Go to FastAd#:
Rock Creek Pack Station riders enjoy a “trip of a lifetime” — sometimes again and again. Courtesy photo.

For decades, Craig London, DVM of Rock Creek Pack Station has shared Sierra wilderness with folks on horseback

HORSETRADER: Craig, where did your journey into Sierra wilderness trips begin?
CRAIG: My parents, Herbert and Marge London, bought Rock Creek Pack Station in 1947. My dad was an executive for American Airlines, and when he left L.A., he had been sort of head of flight operations,and he decided he wanted to be a packer. He wanted to go to Bishop.
So, he just had a passion for the outdoors — the wilderness and simple lifestyle — and he never regretted it.

HORSETRADER: So, you grew up in the business.
CRAIG: Since the time I can remember, I have been involved in the packing business. And, like most ranch families, the dad wanted me to be a veterinarian. So after a few years in 4-H and some prodding, I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian. I graduated from UC Davis vet school in 1980. And I worked as a veterinarian in the winter and a packer in the summer since.

HORSETRADER: What are some early memories?
CRAIG: My dad was fortunate to be trained and his mentors were all the old-time packers who were here from the early part of the 1900s. They basically had started packing. So, I’ve had that experience.

HORSETRADER: You actually worked with some of those early packers?
CRAIG: A few, but most had died. My dad worked with them, though. I think the person who most influenced him was Allie Robinson. He packed out of Independence and had like about 100 matched black mules. Another person, an old-timer who influenced my dad, was Ike Livermore. He had Mount Whitney pack trains and was one of the Sierra Club directors who basically ran all the Sierra Club trips from the 40s through the 60s. The Sierra Club would run different trips on different parts of the Sierra. They would haul the mules up.
That was basically how packing got started in the Sierra. People from the Bay Area and other parts of California wanted to go up in the mountains, and they’d take trips every year. It was those people who basically pushed the idea of getting the Wilderness Act passed.

HORSETRADER: What were the challenges then?
CRAIG: The challenge of my dad in the packing industry in general was finding good help that had common sense around horses and livestock — a ranch background where they understand work.
I have found in recent years that the new generation of people — and the staff I have now — is more responsible, more excited, and they have the same excitement that I have. I have great hopes for the young people. They fanatically just love it to death, and they are doing a great job.
I have to say, too, that the forest service and the park service really want people to get out and enjoy their wilderness. And, inspite of all the environmental regulations and things, the park service and the forest service have done all they can to keep packing alive and to keep opportunities for people to use their national public lands.

HORSETRADER: On your trips, does everyone ride horses? Mules?
CRAIG: We ride horses and mules. But I’ll give you a good story that I think influenced what goes on in the Sierra today. In the early 80s, my dad bought a truckload of mules and had as one of his guys from the 50s who was a horse trainer in Tucson. He had six mules — he’d ride one and pack five to get him to where he wanted to go. At the end of the day, he’d unpack and he’d ride a different one out. So at the end of the summer, he had six great saddle mules. So we started using those saddle mules on a regular basis.
Then we understood that, geez, these animals are tougher, they keep their weight better, they are cheaper to feed, and if you cannot ride then, you can pack them. And they were very economical. Traditionally, people rode horses and packed mules.
Since then, some of the other packers up here, they have mule teams and they make sure that every mule is a good-riding mule as well. They can pack, pull the 20-mule team, and they are good riding animals.

HORSETRADER: Which do you prefer?
CRAIG: A lot of the packers have moved to more riding mules. But I think, my own personal opinion after 50-plus years of experience, I don’t think that mules are any more sure-footed than those horses. Through the years with me, the horses have done just as well and maybe a little bit better. That’s my personal opinion. It comes down to the animal. Among the best riding animnals I’ve rode was a mule called Elmer, and I rode him for years. Big, black draft mule — he was fantastic. But then I moved to a couple Quarter Horses, the last two animals I’ve had. They were just as good or better, so I think it’s up to the individual animal.

HORSETRADER: What do you look for in your horses?
CRAIG: The style of horse I am looking for is your old-style Quarter Horse. It’s not the modern Quarter Horse. It’s a horse with a size-two foot. Big hard walls. Big strong cannon bones. And an animal that responds but does not have that hotness where they jump and bolt. The type of horse that, when the group leaves, they stand there. They don’t want to run off with the group. So you’re going to have a horse that is probably Quarter Horse, but it has a mixture of some Draft, maybe like a Morgan or sort of cross-bred horse that was popular in the Appalachians.

HORSETRADER: Do folks bring their own horses?
CRAIG: Out of a concern for their animals, no. You’ve got to feed them and turn them loose in the backcountry. Now, we have certain areas and certain opportunities that would be suitable, but it’s really not a good idea for most people to bring their own animals up.
For years during the 70s and 80s, I did primarily educational trips. We would teach people how to pack themselves so they could do things and bring their own animal on a trip. But most the trips we do today, you wouldn’t want to bring your own horse.

HORSETRADER: What is the takeaway for a rider on your trips?
CRAIG: People can’t believe what our animals do. They can’t believe that they can go over steep rocky trails, sure-footed. They just can’t picture a horse’s ability to travel on Sierra trails.
And then they can’t believe how good the horses are — how gentle, how they handle different situations. A horse that is responsive. Suitable for a child.

HORSETRADER: Family trips are popular. What age is appropriate?
CRAIG: We traditionally started people on wilderness pack trips at five years of age. People think a good time to start is like when they are six. If you are going to instill a love of the wilderness and camping, you want to start them at six or seven. Once you get a little older than that, they are on to other things.
It’s great for the kids. They might not know how to ride when they leave the pack station, but two hours later, you know, they feel like they are Roy Rogers or Dale Evans. It’s the love of riding. It gives them a confidence, too, to go on a pack trip where they ride their own horses, they help take care of them, and they go over to the lake and catch a fish, then go help cook it. It’s very life-changing for a lot of young people. And it’s something that will never leave them.
It never does. One of the reasons I have been successful is we had generational customers. One of our customers from Solana Beach learned how to ride in 1948 at Rock Creek. His daughter worked with me, and his grandkids ride with me — still.


MORE ONLINE: Https://bit.ly/303pack

Leave a Comment

All fields must be filled in to leave a message.