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WILDERNESS PERMITS for our guests are issued from our commercial quota, NOT from the general public quota.

Rock Creek Pack Station Professional Packing School
John Muir Wilderness Itinerary and Topics

Day 1: Meet at Pack Station at 7 AM for breakfast and orientation. Guests check in their duffel and while breakfast is served, professional staff packs the mules. Once the mules are packed, we will leave Rock Creek Pack Station and go over Mono Pass to a camp near Hopkins Creek and Mono or Second Recess (5-6 hrs ride)
  1. Low-impact guidelines and orientation for wilderness travel.(15 minutes)
  2. Advisement of risk speech that emphasizes the danger of wilderness hazards, the risk of riding horses and working with mules (30 minutes)
  3. Learn how to catch, groom, saddle and bridle horses (40 minutes)
    1. Emphasis on checking tack for safety and proper procedures for saddling animals to prevent injury to animals.
    2. Difference of different bits and headstalls
    3. Fitting riding saddles…emphasis on correct padding and using a variety of pads to get a saddle that is not perfect for the horse to be used without causing sore to horse.
    4. Basic knots
      1. bowlin
      2. quick release tie knot
  4. How to ride a horse or mule (20 minutes)
    (After this hands on working demonstration, each student will saddle and bridle their own animal. Each person is fitted to his or her animal and then the group departs.)
  5. On the trail students learn basic trail riding and how to set a proper pace for the horses and pack animals.
    1. Effect of high altitude on people an animals ( we go over a 12,000 ft pass)
  6. Introduction to leading pack animals
    1. knots used to tie mules together, when appropriate to loose herd
    2. String mules together (how to organize the various animals (normally five in a string)
    3. What to do when a load slips
    4. Double lining…how to lead young or inexperienced mules
    5. How to cross snow, creeks and dangerous cliff situations…the hazards of the trail.
    6. What to do when meeting other hikers or livestock on high mountain trails.
    7. How to turn animals around on cliff trails
      1. Turn animals around with head facing edge of cliff.

    (During the course of the ride we will have a short break for lunch and a few stops to get water. Arrive in camp between 3:30- 4:30 PM)
  7. Setting up picket lines
  8. Setting up camp
    1. Kitchen
    2. How to set up rain fly
    3. How to set up latrine
    4. Tents..where to put so don’t get wet

    (After everyone has had time to get a bath and eat we generally have a brief evening lecture that starts on how to meet the nutritional needs of the livestock.)
  9. Backcountry and Nutrition
    1. Nutritional requirements of Horses and Mules
      1. How much they can eat and drink a day
      2. Caloric requirements
      3. How much grass they need and how many hours it takes to consume necessary amt of food
      4. Options for feeding when there is inadequate forage
        1. cubes
        2. grain
        3. no food….how long can they go?
      5. Water requirements
      6. Salt requirements
    2. Grazing the animals in the backcountry
      1. Choice of bell mare
      2. Wrangling animals
      3. Turning horses and mules loose
      4. Grazing patterns of horses and mules
    3. Other options for feeding animals
      1. Picket lines
      2. Hobbles
      3. Tieing to stake or fixed tree
      4. Electric fences

      (This a very full day and the main goal of the day is to get everyone into the backcountry away from the distractions of phones and the ability of anyone to interrupt the staff or guests.)

Day 2: Layover. Professional staff wrangles the livestock and students may help catch and feed the horses and mules. Cook has breakfast ready at 7AM.
Instruction starts around 8AM:

  1. Catching, Halters and leading mules
  2. Pack Saddles
    1. Difference between sawbuck and decker style of packing.
    2. Types of pack saddles
    3. How to saddle a mule
    4. How to adjust pack saddles for safety of the mule

