Antelope Valley Backcountry Horsemen and the Pacific Crest Trail Association
WRITTEN BY Elaine Macdonald
The Backcountry Horsemen and the Pacific Crest Trail Association preserve and protect the Pacific Crest Trail.
The backcountry group is dedicated to the gentle use of California trails and the backcountry. The group teaches about and encourages active use of the backcountry by equestrians and nonhorsemen. The group works to ensure that public lands remain open to recreational stock use.
The trail association works to protect, maintain and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, which runs 2,650 miles from Canada to Mexico. The trail is designated for horse and foot travel. No mountain bicycle or motorcycles are permitted.
The trail travels through some isolated beautiful wilderness areas. It passes through 25 national forests and seven national parks. The trail can be accessed in the Antelope Valley at Vasquez Rocks County Park in Agua Dulce and at Bouquet Canyon Road near Leona Valley
Volunteers are a necessary part of both organizations. Both groups work together to help maintain the Pacific Crest Trail. The horsemen units provide an invaluable service to the trail association. They conduct trail-maintenance activities throughout the trail and provide packing services to backcountry trail crews.
Packers bring in tools, food, and gear for trail-maintenance crews. Without assistance from horse or mule packers, trail crews would be unable to bring in the necessary equipment to maintain remote sections for significant lengths of time.
A man who is recognized by both organizations is Jerry Stone, who lives with his wife of 43 years in Palmdale. Stone is a retired air traffic controller and has devoted much of his time working to maintain local forestry trails and the Pacific Crest Trail. Stone has been a member of the Antelope Valley Backcountry Horsemen since its inception in 1995. Shortly after, he became a member of the trail association.
Stone has hiked and ridden about 400 miles of the crest trail for trail maintenance. Since 1996, he has logged about 4,500 volunteer hours on the trail. He contributes 95% of his work on the trail.
“About 1985, Ilona and I bought quarter horses for our two daughters. Our daughters were involved with 4-H horse projects and competed in the High Desert Horsemen’s shows,” he said. “When our daughters attended high school and college their involvement in horse activities grew less.
“My wife enjoyed caring for the horses but had no ambition to ride. It was at that time that my interest starting focusing on riding my horses.”
In 1993, two friends invited Stone to go on a pack trip in the High Sierra. They started out from the Horseshoe Meadows campground above Lone Pine.
“We packed in our food and gear on a mule and camped out for three nights,” he said. “We rode north to Crabtree Meadows behind Mount Whitney to camp the first night. The trail took us to the North Fork of the Kern River.
“My eyes were opened to the beauty of the backcountry. I got to ride my horse and found the entire experience challenging but not dangerous. The weather and the experience were absolutely perfect. I got hooked! When I returned home, I told Ilona this is what I want to do! I envisioned myself exploring the entire Pacific Crest Trail.”
A bad day
Stone said that not all of his backcountry experiences were as good as the first time. He wanted to share with other horsemen his unfortunate one-time incident. Talking about it might help others to avoid a similar mistake.
“I don’t consider myself an accomplished horse person. I have learned mostly by experience. I have made a few mistakes, but this was a really big one,” he said. “One day I lost both animals. I thought a lot about it. This incident hit me really hard, it was a bad day.”
In July 2000, Stone and another volunteer were riding north on the Pacific Crest Trail out of Walker Pass. They were going to remove a tree that had closed the trail.
“When we arrived at the fallen tree, there was no place to tie the horses. The trail had a retaining wall on the steep downside of the hill,” he said. “I tied my riding horse and pack horse to some scrub oak. Before I got into the job, my riding horse shifted her position. Her back legs went off the side of the trail.
“She lost her balance and slid 200 feet down the mountain. When I got to her she had broken one of her back legs. Meanwhile my other horse didn’t like being separated. She intentionally threw herself off the mountain to get to her stable mate.
“She fell about 1,000 feet to her death. That was a heartbreaking bad day. In hindsight, I knew that my riding horse was blind in one eye. Maybe this was the cause of her insecure balance that caused her to slip off the mountain trail.
“I should have taken the horses back down the trail a couple hundred yards and tie a rope across the trail and let them loose on the other side. My two horses would have stood together and waited in a safer area. This accident could have been prevented.”
Volunteerism for fun
A year after the accident, Stone purchased a 14-year-old quarter horse gelding from a San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy.
“Today Duke is 25 years old and still going strong. Depending on the trail project, there are times that I ride Duke,” he said. “Other times I will walk and lead Duke who will carry from 120 to 160 pounds of food and tools.
“When I tell people what I do for fun, they don’t see it. Most equestrians would rather be riding their horses than working on trails.”
At the present time Stone continues to work with Pete Fish, an organizer of the association trail crews in Southern California. He also actively supports the Antelope Valley Backcountry Horsemen.
More packers are needed in the Valley unit. Dennis Harfman and Dick Blizzard are Backcountry Horsemen packers who have been helping the trail association. Paul Frisbey also packs and assists another group in the Western Sierra. The local backcountry group has clinics to introduce new people to the skill of packing their horses into the great outdoor wilderness.
“I don’t trail ride for pleasure nor am I a die-in-the-wool horse person. Horses for me are a means to go places that I wouldn’t go otherwise or to do the trail work that I couldn’t do otherwise,” he said. “I do enjoy my horses. They are beautiful animals that provide great service in many different ways.”
Stone is a section chief for the crest trail association and manages 84 miles of the trail from Tehachapi to Walker Pass. Experience is not needed to volunteer. The trail association has a vast supply of tools and provides the food. There are one-day, two-day or seven- to 10-day projects.
“I schedule the seven-day work projects. Volunteers need to bring only personal items. At times we car or tent camp or use Forest Service buildings to stay overnight,” he said. “We volunteer for the fun!”
For information about the AV Backcountry Horsemen, see www.bchc-avunit.org. For the Pacific Crest Trail Association, see http://www.pcta.org/ or contact Stone to volunteer for either organization at 661/273 1059 or firstname.lastname@example.org.