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Sweat, horses and sage, a summer at Three Peaks Ranch

Part 1 | Part 2

By Danielle Naplews
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2002, Vol. 18, No. 1

  Laura Love
  Horsepacker Laura 'Fats' Love rides Scooby Doo across the East Fork River on one of more than 50 reration rides NOLS' Three Peaks Ranch does during the summer.
My alarm says it’s 5 in the morning, but it is moonlight, not sunlight, that is streaming through my bedroom window. I quickly dress in jeans, a capilene top under a button down shirt, boots, and of course, my cowboy hat. Making sure I’ve grabbed my sunglasses and pocketknife, I leave the Steele House and follow the smell of pancakes to the cookhouse. Marlow has prepared a full breakfast to help us begin our day.

After gulping down breakfast, I pack my lunch, fill my water bottle, and fix a cup of tea for the road. Fats enters the cookhouse and we exchange inside jokes as she prepares for the upcoming day.

We spent the previous evening “prepping” our reration. We carefully loaded and weighed three sets of pack panniers for three packhorses. The panniers bulge with fuel, food, produce and gear for a NOLS wilderness course deep in the Wind River Mountains. Each horse will carry more than 140 pounds. I’ve hooked the horse trailer to the pickup truck and we’ve loaded the panniers onto the flatbed. We know that all we’ll have to do in the morning is load up and go.

Today I’m riding Palmolive, a cute palomino gelding. He is one of more than 30 horses NOLS leases from Wyoming Horses in Pavillion, Wyoming. Fats is riding Gannett, a young and sometimes unpredictable gelding. Gannett, along with about 30 other horses, belongs to NOLS. Our packhorses today are Goldie, Flint and Kirby.

We leave the cookhouse with our marked reration maps and cell phone and catch our horses in the corral. They run from us because they know they have a long day ahead of them. After the fifth horse has finally been caught, we quickly load the horses into the trailer. We’re making good time. It’s only 6 a.m. I turn the key in the ignition and we’re off!

Today our reration leaves out of Willow Creek road head. The drive is a long one, more than an hour from Three Peaks Ranch, located on the western side of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains. We turn the truck toward the mountains and a bull moose appears out of the fog, running beside the truck as if to say, “Let’s race!” After about half a mile he disappears into the mist. We pass through Boulder, Wyo. and turn north past Pinedale and Cora. The road begins to deteriorate greatly so Fats locks the hubs and I shift into 4WD. The radio is on, the sun is rising over the Wind River Mountains, and we laugh at a calf trying to out-run our truck. It’s turning into a great day.

Fats and I reminisce about our reration to Lake Creek last year, and we can’t help but laugh over the conversations we had a year ago and all of the songs we sang off key.

We finally arrive at the road head. The horses nicker and paw impatiently, anticipating their well-deserved buckets of grain. Today will not be an easy day for them. Fats and I unload the panniers and tack from the truck and trailer. We carefully groom and saddle the horses. Finally we load the panniers. “Back’s on. Front is on,” I hear Fats say as I struggle to lift the 60 pound pannier. I tell Fats that lifting panniers is the worst part of being a horsepacker. She’s heard it before and she laughs. Once the horses are loaded and the hitches thrown, Fats and I decide to tie Kirby behind Goldie and let Flint go solo behind Gannett. I scratch Palmolive between the ears, kiss his nose, and hop up into the saddle. We’re riding single file down the trail and it’s only 8:30 in the morning.

Our ride is about 18 miles today, a long ride by any standards, but I don’t mind because it’s one of my favorites. Today is my 13th reration of the summer, but only one of 50 or so that leave from Three Peaks Ranch to resupply NOLS courses in the mountains.

Part 1 | Part 2


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