Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From the boggy bottoms to the summit

Today we took Nina and Harley on another ride with mud, but none so deep you could lose your horse in it! As John said, "You know the mud's deep when your horse is using his chin to get out!"

Our plan, was to ride to Second Hill, a sub-summit to Mt. Agamenticus. This is a ride with mud, brooks, and foot bridges. We rode out the Orris Falls Trail to Emery's Bridge Rd. A half mile later, we turned off into the woods on, what I call, the Bennett Lot Trail (a cut through the woods to Bennett Lot Rd). We took a little break here so John could adjust Nina's saddle a bit. The air was steamy and it was shaping up to be a hot ride, but our plan was to take our time and enjoy the ride. Mushrooms carpeted the forest floor with splashes of mustard yellow, orange, red, pale purple, olive green, and ghost white. Some were just gelatinous masses, some were just peeking out from under a carpet of hemlock needles or leaves. It smelled like fall, crushed sweet fern, ripening berries, and dead leaves. Our last wildflowers,  autumn asters, bloomed in sunny spots along the trail edge and roadsides. A last gasp of color.

Our first obstacle: a giant mud puddle in the old woods road, complete with frogs leaping in and out. Nina would have no part of it! Harley, just following Nina's lead decided, "if she won't go, I won't go".
Finally, with much urging, I convinced him to step into the water. He opted to stay "close to shore", hugging the edge. But it was enough to convince Nina to follow. Then came the first foot bridge. Once again, Harley took the lead, ears up and looking off to both sides at the tumbling brook below, but calmly walked across. Again, Nina followed. We then doubled back around to make them cross the water. This proved more difficult than the bridge, but they did it, both ways.

Break  en route up Second Hill

The trail up Second Hill is built for human foot traffic. It winds between narrow tree gaps (watch those knees!) over rocks and roots, and between ancient stone walls. I tried to picture what this area might have looked like in the last century. Were these hillsides all pasture? We stopped for a break and decided to lead the horses for a bit. We should have brought lunch with us. At least we had some crunchy carrots for the horses. They deserved treats--it was a bit of a climb for them!

The trail turned to granite ledge near the summit. Here we stopped again for a water break and to determine which path to follow next. The last bit to the summit was a scramble over rocky terrain. I was ready to turn back, and Ariat boots are NOT make for hiking. John willingly agreed--we'd already been out for a couple of hours and it would take us the same to get home.

My best boy near the summit
We are notorious for heading out into the Agamenticus region with maps, but we were prepared this time--compass, map, and GPS. There are blazes on the trees, and some signs at junctions, but if you're not sure where that trail leads, you're sunk without a compass. We guessed which trail  would lead us back towards home, and John was right. We came out on the Porcupine Trail (saw none) which led us to the Cedar Trail (saw none, but there must be some there). This trail had two low foot bridges crossing boggy areas (pretty dry this season, but I certainly wasn't going to test it after yesterday). Harley looked hard at them, but willingly stepped across, cloppity clopping with Nina right behind.

Once more, we had to face the first foot bridge, but since that didn't seem to be as much of an issue as water, we opted to make them cross the brook. Harley was happily playing "dude horse" and plodding along as second. So when I asked him to pass the snorting, spooking Nina, and go in the water, he wouldn't budge. "Ladies before gentlemen". Right, Harley. So we waited it out until Nina decided it wasn't so scary after all, and they both waded across.

By the time we came out onto Bennett Lot Rd., I was beginning to get stiff in the knees. I kept dropping my stirrups and swiveling my legs to loosen things up. The last time I spent this many hours in the saddle, I was 20 something! And just to make sure I didn't think Harley was really a "dude horse", he'd have a nice little spook every now and then--a gentle reminder!

The last leg, back through Orris Falls, was a relief. I'd been riding for over four hours and, boy, did I feel like it! As soon as we came out onto the road for home, Harley stepped up the pace, passed Nina on the inside and lengthened his stride, even jogging up the hills. I'm not sure who was happiest to be home, us, the horses, or Echoe, standing with gang at the gate, nickering to his long lost love, Nina.
Tomorrow--a short ride, only 2 hours!

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