The trouble with doing 100 mile endurance rides is it leaves little room for pleasure riding – you’re either training, resting, or exhausted. Exploring the mountains on horseback was something that was sorely missed this summer, so taking advantage of the mild weather last weekend Patrick and I snuck out for three days of horse camping at Faith Valley in the high Sierra, about 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe.

Faith Valley sits at 7500′ (2300 m) so we were a little concerned about how cold it would get and indeed it did get below freezing a couple of the nights we were there, but during the day the weather was absolutely glorious – up in the 70s (low 20s°C). Campfires in the evening and pones bundled into blankies meant that no one suffered terribly.
Small Thing and Fergus woke us up at 6:30 am twice – mostly ST banging around trying to bite Fergus and not being able to reach him around the corner. Turns out Fergus was actually causing the trouble, having run out of hay and was miffed that ST still had some, so squabbling ensued. Having said that, I’m still unclear how exactly ST’s hay bag ended up over the top of his spring-tie, unless it was catapulted there by flying feet?
Neither Small Thing nor Fergus wore boots for our first day’s excursion – a 1500′ (460 m) climb up to Forestdale Divide to a mountain overlook (you could see the tiny speck of our horse trailer far below).
The rock road leading to the top wasn’t the most barefoot-friendly piece of footing we’d ever been on, but Small Thing seemed to take it in his stride.
On the way back down again we picked up the Pacific Crest Trail for a couple of miles. The PCT runs from the Mexican border all the way north to Canada, following the crest of the mountains. One of my crew at Tevis this year – Brenna – had hiked great swaths of the PCT this summer (she happened to have appeared at the right place [Donner Summit] at the right time [for me] to temporarily suspended her walking and crewed in exchange for showers and food). It was fun to imagine that we were following in her footsteps from earlier in the summer.
By the time we were clambering back down the trail, Fergus was getting a bit ouchy (although still comfortable enough to race Small Thing across the meadow at the end), so when we got back to camp I gave him a 30-minute trim to ready his feet for Gloves all around the following day.
Although Small Thing had shown no signs of being sore the first day, I opted to at least boot his front feet for the second day’s ride – a trip over a shaley mountain. Originally, I was just going to be lazy and slap his Glove Back Country boots on, but remember me saying it was time to trim him two weeks ago…? Yup, that’s right, I hadn’t done it yet. So while Patrick was tacking Fergus up, I quickly trimmed up Small Thing’s front feet so I could get his boots on.
The start of this trail took us up to a lake on a winding wooded singletrack. The previous winter had not been kind to this trail and there were lots of downed trees. Small Thing is good at jumping things when I’m not on him, so I decided to start asking him to jump things while riding him. To begin with, it was a little messy – him taking great vertical leaps over 4″ high logs, but gradually he settled into it and we started to figure out this jumping thing. Big fun.
We then clambered up the side of the mountain and the higher we went the less vegetation there was. Up there, the views were stunning – that is, until we got into some yellow jackets and all got stung. Yes, Small Thing can buck high when he’s trying to escape wasps. I got stung twice, Patrick once, and ST at least twice judging by his antics. No idea what the wasps were doing up there – there wasn’t anything to eat – at least until we got up there.
Slithering down the other side in the rocks, I was amazed at how well Small Thing’s bare back feet were holding up. I thought he’d get ouchy with all the clambering over rocks, but he didn’t really seem to care.
We finished up this ride by a trip over into Charity Valley to the creek, past ST’s nemesis – a large glacial boulder standing next to the trail. I have no idea why he is so alarmed by this boulder, but his avoidance antics resulted in some boulder circling for a few minutes.
The last day we did an easy trail – only up about 400′ along the ridge to the west, past the rocky overlook that peeks into Faith Valley, and then back down through the creek at the bottom. The aspen were a’quiverin’ and the sun shone so brightly I got sunburned in my tank top. Did I mention how much I adore living in California?
There’s our horse trailer in the edge of the trees on the left
Faith Valley is only 2.5 hours drive away from us, so we’re already wondering if the weather will hold long enough for us to squeeze in one last trip next month. By then, both Fergus and Small Thing might need another trim, unless I can get them to self-trim on the rocks again.
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California