Trail Report: Montgomery Pass

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Zimmerman Lake (parking), Montgomery Pass (trailhead)
  • Website: Montgomery Pass
  • Trail Map: State Forest State Park
  • Additional Info: Poudre Wilderness Volunteers
  • Length: 3.6 (round-trip)
  • Closest Town: Rustic
  • Green Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Beer Friendly: Yes
  • Firearm Friendly: Yes
  • Dog Friendly: Yes
  • Obstacles: Wildlife, bikers, hikers and small water crossings
  • Parking: Large semi-circle lot at Zimmerman Lake trailhead, lightly used and plenty of horse trailer parking
  • Water: Parking lot is next to Joe Wright Reservoir and Joe Wright Creek, several small stream crossings along trail

The Nitty Gritty:

To get to the Montgomery Pass Trailhead, you’ll head west on highway 14 for about 57 miles past Ted’s Place to the Zimmerman Lake parking area which will be on your left.  The paved parking area just past Joe Wright Reservoir (also on your left) has vault bathrooms available and ample room for cars though use is fairly light throughout the year.   The actual Montgomery Pass trailhead is across the road from the parking area and is pretty darn hard to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for.  For reference, from the bathrooms, look across highway 14 and slightly east and you’ll see a small wooden sign denoting the trailhead.

This trail is absolutely spectacular for wildflowers.  This time of year, the asters were in full swing along with the columbine, balsamroot and, my favorite, Indian paintbrush.  Immediately past the trailhead sign, you find yourself in a dense pine forest surrounded by a blanket of wildflowers that extends almost the entire trip to treeline.  The sound of Joe Wright Creek flowing down the mountain is faint in the background until you see it come into view about ¼ mile up the trail.  It’s a world fit for Disney.

The trail itself is a great one for beginners and, I imagine, a fantastic horse and snowshoe or cross country ski trail in the winter.  The wide, two-track trail is actually an old Jeep trail left over from the numerous mining camps in the area way back when.  In fact, there are actually several old mine cavings and cabin reminisces when you reach treeline.  In general, the trail is easy to navigate to treeline with minimal toe-stubbing or ankle-rolling probability.

The trail travels through the thick, stately pines for about 1 ¾ mile until you reach a fork.  A wooden sign will point you in the direction of the “Bowls” or the “Pass” and from there it’s up to you to make your decision.  We chose the bowls but I’m definitely heading back to hit the pass.

The ¼ mile to the bowls is not for the faint of heart.  From the sign at the fork, the trail hits an almost 90 degree angle and scrambling a bit is to be expected.  The trail fades out a bit toward the top of the initial hill but there are fairly well-marked cairns that mark the path of least resistance.

Then, the best thing happens.  The ground levels and you find yourself in a spectacular alpine meadow right on the edge of treeline and you half expect Julie Andrews to be running over the hill belting out a tune.  There’s no trail after this so you’re on your own to explore how you wish and explore we did!  We checked out a few old mine cavings, what was left of an old cabin, a creek down the hill a ways and the plethora of moose tracks.  There was a gnarly set of pines grouped together on the south side of the meadow that had obviously been shaped by the seasonal snowpack.

We found a lovely spot to eat lunch while looking out at the Nokhu Crags in the distance and the dogs ran around happily.  Though we did this trail on foot, I fully intend to come back with the horses as it appears to have great access to the rest of the State Forest State Park trail system for some longer, backcountry rides.  It has it all; forests, flowers, creeks, snow, above treeline, expansive views, wildlife traces and historical significance.

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5 REASONS BACKCOUNTRY RIDERS ARE DIRTBAGS, TOO.

dirtbag

A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for their living communaly and generally non-hygenically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle.

Urban Dictionary 

Who would’ve thought that the term “dirtbag” would become one of endearment?  The ever-evolving term still embraces the above definition but, on the whole, you don’t necessarily need to be unemployed and homeless to be considered a part of the dirtbag community anymore.

1185067_10151949969984180_2103682320_nThere are literally thousands of self-proclaimed dirtbags embracing the term and all it entails.  They live life to the fullest extent they can, honing their skills and searching for the next adrenaline rush.

So, here’s my problem:  Why are backcountry riders excluded?

In fact, its my experience that the outdoor community as a whole tends to exclude riders as members of the dirtbag crew.  While I’m sure part of it is the stigma that surrounds the mounted community (the same one that labels us as gun-toting, Copenhagen chewing, cowboy hat wearing, shit kicking hicks), I submit that we are of the same extreme, gutsy, carpe diem embracing, athletic caliber as any run-of-the-mill dirtbag.

11817279_10153680112749180_6867035685571912994_nYes, I do carry a gun, and wear a cowboy hat a lot of the time, and my significant other always has a dip in, and am often kicking shit off my boots, but why does that exclude me and my kind from the extreme outdoor sporting community?

