In designated wilderness areas, the only way to move anything is by human or hoof—no machines, no wheels. Packing is the best way to move heavy stuff out here. However, when you look at the amount of resources and time it takes to own, train, and care for a pack string, there has to be something more. Equines exist in limbo between civilization and wilderness. While I’ve spent many days in the wilderness on foot, I’ve found that mules and horses act as a kind of bridge into the depths of wilderness.
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Photos: Life on the Trail in Montana's Wilderness
I struggled to catch my breath as I hiked out of Big Whitney Meadow in the Sierra Nevada. I was 16. Hearing an unfamiliar sound, I paused and looked up. Before me was a man on a horse, and behind him was a string of loaded mules tied together. I got off the trail as they passed in silence. I’d never seen a pack string in person, but this image was already etched into the collective mind of the American West, where I was raised. In a moment of absolute clarity, I felt a shift in my mind: I knew one day I’d pull a string of my own mules. Today, I pull a string of nine mules through the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of Montana. This is my story of my life as a mule packer. To see more, follow me on Instagram,@muledragger. —Chris Eyer