Had it been up to me, when I stepped outside Saturday morning I would have decided against riding based on the weather.  It was very cool at 46 and trying to rain lightly.  The sky was overcast.  I actually had to use my wipers a few times on the way to the barn.  Fortunately, I was overruled and we pressed onward.  There was enough rain that I covered my saddle seat while tacking up, but still not hard rain.  I got in my saddle as soon as I could.  Seemed like the best way to keep it dry.  Of course not everybody was far along.  I amused myself by taking pictures of Debra and reminding her that she was holding us up.  That worked really well.  Eventually, she did get on and we departed, 1015a.

I do not like to rank rides or do comparisons.  I will just say it was a really good ride.  We only ran across two other riders the whole day, a pair of fine black mules and their people.  Everything was so quiet and so peaceful.  The weather remained cool all day.  We were blessed with a patch of delightful sunshine lasting all the time we lunched, then vanishing as we rode off.  Hmm.  Fog persisted throughout the day, but it was friendly fog, not the daunting, looming kind.  It was thick enough at times that I couldn’t see more than a few horse-lengths ahead, but then it would clear.  It seemed to be a vast flock of individual fogs all travelling somewhere.  One would come, envelop us, and then drift on its way without lingering too long.  Some were more motivated; rolling mists I would call them.  Others were more casual and seemed to be enjoying their journey, as we were.  Look for them in the pics.  Did my best, but I think they’re camera-shy.

Did see several deer on the way up in the morning.  Heard a distant turkey, but no other wildlife to mention.  The Scales had several tents – looked like some sort of organizational outing.  They had a banner up but I couldn’t make it out.  A few people were milling about but no equines that I recall.  It was cool enough that I could see my breath before lunch.  The horses were steaming at rest stops on the way up.  Oh, and NO rain all day!  God is good.  Even though it is fall and there wasn’t much actually blooming, most everything was still rich and lush green.  Some of the ferns were starting to turn.  We went thru some beautiful fern meadows in the dense woods of Third Peak trail.  Horses were superb.  I didn’t have to drive.  Wow, did I mention it was a great day?

Clem wanted me to note Debra’s progress on gates.  She’s really starting to catch on to how they work, mostly due to Clem’s patient persistence.  The ride is documented below and there should be a map in the pics.  Total time 7.5 hours.  I’m mentioning trail ratings, moderate, difficult.  These are NOT my ratings.  They are from the National Geographic trail map #0000, which I’m sure they get from the park service.

Parked at FS 613 parking lot beside the Livery.  Left on the Livery trail thru the pasture to VHHT(101), rated moderate.  Rode the trail up to the road(613).  Stayed on the road, rather than getting back on VHHT(101), up to Third Peak trail (95) rated difficult.  I did not see a sign at the road marking the trail.  The trail goes off the road to the left (which is really riding straight ahead) in a switchback curve to the right.  There is a wide spot where boulders are used for borders.  Straight ahead on Third Peak trail to a 4-way intersection.  One unmarked and unmapped trail goes straight ahead.  Another unmarked, unmapped trail goes down hill to the left.  We continue on Third Peak trail which is a right turn up the hill.  1145a, time out 1.5h.  Climb steadily thru dense and beautiful woods until a gate into the open tundra at the top.  Here we had a splendid picnic in the warm sun, which miraculously appeared when we arrived and left when we did.  1230p, (45m) time out 2h 15m.  Just beyond the picnic spot we intersected First Peak trail(31), rated moderate.  We turned left onto First Peak trail.  115p, (45m) time out 3h.  This takes us into Little Wilson Creek Wilderness.  Continue to and just past the Jackie Street trail(51) intersection, rated moderate, to another intersection area.  150p, (35m), time out 3h 35m.  Here there is an unmarked trail left that leads out to an overlook.  First Peak continues, slightly to the left.  To the right out of the opening is a tiny foreboding “Deep Mud – Travel Not Recommended” trail.  Guess which trail we take?  Yep, we opt for the “Deep Mud” trail.  200p, (45m) time out 4h 20m.  Naturally, this trail is not on my map.  It is by no means any worse than other trails in the area.  This took us to the dead end (or for us , the beginning) of the Bearpen trail(3), rated moderate.  300p, (1h) time out 5h 20m.  Continue on to and past the connection of Big Wilson Creek trail(84), rated moderate.  .  Bearpen takes us on to the Scales trail(84), rated moderate.  Bearpen begins in the woods as a creekbed-ish trail.  Breaks out into patchy tundra for a good ways, then returns to the creekbed-ish to to hit the Scales trail.  Continue on Scales trail to the Scales.  350p, (50m), time out 6h 10m.  We followed the road(613) down to the second section of VHHT(101) that we came up on.  Then back the same as we came.  Arrived at the Livery about 515p, (1h 25m), time out 7h 35m.  Just a short hack back to the trailer from here, after a few bites of grass of course.

Check out the pics here.  If you would like to see a pdf map of the ride, try here.  You can save or print the pdf if you want.