Desolation Wilderness Vacation, Part One

Submitted by Natalie Herman, Team Easyboot 2012 Member

The picture below show Tara Flwelling on her Tennessee Walking Horse stallion, Den (left) and me on my Quarmorab mare, Eowyn, above one of the many lakes in the Desolation Wilderness. They were three great days of riding.

Before heading to Nevada for the Tahoe Rim Ride, my friend and rideshare, Willi, decided we should do something more than a one day ride. It would give us more bang for your gas/driving buck. I usually tend to go to multiday rides because of this, but we did not want to miss this spectacular new ride. Willi told me about a place he'd been before that offered miles of awesome riding: the Desolation Wilderness in the El Dorado National Forest, on the west side of Lake Tahoe.

Our friend Tara, who was joining us at the Rim Ride, also thought it was a grand idea. Our original plan was to head to Lassen National Park. But a large wildfire in the park the weeks before the ride, nixed that idea, so this alternate was decided upon.

Willi told us that he'd last been there before I had transitioned his horses to barefooting. They were still shod, and he and his wife had two horses each. The trails here are extremely rocky, weathered out of the granite mountains all around. The rock is very abrasive, and in slab form, is slick as ice for steel. He says the horses would trip and stumble, slide on the slab rock, and even though they were traded out every day, became footsore in less than ten miles a day. When they returned home, all of them blew abscesses in the following weeks. He wasn't sure he'd ever be able to return to the wilderness, even though it was such an awesome place to ride.

Flash forward to now, and his horses have been barefoot and booted for almost a year. His main mounts, a Kentucky Mountain mare, and a Foxtrotter gelding, both do great in endurance in Easyboot Gloves, gating happily everywhere.

Time to test the hooves and footwear on some of the toughest terrain around. My own mare has been bare her entire life, but due to a sugar sensitivity, often does much better in Easyboot Epics with dome pads, than in Gloves. I switch back and forth, depending on terrain. Tara's horse Den, came from Tennessee a year or so ago, and has been transitioning to barefoot since then. She is still working on getting his hooves into a more ideal barefoot form, and has been having to fiddle with boot fit as his feet change. But he does fairly well in Gloves as well. So onward to three days of great adventure in the wilderness of the Sierras.

Driving to camp was a beautiful, but hair-raising drive if you don't like narrow, windy, cliff-side mountain roads. Willi lives in the mountains, so it was nothing new for him. I got to sit back and enjoy the views.

The entrance to camp. It is actually a huge camp, with lots of individual and group sites, as well as a group horse camp and individual horse sites. You take Ice House Road, off of Hwy 50, all the way to Loon Lake. There are all sorts of recreational activities available, from boating and fishing, to riding of course :) And hardly a soul in sight, despite the large campground. Perfect for a great getaway.

Home sweet home for the next four days. The camps have a fire pit, table, bear box, and a communal restroom area. They also have tie-posts that have swivels in them for picketing, but they don't work nearly as well as high-lining or corrals.

All our horses are good on lines, and we set them up as zip lines, so they have tons of room. The tie posts did make good hay bag hangers though.

The campfire was very welcome as the sun set and night set in. The night time temps did drop a good bit, since we were at just around 7,000 feet.

Eowyn always wandered to the last rays of warmth in the evenings, and the first rays in the morning. Has anyone seen spots like these? They started appearing in May, and have exploded all over her since then. Best guess is they are a color-thing, called Birdcatcher Spots. I have started calling her Sparkles.

Mornings were relaxed and spent telling bear and bee stories. Tara is explaining that the "bear was there! Right over there! He snuffled all around my tent last night." Willi supposedly heard and saw him too. Me? I must have been deaf, as I swear I never heard him. I still think they were pulling my leg all weekend. Now hornets? We did have a nest of those near camp, and they attacked Willi and Tara on their firewood search. We Raided their nest with two cans, and still they were buzzing. After that we came to the agreement they'd leave us alone, if we stayed away from the nest. It seemed to work.

