Sunday, February 28, 2016

Attempting The Devil's Backbone

I've ridden at a place called Graves Mountain a couple of times now.  (The mountain gets its name from the family who settled there and not from an excessive amount of dead bodies, although I would believe the latter case anyway.)  Graves Mountain is a training ground for many of the endurance riders in the area due to its technical (i.e. rocky) trails and extreme climbing.  Unfortunately the trails are not well-marked and there is a confluence of private trails, lodge trails, logging trails, and national park trails in the area, and navigating them without a guide seems unwise to me (I imagine that I would get lost and my body  would eventually be found by an archaeologist about 4,000 years from now.) The first time I rode there, I felt lucky to escape with my life.  The second time was thankfully not as much of an adventure. 

Luckily, I meet all sorts of great people out on the trails, and one of these fabulous people rides at Graves Mountain all the time and offered to be my guide today.  So we met at 10 am this morning and braved the excessive heat (I know, I complain about the cold, the wind, the mud, and the snow, but 70 degrees felt hot!). 

Because many of the trails are pretty rocky, mud isn't as much of a factor as it normally would be, so we were able to make good progress.  At one point, my guide asked me if I wanted to ride The Devil's Backbone section of the trail.  "Of course!" I said.  Because who wouldn't want to ride a trail with that kind of name?  (Just in case you are wondering, the answer to that question is normal, sane people who have a sense of their own mortality and a desire for self-preservation.)

According to my guide, many endurance riders consider that section of trail to be at least as difficult as any of the most challenging sections of trail on the OD endurance ride and any horse who can make it through The Devil's Backbone is considered competent to complete the OD ride.  Because that is in fact, my goal, I figured it sounded perfect to give it a try.

So we followed the arrow pointing us in the right direction and started climbing.  Unfortunately, this section of trail wasn't as rocky as other sections, and the horses started having trouble with the mud.  But we kept going.  And the climb got steeper and steeper.  Finally, we hit the steepest section yet, and Nimo took the lead (brave, brave horse!)  The mud was so slick that he slowed down to a crawl and carefully placed each hoof.  I could feel him jamming his toes into the trail before taking a step.  But he was slipping anyway.  After both horses struggled for a couple of minutes, the lady I was riding with wondered if it was wise to continue.  Apparently, the trail just kept getting steeper and at some point we would have to come down off the mountain and the extreme grade of the trail wasn't going to make that process very easy.

I really believe that if our lives had depended on it, Nimo would have made it up that mountain on that trail.  He was being so careful and trying so hard and he didn't stop trying to go forward until I asked him to stop.  But our lives didn't depend on it, and the trail just wasn't safe when it was so muddy.  There wasn't a good reason to ask the horses to continue when we had other trails available that were in better shape.  So we decided to turn around.  Which turned out to not be that easy because the horses were on the face of this slick, steep mountain trail.  But, with great care, Nimo got himself turned around and half-slid down the trail to a section with a gentler grade.  Then the other horse began her descent.  She ended up basically sitting on her butt, locking her hind legs, and skiing down the trail.  She kind of looked like a reining horse doing a sliding stop down a mountain.  Thankfully, both horses navigated their way safely off the steepest section of trail, but they kept sliding around a lot as we continued to descend, and I think everyone was grateful when we hit a rocky section of trail because it gave the horses the traction they needed.

We tried another route to get up a different section of the mountain, but the bridge we needed to cross was flooded (as in, the river that it went over was so high, it exceeded the height of the bridge by several feet).  So we turned around and tried a third way.  And that worked.  We made it to a lovely view and just breathed in the mountain air.

Because we'd been riding for well over 2 hours at that point, we decided to head back to the trailers.  Nimo was quite happy to take the lead again, sensing that our ride was nearing its end.  He even bravely crossed one of the rivers first, which was deep and running crazy fast with all the snow melt off the mountain.  I think the water came up to his belly and I had to be careful not to look at the water because I would start to feel dizzy and lose my balance.

Finally, we made it back to the trailers and gave the horses a chance to get a snack and rest before loading up and heading home.  But I will be back as soon as it is drier and we are absolutely going to tackle The Devil's Backbone again!:)


  1. I have several friends who ride there regularly and I am always staring at the photos with my jaw wide open.

    1. I don't even feel capable of taking pictures because I'm so focused on riding. That Nimo willingly does those trails amazes me every time - he's come a long way!:)

  2. Oh, I love that kind of trail, especially with the emotive names! But the slippery mud sounds dangerous, so glad you turned back, live to ride another day. When you go back I hope you're able to take photos.

    1. I'm definitely going to try to get pictures, irish horse:)