Horseman’s Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re like me, you’ve managed to leave your holiday shopping to the very last possible second.  Thank goodness for Amazon!  Here are some great gift ideas for the horsey/outdoorsy person in your life and, for anyone keeping track, these are on my wishlist as well…


Big Agnes Helinox Chair

helinox-chair

I’m always at a loss on how to best transport a chair to the backcountry.  Usually, this item falls under the non-essential category due to weight and awkwardness but, at just 1.9 pounds and packing down to 14″x4″x5″, the Helinox Chair from Big Agnes has put itself closer to the top of my list!

 

 

 


Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow

pillow

I freely admit I am a bit of a princess.  I love pillows and feel strongly that you should not have to give up on comfort in the backcountry.  This pillow gets excellent reviews on Amazon and comes highly recommended from my Hike Like A Woman counterparts.  Best of all, it fits nicely into a tiny little stuff sack about the size of your hand and weighs in at next to nothing!

 


Wealers 7 Piece Camping Cookware Set

utensil-kit

 

Again, due to awkwardness and size, utensils almost never make it onto the trail with me.  This little kit provides all the essentials wrapped in a neat little package!  Tongs, spatula, ladle, knife, scissors, rice paddle and even a small cutting board – what else do you need?

 

 


Etekcity Ultralight Camping Stove

stove

 

Let’s face it, having a JetBoil would be nice but not all of us are millionaires!  I got this $10 beauty for Christmas last year and it gets the job done.  This little stove packs into a small plastic case that could fit into your pocket and works with any commercially available propane base.

 

 


Ultralight Camping Hammock 

hammock

 

One word: hammock.  If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, you should.  I bought myself one of these ultralight hammocks from Appalachian Outdoor Supply a few years back and it goes EVERYWHERE with me.  And, at just 1 pound and only $19.95, why wouldn’t it?

 


Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack

pack

Our dogs carry their weight when they come with us and the Ruffwear packs are great.  They are equipped with plenty of room for all your dog’s essentials, very adjustable and ergonomic.  With 5 sizes to choose from, there’s a perfect fit for every dog!

 

 


Lawson Hammock Blue Ridge Camping Hammock

tent

As an avid hammock fan, the tent-hammock combo has been intriguing to me, both from a comfort and practicality standpoint.  It’s hard to find tents that fit well into a backpack or in a saddle bag and this tent hammock weighs in at just 4.25 pounds and eliminates the need for a sleeping pad all together!

 


Cashel Medium Pommel Saddle Bag

saddle-bagIn all seriousness, this is one of the best purchases I ever made.  I use this bag every single time I ride as it’s small, lightweight, holds what I need for a day ride and provides easy access while still being out of the way.  There are pockets that hold two water bottles (or 4 cans of bee…coke), an outside pocket for your phone and a clip for your keys so they don’t get lost.  This company makes plenty of options for English riders, too!

 


Diamond Wool Saddle Pad

padLet’s face it, your saddle pad can make or break your ride (and your horse).  I have had incredibly good luck with the Diamond Wool pads.  My horses have never had a saddle sore, ingrown hair and are never excessively sweaty.  Also, these pads dry pretty quickly are easy to care for and don’t break the bank.

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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.

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.

Trail Report: North Fork Canadian Yurt & Kelly Lake

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Jackson County Road 41 (8.5 miles from the entrance of State Forest State Park)
  • Websites:
  • Length: ~5.5 miles one way from North Fork Canadian Yurt
  • Closest Town: Walden
  • Green Horse Friendly: No
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Yes, depending on fitness
  • Barefoot Friendly: No
  • Beer Friendly: Yes (though there are times you’ll wish you had a cup holder)
  • Firearm Friendly: Yes
  • Dog Friendly: Yes (summer)
  • Obstacles: Gates, water, bridges, rocks, narrow trails, wildlife, dogs, hikers, bikers, livestock, hunters (depending on the season)
  • Parking: Circle drive, designated trailer parking (~6 spots)

The Nitty Gritty:

This ride took place a bit before the creation of Backcountry Horseman so forgive me that there’s not more exact mileage and notes!

August 2013: We, on a mid-week whim way back in 2013, decided to take a camping trip with the horses. Where to go? Well, we decided to make the trek across the divide through Cameron Pass to the severely underutilized State Forest State Park. This park is part of the Colorado State Park system and located just outside of the sprawling metropolis of Walden, CO. The drive itself is pretty darn awesome. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll head up the Poudre Canyon via CO Highway 14. Though there are several places to visit and get some grub on the way up the canyon, there are no gas stations to speak of so top off the tank prior to hitting the canyon.

