Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Horseback Riding and Hiking.

The first experience I had backpacking and hiking on trails shared with horseback riders was in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because of the way that Park was established the government had to basically allow free access to almost the entire Park by people on horseback. One of the few exceptions there is the Appalachian Trail which follows the spine of the main ridge and is for foot travel only.

That first time sharing the trails with horses wasn't too bad. Mainly, looking back on it, because we didn't run into very many people on horseback. In fact, I only recall having to move out of the way for horses one time (horseback riders have the right of way on such trails--they outweigh your average hiker by a vast margin), and I think we only had to camp near horses one night. So, my first experience wasn't all that bad.

Since then, I have come to regard horses in our National Parks and National Forests as a truly negative thing. They give access to some of the most unsavory folk I've ever met while hiking and backpacking. Lard-asses who would otherwise never think of delving into a wilderness can be found crushing the spines of horses in National Parks. And they almost always bring all manner of nasty shit into the forests with them, including guns.

Horses and their riders scare off all of the wildlife. I never see any wildlife when I encounter goddamned horses on the trails. With the exception of flies and gnats. Horses carry their own little traveling ecosystem in their wake. Whenever horses pass me when I'm hiking, I am left to contend with vast swarms of annoying gnats and flies that find me and linger to bug the shit out of me when the horses have traveled on.

The horse shit isn't really a problem for me. As shit goes, horse shit isn't offensive. It's mainly grass and such and is easily avoided and if you step in it...well, no big deal. That's not the problem, at all.

The absolutely WORST thing about sharing trails with horses is the massive damage that they do to the trails. They utterly wreck the trails. Erosion is a hideous problem on trails that horses use. They absolutely destroy the vegetation under their hooves; they press into the soil; they denude the trail of dirt and leave only a ragged and blasted surface behind. In places where the soil is deep, you have to contend with huge chunks of real estate that is essentially muck--almost like quicksand.

At long last I have had it with the horseback riders. 

One problem about the area where I went is that so many of the trails are for horses and hikers. Which means, essentially, that they are for horses.One trail was so badly damaged by horses that it had become nothing but a sea of mud and the Forest Service had erected a sign to dissuade both hikers and horsesback riders from using that stretch. It isn't safe for any of us now.

I managed to bag three peaks that I've wanted to summit for quite a long time, but I had to contend with doing so on trails used by horses. It was not a pleasant experience and I do not recommend that particular system of trails if you are a hiker or backpacker.

Almost all of the trails in this area are for horseback riders and hiker/backpackers.

I had been hoping to see some wildlife in the two wilderness areas adjacent to the Grindstone campground. Alas, it was not to be: the forests were packed with horses.

This trail damage was mild compared to what I encountered throughout the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness.

I could not hike through this muck. My boots would vanish in the depths of the mud. I had to bushwhack around these sections, some of them quite long.

I didn't hike down this trail. If it was worse than the ones I'd already encountered, I didn't even want to know about it.

This group of riders were actually nice. They said hello and spoke to me and smiled. Some of the others I encountered were belligerent, as if I had no right to be on the trails.

I had cut my hike short not because of the damage to the trails, but because a large and noisy thunderstorm was rolling in at a rapid clip. Just before taking this shot I had been able to see Mount Rogers, but it was quickly hidden behind thunderheads and lightning.

Every hiker and backpacker I know gets the hell off of the ridges and mountaintops when the lightning rolls in. I was hustling to get back to my truck. But what were the horseback riders doing? They were headed right up to the highest points, as if lightning must avoid people on horseback.


Jim Earp said...

Damn straight. And when the trails dry out and cease to be a sea of muck, they're nearly impossible to walk on at a decent pace without turning an ankle. I feel sorry for the horses, having to haul those porkers. They probably should establish weight limits for horseback riders. That would blow away some of the chaff, right there.

James Robert Smith said...

Because I've tended to use just a handful of trails when I'm in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, I had not noticed that so many of the trails there are for horseback riders. Just from a quick look at my trail map, it seems that about 90% of the trails are for horseback riders! There are only a few trails strictly for hikers and backpackers! Those horse-loving jerks have pretty much unfettered access to ruin the high country. One of the few places of note that they can't wreck is the summit of Mount Rogers!

Mark Gelbart said...

By coincidence, I hiked a horseback trail Monday on Pigeon Mountain.

It was kind of a rainy day, and there were no horses. The path went up a ravine and it was badly eroded.

Also went to Lavender Mountain again. I couldn't believe all the deer I saw on Berry College campus.

James Robert Smith said...

Horses destroy trails. Utterly destroy them. One thing I noticed was that the creek below a horseback area was full of silt. The creeks away from the horseback area were running clear during the rainstorms, but not the ones flowing out of the horseback trail intersection.

When I was a kid living in Ellijay, there was a movement afoot to protect the Pigeon Mountain and the old growth forests that were there in those days (early 1970s). Apparently the movement failed. When I've asked foresters and locals about the old growth forests on Pigeon Mountain, they say that there are none, and if there were, they would cut over.

I believe the deer you saw. Many parts of the southeast have a major problem with vast deer herds. In West Virginia there are entire forests that cannot reproduce because the deer are consuming all of the new growth. Without a predator base to control the herds, they're going to just keep vacuuming up the new trees as they break the surface of the forest floor. Not even hunters can put a dent in the population.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

Most beautiful place in my area is the Wissohickon Valley area of Fairmount Park, which runs in a deep gorge between Roxborough & Chestnut Hill (the furthermost north-west areas of Philly).

They have a lot of foot-trails, but all the way down in the valley, near the creek, is also a wide "horse-path". It's GRAVEL, and the only place you will lever see horses, or vehicles-- and EMERGENCY vehicles, only. But in all the tmes I've been there, I'd say about 99% of the traffic on the path is people. Very few horses or park vehicles.

It can be so quiet and peaceful, it's easy to forget you're within the city limits. If I was working steady and could get my car fixed, I'd probably be going out there more often again. Years back, I took hundreds of photos of that place!

James Robert Smith said...

You should go back some time and take more photos. I haven't been to Philadelphia in a very long time. First time I was there I went to pitch a comic series to the Lasorda brothers who were running Comico at the time. Next time I was there was several years later to attend a comic convention as a dealer. Our vehicle broke down and we had to wait for a part to get it fixed. I was stranded there for a week, waiting for that damned part. Got terribly homesick for my wife and son. On the bright side, I discovered some great restaurants.