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Tips for Solo Riding the Pacific Crest Trail - what to bring

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Tips for Solo Riding the Pacific Crest Trail - what to bring

Postby Ed Anderson » Thu Apr 26, 2012 5:03 am


I have often been asked what I carried while riding solo from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. What I brought allowed me to be self reliant and live on the trail between resupply locations. Resupply was usually from caches that I left at various near-trail locations while driving my rig ahead. I also resupplied from my well-stocked camper and horse trailer whenever I rode to it. My approach was always to leave Primo in safe care and drive my rig ahead, caching as I went, and then park it at a safe location near the PCT. Then I would hitch, or take a bus (rarely available), and hitch some more, to return to Primo, saddle up, and ride north. This approach required a lot of research and planning. I was able to find Angels who offered much-needed help by taking care of Primo and providing safe places to park my rig, giving me rides, etc. A big advantage, to me, was that by caching my resupplies, rather than having people meet me along the way, I could be more self reliant and independent. It is actually safer to not feel pressured to be on a time schedule. If I came upon an obstacle that would be risky to attempt to get past quickly with a horse, I could take the time to find a safe way past, or even turn back and find a longer, but safe, detour. If I found a great place to camp, I could - no schedule, no person waiting.


KNAPSACK; For several reasons, I carry a knapsack while riding on the PCT. First, because I try to carry lots of processed (weed-free) feed for Primo, there simply is not enough room in the cantle bags, saddle bags, and pommel bags for everything that I need to carry. I carry the horse feed in jumbo-size pommel bags. When planning, you have to consider bulk as well as weight. An important advantage of carrying some of the weight in a knapsack is that it reduces the "dead weight" of those same things if they were packed in the cantle bags and saddle bags. The knapsack weight becomes part of RIDER weight - easier on the horse, especially when you dismount to walk. Also, relating to safety, I carry, in the knapsack, what I would need for survival if I was separated from Primo - if he ran off, which he did once when he got a side view of llamas in Washington. The following is in my knapsack: My down sleeping bag and extra clothes were stuffed in a trash compactor bag to keep them dry in case of rain. (The clothes that I wore while riding, were made by ExOfficio - they are insect and tick repellent clothes. I wore their socks, pants and shirt while on the trail. In camp, I wore their cap with cape to protect my neck. I found this product to be very effective when in areas where mosquitoes, flies and ticks were present). I carry one medium and one large garbage bag (If it rains they can become emergency rain protection, or can be used under or on top my sleeping bag.); a first aid kit (including a small tube of Vaseline and cotton balls - a cotton ball soaked with Vaseline is great for starting an emergency fire - burns a long time); water (I carry four 20oz containers - plastic Gatorade bottles, they aren't always full, but I try to keep at least two full while on the trail. When you come to a place to refill the bottles, also take a good drink before leaving. (In my saddle bags I also carry a 44 ounce canteen); a few energy bars and some nuts; a small OPSak (odor proof); an LED headlamp; a small sewing kit; extra batteries; windproof/waterproof matches; a signal mirror; a space blanket (you can also signal with it); maps of the Section I'm riding; sunglasses; reading glasses; a small pocket magnifier; sun block; chap stick; insect repellent; Leatherman tool; toilet paper; rubber bands; note pad; a pen and a pencil; a thin wash rag, a camp towel, a small piece of Dove soap; wallet with credit card, cash, and drivers license; fishing hooks, leader, and line; a 6' piece of rawhide; toothbrush, toothpaste, small floss, safety pins; 10' of orange surveyors tape and 6 clothes pins (they, combined with surveyors tape, are useful to temporarily mark a detour around an obstacle, once I have found and cleared a way past. I retrieve them as I lead Primo through). Of course, I can also use the clothes pins to hang clothes that I've washed. I don't use soap to wash clothes - I use a plastic scrubbing pad for stubborn dirt - that way I can wash (rinse out dust, dirt and sweat) clothes in a lake or stream without polluting it. All of the above, when water is full, weighs just under 20 pounds. I also carry a small digital camera on my belt and a SPOT, a GPS (with Halfmile's maps and waypoints), a cell phone, and a small compass in a small nylon fanny pack carried as a belly pack.

