Sometimes I wonder what the ponies make of all this. They have ways of making their preferences clear, and we do our best to respect that and work with them, but it is amazing and humbling how readily and steadily they carry us and our gear down highways and over mountains, fording rivers and waiting at red lights, patient with barking dogs and honking cars and our occasional ineptitudes…
When we got the horses out of the trailer at the Piedra Blanca trailhead Daisy acted like she’d never seen a pine tree before. It’s quite possible. She’d certainly never been packed before and here we were coming at her with bright yellow dry bags and a big white wizard’s cloak to wear. She sniffed and blew stiff-nosed suspicion at each stage of the process, and stepped mighty high and careful when we first led her out, but never balked or faltered – and by the time we reached camp I had tied the rope up to her pack and she was following Jesse’s tail like she’d been packing all her life. Jesse was keen to travel, feeling sure and strong and sound under me for the first time in a month and so very happy to be heading away from tarmac and traffic and onto mountain trails.
The ride in was gorgeous, big smooth rocks, orange buff ochre gravel, scrub grass and sage - good footing for the horses and a beautiful trail that looped and crossed and followed and rose above the Sespe Creek – beauty every way we looked. Gryph had her hands full riding Finehorn and ponying Cowgirl who was carrying our precariously packed food - the backpack boys we met were impressed!
We missed the turn-off for Willet’s Hot Springs (just as well, since the parking lot had been full of cars and the Springs and camps were just as full of backpackers). By the time we realized our mistake it was getting dark – we turned around and backtracked to the last campable spot we’d seen, Jesse snorting and grumbling his disgust at our navigational skills. We untacked the ponies, tethered Jesse and Finehorn, turned Cowgirl loose, and wondered what to do with Daisy. I was holding her on a long pony rope and letting her graze and she seemed to be sorting herself pretty well, careful of the rope and calm, so I put her on the long thick cotton training tether and joined Gryph in setting up camp. We’d brought more food than we could hoist up in the bear-bags – so we hung the smelliest stuff, and Gryph slept with the can of “Frontiersman” pepper spray cocked and ready for bear.
Daisy got a little tangled once or twice, but stopped and listened as we helped her out of her predicament. Tethering is something that horses have to learn how to do – it took Jesse months (and Finehorn weeks) to become adept at navigating the long rope. We had no idea if Daisy had ever tethered before, but at least she was being sensible. Then suddenly she wasn’t being sensible any more - she got herself in a bind and threw a fit – horseshoes throwing sparks off of careless rocks that got in her way, a great thrashing about that ended with Daisy lying on the ground, not tangled up in any way. She scrambled to her feet and then randomly threw herself down once again with a great groan – we rushed to her side where she lay as if she were merely resting for a spell and none of that undignified behaviour had ever happened. We checked her over for injuries and she was fine, we hung out with her for awhile, scratching her mane and stroking her neck and then encouraged her to get to her feet, which she did with a great shake. We tied her to an overhead limb for the night, to be on the safe side.
The next day, after a cold but otherwise uneventful night, we packed up and headed back in search of the hot springs. We arrived early Sunday afternoon as the last of the weekenders were packing up and heading out. We found a wee cabin with two bunk beds and a tiny wood stove and a pasture for the ponies with a spring fed water trough and felt like we’d died and gone to heaven. The ponies rolled and wandered and grazed and explored their new domain as we moved in, packed a snack, used our magic Steripen wand to ensure that the spring water piped to the cabin was safe to drink and set off in search of Willet’s Hot Springs.
A kilometer of hiking up a narrow trail around a ridge and into a box canyon brought us to a secluded grotto – and a big round stock tank full of 102* water, which spilled out of a fissure in the cliff above us and traveled through a pipe into the tub. We stripped down and climbed into the waters, sinking in up to our chins and suddenly becoming aware of every ache and pull and tension of the past three months as we finally gave our bodies and minds permission to relax. It was hours before we wobbled down the hill on jellied legs under a full moon – to our cozy wee cabin and sleep.