Article and Photographs by Nancy Deisch
Buffalo River BCH of Arkansas
Remember the 2014 Chattanooga NBM crowd funding extravaganza? Remember the extraordinary trips offered to the lucky buyers? Well, the final pack trip was recently taken to the Emigrant Wilderness in the Stanislaus National Forest in California by the two Arkansas BCH cowgirls who managed to buy the trip in 2014 but couldn’t manage to take it until August, 2015. For Jacque Alexander and Nancy Deisch of the Buffalo River Arkansas BCH, it was well worth the wait.
Dennis Serpa of the California Mid-Valley BCH unit was the trail boss aided by Lee Owning, Karen Lopes (also with Mid-Valley), and Thies Thoming, an eager future packer and also Dennis’ grandson. Dennis and Lee each brought 4 mules for riding and packing, Karen rode one horse and packed another, and Thies rode his trusty Arab while Jacque Alexander and Nancy Deisch rode 2 of Dennis’ fine mules.
On Thursday, August 6, everyone gathered at the Crabtree trailhead to put packs together, group, and sort to be ready to ride out on Friday morning. After what seemed to be an amazing amount of organization (to 2 novices), we hit the trail and headed out the 15 miles to Buck Lake for 4 days and 3 nights of paradise. The ride out was incredibly beautiful and varied–passing by alpine lakes (we were at roughly 8000 feet, +/-), granite knobs, unusual trail construction and maintenance (from an Arkansas point-of-view), and getting use to the sweet gait of a mule (for 2 horseback riders). Camp was made in a lovely pine grove across the trail from Buck Lake where swimming was possible.
The next 2 days were spent taking rides from the camp to other lakes–Emigrant, Wood (upper and lower), Gem, Jewelry, to name a few. Our guides were knowledgeable on the local history and the current issues of the area and kept us informed each step of the way. Sitting around the campfire mornings and evenings was the perfect way to start and end each day in the wilderness.
All good things must end, so on Monday morning we packed up and took a different trail back to Crabtree where the real world awaited and the fantasy was over.
Our guides took excellent care, fed us too well, and made us feel like we were old hands. It was a trip of a lifetime.
Now, in a dream, I am almost awakened by the trot-like jingle of far-off bells. Soon the air is full of dust and hoofbeats. Happy, kicking, rolling, bucking mules perform in front of our tents?–checking in to say, “We’re here!” and then racing to the lush green wildflower-decorated meadow that adjoins the campground, hiding their heads in the grass. I smile. It’s not a dream–just morning in the Emigrant Wilderness.–Jacque Alexander