Today was it! This was one of the two bucket list adventures I wanted to do on this trek. It was an up at 4:00am day. I was in the park at 5:00am and on a horse at 5:45am making my way up and over the mountains to follow the Tonahutu creek trail that had been used for hundreds of years by the Native Americans.
There were six riders and two guides from Sombero Ranch. We were suited with our horses, and I we went as I began my 10 hour trek with Frost my horse. It was a cold, raw and foggy day. We didn’t know how much we would see and there was a chance (as always) of afternoon thunderstorms and heavy rain.
Now, I was the one in the group with the least amount of riding experience. I was a fast learner and quickly learned how to save my ass while we trotted. We trotted in spots on the trail where we could to try and beat the afternoon thunderstorms. We made it up to Flattop Mountain where I had been before in just under 3 hours. In preparing for this journey, I thought I may have a saddle accident when going around those turns on cliffs. I was extremely surprised at how safe and comfortable I felt on the horse climbing those rocks. After all, a horse doesn’t want to die either and is going to be sure footed.
Once we reached the top, we had a decision to make, press forward and get back under the tree line before the storms. One person in the group stated she would rather turn around and be safe. The group finally decided we could push forward at a faster pace and make the tree line.
It was foggy up top and not much of a view. I had the opportunity to see it the day before from my hiking. My hope was to go across the continental divide. Not only did we press forward but we trotted by horse most of the way across the divide. We made it to our lunch spot down low in the trees. We spotted elk, moose and deer along our travels.
After lunch, we pressed on and still had another three hours of trail to cover. We were 20 minutes into this leg of the journey when the thunder, lightning, downpour and hail began. I have been caught out in thunderstorms, in a parking lot, hiking back home, even out on a lake, but I have never experienced lightning right over head, striking all around. That elevation is so much closer to the clouds and the echo off the mountain created a continuous thunderclap. We had to pull off into tree cover as the hail got to be dime size, it was only 36 degrees, and was bouncing off of us and the horses. We waiting about 10 minutes for the hail to let up so we could press onward.
We were all cold and wet and when you put that out of your mind and looked around, the ground had patches of white from the hail that looked like the cover of a Hallmark Christmas card. It was so beautiful and it was amazing to experience parts of the park that have been burnt by lightning strikes as well as their largest fire that burned back in 2013.
We made it out to Grand Lake just after 4pm, cold, tired and wet but a happy group of riders. I took my saddle tired legs and drove back to Denver in order to get ready for the next leg of the journey.