Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

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fishmonger
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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by fishmonger » Fri May 11, 2018 1:32 pm

Doing this type of service would be a great way to stay in shape, but I can't imagine spending my summers in the Sierra going up and down the Eastern access passes over and over again. I don't mind Taboose once every couple of years, but 50 times a summer? And maybe 30 times Kearsarge, 10 times Baxter, 10 times Sawmill and 20 times Shepherd? To be a valid business, those are minimum numbers if you want to keep the price competitive.

Still, even 100 trips a summer at $300 a pop would not nearly provide an income worth writing home about, definitely not enough for an existence in Eastern California. Soon you'd be packing 50 pounds up to get a double pay on the day people actually show up.

Overhead costs aren't trivial either - you'd wear out shoes at the rate of a pair a month, phone and sat phone costs, gas and vehicle wear to get to the trailheads, time out of your day for pick up, return, track/sort/re-pack/store people's stuff before delivery. I can't see how anyone could make a living (in Eastern CA) off that type of work, unless they had a full calendar from late May into late September and maybe have a retirement income from a previous life to fill the gaps.

And that's all before we get to the licensing of the service part, which if it works like other industries means a pretty hefty payment to get the license, regardless of any business coming your way or not. And your customers aren't really the big spenders for the most part either. Yes, they can afford to be on vacation, but many chose that type of vacation because any other form of away from home would cost too much over several weeks. Spending big dollars on a convenient resupply isn't going to fly with a lot of hikers. Simple reality. They'd rather hike out at Kearsarge and hitch to town, or they just suffer with a fuller pack between MTR and Whitney Portal than pay hundreds of dollars for a personal backcountry resupply.








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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by bobby49 » Fri May 11, 2018 8:57 pm

fishmonger wrote: And your customers aren't really the big spenders for the most part either. Yes, they can afford to be on vacation, but many chose that type of vacation because any other form of away from home would cost too much over several weeks. Spending big dollars on a convenient resupply isn't going to fly with a lot of hikers. Simple reality. They'd rather hike out at Kearsarge and hitch to town, or they just suffer with a fuller pack between MTR and Whitney Portal than pay hundreds of dollars for a personal backcountry resupply.
A few years ago, some Europeans were coming to California to backpack the JMT, and they knew that they needed a resupply at Charlotte Lake. Since they were coming all that distance, I figured a few extra bucks wouldn't stop them, so I offered a deal to carry in a food bag.

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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by CAMERONM » Sat May 12, 2018 12:32 pm

A few years ago I saw a guided trip on the JMT; about 12 people and several guides who were carrying a lot of their stuff and cooking for them. Just as with other guided trips I have seen in the US and Europe, there was an air of entitlement that just did not smell good. It is really not for me to judge if someone has "earned" their trip, but I believe that the combination of being served and being in a group had the effect of denying some of the simple trail pleasures and rewards for those participants.

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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by Harlen » Sat May 12, 2018 1:39 pm

Cameron wrote:
It is really not for me to judge if someone has "earned" their trip, but I believe that the combination of being served and being in a group had the effect of denying some of the simple trail pleasures and rewards for those participants.
I tend to agree with you, with the caveat that it might be just fine for many elderly backpackers who have already had many long years of soloing, and who may not be able to get deep in the range again without assistance. Some of us will be there before too long- Lizzie wonders about a big pack goat like our friend's in Colorado (can pack 40lbs., and get in anywhere they said), and I kind of like the idea of a small burro. (We reckon we can hide these animals in Russ's oak grove (he'll never know) :nod: .
Another point in portering's favor is that for folks foreign to the area guides/porters can be a source of local knowledge- both trails and natural history. That certainly applies to backpacking in other countries.

