The difference between a fairy tale and a cowboy story is that one starts with once upon a time in a land that’s far-far away and the other starts with this is some real s**t. This really happened! This is some of the first information I gathered at the Rocky Mountain specialty packstring training I attended in Bailey, Colorado in early June.

Now to confess I’m not a cowboy by any means, nor was I there to become any sort of professional pack stringer. However, my partner and I arrived with about 1,600 lbs. of gear ready to be packed up for the project on Mt. Columbia in the Horn Fork Basin. Showing up fashionably late led to some interesting greetings. Confused stares that one could assume said who the hell are these guys? What’s in the trailer? Why the need for all the gear? Glenn Ryan, the instructor for the course, introduced us in a way that I could never say with my own words. Appropriately he referred to us as Neanderthals, explaining to all the different groups and land agencies all across the board that you could give us a hand full of feed and we’d work for 16 hours straight! Robots, aliens, anything but humans.

Surely, folks with any sense of mind would not willingly hike in to the backcountry to live and work in the alpine. Never mind moving giant boulders around while enduring the extreme weather that one may encounter at around 13,000 ft. altitude. So yes, Neanderthals was quite suiting if you ask me. For we are the box trolls of the backcountry after all.

After the introduction, we had the chance to explain the reason for of all our gear and more importantly the reason why we were there. During the training we had to practice packing and hitching up loads to the mules. As explained earlier we had arrived with a trailer full of gear that just so happened was ready to be weighed out, sorted and packed up. What better way to be properly trained right? Talk about some quality hands on experience. A real win-win.

I would like to thank all the different land agencies and private string packers that attended this training. To the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Parks and Wildlife, and everyone else: Thank you all so much for the help! It was a great experience. One that I would love to have again in the future. It was a unique opportunity to have all the different agencies in one setting at the same time. Never mind working side-by-side to pack up loads and categorize each load alphabetically to ensure efficiency when it came time to pack it all in. Everyone was amazing and they have my utmost respect and gratitude. On behalf of CFI’s Mount Columbia fixed-site crew, THANK YOU!

Eric McSwan

Hello! My Name is Eric McSwan. I’ve been crushing rocks on the trails for four years now starting this season! I am working on the Columbia trail this season deep into the Hornfork Basin with an amazing crew. I’ve spent a lot of time working with Youth Corps performing as a crew leader and a member. This is my second season working with CFI and I am very grateful and honored to be a part of such an outstanding organization! If i’m not paving the way on the trails I’m finding my way around towns on my skateboard!