    Each pair of student then brushes, saddles and adjusts a pack saddle on a mule. Then we review all the mules and discuss the various fits of saddles. (The lecture and and lab take about two hours)
    After a break for coffee, we begin learning how to pack.
  3. Types of pack equipment
    1. boxes
    2. bags
    3. slings
    4. what to do if you don’t have equipment
      1. barrel hitch
      2. packing a riding saddle
      3. lash ropes
      4. tarps and manties
  4. Principles of sawbuck packing
    1. Equal balanced loads on the right and left side of the mule
    2. Symmetry of placing loads
    3. Types of hitches
      1. Box hitch
      2. Diamond hitch
      3. Double Diamond hitch
  5. The Box Hitch
    We spend the rest of the morning learning how to tie box hitches….practice makes perfect. Often, we saddle up the horses and ride up to one of the side canyons, for example Second Recess if we are camped at the confluence of Mono Creek and Second Recess. After an hour ride, we stop for lunch and short nap.
    After we get back to camp, we set up a “dummy mule”, several pack saddles over logs and demonstrate the Diamond Hitch
  6. The Diamond Hitch
    We break with time for students to take a swim, rest, read and have snacks and then dinner. The second night, students aren’t as tired and can move on with the topic of feeding livestock in the backcountry. The most challenging aspect of packers with mules and horses is how to feed them when you turn them loose
  7. Wrangling Livestock ---how to track, catch and bring loose animals back to camp.
    Depending on how students are absorbing material and answering questions, we may move on to the veterinary topics. The following outline is the material I present in a lecture format…generally at different nights with the lab in a morning on a layover day.
    Sometimes I bring a battery operated slide projector and project slides or images of the various veterinary conditions.


  1. Preparation prior to the trip to minimize any problems
    1. Nutrition…get the animal used to the food that they’ll eat on your trip
    2. Physical conditioning…no fat horses, get in shape
    3. Vaccinations
    4. Behavioral conditioning…pickets, trailer rides, crossing water, drinking out of creeks
  2. Know the normal horse!………..compare at rest and work, compare with other animals on the trip subjected to same work and environmental conditions.
    1. Temperature 99-101.5
    2. Heart Rate 32-40
    3. Respiratory Rate 8-16
    4. Appetite, Stool #
  3. Treating the common problems
    1. Musculoskeletal System
      1. Sole bruise… This is the number one veterinary problem in the wilderness. Until horses learn how to place their feet in the rocks they will get tender feet.
        1. It may be lameness in one foot. However, often both feet are affected and the clinical signs will be of a horse that is “ouchy” on both feet.
        2. Hoof testers will allow you to feel the spongy give of the sole in front of the apex of the frog.
        3. Sometimes, there will be a tearing of the sole and there will be some bloody discharge. This is not to be confused with an abscess.
        4. You will need to walk and lead the animal. Or, packing with a very light load.
        5. Medicate with phenylbutazone, 2 grams twice a day. It generally takes six weeks to recover.
      2. Cuts/abrasions…clean and wrap if lower leg. Antibiotic ointment topically
      3. Wounds
        1. General recommendations
          1. Wash with medicated soap and remove dirt
          2. Use Furacin or antibiotic ointment for open wounds
          3. For scrapes use Corona cream
        2. Major Bleeding
          1. The wire cut that lacerates the arteries in the lower leg will require direct pressure and wraps to stop the bleeding.
          2. Don’t move the horse and apply enough wraps of T-shirts, bandage material and vet wraps to stop the loss of blood.
          3. They won’t bleed to death.
          4. Keep animal tied up at picket at night. The next day remove the bandage, wash and apply a clean wrap that includes a non-stick bandage, tightly applied soft wrap and cotton bandage.
          5. Use phenylbutazone for pain and inflammation. Antibiotics are a good idea.
        3. Puncture wounds and stab wounds
          1. Horses running around the forest will get sticks from downed logs. Primarily, wounds will be in the forearm, stifle.
          2. They often appear as a small laceration and won’t show signs of swelling for a couple of days. If animals are tied up and not exercising the wound seals up.
          3. Basic principles apply to most wounds.
            1. Keep wound open
            2. Remove any foreign objects such as sticks. It may be necessary to sedate the animal with xylazine and probe with a hemostat or forceps.
            3. Flush daily with Furacin or a weak iodine solution. A 60 cc catheter tip syringe is very useful to flush.
            4. If the area is hot and swollen….antibiotics are useful. Penicillin is best but if you don’t have it is best to put on the sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim tablets.
            5. Light exercise keeps the swelling from making the horse uncomfortable.
      4. Rope Burns…Prevent! Antibiotic ointment, wrap, pheylbutazone, antibiotics ?
      5. Tendon swelling…cold water, phenylbutazone, wrap, rest
      6. Puncture wounds…remove foreign object, flush and keep open. Antibiotics ok.
      7. Saddle sores…don’t ride, change tack
      8. Tying Up Syndrome….rest, appropriate (low) levels of Banamine
      9. Infectious Joint Disease…start on antibiotics, keep wound open and draining
      10. Laminitis….Banamine or phenylbutazone twice a day, put in soft mud
    2. Respiratory System
      1. Viral (Influenza or Rhino)…Phenylbutazone twice a day and rest
      2. Bacterial Pneumonia…antibiotics, bute and rest.
    3. Gastrointestinal System
      1. Colic…control the pain, rest. Banamine, Rompun, minimize stress, hydrate
      2. Choke…no food 12-24 hours, give banamine
      3. Grain overload…Magnesium Sulfate (Epson Salts)..dose is 30-60 grams orally.
    4. Eye Problems
      1. Foreign Object…give 5 cc Rompun, remove and check for ulcer
      2. Abrasion/ulcer…atropine ointment twice a day, antibiotic ointment three times a day. Give oral phenylbutazone or banamine twice a day for pain control.
      3. Uveitis…use dexamethasone/antibiotic combination 6 times a day, atropine twice a day. Put animal on 10 cc banamine twice a day.
    5. Snake Bite…rest, antibiotics?, banamine?
    6. Poisonous Plants…keep from eating.
      A Guide to Plant Poisoning of Animals in North America, Anthony P. Knight, BVSc, MS and Richard G. Walter, MA Teton New Media 877-306-9793. www.tetonnm.com. Teton New Media, P.O. Box 4833, 125 South King Street, Jackson, WY 83001 cc2001
    7. Allergies…skin bumps, hives…..use 10 cc banamine or use 100 of 5 mg prednisone