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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by fishmonger » Mon May 14, 2018 10:41 am

bobby49 wrote:
fishmonger wrote: And your customers aren't really the big spenders for the most part either. Yes, they can afford to be on vacation, but many chose that type of vacation because any other form of away from home would cost too much over several weeks. Spending big dollars on a convenient resupply isn't going to fly with a lot of hikers. Simple reality. They'd rather hike out at Kearsarge and hitch to town, or they just suffer with a fuller pack between MTR and Whitney Portal than pay hundreds of dollars for a personal backcountry resupply.
A few years ago, some Europeans were coming to California to backpack the JMT, and they knew that they needed a resupply at Charlotte Lake. Since they were coming all that distance, I figured a few extra bucks wouldn't stop them, so I offered a deal to carry in a food bag.
A few years ago I helped a few Europeans doing the JMT as well, but in my case they were in touch with me before the hike. What I did is purchase all their supplies to be mailed to various resupply locations, All they had to do was grab a bear canister at REI in San Francisco after the plan landed, fill that for the first few miles from the valley. Beyond that, they had food at Tuolumne Meadows, Reds, VVR and MTR. They had no issue with that last resupply and a porter or horse resupply was never even part of the discussion.

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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by fishmonger » Mon May 14, 2018 10:50 am

CAMERONM wrote:A few years ago I saw a guided trip on the JMT; about 12 people and several guides who were carrying a lot of their stuff and cooking for them. Just as with other guided trips I have seen in the US and Europe, there was an air of entitlement that just did not smell good. It is really not for me to judge if someone has "earned" their trip, but I believe that the combination of being served and being in a group had the effect of denying some of the simple trail pleasures and rewards for those participants.
Back in the early 90s I saw a horse-supported JMT group overnight camp at Big Pete Meadow. Earlier that day coming down into Le Conte, we passed the actual hiking group with day packs far away from any trail head, wondering what was going on. Down at the meadow we then came across their big camp for the day, set up with what I recall as several horses and maybe a half dozen pack animals for what may have been 8 hikers. There was a big kitchen awning and a cowboy hat wearing cook was working on a big pot of water to make lobster that was waiting in a box with dry ice next to the table. Folding lawn chairs everywhere, all ready for the paying customers to arrive and enjoy the evening next to the meadow.

I don't think I've ever seen anything like this again.

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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by k9mark » Tue May 15, 2018 5:56 am

This post had me thinking about those people who are handicapped. Let’s say a person has a bad back, neck issue, whatever, and can’t carry heavy loads or loads at all. What are the rules for using a goat, llama, mule? I could see a potential business for someone to provide rentals for these folks. .
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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by rightstar76 » Tue May 15, 2018 7:22 am

That's been a selling point for horse packing. But, in reality, for affluent disabled. Not for regular income folks who are disabled. Would like to see affordability, but as has been discussed, horse packing is expensive due to high overhead.

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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue May 15, 2018 4:47 pm

Simply dropping off food for a group of backpackers (backcountry resupply) is very different from going with a group as a guide or actual porter. The latter is much more regulated. Guides have to be licensed and have extra skills, such as wilderness medicine training. I have a friend who is a fishing guide. He says what makes you popular are your "people skills". Clients are buying an "experience". He actually makes a fair living as a fishing guide- but charges a LOT- his clients are quite wealthy. In the winter he guides international fishing trips, like to New Zealand. His wife also has a "real job".

A trained llama can be "rented" and some ranchers already have such a business in Wyoming. Evidently, goats are more like dogs- very attached to their owners and do not do well without them. I pretty regularly run across backpackers with their own goats in the Wind Rivers (a lot of 10-acre "gentlemen" ranchers up near Jackson). One fellow informed me, that it actually is cheaper to just hire a horse packer for resupply. Goats really tie you down year-round too. Evidently there are some diseases that goats get that can cross into mountain sheep so they are restricted to areas with no mountain sheep. Twelve days out on a backpack, I ran into a goat packer who gave me fresh vegetables! Was that ever a treat. For "foodies" goat packing has a lot of advantages. But, I do not know how goats are regulated in the Sierra, or even allowed.

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Re: Why no porters/"sherpas" in the Sierra?

Post by fishmonger » Wed May 16, 2018 6:57 am

I met some guys with goats 2 summers ago. They had to carry the goats across the not-so-challenging stream crossing where we met (the one coming down from Lake Italy at the JMT, forgot the name). Seemed like a huge hassle to me for the little payload on these things.

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