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San Juan Back Country Horsemen

Gary Staplekamp and Vern Jahnke were both asked:
How long have you been packing and how did you get started?
Gary’s Answer: Started packing in the Sierra’s in 1971. b
een on horses all my life.
Vern’s Answer:  I've been riding horses for a LONG time. I started packing 16 years ago.  I started with mules, which is in reverse of what most people do. Most start with horses and then if they have a lot of "grit" may try starting mules. I purchased all the reading material I could find, took what I thought was the best from each book and started training. The reason I've leaned more toward mules is, you can use smaller mules, which are easier to load, but they can carry the same load as a larger horse. That said, it makes no difference, horse or mule, it all depends on the willingness of the equine.  I also worked with a number of "packers" and have used what I think is the best of what I've learned. 

Thanks so much Vern and Gary for being willing to share your knowledge with us!

Gary's Answer:  

Good morning Kristie.   Pack saddles are built for horses & mules. The difference is in the way the frame is made.  Most packers in this area use a sawbuck frame.  I prefer the Decker frame pack saddle.  I have 2-3 books about packing.  If you want to read them before you purchase a pack saddle, you can read them.. Gary



(gravel project continued)

Gary and Vern,
This question is for both of you.
Q 1. What type of packing equipment would you suggest for me to purchase?  I don't have a mule, I only have horses (I wish I had a couple of mules), there are several types to choose from and I am sure part of the question to me would be what type of packing will I be doing?  The type of packing I would be doing is supplies for working on trails and food supplies.  
Q 2.  How do I measure, where do I measure and how do I determine what size equipment to purchase?

Jan 2016



Williams Creek Gravel Hauling Project

In 2015, members of San Juan Back Country Horsemen and personnel from the Pagosa Ranger District began discussing the need for an extensive trail rebuild through a bog about three miles into the Weminuche Wilderness Area on the Williams Creek Trail. On Friday, August 19th, 2016, SJBCH and the Pagosa Ranger District completed a week long project that solved the problem. The initial concept discussed by the SJBCH Board envisioned the chapter purchasing the aggregate material required and utilizing volunteer packers to haul the material to the worksite. The board also discussed applying for a grant to help offset the costs.  Pagosa District Trail Foreman Tyler Albers and Wilderness Program Manager Ros Wu had discussed with John Nelson, SJBCH Trails and Projects Committee Chair (and FS liaison) the construction by the FS Trail Crew of a raised causeway through the problem area.  ​

(article continued below the slideshow)

MARCH 2016

Vern's Answer:

Kristie ,

the type of pack saddle I use is a sawbuck, also called a cross buck. If you decide to use a saw buck, the most important item is the best heavy duty, thick, pack blanket you can buy. Pack equine will gain and/or lose weight between the beginning and the end of the season. A good thick HD blanket will make up for most of this weight change. As for fitting the bars on the sawbuck, it's best to wait until your equine has lost  it's winter coat before you try fitting it. The way I do it, is someone help you by pushing down on the frame and run your hand under the bars. Take a marker or pencil and mark the high and low parts
of the bars. If it's a close fit, the pack pad will work on small gaps. If you need to reform the bars, use a belt sander to do the reshaping . If you make a mistake, and can't get the shape right, or buy a used saddle that won't fit, you can go on-line and order new bars, and start over. Make sure you also have a "lash-cinch "with about a 50 to a 55in. lash rope to tie everything down .
I hope this answers your questions.


by Vern Jahnke and Gary Staplekamp


Vern and Gary will be sharing some nuggets of wisdom with us through monthly articles that will include a Question and Answer section,  please submit any questions you have by emailing one or both, make sure you include your name, phone number and the date.  

 Email Gary:

Email Vern:


As soon as John presented the idea to the board, there was agreement to proceed. At the same me, a grant opportunity presented itself. The National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance (NWSA) had just announced a matching grant opportunity, and Lisa Nelson volunteered to apply for the money. Even though the final plans had not been completed, the Trails and Projects Committee outlined a budget they felt was reasonable, the board gave the nod to complete the grant application. During the time between the initial grant submission and the chapter’s successful award, the project itself and the budget were refined and augmented.

The final design from Tyler contained an estimated 15 tons of aggregate material, and the original volunteer packer idea became untenable. That amount of tonnage required the services of Glenn Ryan, Lead Packer for the USFS Rocky Mountain Regional Specialty Pack String. Glenn and his 10-plus pack mules spend their summer work season fulfilling just the sort of mission we had in mind. Ros contacted Glenn and reserved the week of August 15th-19th for his participation. The SJBCH Trails and Projects Committee felt that with a significant contribution from the San Juan National Forest, the Rocky Mountain Region of the USFS, and the Pagosa Ranger District, the chapter would be able to supply additional funds required for the pack string to participate. That is exactly how things played out.The USFS provided the bulk of the financial burden for the pack string. SJBCH received a $1500 matching grant from the NWSA and matched it with chapter funds. The Columbine Ranger District provided all the weed-free hay required by all the livestock. The Pagosa Ranger District Trail Crew prepared the worksite during the week prior to the gravel packing. BCH volunteers from SJBCH, Four Corners Back Country Horsemen, and Front Range Back Country Horsemen provided the meals for crews and volunteers, helped manage all the livestock, pulled weeds from around the trailhead and within the Palisades Horse Camp, provided material and tools to construct a large temporary pasture for the pack string, built shelters over the kitchen and dining areas of the camp, designed and built the gravel weighing stations, provided all the buckets required for weighing the aggregate, helped groom and saddle the mules, and loaded them for each pack trip up the mountain. Throughout each day, volunteers hauled water to fill troughs and buckets for the animals.

