High Sierra Pack Tripper

boy leading mules in High Sierra

This summer I had the privilege of working with Reds Meadow as a backcountry cook, which meant occasionally bumping into a 12 year-old packer named Bo. I first met Bo in 2013 when hiking the PCT. He was eating candy outside the Reds public restrooms, looking cute. Bo spends each summer in the Sierra with his sweet family on extended National Forest permit at Reds, surrounded by pack animals and thousands of tourists and backpackers. What a life, and what a little man, charming as ever!

We had some bumpy interactions at first where he would say strange, sorta bossy things like, “Hi we are your guides on this trip [not true; he was pack support], best get crackin’ on dinner ok?” I was puzzled, thinking, “What a little asshole!” When I finally asked his father about it, he told me how Bo loves this cartoon about a bossy cowboy dog and scolded Bo. Bo had just been reading me lines off the show cuz he was shy and didn’t know what to say. From that moment on, Bo no longer did that with me, and I learned a quick lesson about judging people too quickly. Bo is a wonderful kid who might be a little shy!

On this evening he sat with his father on the rocks by a remote Sierra Lake and they snacked and chatted together for hours between chores (watering and sorting out the animals for the night). It was reassuring to see such a pleasant father-son interaction, possibly the warmest I’ve ever seen. They lay out under the stars together on bedrolls to sleep. The next morning Bo led a train of 6 or so mules alone down Glen Pass toward Yosemite. He insisted on doing it himself and kept telling his doting father that he was fine. That’s a really tough and rocky pass to come down with packstock, and I worried, so I was ahead of him clearing trail. He did great and wowed me. His dad is so proud!

I also got to work with a handful of other young cowgirls and cowboys from Reds like Cody and Max and Brenna. Oh my, what a trip! These are people who grew up on ranches and for adventure head out to pack stations for summertime gigs. They work hard and party pretty hard, too. For me they were just interesting to watch and to talk to. Someone like Gretel Erlich — who only got into ranching in her adult years — is halfway between someone like me and these kids. Their lifestyle seems like a whole world apart, totally fascinating and maybe magical. But to listen to them tell it, it’s just another day.

very young cowboy packing a mule, pulling ropeBo tightening down a load on his own. He throws rope incredibly well.
Young cowgirl throwing rope over pack muleNote the phone in back pocket. Agnew Meadows is remote, but still has LTE!
10 or so mules and horses in front of Banner PeakPhotographic evidence that packers sometimes fib to cover up their hi-jinx. When you work so hard, you gotta have fun. I fed the couple pancakes and bananas, and peanut-butter bars, we chatted a while, then I left them alone to “pack.” As they would tell it later, this team was way down trail at this moment. Not true, haha.

I hiked through Reds Meadow my first time in 2013 while on the Pacific Crest Trail, and several times after. Then I got to build the website for Reds Meadow in 2018 when I was working for Mountain Studio. It’s nice have had the chance to build on that connection this year, and to have learned a little from the cowboy universe. I have a much more tolerant perspective on pack stock in Nature, shared with me by the cowboys who love it. I would like to do this again.

The Cottonwood Crüe

cowboy and cowgirl eating junk food at guitar lakeKylie and Allen love the fact that I carry peanut butter M&Ms and mint Oreos in the backcountry. The next morning she summited Whitney with us!

Kylie and Allen* of Cottonwood Pack Station love the fact that I carry peanut butter M&Ms and mint Oreos in the backcountry. They’re not only super human beings with gorgeous smiles, but really good at cleaning up any leftover food. All day Kylie battled Heidi, a horse who is done cooperating. The next morning she summited Whitney with us! Allen spent the previous evening shoeing mules at camp, and then did a huge amount of extra work to allow Kylie her birthday summit. These two are incredible. (*Different couple than previously mentioned, and not a couple.)

Last but NOT Least: Julia

woman dressed to backpack holding bag of cookies at horse pack stationJulia, my summer sanity, expert onion chopper, and all-around really fun and wise young lady. Here she holds the coveted Cowgirl Cookies from Great Basin Bakery, which she hasn’t had yet, but will come to love.