July 1, 2017
Today is the day. We woke up at 4 a.m. excited to finally be able to hit the trail. All of us except for Devan had stayed the night in a hotel to get one last day living in “civilization.” Devan had stayed the night before in the hotel, so she volunteered to stay out with the horses at the campground while we enjoyed a real bed for the last time.
We made our way back to the campground to get ready to head out on trail. The days leading up to July 1st were exhausting with all of our last minute preparations. The horses were getting anxious, and the riders too. All of them sitting around for a few days not doing much but eating, eating and eating. (and riders too…)
I was not too worried about the trail itself, but instead my horse. Others voiced their concern too, but there was something about this horse. I never wanted to give up on her. My BLM mustang, Makani’s Grace, was the toughest horse I had ever started. I had adopted her back in April of 2016, and she definitely was a challenge.
Makani was not the first mustang I had started, but she definitely put me to the ultimate trainer’s test. Facing fear, tears, blood, rope burns, gravel cuts, only one trip to the hospital, ANND maybe a little cursing… We had made it out to Colorado! That was a feat in itself.
But she only trusted me. One of our biggest fears to overcome was her fear of humans. At this point, she still very much disliked other human beings. Surely 500 miles of mountain trail getting exposed to hundreds of hikers and bikers, we could straighten all of that out! Right? I honestly had my doubts… but I often times listen to my gut, and for some reason my gut was telling me to trust my little, mustang. She trusted me, so I owed her the same.
Colorado Trail: Segment 1
Segment 1 of the Colorado Trail is 16.8 miles starting from Waterton Canyon and ending at the South Platte River Trailhead. There is plenty of water on trail, but I knew going into this segment that camping was not going to be ideal for an equestrian group – especially one this large. But I was keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that we might find a place before the river. We knew that camping is not allowed along the South Platte River, and that Segment 2 has no reliable water sources.
Since we were starting at the Indian Creek Trailhead instead of Waterton Canyon, we were cutting off 6.7 miles of road in exchange for approximately 4 miles of trail. We planned on riding that 4 miles and then joining up with the Colorado Trail at Lenny’s Rest at mile 7.9. We would then continue to the end of the segment and look for a good place to set up camp.
Finally out on trail, the nerves were starting to leave. I just focused in on listening to my horse. I got off and walked some, but we hit some inclines where I started feeling the elevation – a big difference from Texas.
The trail in Segment 1 was beautiful. There were a few times on this trail near some water crossings were we had to ride over big, slick rocks with very low brush. Just lean down, hug your horses neck, and let them navigate for the most part… The horses handled it well, and Makani was actually leading! Makani thought the first few hikers that she saw were terrifying, but my little, mustang kept trucking on!
We got up to the high point of that segment and stopped for a picture then started a descent of switchbacks.
Just one more switchback, I promise!
As we were making our way down from the high point, Devan and I were scouting for a spot to set up camp in hopes that we might find something before crossing the South Platte River, but there was nothing sufficient enough to hold our group.
We made it to the end of the trailhead, but now what? We needed a place to camp. Segment 2 was 11.5 miles long and completely dry other than the start at the river which did not allow camping. We did not want to push through on day 1 to the end of segment 2. We couldn’t find a spot on the west side of the river, so we were left with setting up a dry camp.
We took a break at the river and allowed all of the horses to drink and graze. We filtered and filled up our water, talked it out a bit, and then set off to try and find a campsite about 1 mile into Segment 2. Of course, the first mile of segment 2 was one mile of climbing.
None of us liked the idea of dry camping. Not at all. We found a spot that would allow us to high-line the horses about a mile into Segment 2, but grazing was limited and there was no water. The horses looked fine, happy and were eating.
We ended up setting up our camp at that spot, but it was a bit obvious that we were all trying to save on our water intake for the next day of 10 dry miles. The idea of going back down to the river to fill up on water was brought up. I gladly volunteered to hike back down and fill up our 6L camp water filter plus some extra camel bags and water bottles. I felt strong enough to do it and still very energized. So off I went, going downhill was quick and fast. I rested by the river for some time, soaking my feet in the water and cooling off just a bit. Filled up all of the water, and off I went back up. That water was extremely helpful for that night and next day.
We ate dinner, secured the horses and bunkered down in our tents. I think I only woke up once that night. I smelled a super sweet, candy-like smell. LOL I never figured out what it was. Possibly a plant? But it smelled wonderful… off to sleep I drifted away.
Tomorrow was a new day.
*Trail notes – If I were to do this trail again, I would definitely do higher mileage on the first day to push through both Segment 1 and 2 to make sure that we camped near water. I would never suggest dry camping, unless you are able to carry in water for all the horses.