When you get a call to venture into the back country wilderness of the Sierra Nevada on horseback you answer and don’t say no. I got the call on a Sunday morning- “heading out from the trailhead at sunrise Monday morning, if you want to go be there by then.” I needed a minute to think, and then said fuck yeah, go for it. My adventure-mobile is always packed and ready to hit the road, I just needed to drive 6 hours to my destination- McGee Creek Pack Station, located about halfway between the sleepy eastern sierra towns of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes.
I got the call on a Sunday morning- “heading out from the trailhead at sunrise Monday morning, if you want to go be there by then.” I needed a minute to think, and then said fuck yeah, go for it.
The trip is one of many annual pilgrimages to the Sierra Nevada made by George Boone. George is a retired US Border Patrol agent who spends as many days as possible trekking up and down the mountains giving back to the wild country he loves so much. When he’s not hunting, fishing, or soaking in a hot spring, George is volunteering his time to help a variety of different agencies that maintain the wilderness so many enjoy. Maintaining and clearing back country trails give much needed help to agencies such as: the US Forest Service, US Geological Survey, Cal Fire, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association to name a few.
Sunrise. It’s summer but mornings are still chilly. I try to help expedite getting the horse team for departure but George has his own rhythm to getting them ready. Our traveling party consists of 4 horses: Tiny, Tuff, Porky, Magic, 2 humans: George and I, and 1 dog: Blue. Two of the horses will carry all of the tools, gear, and food we need for the trip while the other two are for riding.
Traveling on horseback through the wilderness allows for an unparalleled voyeuristic experience. George’s animals know these trails well which meant I didn’t have to. Not having to constantly look at the ground freed up my attention for other things, most importantly: the view. I was humbled by the scale of my surroundings; mountains, lakes, valleys, and trees that looked as if they had been frozen in time and would remain so for eons to come.
Traveling on horseback through the wilderness allows for an unparalleled voyeuristic experience.
But this wasn’t just a pleasure cruise, we had a mission or two to accomplish! First off was clearing a rock slide in a mountain pass around 11,000 feet. Clearing the rocks would help the mule team marching in the following day whose goal was to pack out the remains of an obsolete seismographic unit for the US Geological Survey (USGS). After successfully clearing the rocks, we were able to beat the encroaching thunder storm and escape to the tranquil valley on the other side of the pass where we would set up camp for the night.
Before setting out into the wilderness, George had received tips from ranger friends in the US Forest Service about fallen trees on the popular Pacific Crest Trail – John Muir Trail. Clearing these trees would be our mission for day two of our trip. There are no motorized tools allowed in the wilderness so we had to do this the old fashioned way: crosscut saws, wedges, and rock bars. There was something extremely satisfying about sawing through a gigantic log in the drizzling rain with mosquitoes singing in your ears.
The summer months are the high season for hikers hiking the PCT/JMT and we saw them in great numbers as we were sawing away. Most of the hikers have been on the trail for enough time to be weary, mildly exhausted, and not usually thinking thoughts of volunteering. They’ve taken this time from their busy lives to get out in nature and live it firsthand. I felt rewarded to give back by volunteering my time to working after having enjoyed many a day and night in the wild strictly for pleasure. I learned how much effort and work it actually takes to keep trails open and maintained. It’s up to all of us to give it back and keep it going for everyone to enjoy.
I learned how much effort and work it actually takes to keep trails open and maintained. It’s up to all of us to give it back and keep it going for everyone to enjoy.
Hard work lends to great rewards. We rewarded ourselves with our own private hot springs resort. George knew of an incredible valley filled with mountain wildflowers, lots of tall grass for the horses, and a playground of hot springs varying in temperature and design. The soothing waters dissolved all my aches and pains from the last few days.
It’s amazing how 5 days out in the wild can affect you. This adventure, more than any other, pressed the ‘reset’ button in my brain allowing freedom from electronics, media, marketing, and all life’s distractions.