Packing’s importance to wilderness and the PCT

Michal Morse has worked for the U.S. Forest Service since 1973 and, as he says, “was fortunate” to assist in constructing some of the most beautiful parts of the PCT from Reds Meadow to Thousand Island Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Morse worked on trail crews since the early days of his career and now is the Trail/Wilderness Supervisor for the Mammoth Ranger District supervising trail crews, wilderness rangers and managing the agency Forest Stock Program. These horses and mules carry tools, and other supplies to backcountry crews, move camps and haul building materials.

“I believe they are essential to any major trail project,” he said. “Without stock support you could not maintain a good trails system. We continue to support any and all projects related to trail work on the PCT with mules.”

Moving tools and supplies after the Red's Meadow wind event.

Moving tools and supplies after the Red’s Meadow wind event.

In 2011, winds from the “devil’s storm” blew down more 500,000 trees near Reds Meadow. More than 200 miles of trail were blocked, including 32 miles of the PCT on the north zone of the Inyo National Forest. Working with the agency, PCTA, the Back Country Horsemen of California, corps crews and local volunteers began the long tedious task of cutting trees out of the trails.

The Forest Stock Program supported more than 150 trail workers in this endeavor by pulling trees off trails and hauling critical gear and equipment to crews as they marched through the woods. Crews often needed to be moved every 3 days depending on the speed of cutting they did. In the end, more than 5,000 trees were removed, cut or dragged off the trails and all 240 miles of trails were opened for wilderness users.

“Without the use of pack stock this would not have happened,” Morse said.

Packing in to a project on Mt. Whitney.

Packing in to a project on Mt. Whitney.

In 2014, PCTA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The PCT crosses 48 wilderness areas in its 2,650 miles, more than any other National Scenic Trail. For PCTA, this is also a celebration of our valued partnership with packers, who not only keep wilderness trails open, but help preserve the quiet and peaceful experience hikers and horseback riders deserve when they venture onto the PCT.

Packers and trail workers together below Mt. Whitney.

Packers and trail workers together below Mt. Whitney.

The photos below illustrate how pack stock made a trail project in Southern Washington possible and are part of an article in the Summer 2014 issue of the PCT Communicator magazine.

If you don’t get the magazine at home, please consider becoming a PCTA member. Your membership helps fund critical trail maintenance programs, including our vital support from packers.


Backcountry Horsemen and PCTA packing into a project.


Packing in to a work site.



Trail crew volunteers doing reconnaissance for our major work project in the Goat Rocks.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.