  5. Feeding
    1. Horses and mules eat about 25-30 pounds per day
      1. Feed at least 50% roughage by weight.
      2. Corn is the highest energy feed to carry as supplement
      3. Best situation is to allow free grazing for roughage (about 4-6 hours or longer per day) and feed 3-10 lbs of grain per day
      4. If grazing not available, feed alfalfa/oat cubes, 25 lbs per day. To allow you to travel longer without grazing you would feed 12 pounds of cubes and 10 pounds of grain per day.
    2. Feed ½ pound of rock salt per week with grain
    3. Water horses often…several times when eating cubes. Horses and mules need 8-20 gallons per day. Take a small collapsible water bucket.

  6. Shoeing
    1. Shoe horses a week before trip and remind the farrier to:
      1. Don’t trim frog
      2. Leave as much sole as possible…spare the knife
      3. Don’t file off the clinches….lightly file the rough edges
    2. Take an extra front and rear shoe that is pre-shaped.
    3. Take equipment and nails to replace a shoe or place a few nails to keep the shoe from falling off.
    4. Plastic boots and tape don’t replace a shoe in the mountains.
  7. Disposing of a Horse or Mule in the Wilderness
    1. To kill an animal
      1. Take the animal as far off the trail as possible and find a suitable site away from water sources and people.
      2. Make an X between the animal’s ears and its eyes and shoot the animal in the center of the X.
      3. Open the abdominal cavity and bowels to speed up the rate of decomposition.
    2. If animal dies in a place where you can’t leave or on a trail you will need to remove the body.
      1. If no fire hazard you can haul in wood and cremate.
      2. Cut up and drag and pack out body parts.
    3. Using pentobarbital to kill an animal is impractical now in the Wilderness
      1. Euthanasia solutions are scheduled drugs and must be used by veterinarians.
      2. There is a danger to wildlife eating the carcass with the drugs. It is almost impossible to burn or bury the body to prevent risk to wildlife

  8. Important items to carry on your trip
    1. Knife
    2. Bell
    3. Grain bag….plenty of grain to catch stock
    4. Picket rope
    5. Shoeing equipment
      1. Hammer (Fence Pliers ?)
      2. Hoof knife
      3. Rasp
      4. Nails
      5. Extra shoes
      6. Nippers (optional)
      7. Alligators (optional)
    6. Gun
      1. In the National Parks keep in duffel and keep out of sight
      2. Only use is to kill your animal…never to frighten off bears
    7. Fly spray bottle and plenty of repellent
    8. Collapsible water bucket
    9. Veterinary supplies
    10. Maps and reference materials on grazing options and regulations

  9. Top Ten Things to do to prevent Veterinary Problems in the Wilderness
    1. Join Backcountry Horseman organization or attend packing schools
      Horses, Hitches and Rocky Trails, Joe Back, Johnson Books, Boulder, Colorado, Johnson Printing Company, 1889 South 57th Court, Boulder, Colorado 80301 $10.95
    2. Take suitable horses and mules with the proper temperament
    3. Tie your horses high and short with a quick release knot
    4. Don’t turn horses loose with halters on or dragging ropes
    5. Don’t put extra weight on your riding animals…no saddle bags, etc.
    6. Make sure the shoes stay on your horses’ and mules’ feet
    7. Keep animals well fed so they aren’t hungry and pay attention
    8. Loose herd animals in steep & treacherous trail conditions
    9. Plan your itinerary for leisurely days and allow time to graze
    10. Have the proper fitting riding and pack saddles