So, with that, here are 5 solid reasons riders can be considered a legit part of the dirtbag community:

 


REASON #1: WE’RE DEDICATED.

Yes, my fellow dirtbaggers, we riders are just as dedicated to our sport and our lifestyle as you are.  When you get up before dawn to hit the road to the trailhead, we’ve already been up for hours feeding the horses, loading the trailer, checking tire pressure and readying our gear.  See, we have a considerable amount of logistics to take into account outside of our daily goal and that takes time and preparation.

15089_10151984030579180_1310855075_nWhile a few exceptions exist, the majority of riders I’ve met (myself included) have been in the saddle from an early age – some of us were riding before we could walk.  Traditionally thought of as a “rich person sport,” those of us without the steady cash flow to afford it, did whatever we could to stay in the saddle.  We adapt to fill the need for horse hair and dirt – just as you do in order to climb El Capitan.

Unfortunately, while inevitably appealing, the unemployed-I-live-in-my-van lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to our culture.  Much like a child (though arguably more fun), we have a being dependent on us for food, shelter and water.  Most backcountry riders have at least 2 jobs to make this happen (currently, I have 4).  If that’s not dedication I don’t know what is.

REASON #2: WE LOVE MINIMALISM.

940855_10154048180919180_4093242332917061510_nSure, we have a horse and that means we can carry a little bit more than you but, in truth, not much.  The fact of the matter is that, while pack strings are nice, they’re not a logical choice for many of the places we like to go (which just so happen to be many of the same places you like to go).  Having an extra horse or two, or even a llama, can be a definite advantage in certain circumstances but the majority of us hit the trail as a duo; 1 horse, 1 rider.

If you’re spending any amount of time in the backcountry, the same rules apply to riders as they do to backpackers.  Just as you do, we lighten our load, we make important decisions on what to include and what to cut and we do our best to make our packs comfortable.  The difference is, we not only have to pack and make our load comfortable for ourselves, but for our horses, too.

An ill fitting pack can rub, make your muscles unduly sore and lead to a truly crummy time on the trail.  As a rider, if your horse ends up with a saddle sore from an uneven or overweighted load, you’ll be carrying a 50lb saddle back along with your pack.  Needless to say, we’ve mastered the art of minimalism.

REASON #3: WE LIVE THE OUTDOORS.

12079149_10153822412279180_1234049767084560464_nAs a dirtbag, you live for the days when you are miles away from anything remotely resembling civilization.  Backcountry riders do, too.  You relish the anti-social lifestyle and long to be in the silence of nature.  Backcountry riders do, too.  In fact, many of us prefer the company of our horse over the company of people (I know I do).

A purveyor of the outdoor lifestyle, you dirtbags often spend time giving back to the areas you spend time in.  Backcountry riders do, too.  While you may think of us as walking poop machines, riders are actually extremely active in maintaining their local areas and advocates for the wilderness areas we frequent.

REASON #4: WE CAN GO (JUST ABOUT) ANYWHERE YOU CAN.

While my horse may have a hard time scaling a rock face or catching a wave, there are very few places we can’t get to…one way or another.  It can be a challenge to find an equine partner with the balls to take on questionable river crossings, shaky, shale rock trails and above treeline storms without question.  When you do, you know you’ve got a lifer.

200090_10151731143044180_1551779171_nOn foot, all you need to worry about is getting yourself from point A to point B.  On horseback, we’re constantly looking ahead for the next obstacle and determining the best route for our four-legged counterpart.  If you’re lucky, you end up with a “beer drinking” horse who is an expert navigator but, even then, it’s still our duty to know what lies ahead.

When in route, there’s little that can stop a true dirtbag from reaching their goal.  Riders are no different – we might just have to get a little creative.

REASON #5: WE LIVE FOR THE THRILL.

There is little else that can compare to the thrill of grabbing mane and trusting the 1100lb creature under you to carry you up a rocky face to a steep summit.  The 65306_10151633283199180_1170511237_nuneven ground beneath their feet wiggles and gives way between strides, your weight shifts in the saddle with each step and you glance backward for just a moment, forgetting the nearly 90 degree incline you’re on before turning back around quickly.

When you reach the top, you take a deep breath.  Your horse breathes heavy beneath you and you feel weak from the adrenaline coursing through your body.  He shifts his footing a bit as its still questionable and just then you realize if he shifts 2 more inches to the left, you’ll tumble down the way you came.  Oh lord, now you have to get back down…


When it comes down to it, we riders are just as dirtbag as the rest of you; we use the much of the same gear, travel the same trails and seek the same thrills.  So, why then, are we outcasts?  The outdoor community has long been inclusive of people from all walks of life, all backgrounds and all interests…except, seemingly, those of us on horseback.

If a voracious love of the outdoors is the basis of dirtbag life, then consider me, and my horse, a dirtbag.