This place is one of the few public places in Colorado that offers yurts and huts for its visitors to stay in. The yurts are subcontracted through a company called Never Summer Nordic and they handle all the reservations. They recently went through a change of ownership but when we went, horses were allowed at one yurt – the North Fork Canadian. Dogs are allowed at the yurts only during the summer months.  In the winter, the snow around the yurt is utilized for water since the river is frozen and they do their best to limit the “yellow snow” element.  There is a buck and rail fence surrounding the yurt with a gate and its about 100 yards from the North Fork Canadian River making for more than reasonable horse accomodations. The yurt itself is a little over a mile from the parking area so packing in supplies is totally doable if you’re staying a few days. There are horse pens and camping areas at the trailhead if you’d rather stay there (cheaper) and those reservations are through the Colorado State Parks website. The yurt is essentially a dry cabin. There are basic amenities like a wood stove (even in August, we were VERY glad we had this), pots, pans, utensils, bunk beds, wood and a small propane cooking stove. For you ladies who are like me, you don’t mind going in the woods but if you don’t have to, so much the better. Well, have no fear, there’s an outhouse (and a fairly nice one at that)!

There are several trails you can access from the yurt but we chose to head to Kelly Lake. If I remember correctly, it was about 5.5 miles one-way from the yurt and had an elevation gain of about 2000 feet. There are amazing aspen groves along the way, plenty of water and, when we went, the wildflowers were in no short supply. There was one half mile stretch of some very sketchy rock scrambling where we dismounted and led the horses (ours did fine but likely not green horse friendly). The lake itself is above treeline and in a bit of a craggy area but is quite picturesque. We saw multiple moose on this ride so be prepared! Also, be prepared for rain as our entire ride back to the yurt was spent in a deluge.

This was a fairly short visit for us so we didn’t get the chance to explore the other, numerous trails around the yurt.  I have yet to find a good map that focus solely on the State Forest State Park trails but most of the commercially available maps of the area have both the trails within the park and the yurts well documented.  I would suggest having one of those handy as the trails, in general, weren’t terribly well marked and there were many spur trails (likely from the free range cattle).  We highly recommend this combo though as it makes for a great, animal friendly weekend adventure.

Trail Report: Mount Margaret

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Mount Margaret
  • Website: Mount Margaret Trailhead
  • Length: 6.5 miles (our route, round-trip)
  • Closest Town: Red Feather Lakes, CO
  • Green Horse Friendly: Yes (if they’re ok with water crossings)
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Beer Friendly: Yes
  • Firearm Friendly: Yes
  • Dog Friendly: Yes
  • Obstacles: water, gates, wildlife, dogs, hikers and bikers
  • Parking: 5 designated trailer parking spaces with circle drive

The Nitty Gritty:

6/9/2015:  While I’m undeniably happy that our state is receiving much needed rainfall, this also means many of the trails on my radar are still under several feet of snow. That said, we decided to try out the Mount Margaret Trail with some hesitation. Being fairly close to Ft. Collins, that it was free fishing weekend and that it was not raining for the first time in weeks, I expected this trail to be jam packed with outdoor enthusiasts. I am pleased to announce this was not the case! While on the trail, we passed only a handful of people (a few with dogs) and no other horses. A few of the trails allowed bikes though we did not see any.

This is by far the nicest trailer parking at any trailhead I’ve been to yet. There are 5 designated, pull-through spots with a circle drive which makes for an easy exit. Side note – don’t park where we did. The “no parking” signs were down on the ground so we didn’t see them right off and we made the adjustment after the pic was taken. There are clean, vault toilet at the trailhead along with two hitching racks. I did not see any water at the parking lot but there is a creek along the trail.

This is a well maintained, easy riding trail that would be good for riders of most levels. Green horses should do ok so long as they aren’t opposed to water. Lone Pine Creek is running pretty darn high currently and we both got our feet wet going through it (see pictures). No bridges that we came across but there are a fair number of gates to deal with (great option if you want to practice your gate skills so long as you don’t get lapped by hikers like we did while trying to win an argument with your horse…). We saw LOTS of fresh moose tracks so just a reminder that it’s calving season and they’re not the friendliest of creatures. Also, in the several hours we were on the trail, we had sun, rain and hail so come prepared!

From the parking lot, you’ll start by going through a portion of burned forest and come to Lone Pine Creek about 0.7 miles in. As I mentioned, it’s much larger than normal currently and gets unexpectedly deep in the middle so take it slow. It’s 1.4 miles to the first gate. After going through this gate, you’ll have the option to continue on the main trail (979) or turn left onto a spur that leads you to a T for 503 or East Dowdy Lake trail. We took this spur to he left and then another left onto East Dowdy Lake trail (503). From here you’ll follow a relatively wide trail to another gate. If you continue through the gate, at 2 miles (from the parking lot) you’ll see a small trail heading to he right which takes you to Dowdy Lake. We made it to the lake just to check it out and then turned around. Once back through the gate, we kept straight on 503 (this is a good area to let your horse stretch their legs a bit) and at 3 miles you’ll note some cool rock formations on your right. Go another half mile and you’ll come to a large intersection. From here you can go to the left (9 o’clock) to check out the frog pond (503.1), straight (1 o’clock) to Mount Margaret or right (5 o’clock) to the main trail (979). There is another right (3 o’clock) that was originally the Loop A (503c) you see on the maps. We did take this but it appears the forest service is making attempts to restore this area so we didn’t continue. All in all the route we took was about 6.5 miles.