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Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

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Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby cgundersen » Thu Aug 14, 2008 10:38 am

This thread was prompted by the unexpected finding of a fairly aged mound of (presumably) horse dung alongside a lake in the Ionian basin (the lake is the one in the foreground of the photo of Mt. Reinstein, which Giantbrookie pointed out is really Finger Peak, in the posting that I made in late July concerning a Glacier Divide/Ionian Basin trip). So, here is my conundrum: from my experience, getting into that part of Ionian basin is not trivial. You either access it from the north (via Wanda pass/Black Giant pass or the equivalent), or from the west (by coming up from lake 10,212 which is reached most easily by coming over from Martha lake) or you have to schlep all the way up Disappearing Creek to Chasm lake and then climb some more. Regardless of the approach, there is some reasonably challenging terrain, and I'm just curious why anyone would drag a horse up there.
And, this is not the first time I've stumbled across such remains in unexpected places. A couple of years ago whilst clambering up a very steep section of the hillside leading to Josephine Lake (from Cloud canyon), there was another good sized horse dropping. Frankly, I was mostly climbing hand over fist at that point and was amazed that someone would even contemplate taking a horse up there.
It seems that one possible explanation for these "unexpected" discoveries is that the animals responsible for these calling cards are feral. In other words, the animals chose those areas rather than being coaxed there by a human companion. Case in point:
About 6 or 7 years ago, my wife & I were camped below Lion Lake with a good view down the canyon toward Tamarack Lake (we'd looped there from 9 Lakes basin). It was very early in the season and I was surprised to see a horse roaming around the large meadow above Tamarack Lake. However, I figured that someone who was camped at Tamarack had just let the horse wander.........until the next day, when during the descent to the meadow, we saw several aged mounds of horse dung and a few fresher ones. There was no sign of anyone camped at Tamarack. Indeed, there was no sign (this was over Memorial Day) that anyone had yet been on the trail to Tamarack (with or without a horse). Our inference was that the horse in the meadow was wild and had either managed to survive the winter there or had followed the melting snow to what probably is a fairly peaceful spot above Tamarack Lake (though not hard to reach, you definitely have to work a bit to reach the meadow above Tamarack and I'd guess that most folks just hang at the lake).
This is a long lead in to the question: have any of you guys/gals run into wild horses in the Sierras; especially in places where you would not naturally expect to find a horse?
CG



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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby giantbrookie » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:38 am

There will no doubt be others who will know more than me about whether there are wild horses or mules in the Sierra (George, for example). I am aware that some experienced horsemen/women are able to get their animals to places that are far rougher than we'd ordinarily believe such animals could reach. Ionian Basin and Josephine Lake are certainly surprises, but I also think we've come to expect "the usual" which is that folks with horses/mules will stick to trails or easy cross country. I am reminded of a legendary incident in medieval Japanese history when the famed general Minamoto Yoshitsune led a small group of crack cavalry down what was (is) nearly a coastal cliff to completely surprise and defeat his enemy.

I haven't seen any wild horses or mules in the High Sierra, but I can certainly remember at least one time when I saw packers in a state of panic trying to chase down stock that had gotten loose and running up or down a trail more than a mile away (last time I saw this happen was on the JMT just south of Virginia Lake). If such animals decided to do more than simply run down a trail....
Last edited by giantbrookie on Thu Aug 14, 2008 12:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby caddis » Thu Aug 14, 2008 11:59 am

Did you happen to see any hoove prints near the lake or anywhere in the vicinity
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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby cgundersen » Fri Aug 15, 2008 8:15 am

Hi GB & Caddis,
Thanks for the comments; as for Caddis' question, the remains in Ionian basin and going up to Josephine were certainly at least a year or two old, perhaps, more (thus, no sign of hoof prints anywhere; obviously, we saw the horse above Tamarack, so that situation was clear). Frankly, I have no idea about how long undisturbed horse droppings can last in the Sierras. The ones on the Josephine hillside were pretty well "protected" even if they were on a steep hillside. The residue in ionian basin was very exposed, but had intercalated among some rocks which probably minimized any further dispersal.
CG
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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby caddis » Fri Aug 15, 2008 10:09 am

