Beasts of Burden

 This burro is packing in supplies for the Colorado Mountain Club's 1916 Wild Basin Outing. CMC Archives.

This burro is packing in supplies for the Colorado Mountain Club's 1916 Wild Basin Outing. CMC Archives.

Old-timers used to say, “A mule knows three times as much as a horse, and a burro is smarter than a mule.”
— Lowell Thomas, Good Evening Everybody

In the annals of mountaineering history, there is little written about the beasts of burden, as pack animals are called: horses, mules, burros, oxen, yaks, and dogs. This blog post is dedicated to those animals that hauled climbers' gear, food, tents, and other equipment needed to explore and climb mountains. These beasts of burden provided early adventurers the opportunity to get deeper into the wilderness at a time when roads did not exist.

Many of them have been captured on film in our archives. They are carrying or pulling men, women, children, boxes, bags, lumber for tent poles, wagons and sleds.

Below are some lantern slides from the preparations for the June 1925 first ascent of Mount Logan, highest mountain in Canada. Albert MacCarthy used dogsleds and horses on snowshoes in February 1925 (three months in advance of the climbing party) to get a cache of supplies from McCarthy, Alaska, to a location along the way. Click here to read the account in the 1925 Canadian Alpine Journal.

These photos are from the same February 1925 trip but with dogsleds.

Why use pack animals? The answer to this is clear to those who cannot carry even the moderate loads required of the backpacker, or to those who prefer a more varied ration and more comforts than a backpacker dare include in his critical pack. For these people there would be no trip if it were not an animal pack trip.... A pack trip not only frees the backpacker of his burden, but also offers many new pleasures of its own.
— Milton Hildebrand, Chapter 12 in Going Light with Backpack or Burro (1951)
 Castleguard Pass - First Decent, with horses, of Saskatchewan Glacier (7-16-23)  J. Monroe Thorington Scrapbook.

Castleguard Pass - First Decent, with horses, of Saskatchewan Glacier (7-16-23)

J. Monroe Thorington Scrapbook.


Horses, mules and burros were often used in expeditions and outings in the West. There are a large number of lantern slides in the AAC Library's collection that show these animals carrying all the materials for base camp. This includes large poles for mess tents that were so common in the outings of the Colorado Mountain Club.



And now for my own personal favorite: The Burro

The donkey is the most desirable beast of burden for the novice, and remains the favorite of many experienced campers. In the West this animal is known by his more colorful Spanish name, “burro.” The burro is small and gentle, yet strong and dependable. No pack animal excells him for surefootedness, or matches him for character.
— Milton Hildebrand, Chapter 12 of Going Light with Backpack or Burro (1951)

Horses, Mules and Burros Found in the AAC Lantern Slide Collection

 Or, getting up the mountain is entirely up to you!

Or, getting up the mountain is entirely up to you!


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Recommended Reading

Find this book and more in the AAC Library Catalog: https://bit.ly/2oXgxb5