Horsepacking in the Teton Wilderness
Friday was filled with excitement because we got to meet the wranglers and horses! As we pulled up to Triangle X Ranch in the picturesque Bridger-Teton National Forest, our Wranglers Vance, Clayton, and Diedre came to greet us along with Robert, the owner of the ranch. Without wasting time, we leapt out and began packing our food into the boxes that were to be carried by mules for the next 5 days.
We relaxed at Colter Bay campground that afternoon, enjoying “hobo packages” for dinner, cooked by Olivia and Kirsten. A hobo package, if you don’t know, consists of wrapping choice ingredients (in our case, ground beef, potatoes, onions, peppers and seasoning) in foil and letting them cook in the fire.
The next morning was an early one: Savannah was the leader of the day and she did not hesitate to wake us up at 6:00 AM to hit the trail bright and early! We bumped 20 miles down a dusty forest service road to meet our trusty steeds who awaited us in a corral in the woods. D.J. whispered, “I’m so excited!” as the wrangler introduced him to his horse for the trip.
The ride to our first campsite was 17 miles. Conor bonded with his horse named Cheryl, and after a few hours with the Grand Tetons as our backdrop, we rode into camp. Trevor and Olivia wanted to go swimming (along with the rest of us), so we bushwhacked down to the river to cool off in the pristine water of the Teton Wilderness. That night we dined on pita pizzas cooked by Phyllis and Casey.
That night brought rain to the area, and although it was a minor inconvenience to us, it was much welcomed by the dry, arid ecosystem. We took it slow the next day, waking up late and getting ready for a relaxing ride up to the scenic ridgeline. From that vantage point, we could see the greater part of the Bridger-Teton Wilderness Area. To our west, the Grand Tetons loomed; to our North, we could pick out the massive Yellowstone Lake. To add to the excitement, we were surrounded by a patch of snow! Needless to say, the group found this to be a source of great fun: especially Griffin and Luke.
After making the descent down the mountain, the crew gave the horses a break rallied together for 2 epic games of capture the flag. The tension mounted when the outcome was a tie: we would have our third and final round later, on a future day ride. Meanwhile, we decided that dinner was a good choice of action and once everyone was satisfied with that Addie and Sedley helped break out the s’mores and we all sat around the campfire, thankful that the rain of the previous day had abated.
The next day we moved to a new camp, making a 2 hour push to our home for the next couple of nights. Luke explored the scene while the wranglers set up the kitchen area, giving us an idea of how much work goes into setting up a horsepacking camp. Also, they mentioned that nobody had camped there in over 40 years! This was impressive, considering that the posts used to suspend the kitchen tarp (skinny trunks of lodgepole pine trees) were still there from the last user: in perfect condition! That night we ate grilled cheese and more s’mores, again appreciating the beautiful weather.
The next day we were in for another day ride, and it was then that we played the third and final round of capture the flag, determining an ultimate winner (in fact, we ended up playing two more rounds because everyone had so much fun!). Liza cited this as her favorite part of the day, along with getting the opportunity to see two bull elk complete with antlers sitting in some bushes to avoid the flies. A few lucky people even managed to see a young grizzly bear, but the presence of 16 horses and riders rumbling up the path scared it away before everyone got a glimpse of him.
That night we prepared for a very early morning. Our last day in the backcountry, we woke up at 5:30 AM to pack up and hit the trail at 7. Riding in the early morning light was beautiful and rewarding, as well as important in terms of avoiding the hottest part of the day on our 7 hour ride out of the Teton wilderness. Both crew and horses were troopers, and we chatted and joked over hills and through pines (as well as some historic burn areas from the fire in 1988) until we rolled into camp a little before 2:00 PM, excited that our next activity would be taking showers and doing laundry. After eating dinner and getting ice cream in town, everyone eagerly set up their tent and went to bed in anticipation for white water rafting and the end of trip banquet!!