Day 24: Tough Days, Beautiful Trails

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July 24, 2017

We woke up early today to head out on Segment 24 of the Colorado Trail. 

Colorado Trail: Segment 24

Morning views on Segment 24 of the Colorado Trail

I want to start off saying that Segment 24 is by far the most beautiful segment we have ridden. The trail itself is very difficult. In fact, it seems that most equestrians avoid this trail since some people were surprised we rode this segment. I did not find it an impossible segment, but it was definitely a section for a well-experienced trail rider. It is a popular trail that had a lot of traffic, and there were a few short, single track sections where you would not be able to pass anyone or turn around with a horse. 

The trail is also strenuous. We were riding Southbound, so the 4000 ft elevation change was a descent for us. If we were riding the trail Northbound making our way up to Denver, we would have had a long, long climb today.

Segment 24 of the Colorado Trail is 20.2 miles long. The trail stays above 12,000 ft in elevation until you start the major descent about 7-8 miles into the segment. We came across a lot of snow in this segment. It was manageable, but there were some spots we had to take some caution. 

The trail officially says goodbye to the Continental Divide Trail in this segment. We took in our last views of the Continental Divide before starting a very steep descent – over 2,000 ft – for about three miles. The trail continues to descend close to another 2,000 ft over the next 6-7 miles. 

Eventually, you will cross some railroad tracks, and then make your way over the Animas River on a bridge. Switchbacks come next. Switchbacks, switchbacks, and more switchbacks as the trail makes it way back up 2,000 ft before reaching the end of the segment. 

Unfortunately, for being able to experience such a beautiful segment, things have started to go downhill for my ride on the Colorado Trail. Looking back, I think the day before had an impact on what was to come. 

As I had mentioned on Day 23, Makani just about had a nervous breakdown from the herd of sheep that were grazing across on the mountain across from our campsite that night. She was so nervous that she would not settle down to eat. Usually she eats really well on trail, but she just would not relax enough to eat as much as she needed. I even when I tried taking her further away from where the sheep were, but nothing seemed to help.

I started to notice Makani’s acting differently by the time we crossed the Animas River today. We found a nice spot to graze the horse for a little bit. Makani was definitely hungry, and maybe we should have stayed there much longer, but our group continued up to the switchbacks. It was a hard climb, and Makani was slowing down. I got off and started leading her. It was apparent that we were not keeping up with the group. I told them to continue on without me as I needed to take my time with Makani, and I knew where we were planning to set up camp that night.

They continued on, and we followed behind much slower. Eventually, I could not see them in front of us on trail. Every so often, I would see some hikers making their way down the switchbacks, and I would ask them if they had passed a group of horses trying to see how much farther behind I was.

I would stop often to let Makani graze at what little grass we found while making our way up the switchbacks. At mile 17.6, we finished up the last switchback where the trail opened up to large meadows. I stopped for quite some time to graze Makani. It was taking us much longer than we would ever normally travel. The group most likely have finished for the day and set up camp, while Makani and I still had about three more miles to go.

I was also getting really tired. I did not have enough food in my packs and was starting to run low on water. The hot day and extra hours we were spending on trail were taking its toll on me, but I had to keep going. So after a nice amount of time resting and grazing, I continued leading Makani down the trail.

There was one section on the trail where I could not find the intersection I was looking for. We found ourselves down by a creek. I knew we must have missed the turn, but I did not want to drag my horse back and forth searching for the trail. I am thankful we missed that intersection, though, because we found some much needed water. Makani drank well, and I filled up my waters. I tied Makani up and backtracked.

I found the trail not too far away (thankfully), came back to get Makani, and we continued on. I allowed her to stop and graze every so often. Eventually, I saw the highway ahead meaning we were getting close to the end of the segment.  In the distance, Devan and her father were hiking toward me on the trail. Seeing them was a relief. They came to check on me because we were hours behind. They brought some snacks, and Devan lead Makani the rest of the way to the camp. We had about one mile before we reached Little Molas Lake.

When we got to camp, Makani was unsaddled and she happily ate her dinner and started grazing. There was so plenty of grass for the horses to graze on.

I stayed in camp with the horses, while all the others went into town of Silvertown, CO for dinner. 

It was a draining day. You don’t plan things like this, and you never want it to happen. I want to finish the trail, but my horse and her health is more important than finishing. 

Makani was eating and drinking well. We are taking a rest day tomorrow.

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Young women promoting courage, tenacity and grit. Relive our 2017 trek across the Colorado Trail and follow along as we prep for a ride on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2021.

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