoes were HORRENDOUS! They swarmed us and the horses in thick clouds and we hadn’t brought any bug spray. There hadn’t been any mosquitoes last year but it was the middle of September. Because of that, however, I hadn’t thought to bring bug spray or a head net. The poor horses looked like they had hives within an hour. I let Valentino out to graze in the meadow while I cooked dinner in my tent.

We got up at 4am the third day and were on the trail by 530am. We had 30 miles to go that day and were obviously concerned about trees slowing us down after the first two days. The first 20 miles were filled with all sorts of crazy trees that took us forever to get around. 6 miles into our day we came to a creek that is large and rocky and somewhat difficult. We had to go down off the trail through the rocks to get to a spot where we could cross. We forded the first section no problem. Then we went down the rocky slope between the two branches of the creek and were able to ford the second part. From the other side, we had to climb up a steep, rocky sort of side trail to get back onto the pct. Valentino carried me through the creek and up the steep mountain. Gillian and Shyla came behind us. They crossed the creek fine but Shyla’s shoes slipped on the rocks at the top and she lost her footing. For a couple seconds, I thought they were going to fall back down the mountain, but Shyla was able to claw her way up to the trail. It was really scary to watch and, I’m sure, even scarier for Gillian. About a mile up the trail, Shyla’s back feet slipped off the trail and she was barely able to keep herself from going over backwards. 20 minutes later Gillian noticed her tent was missing. She decided to run back for it and I continued on ponying Shyla. I had planned to stop and let them graze a little ways up but the bugs were so bad that we couldn’t stop for a mile. Finally, Gillian caught back up to us with her tent and we continued north. The worst tree blockage that day (and that’s saying something) was actually a clumped landslide of 7 trees. It completely blocked the trail. Just before those were two small trees. One they easily stepped over but the other was at a bad angle. Shyla was able to scramble over it but got another cut in the process. Valentino followed with his signature hop that makes it look so easy. Our plan was to ask them up the mountain, step over a tree, go under another tree, and then slide down the other side. Shyla hopped up the mountain but would not step over the tree so she repeated her speed backing down. After a few attempts, Gillian realized this was futile and, instead, hauled her horse down the other side and picked her way around. Shyla got a few scrapes but was on the other side of a huge obstacle. Valentino followed me up and around very gracefully and just as I had planned. About 4pm, it started to rain. It came down hard and just poured and poured on us. Then it began to hail. It rained and hailed and rained for an hour or so. We were soaked and cold and hungry and still had 10 miles to go. Fortunately, we did not have any difficult trees in the last 10 miles. We made it to the trailhead at Steven’s Pass at 815pm. It had taken us 15 hours to do those 30 miles. We got picked up at the trailhead and had dinner and milkshakes. It felt like the best meal of my life. We ate and got all mine and Gillian’s stuff packed into my truck and then loaded up the horses. It took us 3 hours to drive back around to Snoqualmie Pass to get Gillian’s rig and then another hour to get back down to the horse hotel. We got the horses put away and checked into a room in Ellensburg. It was 2am but I was so grateful to have a shower and a bed that night. What a long few days!!

Aside from the treacherous trail, I really enjoyed my ride with Gillian and am looking forward to riding with her again. Our personalities and riding styles seemed to mesh perfectly. Our horses were also great trail partners. They weren’t overly concerned with each other’s whereabouts and they were able to keep the same pace over the course of three days.

I hadn’t planned to take a zero but it was too much to try to get back down to the OR/WA border and ride out the next day. Valentino and I drove down to the border this afternoon and I prepared for our long week through the first half of Washington.

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Bouncing ahead

We are going to temporarily skip 241 miles of Oregon. I have to be home for a week the end of August, and since I live in Oregon, it is easier for me to complete Oregon miles rather than driving back up to Washington. Also, I don’t want to risk another early snow storm in the northern Cascades like we had last year.