Usually I can ride Eowyn bitless, but now and then I bit her up when she starts leaning on the sidepull too much. This is her opinion of the bridle: it always cracks me up when she does this. This is now her go-to trick when she doesn't like something you are doing with her. Who says horses can't say "NO!!!"?? :)

And we are off: Willi on Roheryn, his Foxtrotter. The trails are supposedly maintained out here, but we quickly found out that this was not the case. A few sections here and there had been cleaned, but other than that, we had many downed trees to negotiate and lots of brushy areas as well.

Den tracking up behind me. This is the best footing the entire trail will be. But even this sand is decomposed granite, and very abrasive, and has rocks sticking out of it all over.

The first day's trail took us around Loon lake. Nothing like a deep blue lake, a clear blue sky, and the spine of the mountains surrounding you to give you a new perspective on life.

Absolutely stunning. Den, like all silly boys, has to goof off for the camera though.

Onward down the trail, this is what much of it looks like. Some of the trails are historical wagon ways that brought immigrants over the Sierras. They actually blasted the way through the rock. One can still see some old drill holes that dynamite was dropped down. I can't imagine riding a shod horse on this, let alone trying to have them drag wagons across it.

Some of the rock formations. Really cool stuff.

After a few miles, we entered the actual Desolation Wilderness.

Where we continued wandering the rocky trails, headed for some of the many lakes dotting the area. Eowyn was very happy to have her Epics with pads in them. She never skipped a beat, striding out confidently and happily for three days. Den and Ro did great in just their Gloves.

Here we found lots of neat rock slabs and formations, that were screaming to be climbed on.

I couldn't resist, and had to go play in the jungle gym with my pony.

Up , up, up, all the way to the top. A perfect climb in my grippy boots.

The back down again, which was a bit more complicated.

We negotiated the descent without a hitch by my trusted steed. She has come a long way in the last two years: from a bratty child I was getting so frustrated with I was going to sell her, to now my Tevis prospect I trust in the tightest spots. Good Girl.

Tara and Den gave it a try too. This was his first big outing. His trails at home are basically park type groomed trails and a cinch.

He made it to the top as well. He learned a ton over the three days and is now a solid back-country horse, ready to take on the real trails.

Willi and Ro gave it a good go as well. Can your shoes do this? Maybe if they are synthetic.

 

Here are a few videos.

After the climbing, we headed to one of the lakes for lunch. And look what Tara found on one of the rocks overlooking a lake. There are some creative people out there.

There was some great grass for the ponies, while we munched on sandwiches.

Willi decided to go for a swim, but after sticking our toes in the water, Tara and decided lakes at 7,000+ ft elevation, were just too cold, even in August.

Den agreed, but splashed around in the shallows a bit.

I tried to coax Eowyn in a bit deeper. She was not too excited about the whole thing either, though. And with some rocks and tree stumps hiding in the mud, I let her be.

On the way back, we were gaiting/ trotting a bit when we found some nice dirt roads, and Den had a few boot loss issues. The next day I trimmed him up how I do my ponies, and put half a size smaller boot on his feet. He had some flares that were making it look like he needed bigger boots, but then once removed, he needed a smaller one. The rest of the time he never had another issue. Fit and proper trim, are important to boot retention. Even more so with Gloves.

The day ended as it began, with beautiful Loon Lake. What a fun day sight seeing in the back country.

Eowyn enjoying the last rays of the sun again. I tested her out on a 'horse collar' this trip as well. It worked like a charm and helped keep the lead rope out of her way. In June she pulled a groin muscle, when she got her leg over the rope while scratching her ear. He tore the whole hi-tie arm off the trailer as well.

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Next, in Part Two, the horses go 'slabbing' and Den learns to bushwhack.

Natalie Herman, Pictures/Vids by Natalie, Tara, and Willi.


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