The reason I asked is because if all you saw was old scat that looked "grassy" it possibly could have been old bear sign. Just a thought
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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby cgundersen » Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:10 am

Caddis,
Hmmm, I could envision grassy bear scat going to Josephine, but if bears are scrambling into Ionian basin, then some folks are in for a rude surprise (in other words, one does not expect to see bears in that kind of a lunarscape)!
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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby caddis » Tue Aug 19, 2008 12:16 pm

I know it sounds odd but it's not out of the question. Just last year for instance, I spotted a sow and 2 cubs SSE of Moose lake....and there was very little vegetation beyond flowers and grasses
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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby Mike McGuire » Sat Aug 30, 2008 8:02 pm

In 2005 did a fairly arduous crossing of Ionian basin from Martha lake to the JMT. The heavy snow year forced excursions around the north sides of lakes instead of the more direct south shores. Hofstadter's law bit hard--takes longer than you think even when you take account of Hofstadter's law, As we were finally getting clear the cry went up from a party member who discovered it --"Horse-bleep, we're saved!" on the theory that no sane person would bring a horse into Ionian Basin,

Mike
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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby gdurkee » Tue Oct 07, 2008 5:10 pm

Campers:

Hmmm, also. Don't know about Josephine, but as far as the Ionian goes, it's slightly possible it's burro manure. An outfit called Three Corner Round used to take burro trips cross country. It's pretty unlikely because it's now illegal for them to take their animals cross country. Also, I was the area ranger the last two years, and they weren't anywhere in the Evolution area those years.

It's real unlikely -- bordering on impossible -- that it's horse or mule for the location you describe. You're right that it's gnarly country. I'm kinda leaning towards bear -- after two years, it might be hard to tell the difference. Bears go everywhere and I could easily imagine one going through to or from Enchanted Gorge or Goddard Creek and down to Simpson. There's occasions when mule and bear scat could be confused -- when bears have a diet (especially early season) of grass. Otherwise, bear is always jet black and tapered at the ends (though, knowing you want details, lumpy in the middle sections).

There aren't any feral or wild horses or mules anywhere in Sequoia Kings. They just can't survive the winters... . Critters have gotten lost and stuck in the winter. With one exception, they've all died.

Hope that helps.

George
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Re: Horses (mules?) in the backcountry?

Postby oldranger » Fri Oct 31, 2008 5:29 pm

What George said! I remember in the late 80s when a horse wandered around all summer with a saddle on it near Rowell Meadow. Someone finally caught it in late August or early September.

As for Josephine, I've often wondered whether you could get a mule or burro up there. The "easy route" is really not bad and it is literally a trail except for the first 200 or so vertical feet. The crux is to cross Roaring River near the Cement Table Meadow campsite and then go to just s of where the outlet stream of Josephine enters the river (if it is flowing). Go directly up the talus to the s of the stream until you get to a solid rock face then turn left until you get to a rock and dirt chimney. Follow the chimney to its top then climb on to the top of the rock face (it is much less steep here) and follow a narrow crack that runs diagonally to the nw across the rock until you get to a forested area. After this the route goes w up the side of the canyon then sw, eventually leaving the Josephine Creek drainage and then following the trail up the n side of the next drainage, and then eventually it turns to the nw and back to the Josephine Creek drainage near the little tarn just below Josephine Lake.

For stock the problem is the talus, the chimney, and following the crack across the rock. I would never attempt it but if you have ever eyeballed the route up Cloud Canyon and over Coppermine Pass then maybe you could see that it is possible. But stock use up over Coppermine pass was in another era when stock were just another tool. I can't imagine anyone doing it today. I can't imagine anyone taking stock up to Josephine either, but I wouldn't say that it was impossible (just damn near).

Finally about feral horses. As a rule feral horses won't have access to food when snow depths exceed a foot for an extended period of time. So unless they can migrate to elevations where snow isn't deep all winter you won't find them at high elevation.

One more thing I do recall siteings of bears at Josephine in the early 80s. No reason for one not to wander up there now.

cheers

mike
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