Lessons Learned (and Earned) On The Mule Pack Trail
As a backpacker, I pride myself on being Tough. I sleep on the ground, wear the same filthy clothes for a week, eat jerky and string cheese meal after meal, and have survived for seven days with just the thirtyfive pounds on my back.
But last year in the Sierra my travels took me by a campsite where the people were sitting (be still my heart) on chairs! They had a lantern for light and (heavy) cans of food were lying around on a table. The lovely ruby color of cheap wine sparkled in plastic cups. The tents were big. Clothes were hanging on a line.
How did all this gear get to camp? “Mules,” they told me. “Mules are the secret.”
Fast forward to my friend, Sarah Korda, telling me about a Sierra Club trip sponsored by the Angeles Chapter’s Mule Pack Section to Clark Lakes last July. We paid our $330 each and we were in.
What fun to prepare for the trip. Instead of 35 pounds, our limit was 55 pounds of personal gear. And even that was increased when the time got close. And that weight didn’t include the group dinners, group toilet, stoves, etc. Packing was a joy. Big tent? Take it! Second set of nylon pants? Make it three! Camp shoes? But of course.
The trip was wonderful. Leaders Laura Joseph and Sandy Burnside did an excellent job of managing the camp and us. The hikers were compatible, and a good time was had by all. Do I recommend mule packing? Absolutely.
Here are a couple of tips from my first-timers perspective.
Rent a second bear canister from the Forest Service for $7 per week. That way you have plenty of room for toiletries and crunchy goodies. What do you care? It only weights two pounds!! Throw it in.
Consider signing up with a buddy if at all possible. On our trip, the days were not organized. Most of our group wanted to scramble and do cross-country work that didn’t particularly appeal to me as a retired climber. But luckily I had my compatible buddy, Sarah, along. We had a blast exploring the trails and our deepened friendship is one of my fondest memories of the trip.
Be aware that your six day trip may require seven days of your time. It is usually possible to drive home dead-tired the day you hike out, but an early morning hiking start may require traveling to your meeting point the day before. It did for us.
By the way, I never saw the mules. We left our gear at the Silver Lake packing station early on a Sunday morning, hiked seven miles in, and when we arrived the gear was waiting in a pile. Same thing on the way out. A few biodegradable offerings along the trail were the only trace they were ever there.