Llamas? Maybe that's the solution! But they won't let you ride them!
OK—we’re going to say this right out loud: We’re not big fans of horses on the trail in the backcountry. And you’ll quickly understand why when you compare the impact of a pack train with the impact of a few hikers on a trail. It’s hard to argue in favor of the leave-no-trace philosophy and then suggest that horses should be allowed in the wilderness. They destroy trails and trample campsites. And they don’t really watch where they put their feet, which is why they kick so many stones into the trail, where we have to step over and around them. Sigh.
A single 1400 pound horse with pack puts about 70 pounds per square inch when it steps on a trail, and that weight is concentrated in a narrow band of steel. A 200 pound hiker with pack puts about 4 psi on the trail…and that weight is cushioned by socks and Vibram. And around the campsites, this traffic is even worse. One way to look at it is that a single horse, even if it were wearing socks and Vibram, would have the impact of 35 hikers. And a pack train of eight horses is about the same as 280 hikers. Think of that, the next time one goes by!
But we’ve also got to say a few words about the people who run these horses. Because we’ve had some really good experiences getting advice from people who run pack trains into the wilderness. And they’ve been very gracious about how they gave it, even though they knew that we were backpackers, and not likely to use their services.
This summer we ran into a pack train early in the season, where the rivers were still quite swollen with run-off. The driver from Leavitt Meadows Pack Station gave us a great tip on where to ford the West Walker River…and the encouragement to go for it. And we had a great trip.
And the Aspen Meadows Pack Station in Emigrant Wilderness also gave us some great trail advice on a lesser-used route through a series of back country lakes—also leading to a great trip there.
So when we see these guys on the trail, we’re always cheerful and friendly. But we’ll still try to limit how many horses they take into the backcountry, and how much that impacts our wilderness.