In the company of towering grey granite cliffs and a landscape of giant sequoia trees, Cedar Grove Pack Station founder Tim Loverin has set off on many a crisp morning in search of wandered-off mules.
A California cowboy to his core, Loverin has had a horse and mule packing business in Kings Canyon National Park for more than 30 years. His team of livestock carries visitors – and their hundreds of pounds of camping and fishing gear – through the southern Sierra Nevada backcountry. The former commercial wood cutter, now 66, is part of a Wild West legacy of packers and pioneers: his great grandfather was the first civilian ranger in the adjacent Sequoia National Park, and his grandfather – who took him on his first packing trip in 1958 – was a commercial packer in the early 1900s.
“I loved it – I loved the mountains, the horses. And when the opportunity came up to buy this pack station in 1986 in Cedar Grove, I picked it up,” Loverin said. “Now, all my kids and my grandkids are well involved in it too, and my youngest daughter is the main packer here.”
John Muir, a world famous Scottish-American naturalist and the founder of the Sierra Club, first visited Kings Canyon in 1873. Although Muir called it a “rival to Yosemite”, Loverin argues that this hidden-gem is the better park because it sees only a fraction of the nearly four million visitors that trudge through Yosemite annually.
Kings Canyon’s 1,869sqkm landscape is filled with jagged glacier-cut peaks that jut higher than 4,200m into the sky – not to mention waterfalls, alpine lakes and a canyon (just outside the park) that carves deeper than any other in the US, including the Grand Canyon. “It’s really spectacular here,” Loverin said. “Plus, there’s something about turning the horses out into the backcountry lakes and meadows after a hard day’s ride that’s so enjoyable and relaxing. It’s amazing that I’ve been able to make my living doing what I really enjoy.”
“It can be pretty strenuous work though” he continued. “You can end up walking miles just looking for your livestock in the morning, after they’ve grazed all night.” Nevertheless, like the horses and quarter-horse mules that haul the gear, Loverin was built tough with a love of the remote wild. And he has shared the traditions he has learned by taking visitors up granite peaks and scree-covered trails, giving them that far-from-home feeling. “Some of my favourite regions are the Monarch Divide, where there are glacier valleys and volcanic lakes, which is all in that [3,000m-high] range – there’s spectacular scenery up there.”
Loverin continues to live the cowboy dream – just with a little less pressure now that he can sit back and watch his children lead trips from the pack station. Still, he reflects fondly about those early morning wranglings and the hidden beauty of the High Sierras. “I wouldn’t be a packer if I didn’t love these animals and meeting a lot of new people,” he said.
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