California’s Eastern Sierras by Horseback

By March 24, 2011

Riders experience California's Sierra Nevada mountains at close range, packing through Rock Creek on horseback. (Photo by Lennore Yukitrat)

Since 1947 Rock Creek Pack Station has led first-time and experienced riders alike on wilderness trips through California’s southeastern Sierra Nevada mountains. There are horse drives through the Owens Valley and expeditions to see one of the last remaining ungathered bands of Mustangs as well as parent/child rides through the John Muir Wilderness that take the trails at a slower pace, mixing in opportunities to fish and hike along the way.

The way Rock Creek co-owner Craig London sees it, taking folks out for a few days or more of riding and camping is all about passing on his love for California’s unspoiled wilderness, the way his father, Herb London, passed it on to him. “Whether you’re pointing out a flower or where a sidewinder crossed the trail, you’re constantly sharing with people,” he explains. “We get people from New York and the Midwest who always wanted to ride. It’s about making those childhood dreams happen. We have guests who come back again and again.”

Craig London, seen here riding a chestnut horse, helps run the family trail-riding business.

Craig London, who runs the family trail-riding business with his dad, has spent every summer since birth at the Rock Creek Pack Station. (Photo by Lennore Yukitrat)

Rob Buscher knows something about how wilderness riding gets under your skin. The Los Angeles resident has gone on two Rock Creek trips with friends and is planning a third, to Mt. Whitney, this spring. Though he’s no novice in the saddle—he grew up in Virginia’s hunt country and rides daily at the L.A. Equestrian Center—he says that Rock Creek’s pack trips allow him to exercise his passion for both the outdoors and for American history. “The countryside is breathtakingly beautiful,” he says. “Craig’s horses are spectacular—they’re bred and trained to do what they do.” Buscher, who puts in long days as creative director for an advertising agency, is now contemplating enrolling in the “professional packing school” courses that London offers each year. “I’ve just got to figure out how to get away from the office,” he says with a laugh.

London, who received a B.S. in Animal Physiology from UC Davis in 1976 and graduated from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1980, has spent every summer since his birth at the pack station and now carries on the tradition with an experienced staff. “My dad—he just celebrated his 92nd birthday—learned from people who were packing in the 1920s,” he explains. “All our trips are educational, though we always make sure that guests have a good time.”

This summer London is joining up with Dr. Janet Roser, who directs the equine program at U.C. Davis, to offer two unique horsepacking adventures through the university:

Mustangs: A Living Legacy, June 11–14

Track wild horses and relive the Old West in the seldom-visited Pizona area of the Inyo National Forest. From a central meadow camp, riders will track and observe Mustangs in their natural pinyon forest habitat. Learn the social behavior of the horses and their current struggle. Enjoy spectacular sunsets of the Sierra and White Mountains while a cook prepares dinner over an open fire. This course highlights the historical background and political evolution of wild horse populations; relevant aspects of the physical environment of the horse range, including climate, geology, water and seasonal changes, relevant physiology, reproduction, behavior and nutrition for wild horses; the relationship between wild horses and other animals; plant life in the ecology of the horse range; the principles of wild horse management and the current policies of the federal government. The ride starts at Benton Hot Springs Bed and Breakfast, in Bishop. Cost is $750, including horse, tack, meals and instruction.

Mountain Horsemanship: Veterinary Care and Horsepacking in the Wilderness, July 10-16

This deluxe, seven-day pack trip covers the essentials of horsepacking with the Golden Trout Wilderness of the High Sierra as your laboratory. The instructors will discuss equipment, emergency veterinary care, feeding and managing livestock in the backcountry and more. Topics include proper wilderness conduct; trail riding safety and horse equipment; methods of feeding livestock in the backcountry; management of livestock; preventative medicine; evaluating the normal horse; treating a hurt or sick horse in the wilderness; packing equipment, fitting saddles, making loads, hitches and leading strings of mules; veterinary skills including physical examination, floating teeth, IM IV injections, applying wraps, animal restraint and aging horses; and shoeing. Ride begins at Horseshoe Meadows in Lone Pine. Cost is $1,400, including horse, tack, meals and instruction.

Two paint horses parked under a tree lend atmosphere to the campsite.

The Rock Creek Pack Station outfit prides itself on well-trained trail horses, including Mud, a paint. (Photo by Lennore Yukitrat)

For more information, go to www.rockcreekpackstation.com or http://extension.ucdavis.edu/areas_of_study/ (click on the Beyond the Classroom/Equine link).

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