RIDING HELMET: For safety while on the trail, I always wear one.

HORSE TACK: My saddle is a lightweight Skyhorse endurance saddle. It weighs 17 pounds, including stirrups and padded girth. I also hang an extra stirrup for easier mounting and dismounting. it is hung 5" higher than my riding stirrup and the footrest is smooth and polished. This makes it a lot easier to get my right leg over the saddle bags and cantle bag. The smooth surface makes it easier to slide my left foot in and out. I don't bring a headstall or lead rope. I use a well-padded halter and the 10' (when extended) trail reins can become the lead rope. This saves weight and bulk. I use a beetle-type hackamore that does not interfere with Primo's grazing and drinking. I use a running martingale and a breastplate. The saddle pad is pretty substantial. It is a Toklat brand and weighs nearly six pounds. It measures 33"x33" and is 2" thick. It has a 6" slot to go around the withers. This prevents the pommel bags from rubbing the horse.

POMMEL BAGS: I used large, jumbo-size pommel bags (available through Outfitters Supply) to hold the processed horse feed. I could carry three, 3-pound bags on each side, and I strapped (for straps I use the two-sided Velcro available from REI - several uses) a small cantle bag across the top, which could hold another three, three pound bags. This totals up to 27 pounds. Note that my saddle does NOT have a horn - this allows for the extra 9 pounds to be carried on top in the small cantle bag. In most wilderness parts of the Sierra National Parks bear canisters are required by law. In 2011 I carried two (Garcia brand) in the Yosemite Wilderness, one on each side, instead of the pommel bags. I carried them in modified knapsacks.

SADDLE BAGS and LARGE CANTLE BAG: That is where I carried my tent, tarp for covering saddle and packs at night, and self-inflating air mattress (Thermarest - 47"x20"x1.5" - I like that the firmness can be adjusted); sleeping bag liner (keeps inside of bag clean, and adds warmth. On a warm night I sometimes slept in just the liner on top of the bag); stove/cook kit, including wind shield made of thick aluminum foil; propane canisters; folding saw (a Silky brand - "Big Boy" model); solar shower (mine has an on/off valve - it also provides running water at camp side); two collapsible buckets, one with rim and one without rim (when carrying water they balance); nose feed bag; hobbles; a small curry comb; horse first aid kit; 3/8" braided highline rope with two 5/8" braided drop lines - a longer one that would reach within a foot of the ground. Primo (He stands 14.3 hands) could reach the ground by pulling down on the highline, which would be about 6 1/2 feet above the ground, the short drop line about 30" long for night time (so he can't step over it); tree protectors; lightweight Weather-Beta horse blanket (to reduce calorie loss at night and to help keep insects off); one E-Z Boot; horse face insect mask; a fillet knife with long blade (useful for cutting grass or cleaning fish); digging trowel (for digging "cat holes" and to help clear a spot for my tent by finding sharp objects - I move it side to side like a windshield wiper to identify sharp rocks, etc. that might puncture my air mattress); duct tape (I wrap about 12 feet of it around the handle of my digging trowel. Many uses. On the PCT, there is a saying : "In an emergency - use duct tape"); rain suit; a tarp with grommets for stakes (to cover the saddle and pack bags at night); water filter; a bottle of Aquamira water purification; bear spray; wire cutters (for removing a loose or bent horse shoe or for cutting wire if needed); a small tripod (Gorilla Pod); 50' of 1/4" braided nylon rope; bear charms (mothballs in cotton tobacco sacks - bears don't like the smell, the opposite of food smells - they tend to stay away); lightweight kneeling/sitting pad (a white woven plastic feed sack with grommets in the corners); a large garbage bag; a 44 ounce capacity canteen; my food for the Section to be ridden stored in double Ziploc bags; three 12.5" x 20" OPSaks (odor-proof) for storing all food, horse feed bags and other things that might have an odor, while in camp.

