Happy and unplugged: Montana horsepacking at its best

We welcome our very own marketing director, Emily Thomas Luciano, as a guest columnist this week.

Here’s her report from a Montana horse pack trip:

I wanted to unplug. That is what I was most looking forward to about the four-day back country pack trip. Of course, I was

Heading out on the Montana trail

Heading out on the Montana trail

excited about the riding, breathtaking views, campfire camaraderie, and good food. But, it was definitely getting away from my phone, email, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, text message, voicemail, etc. that I was most excited about. And unplug I did!

My dad, Bar T Horsemanship’s Jim Thomas, and I teamed up with Montana Mountain West Outfitters out of Eureka, Montana, to put together the all-inclusive pack trip for us flatlanders. We had four days and three nights of backcountry fun.

What constitutes the backcountry?

Nine humans and 11 equines crammed into two rigs, then traveled 30 minutes out of town on a paved road into the West Kootenai National Forest. At that point, we turned onto a dirt road and drove IMG_6142another hour as we weaved, bumped and dusted up a mountain to a deserted trail head. We then packed the mules and climbed aboard our horses to ride another couple of miles into camp.

Home for those four days consisted of three tents, cots with bedrolls, a campfire, and a small kitchen where Yours Truly prepared two hot, made-from-scratch meals each day. The horses and mules called a makeshift paddock by a small pond home for the duration of our stay.

We began each morning with coffee, breakfast and talk of goals for the day before tacking up and heading out. Though we rode varying distances each day, our longest day (and our most eventful day!) clocked in at about 12 miles.

Montana viewWe had a picturesque ride planned for the day. We’d ride out from our camp, which was perched on a ridge, back down to the trail head. From there, we’d cross over onto an old logging road that curved around and down the mountain. There, we’d pick up another trail that followed a mountain creek and eventually lead to a waterfall where we’d break for lunch. There was even the promise of huckleberry picking along the way!

Though the ride started off just as planned, we had some unwelcomed guests not long after we reached the creek. It started off as an isolated incident—one rider dismounted and tied her horse off trail to use nature’s lavatories. When she got back on and moved toward the trail, her horse stepped in a yellow jacket nest! Needless to say, we all moved down the trail IMG_6163pretty quickly.

Just a short distance down the trail, we found a glorious huckleberry patch that hadn’t yet been picked over by bears. Of course, we had to stop and fill up any empty water bottles with the little blueberry-like balls of deliciousness.

After remounting and continuing down the trail, we found another nest. But it wasn’t just one horse— the nest had likely been disturbed by the first horse in our line, so they got us all. Though it was definitely a scary moment as the horses tried desperately to lope down the narrow trail to get through the bees, it made good fodder for campfire laughs that night. We all agreed that had we been on our horses from home and not these back-country-savvy steeds, it would be no laughing matter!

The memories of those four days will last a lifetime! From awe-inspiring views of the Kookanoosa Reservoir at 6,000 feet to campfire cooked pork chops and fresh huckleberry pancakes, I’m already counting down the days until next year. If you want to join us, please feel free to get in touch with me at ethomas04@gmail.com. We’ve already nailed down our dates and have secured our permits.