Horses, Mules, and other pests

I don't have anything against horses and mules and other equines per se. I just don't want to see them in the backcountry, ever.

As a backpacker, I am bombarded by leave no trace propaganda. I agree with it, am sold on it, and practice it. So, when I am hiking a trail littered with horse dung, I find myself wondering about the double standard. You may also have noticed that trails frequented by pack animals are dustier and more "torn up". In many ways, hiking a trail that is also used by pack animals is less pleasant that hiking a trail that is only used by hikers.

And then there is the issue of money. It is expensive (quite expensive) to hire a horse packer to haul you, your beer, your picnic table and mosquito proof gazebo into the backcountry. So, I find myself asking why a system is in place that caters to the rich, well heeled, somewhat out of shape wilderness user. I also find myself wondering why a handful of people can run a business and profit from our parks and wilderness areas.

I might be accused of being a young elitist fitness fanatic, whereas in actual fact I am pushing towards the age of 60 and regularly do week long backpacks involving significant cross country travel in the sierra.

The worst outrage (in my experience) involving pack animals was during our trip in August of 2010 over Pine Creek. We hiked to L-lake on the south side of French Canyon and right in the middle of a very nice campsite was a huge pile of rocks with a dead mule beneath (and several legs protruding). We retreated to a campsite more towards Moon Lake, but during the night the winds shifted and we spent the night savoring the aroma of decomposing mule. A memorable experience, but not one I would care to repeat. So much for "pack it in, pack it out" and all of that.

We were told by some other hikers that a similar situation awaited us down French Canyon at Hutchinson Meadow.

And I almost forgot the issue of water quality. On my Sierra trips, I always drink the water I find without treating it; except where I know there is pack animal traffic. I have never had a problem. (I am trying to avoid running off on a tangent here.) Turds on the trail are bad enough, but turds in the water supply is a whole new ball of wax. (Well, we wish it was wax).

So we have the Park and Forest service embracing a disgusting double standard. I need to (and you do too!) write at least one letter each year to the people who establish policies for these places, urging them to ban these animals from wilderness areas.

Questions and Answers

Q: Pack animals have long been a grand tradition in the Sierra, are you really suggesting doing away with this?
A: Absolutely, yes I am. Sheep were a part of the history and tradition of the Sierra also. Muir called them "hooved locusts" and they were rightly done away with, now the time has come to do away with the horses and mules also. The Yosemite Firefall was a grand tradition, but somebody with sense finally decided that enough was enough.

Q: Some people just aren't physically able to backpack into the wilderness, aren't we obligated to provide them an opportunity to visit these places?
A: No, we most certainly are not. I am almost 60 years old, have never been a "super athelete" and I do multiday trips into the backcountry under my own power. If people don't care about their health and invest in their own fitness, noone has any obligations to coddle them.

Q: Don't the rangers need to use pack animals to haul supplies and perform rescue operations?
A: No they don't! This argument could be used to justify ATV's or helicopters or roads or just about anything. It is wilderness, and there should be no more double standards.

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

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