Packing and stock use has a rich heritage in The Bob and has helped to shape the character of the Wilderness Complex and its users. Backcountry stewardship work would not be possible without pack support from horse and mule strings carrying gear, food, and tools up to 30 miles each way from trailheads to wilderness project locations. However, packing is a fading skill: as members of the packing community retire, there are fewer and fewer young packers coming up to take their place. Ensuring that packing knowledge and skills are passed on to future generations of wilderness packers is critical to preserving Montana heritage and enabling wilderness stewardship to continue for years to come.
With this goal, Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, with the support the Backcountry Horsemen, have established a packer apprentice program. This program will provide a unique opportunity for aspiring packers to train with some of the most respected packers in Montana in order to pursue future careers packing with outfitters or government agencies.
As one of the first programs of its kind, the BMWF Packer Apprentice Program welcomed two apprentices for the 2016 field season: Herold Herring, a highschool student from Augusta; and Kristina Gilliespie, a therapist from Helena. Herold and Kristina were both driven by a love of the outdoors and wilderness. “I love being in the outdoors, even more when on horseback and even more when in the wilderness” says Kristina, adding “I am excited to represent women in the wilderness who want to carry on traditions that have often been limited or not as strongly encouraged.”
The apprentices attend Smoke Elser’s 9 Mile Packing Clinic, then complete a number of training trips with the mentor packers: Frank Vitale, Ralph Hopkins, and Chris Eyer and USFS packer Ian Bardwell of the Rocky Mountain Ranger District. The ultimate goal of the Packer Apprentice Program is to have the apprentices go on to get jobs packing with an outfitter or the Forest Service, or to own their own stock and volunteer packing for stewardship projects.