THE HORSE: Of course, it is very important to select a horse well suited for the mountains and deserts and the many kinds of obstacles that will be encountered while riding on the PCT. It is best that the PCT horse not be large or heavy - must be very sure-footed, agile, fit, and brave. You will encounter rocks, boulders, sand slides, scree slides, snow crossings, streams that must be forded and hundreds of down trees that sometimes require tricky detours and clearing to get past. You will also encounter hikers with very high backpacks, llamas, wildlife, bicycles and motorcycles. (Wheeled vehicles are illegal on the PCT - unfortunately, some will ride them on the PCT anyway. This is only a problem in a few areas.), The ideal horse-companion must have excellent feet and be strong and have good endurance. You don't want a horse that has spent his/her life in a stall and has only been in smooth pastures and was only ridden in arenas and on smooth, well-maintained, trails. Better to ride a horse on the PCT that has spent his/her time on rough land with other horses - when there are several horses they are more likely to run. Ideally, this land includes holes, ruts, sometimes slippery mud, is not always level, has rocks and down logs and branches. This kind of experience teaches the horse where to put his feet. It teaches him to watch where he is going and not fall. All of this will prepare him or her for the trails and trials that will be encountered on the PCT. As for breed, an Arabian (Arabians usually have very tough feet and have shorter, stronger, backs than other breeds - one less vertebra and two fewer ribs - they can carry more weight. Another advantage of the Arabian breed is that they evolved on the desert. They sweat less and don't need to drink as often. They, therefore, don't need as much salt.). Primo once ran virtually wild on hundreds of acres with several other horses on the desert north of Bend, Oregon. A TRUE Mustang that has also been out on the desert, might also be a good choice. Other breeds or individual horses or mules might also qualify - IF they have the kind of background experience described above. Size and weight of the horse should always be considered. If you plan to ride some of the more challenging parts of the PCT, a large, heavy, horse will have a wider track. On a narrow part of the trail (3" to 9" is rare, but there will be places like that), that is also passing along a scree slope, his down hill hooves will be off the trail and can slip and start a slide. If there is also an unexpected obstruction it might be both difficult and dangerous to try to turn around. In a place like that, if you have a pack horse that also must be turned around, you might have a recipe for disaster. Never hard-tie a pack horse to your riding horse. Always use a break-away. Considering horseshoes, I had titanium studs put on his shoes to improve traction on smooth surfaces and to lengthen the distance that I could ride between shoeings. That was usually between 450 and 500 miles.

One other thing I'd like to mention: Teach your horse to "tail". In endurance racing we sometimes let the horse pull us up a long hill by hanging on to its tail with one hand, while the other hand is holding the extended reins. This is much easier on the horse than having to carry you up, and easier on the rider who is now walking. You can often tail up hill as easily as if you were walking on a level trail. On the PCT, when fully loaded, I did a lot of walking and often dismounted and tailed when going up long hills.

PICTURES: There are pictures in the Slide Show that show the saddle bags, large cantle bag, pommel bags, and knapsack. During a layover day in Cascade Locks, Oregon, I took a picture of what I had in my saddle bags and in the large cantle bag. It shows just a three-day supply of food to get us to the next, planned, resupply location at Panther Creek. There were times when I carried as much as a seven-day (six nights) food supply. That would be about 15 pounds for myself and up to 32 pounds of processed horse feed to supplement Primo's grazing. (I would usually walk on the first day when he was carrying that much.) Change of diet is one fairly common cause of colic on the PCT. This might happen when someone meets you at a road crossing with resupplies and horse feed (Alfalfa and grain) that is very different from the graze that the horse has been eating while on the trail. Try for CONSISTENCY in your horse's diet. I fed Primo, an average of five or six pounds per day, starting three weeks BEFORE starting the PCT. I packed one-third each of the following: cob with molasses, equine senior, and alfalfa pellets. Primo also got a five pound bag of this mix at every food cache to eat from his nose bag while I repacked.

I hope that this information will be helpful to those who want to ride on the Pacific Crest Trail without using a pack animal. If you bring a pack animal, much of this information will still apply.
Ed Anderson
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Joined: Fri Dec 25, 2009 9:32 am

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