Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Packing Yuks

Tuesday January 30 2007

An old horse packer friend of mine named Cricket and I were once talking about some of my packing travails. (Namely, my mule’s saddle pad would slip out from under her loaded saddle every two hours like clockwork, and I’d have to stop, tie up the string, remove her from the string, untie and unpack her load, resaddle her, reload and retie her pack, tie her back in the string, and continue down the trail till the next unscheduled saddle-pad readjustment stop two hours later).

Cricket said, “An old packer I knew once put his head in his hands and told me, ‘Sometimes you just want to sit down and cry.’”

You can practice balancing loads and loading up your pack animals and tying on loads at home, and you can walk your string around their home environment in rehearsal, but the only way to learn how to pack with horses out on the trail is to pack with horses out on the trail, and learn the mistakes along the way, (hopefully with the guidance of experienced packers), and hope you and your horses don’t die.

Had dinner with some horse friends the other night, one of which was Quenby, who with the crewing help of her partner Charlie, horse packed the Pacific Crest Trail a few summers ago. (I’m writing an article on her for Trail Blazer magazine which will be out this summer.)

We shared our inevitable misadventures every packer – the pro and the novice - experiences, which, while at the time of the episodes were not funny at all, but which, in retrospect (since we and the horses survived) were so funny, we were rolling on the table laughing with tears in our eyes. Charlie was laughing so hard he couldn’t get his story out.

Packing is, we concluded, not fun. It’s stressful, it’s not remotely romantic unless the day went perfectly (the odds of that are about 100 to 1) and, come to think of it, the whole endeavor of packing is really just a big pain in the butt. And that’s when you have perfect weather, experienced horses, a known route with no obstacles.

Between the three of us, we’ve survived: slipping and flipping loads, unbalanced loads, stalking cougars, getting stuck and detoured by downed trees, getting lost, having pack animals that are smarter than you are, unloading and reloading heavy packloads (multiple times per day), watching your riding horse run off away from you down the trail (with your whole pack string attached), getting dirty, tired, exhausted, scared, and losing weight till your chaps don’t stay up around your hips anymore, flipping pack horses down mountains (Quenby and Charlie did it twice – the same horse in one day!), and, need I go on.

But still, for me, it’s an addiction. Ask me if I want to take someone on a pack trip (especially with my Forest Service horse buddies), I’ll always say of course!

Packing the PCT one day? I wouldn’t say no.

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