Wilderness Horsepacking (3)

Despite its risks, horsepacking is one of the best ways to visit some of America's most remote wilderness areas. Four hooves can cover more territory than two feet, and with pack animals carrying tents and supplies, riders reach camp with energy to fish and explore.

On horseback, a person shares a special communion with the natural world. The rider feels his mount struggling up a steep mountain trail, hears its snorts and whinnies of protest, and appreciates its eagerness to reach the top of the grade. Newly attuned to the horse's sharp senses, the alerted rider is more likely to notice badgers scurrying for cover or mountain bluebirds darting through the trees overhead, and, after a hard climb, to enjoy a cool stream or the sight of lush, spring-fed grasses on a high plateau.

Our ride began at a pack station near Driggs, Idaho. Sponsored by the educational, non-profit Yellowstone Institute, it started with instruction in saddling and packing mules. The outfitter showed us how to tie bowline and half-hitch knows, then had us apply them to the pack saddles. By the end of the day the 12 of us -- working in teams of two or three -- were able to tie up camp gear in respectable box and diamond hitches.

"Mules are not mean or ornery, like a lot of people think; they're just terribly bright," Clark told us as we packed. "If they get in trouble, they'll stop and tink their way through the situation. He gave us an example.

Returning from a long pack trip late in the evening, Clark was nearly yanked from his saddle when the mule train he was leading came to an abrupt stop. Angry and tired, he pulled at the lead rope of a mule named Buck, but Buck refused to move. Clark yelled and yanked and was about to slap Buck across the flanks when he noticed in the dim light that the mule's packs had come loose and were dangling from his belly.

"That taught me which of us was smarter," he said.

by MichaelHofferber@outriderbooks.com
Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved.

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