By Savannah Deuter

The Bob Marshall Wilderness, more affectionately known as the Bob, is full of all sorts of fascinating sights, such as the Chinese Wall, old cabins, tribal heritage sights, magnificent herds of elk, and something new – the next generation of horse packers and wild land advocates. In an effort to help raise the next generation of Americans, the Back Country Horsemen of Montana have started a new initiative to expose youth to the outdoors and all that nature has to offer.

“You can never know enough.” said Wyatt Tod, who has been with us on several of these packing camps. “You might think you know a bit, but once you start working with people who have spent a lot of their life packing, you get humbled by the fact of how much knowledge they have and how much you don’t know. “ This includes countless little nuggets of information, such as which plants are safe to eat, loading horses properly, learning all sorts of new knots, cooking in the backcountry, reading a map, communicating with others, setting up tents (whether for the first time or the one- hundredth time), and knowing the tracks of different critters.

Gracelyn Deuter recounted one of her favorite memories from one of the packing camps, “I remember sitting around the fire with Smoke because at the beginning he tells his favorite moon story. To hear anything from Smoke is awe inspiring. It feels like you are traveling through time and it is peaceful.” Smoke Elser often meets us at the trailhead while we are getting set up, and before we go in we have a sit down with him while he tells us all sorts of amazing stories about his adventures in the Bob. Once you realize that you are listening to a legend share the wisdom he has collected after thousands of miles on horseback, you listen a little closer.

“We were all a little community, and we all worked together well and we had pretty good communication skills and developed them more along the way,” said Taylor Richardson, another camper who has been on more than one of the packing camps. It is lessons such as these that many of our campers take away from the adventure. Kids learn to foster team building, comradery, and leadership skills. In a time where it is more common to communicate on electronics with less physical interactions, these valuable connections become even more significant. There are all sorts of things that we did on those trails! When hiking through fresh burns, where thimbleberries were common, we would all end up walking into the next camp with stained fingers and spoiled appetites. Whenever we came across creeks, we would break off, and some would go to a quiet corner to cast a line, others would sit on the banks in the shade with a sketchbook or a camera, and the rest would find a nice deep pool and splash around in the hot sunny afternoons. We took turns learning how to cook with the camp cook, Ally Pike, or to learn how to take care of horses in the backcountry with Greg Schatz, such as to water and feed the horses and set them up for the night.

The Back Country Horsemen of Montana raise money to cover camp costs so the campers can attend at no expense. Whether you want to start exploring the outdoors but have minimal experience, or you’re an avid horse packer who has been doing this for years, everyone is welcome. Just as long as you have your curiosity and a good pair of hiking shoes packed.

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