Moving mule trains between the lodge and backcountry camp at Hell’s A-Roarin Outfitters was without question one of the diciest tasks we were responsible for during our time in Montana. A day moving a train typically consisted of equal parts prepping the mules (catching them in pasture, brushing, graining, saddling, wrapping loads in tarps, packing the loads) and moving the mules on horseback from the lodge to camp or vice versa – around 7 hours for each. Loads of hunter’s gear, supplies, elk carcasses (halfed), etc. are tied to the pack saddles in a process refined over decades of experience. When everything is done correctly, the loads never move and the ride goes smoothly.
Of the 14 or so trips made each way, the loads stayed put, twice..
When that is not the case, the loads have to be consistently adjusted on the trail, unpacked, repacked, or whatever is necessary to secure the packs for as long as possible. Adjusting loads became a thorn in our sides. In theory, adjusting would only take a few minutes and be relatively safe, but when you take into consideration steep angles of the slopes above and below the trails where adjusting sometimes (read often) occurred, the refusal of the mules to stay put while working on them, and the adverse weather, it became quite a precarious situation. Some might say character building, I say it can be a pain in the ass.