Pack Animal Magazine

Magic On The Trail

by Greg Harford of Potato Ranch Llama Packers (Spring 2013)

In July of 2008, my wife, Diana and I walked a section of the Pacific Crest Trail from Sonora Pass to Tuolumne Meadow in Yosemite. It is an absolutely gorgeous 75-mile hike, with high volcanic ridges, cool deep canyons, long verdant meadows and numerous alpine lakes. We chose the north-to-south direction, not realizing that we would encounter many of the PCT thru-hikers. Most of them start in April at the border of Mexico with the goal of reaching Canada in October. Sonora Pass is about the halfway mark, and by that time the under-prepared or under-motivated hikers have dropped out and the survivors are lean, mean hiking machines. We were amazed at how happy most of the hikers were. They were very content in their world of “Trail Zen.”

In our brief conversations with hikers, a few would mention “Trail Magic,” freshly cooked meals provided by strangers where a dirt road would intersect the PCT. Among these hikers, who walk 25 to 40 miles a day for months and have a serious shortage of calories and carbs, there was an almost religious awe in recounting a meal of pasta with cream sauce, French bread and a green salad. Having complete strangers set up a food rest stop makes quite an impression.

Over the years, I intended to provide some “Trail Magic,” as Sonora Pass is only two hours away and I do many early summer conditioning hikes with my twelve packers—but I just never seemed to get organized before the busy summer would find itself upon me.

In late June of 2012, however, I did two day hikes, one north from Sonora Pass and the other from the south. The first I set up four miles in, just above Wolf Lake. I brought four ice chests with an assortment of fresh fruit, candy bars and snacks, smoothies and yogurt, French bread and cheese, Pepperidge Farm cookies, iced drinks, orange juice, sodas and beer. I was amazed at how much beer these hikers could consume at 10,000 feet and still hike in a straight line.

The thru-hikers in this first group were of all ages. We had some interesting conversations that offered much insight into their lives and personalities. After about three hours, I started packing up to go home. About fifteen people had stopped and everyone was a joy to talk to and very appreciative. On the hike out, I met one more group of four guys who emptied the ice chest and stuffed their pockets with soda, beer and bananas.

The next day, having restocked, I headed toward Leavitt Peak. I started meeting hikers earlier, so I stopped in a wide spot on the trail. It turned out to be a great spot because the hikers could not see us from above and would round a corner to find four llamas with ice chests. Some of their expressions were priceless. This group of fifteen to twenty was much younger than those from my first day, mostly in their early twenties. They also had a higher energy level and a very interesting group dynamic. When I restocked, I made a point of bringing extra bananas, yogurt, French bread and beer. As an added treat, they fed banana peels to the llamas. One of the girls had a fresh baguette stuffed with mini carrots. She said it was the best lunch she had on the trip.

I am curious as to how many of these hikers made it to Canada. They were all dedicated and focused. One had to stop in September to return to school and her PhD studies. I would expect most were successful.

I am looking forward to repeating some trail magic this year. I might even get a few friends to help and see how extravagant we could make this. I expect we will earn some good karma points.