I have always wanted to be a cowboy. What American youngster doesn’t? Especially if you are brought up watching John Wayne and Western Movies and dreaming of riding horses deep into the wilderness. Experiencing wildlife and nature without the crowds and pushing yourself to experience the natural world is incredible and what Kati and I love to do. So, when Kati said we should take my daughter camping for her 30th birthday, I immediately thought of a “pack trip”.
The “Pack Trip” comes from the 19th century when cowboys would pack up all of their belongings and head into the unchartered wilderness to discover new lands or new hunting grounds in the Rocky Mountains. A string of horses or mules were used to carry all of the equipment they would need. In the same manner, it is now an adventure that can go anywhere from 3 days to 10 days or even longer and a chance to camp, cook, fish, hunt and ride horses into breathtaking scenery that few people get to experience or ever see.
A Slow Adventure
The Trip was the ultimate “slow travel adventure”. We were able to experience everything with no set schedule and our trip leaders, Vic and Brenda, a married couple, were fantastic guides and teachers. Furthermore, they were both real adventurers. Vic typically takes hunting parties out for Pendergraft Outfitters in Wyoming and Brenda was very spiritual, in-tune with nature and has been around horses all of her life. The other cowgirls were Jade, a 16-year-old phenom when it came to horses, Anna – who helped us while we were riding and Hanna the cook (actually a 5-star chef who prepared fantastic meals every day). With meals being prepared for us, we were able to concentrate on just riding and looking at the most magnificent landscapes one could imagine. Not being hunters, and choosing 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 on how much love for the animals all the people showed. Their horses and mules were well cared for as well as their dogs. It was immediately apparent that we were with people that cared for their animals and wanted to make sure they were watched over – not just animals for work or livestock. That is very important with these types of trips. Finding an outfitter that treats their horses and mules well and 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, after the first day I was already exhausted. I crawled next to Kati into my tent and fell asleep. It wasn’t even 9pm yet, but we had already ridden for over 6 miles through some incredible wilderness in the northern Teton Mountains in Wyoming. All together, we had 11 horses, 5 trail dogs, and 5 people all helping and leading us. The day was warm in the mid-80’s but the nights cooled down into the 50s and got downright cold.
We woke up to a great breakfast that Hanna had prepared and readied our horses. Over the next 3 days, we rode the northern Teton Mountains. Through a canyon’s narrows, climbed up rocky paths to almost 9,000 feet where there was still snow in late July, got caught in a rain storm and ate lunch on the along rivers and trails high up in the Tetons. We also picked huckleberries that we ate and Hanna used to make Huckleberry pancakes the next day for breakfast, rode through fields and meadows of wildflowers and saw a moose eating in a pond.
Our expectations were not only met, but exceeded.
Where Impacts from Human Activities are Minimal
The northern Teton Mountains is home to the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness Area. A wilderness area is defined as “A region where the land is in a natural state; where impacts from human activities are minimal”. And that was definitely true where we were. We did not see another person the entire trip except for our crew and a couple of riders on the way out close to the end of the adventure. Though all of the cowboys and cowgirls helped us obviously, we did it ourselves. From tying our rain gear to our saddles, to riding some really rough terrain over felled trees and rocks to riding where there were no trails. Though we have all ridden before, we had not ridden like this. And it felt fantastic.
During the 4 days we had no phones, and no computers and we were totally unplugged. Having to talk and visit with each other, 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 rock climber. Anna, not only an expert with horses, was an EMT and spoke French. And Victor and Brenda? Let’s just say that we felt like we knew them all of our lives by the time the trip ended.
To wake up in the morning with coffee waiting and breakfast being prepared allowed us to concentrate on more important things – like looking for unique rocks in creeks and rivers, or helping take the horses and mules for water at the nearby stream or just writing in our journal.
Our Final Word
Kati and I have been on many adventures, but this was different. Almost spiritual in nature. To connect with other people, with the land and with the animals were something that we had not expected. Overwhelmed with the mountains that we have seen from a distance was a surprise to both of us. And to slow down, unplug was more necessary than we realized and we were sad to say goodbye to our new friends and end our adventure.
Afterwards, we spent a few days camping in the Grand Teton National Park and also travelled through Yellowstone. It was overcrowded and because of the heat, animal sightings were sparce. We all thought of the adventure we just finished up and felt fortunate to have had that experience. We were different. We did find something on the trail. We found us. The real us. The us before cell phones and immediate access 24 hours a day. Maybe the us that we always dreamed and wanted to be. We had changed in a way and maybe that was the biggest gift we all could have gotten.
Tips for your Pack Trip
- Find a good, responsible outfitter. We used Pendergraft Outfitters/Linn Outfitters. They care about their horses and mules and will accommodate your wants and needs for your trip.
- Book early. There is a relatively short season and they fill up quick.
Packing List for your Pack Trip
- Don’t pack too much, but make sure you have layers. Even at the end of July, it still gets cold.
- Make sure you have rain gear. We had water proof jackets and pants. Even though it rained only for a couple of hours, we still rode and it was necessary.
- Pants – Denim jeans work the best for riding and hanging out in camp.
- Long sleeved shirts to help with cooler weather, bugs and the sun.
- Gloves – Bring gloves to use while riding. I didn’t use them the first day and regretted it later.
- Sun Protection – Take a hat and sunblock. You will need it at the higher elevations.
- Lip Protection – I had chapped lips after our trip. Lip protection is a must.
- Small back pack – your saddle bags will hold our lunch and water, and your rain gear will be tied to your horse but for anything else you will need this. I left this up to Kati as I did not have one.
- Sleeping bag – A must and we suggest you have one that is rated for 20 degrees or below.
- Toiletries – You will be using a portable latrine but you will need biodegradable soap and toothpaste.
- Warm Socks
- Riding and hiking boots – we bought a pair of Ariat boots that worked fantastic for both jobs. They had a heal that you need for riding, were waterproof and great for hiking as well.
- Water bottles – you will reuse water bottles so have at least two. No bottled water is brought but filtered water is available.
- A jacket or coat – We all had a pretty heavy jacket with us as it tends to get cold.
- Camera with extra batteries, binoculars and a knife.