Day 3: Move camp from Second Recess to First Recess (only about an hour ride once we are packed and leave camp)

  1. Catch, feed and saddle mules and horses
  2. Break camp
  3. Organize equipment to pack
    1. Separation of gear into those items that are packed in boxes
    2. Separate soft stuff that goes in bags and that is packed with slings
    3. How to pack items in boxes
    4. Proper method of packing bags
    5. How to pack duffel bags with slings
    6. How to pack awkward items
  4. Prepare the loads and get ready to tie the loads on the mules
  5. Each student helps pack mules. Practice the various box and diamond hitches
  6. Lecture on how to lead mules
    1. How to control your own riding animal while leading several animals
    2. What to do when you get the lead rope stuck under your horses’s tail.
    3. What to do when you need to adjust a load
      1. Tie horse up to tree or hobble
      2. Separate mules from string
      3. Tie up mule that need to adjust
  7. Leading Mules…students lead mules and the class moves to the next campsite.
  8. Making camp
    1. Unloading mules
    2. Setting up pickets
    3. Organizing how to feed the animals
    4. Setting up camp
After camp is setup, time to swim in a nearby lake and perhaps do a little fishing. After dinner, time to review the day.

Evening lecture will continue on veterinary subjects and care of horses and mules. With inexperienced students, time spent on equine behavior helps those that didn’t grow up around livestock.

Day 4: Layover

  1. Morning laboratory on veterinary skills
    1. Taking temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate in horses We have stethoscopes and each person needs to learn how to accurately collect the basic physical parameters on the equines.
    2. How to give an intramuscular injection
    3. How to give an intravenous injection
    4. How to twitch a horse
    5. How to put a foot rope on a horse
    6. How to recognize a lame horse
    7. Proper technique of how to humanely kill an animal

    This takes two hours by the time each person practices how to give injections. After a break, it is time to saddle up the mules and get everyone to tie on various hitches and learn how to pack with top loads. Time for lunch and then in the afternoon we have a lab.
  2. Horseshoeing
    1. Reasons for the need for shoes
    2. Equipment needed
      1. hammer
      2. pullers
      3. nippers
      4. alligators
      5. rasp
      6. shoes
      7. nails
      8. hoof knife
    3. Review of anatomy of the foot
    4. Demonstration of how to put on a shoe
    5. Laboratory where students pull shoes and tack on a shoe. Each person may be able to do one foot or at least be able to hammer in some nails to gain confidence.

    This will take all afternoon and after dinner, time for more lectures
  3. Conformation and selection of horses and mules
    1. Mules
      1. how to select and buy a mule
      2. confirmation
      3. attitude
      4. attributes of mules
    2. Burros
      1. How are they different than mules
      2. Handling and packing burros
      3. How much can they pack?
    3. Horses
    4. confirmation
    5. how to select a good riding animal

    If there is still some light, the lecture on confirmation is important to help with the purchase of livestock.
  4. How and where to buy pack equipment and mules.

Day 5: Move camp from First Recess back up canyon toward Hopkins and Mono Creek (about two hours ride)

This is a day to practice packing and leading strings of mules.
In the evening, answer questions and discuss:

  1. Planning and outfitting your own pack trip
  2. How to avoid the pitfalls….stories and recollections of problems people have had with packing and mules. How to avoid repeating.
  3. How to deal with medical emergencies in the backcountry

Day 6: Hopkins Creek and Mono Creek to Rock Creek (five hour ride)

This is the final exam day. Each person has to correctly saddle and pack a mule, lead the animal. Written and practical exam. Should arrive at the pack station about 4 PM.

Call us TODAY at 760-872-8331 for a quick response to your questions.
You can email us, also.

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All Trail Rides and Packing Schools are subject to an 8% regulatory reservation fee, plus 2% USFS fee.
Horse Drives are are subject to an 8% regulatory reservation fee, plus 3% USFS fee.
Mustang Trips are are subject to a 3% USFS fee.
Trips traveling in Yosemite National Park are subject to an additional 3% park use fee.
Trips traveling in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are subject to an additional 3% park use fee.
Permits and permit monitoring fees are applied per person for trips. Permits are issued from the commercial allocation.

Rock Creek Pack Station, Inc operates under permit on the Inyo National Forest.

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Last Updated:July 8, 2024
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