Seeking to decelerate, unplug and with out the crowds? How a couple of “Pack Journey”
I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy. What American boy doesn’t? Especially if you grew up watching John Wayne and Western Movies and dream of riding deep into the wild. Experiencing wildlife and nature without the crowds and pushing yourself to experience nature is amazing and what Kati and I love to do. When Kati said we should take my daughter out camping for her 30th birthday, I immediately thought of a “pack trip”.
The “Pack Trip” dates back to the 19th century, when cowboys packed up all their belongings and set off into the unknown wilderness to discover new countries or new hunting grounds in the Rocky Mountains. A number of horses or mules were used to carry all the equipment they would need. In the same way, it is now an adventure that can last anywhere from 3 to 10 days or even longer and a chance to camp, cook, fish, hunt and ride horses in breathtaking landscapes that few people can ever experience or see.
A slow adventure
The trip was the ultimate “slow travel adventure”. We were able to experience everything without a set schedule and our tour guides Vic and Brenda, a married couple, were fantastic guides and teachers. Besides, they were both real adventurers. Vic usually records hunting parties for Pendergraft Outfitters in Wyoming, and Brenda was very spiritual, close to nature, and was with horses all her life. The other cowgirls were Jade, a 16 year old horse phenomenon, Anna – who helped us with the horse riding, and Hanna the cook (actually a 5 star cook who made amazing dishes every day). While the meals were being prepared for us, we could concentrate on the horse riding and contemplate the most amazing landscapes imaginable. Since we are not hunters and decided not to fish, we were there for the adventure. To see what we could find and to experience something that few people do.
And what an adventure it was.
What to Expect
It was very impressive how much love everyone showed for animals. Their horses and mules were cared for as well as their dogs. It was immediately clear that we were with people who looked after their animals and wanted to make sure they were guarded – not just working or farm animals. This is very important in this type of travel. Find a supplier who handles his horses and mules well, always keeping in mind how much they can carry and how far they can go.
Not knowing exactly what to expect on this “pack trip”, I was exhausted after the first day. I crawled into my tent next to Kati and fell asleep. It wasn’t even 9 p.m. but we had already ridden 6 miles through incredible wilderness in the northern Teton Mountains of Wyoming. In total we had 11 horses, 5 walking dogs and 5 people who all helped and led us. The day was warm in the mid 80s, but the nights cooled down and got downright cold in the 50s.
We woke up to a great breakfast that Hanna had made and our horses had prepared. For the next 3 days we drove the northern Teton Mountains. Through the narrowness of a canyon, rocky trails up to nearly 9,000 feet where there was still snow in late July, got caught in a rainstorm and had lunch on the rivers and trails high up in the Tetons. We also picked blueberries that we ate and Hanna made huckleberry pancakes for breakfast the next day, rode through fields and meadows full of wildflowers and saw a moose eating in a pond.
Our expectations were not only met, but exceeded.
Where the impact of human activity is minimal
In the northern Teton Mountains is the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness Area. A wilderness area is defined as “a region in which the land is in a natural state; where the impact of human activity is minimal ”. And that was definitely true where we were. We didn’t see any other person during the entire trip other than our crew and a few drivers on the way to the end of the adventure. Although all of the cowboys and cowgirls obviously helped us, we did it ourselves. From tying our rainwear to our saddles, to driving in really rough terrain over felled trees and rocks to riding where there were no trails. Although we’ve all ridden before, we haven’t ridden like this before. And it felt amazing.
During the 4 days we had no phones or computers and we were completely disconnected from the network. Through conversations and mutual visits we learned that Jade was almost like a horse whisperer and could train any difficult animal and that Hanna had climbed the Grand in the Grand Tetons and was an experienced climber. Anna, not only an expert in horses, was a paramedic and spoke French. And Victor and Brenda? Let’s just say we felt like we knew her all our lives when the trip ended.
Waking up in the morning with coffee waiting and having breakfast prepared allowed us to concentrate on more important things – like looking for unique rocks in streams and rivers, or helping to fetch water for the horses and mules at the nearby stream or just keeping our diaries.
Our last word
Kati and I have had many adventures, but that was different. Almost spiritual in nature. We did not expect to connect with other people, with the land and with the animals. Overwhelmed by the mountains we saw from afar, it was a surprise for both of us. And to slow down it was more necessary to pull the plug than we thought and we were sad to say goodbye to our new friends and end our adventure.
Then we spent a few days camping in Grand Teton National Park and also drove through Yellowstone. It was crowded and animal sightings were rare because of the heat. We all thought of the adventure we had just finished and were fortunate to have had that experience. We were different. We found something on the way. We found each other. The real we. The us in front of cell phones and instant access 24 hours a day. Maybe we, who we have always dreamed and wanted to be. We had changed in some ways and maybe that was the greatest gift we could all have received.
Tips for your packing trip
- Find a good, responsible supplier. We used Pendergraft Outfitters / Linn Outfitters. They take care of their horses and mules and cater to your wishes and needs for your trip.
- Book early. It’s a relatively short season and they fill up quickly.
Packing list for your packing trip
- Don’t overpack but make sure you have layers. Even at the end of July it will still be cold.
- Make sure you have rain gear. We had waterproof jackets and pants. Even though it only rained for a couple of hours, we drove anyway and it was necessary.
- Pants – Denim jeans are best for riding and hanging out at camp.
- Long sleeved shirts help with cooler weather, insects and the sun.
- Gloves – Bring gloves when driving. I didn’t use them on the first day and regretted it later.
- Sunscreen – Bring a hat and sunscreen. You will need it in the higher elevations.
- Lip protection – I had chapped lips after our trip. Lip protection is a must.
- Small backpack – your saddlebags hold our lunch and water, and your rain gear is tied to your horse, but you will need this for everything else. I left that to Kati because I didn’t have one.
- Sleeping bag – A must have and we recommend you have one for 20 degrees or less.
- Toiletries – You will use a portable latrine but must use biodegradable soap and toothpaste.
- Warm socks
- Riding and hiking boots – we bought a pair of Ariat boots that worked great for both tasks. They had a wound that you need for horse riding, were waterproof and also great for hiking.
- Water Bottles – You will be reusing water bottles so have at least two. Bottled water is not brought, but filtered water is available.
- A jacket or coat – we all had a fairly thick jacket as it tends to get cold.
- Camera with extra batteries, binoculars and knife.