Horsin’ Around In the Sierras


By Chris Cocoles 

Getting to the Eastern Sierra backcountry can be a challenge, unless you have experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or just happen to have horses that can get you (and your fishing gear) from point A to point B.
One Bishop-based out?tter has all your concerns covered.
“When you get up to the mountain, you want to hike or fly fish. There are only two ways to get up there: you either hike or you go on horseback,” says Rhett Harty of Frontier Pack Station (888-437-MULE, 6853; frontierpacktrain.com). “So we’ll pack all their stuff, get them up the mountain and set up camp. That’s kind of the core business we do.”

Wild mustangs in a Sierra meadow
One of Frontier’s signature excursions is riding out to the Truman Meadow Area in Inyo National Forest to watch wild mustangs frolic in freedom. (FRONTIER PACK STATION)

The company, which was established by brothers Kent and Dave Dohnel, carries the motto, “You are the boss!” Guests can customize their trip to their specific itinerary. It could mean fishing for native golden trout in a remote lake or stream. It could be checking out wild mustangs that roam free in Truman Meadow Area in the Inyo National Forest. It could be hiking or simply taking in the beauty of the Yosemite National Park and Ansel Adams/Minaret Wilderness. It could even be the popular yoga trip for those who want to mix horseback rides in the wilderness with a spiritual twist. There is a lot of ground packtrains can cover in a widespread area.
One of the special trips Frontier Pack Station offers is a five-day golden trout trip that begins at June Lake in the Eastern Sierra to the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
Fishing stops along the way include Thousand Island Lake and the headwaters of the iconic San Joaquin River for golden/ rainbow trout hybrids, brookies and rainbows of Rush Creek, and the signature stop, Alger Lakes for wild golden trout that can measure out between 12 and 16 inches.
“The golden trout trips are kind of the core of the business. You can only catch golden trout (high) up in the mountains to specific places. You’re talking 10,600 feet (at Alger Lakes),” Harty says.
“It’s a unique experience to catch these fish. And it’s not like they’re little either; these aren’t 6-inchers. You’re catching trout that are a different color from anything else that you catch. And you really can’t catch them anywhere else. These fish aren’t really pressured, but you have to work for it.”
Watching wild mustangs roaming free is another memorable excursion.

Anglers at Alger Lakes
Anglers can cast flies for various species in lakes and creeks at or around 10,000 feet, including a rare chance to catch native golden trout at Alger Lakes. (FRONTIER PACK STATION)

“Our first trip of the season (in early June) it had rained on us and hailed on us. Then it was beautifully sunny. It was cold and then it was warm. And all the while we’re observing these mustangs,” Harty says.
“We saw two stallions fighting; we saw an older stallion racing a younger stallion around the group. You talk about a horse race; we watched these horses run for probably 4,000 yards in a dead sprint, and they went by us while still sprinting. You saw (American Pharoah win) the Triple Crown (this year). We saw a real horse race.”
Do-it-yourself trips are popular with many outdoorsmen and -women, but there’s also something to be said about an outfitter who will adhere to your specific needs, set you and get you into some California’s most spectacular country.

A group of friends in an Eastern Sierra pond
The good life in the backcountry of the Eastern Sierra means partying with friends on a custom horse-pack trip with all your meals taken care of. (FRONTIER PACK STATION)

“It’s stunning. There are only a few places where you can get some of (the scenery) and you have to work for it,” Harty says. “You think you’re in the trees and all of a sudden you get to clearing and then you’re in the mountains. I’ve been doing this for eight or nine years and I’m still blown away when I get into the mountains.” CS