At the end of the day on Friday, August 19th, our collaborative effort had resulted in over 11 tons of gravel packed to the site and the trail problem solved. Everyone involved would like to see the final few tons of gravel and finishing material packed to the causeway, but it will have to wait until next season. Projects of this magnitude may begin with a conversation, but they only reach fruition through the hard work and extensive planning and collaboration of many individuals and entities.

In addition to the participants already mentioned, the following individuals contributed in one form or another: Kristie Hefling, Laurel Penwell, Bob Parsons, Larry Fields, Randy and Joanne Senzig, Todd Rodas and Judi Hurley, Ken and Denise Bachman, and Bob and Laura Volger camped at the Palisades Horse Camp and volunteered every day. Tara McElhinney, Bev Warburton, Cheryl McCelvey, Pat Moffitt , Rodney Pepper, Dan Licarrdi, Larry Hefling, Nancy Seay, and Ted Wortman helped at times throughout the week. Vern and Kathy Jahnke loaned the chapter a cook stove and sent desserts. Camp hosts Bo and Olinda Reneau helped every day and in every possible manner. Glenn’s assistant packer Trepper Osburn was invaluable as a pack string leader and able in- structor for the volunteers. Ann Bond, Public Relations Officer for the San Juan National Forest spent part of Tuesday at the TH and the worksite to document the project and write articles for the Pagosa Sun and Durango Herald. Paul Blackman, Pagosa District Recrea tion Supervisor was instrumental in helping us utilize the trail crew an extra day on Friday. And the trail crew was out- standing. Thank you, Stephani Kopfman, Kristina Schenk, Zach Staley, Sky Martin, Eric Freudenberger, Ian Birdsell, and Cody Milihran. We look forward to working with you again.

Submitted by Bob Volger 

More photos on the News & Photos page (go to the upper left hand of page to click on) NEWS & PHOTOS

Lori Beach & Ted Wortman carried the SJBCH Banner introducing our riders in the Pagosa Springs, CO. 4th of July, 2015 Parade.

​Who Are We?

BCHA are men and women who belong to a national non-profit organization. We are a 501(c)(3) serving 174 local and state chapters across the country. Our grassroots members—responsible leaders who help to carry forward our organization’s mission and values—lead BCHA organizations throughout the United States. BCHA chapters are active in 27 states consisting of roughly 13,000 members who are dedicated to keeping trails open for all on our public lands. Our chapters work closely with trail partners and local land management agencies to clear and maintain those trails. [BCHA at Work on the Trail]

What Does BCHA Do?

In 2012, Back Country Horsemen of America volunteers spent 372,000 hours working to maintain trails on public lands.  That equates to a value of $12.5 million dollars in trail work donated to local and federal land managing agencies. Since 1995, BCHA members contributed a value equal to $86.66 million in volunteer hours. 

We invest in active participation by young leaders in the wise and sustainable use of wilderness and back country resources. We coordinate with conservation corps and youth groups, United States Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management to ensure tomorrow's leaders have outdoor and wilderness experiences. As youth groups work with us and our partners, they learn about themselves and about stewardship of our most treasured resources. BCHA, its youth partners, and other volunteers leverage funds many times over in delivering projects to clear and maintain trails.

Are you a hiker, biker, or horseback rider who gets out and enjoys trails? We do much of the work that goes unseen to clear and preserve the safety and continued enjoyment of your outdoor experience. Yup, much of our work does involve "horsepower" as well as human power. The majority of our pack trips with horses and mules assist trail crews get food, camping gear, and trail maintenance equipment into areas where four-wheeled vehicles cannot go. We help two-footed trail workers get more done by packing in what they need. 


 Below is copied from the BCHA Webpage.Click this button to go to their webpage with this article:

**** NOTICE ****



Nancy Seay riding Leah with her dog Sillana 5/13/15

​San Juan Back Country Horsemen

P.O. Box 682

Pagosa Springs, CO 81147

​The San Juan Back Country Horsemen

Chapter of

the Back Country Horsemen of Colorado

Come Ride with us in the Beautiful

San Juan Mountains

We are a group of guys and gals who share a passion of horseback riding in the back country. Our goal is to share our knowledge and our skills with our community. We want to keep and protect our trails for future generations.