Horse Packing Yosemite to Benson Lake Retreat

Join us August 2-7, 2020
Available for 10 participants

We are ready to be adding this incredible activity and area to our list of ASDT Retreats. Partnering with Rock Creek Pack Station, The trip will be operated by Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit a permit holder of Toiyabe National Forest and Yosemite National Park. We are honored to have the knowledge and experience of our personal guide Aniela Gottwald who will be taking you on this adventure.
You will enter this beautiful northern section of Yosemite National Park from the east side of the Sierra, starting at Virginia Lakes, crossing the Sierra Crest into Yosemite. Your path will lead you past towering granite peaks, cascading creeks, sparkling lakes, and lush meadows as you walk down Virginia Canyon, to join the Pacific Crest Trail. You and your group will travel for hours along this section of the storied trail without seeing another person. Few through-hikers take the time to drop a line into the many lakes and creeks along the trail, so fishing is excellent. You eventually leave the PCT to travel up long Lower and Upper Kerrick Meadows before crossing back over the Pacific Crest and leaving the backcountry at Twin Lakes.

Trail Time

Intermediate 6 Day Sierra Horse Packing Trip

We will travel deep into the heart of Yosemite to Benson Lake, a pristine sub alpine lake known as the Riviera of the Sierra for its breathtakingly beautiful wide sandy beach.

The trip will meet at Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit at 7AM the morning of August 2nd. We will feed you breakfast and give you an orientation. Then on the trail. Details of the trip itinerary can be found in the Itinerary tab below.

Meet your Guide

Aniela Gottwald

When Aniela was a little girl she found an unexplainable peace and magic within her backyard wilderness nestled into the Appalachian Mountain range. That pivotal connection sparked a life dedicated to learning from nature and animals, with the sole purpose of sharing the discoveries that inspire a deeper harmony with our natural world.

Aniela has explored remote corners of the Earth, from a small Kenyan village, to the Australian Kimberley, to studying with shaman in the Himalaya, to an expedition through the Amazonian jungle of Peru. A double alumni of the National Outdoor Leadership School and Leave No Trace Master Educator, Aniela has completed 2 solo expeditions; 1,300 miles of backcountry wilderness along the Colorado and Arizona trails, accompanied by the wild mustangs she trained. She plans to share an even longer journey through film. A traditional horse packing journey of nearly 3,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail with a few wild horses, mules, and a dog. Made up of animal teammates her motivation is to document the transformation her team will experience from diving into a wild pilgrimage, while sharing the phenomenal interconnectedness through learning from the world’s greatest teacher, nature.  

Aniela will recycle the success of the film into her non-profit, which will fund educational re-wilding horse packing and back packing expeditions. She is thrilled to be living her dream of guiding horse packing trips as she continues her education of horse training and packing this year.

  • What to Bring
  • Refund Policy
  • Itinerary
  • FAQ's
  • Rock Creek Pack Station
What should I bring?

Essential Items


  • Riding boots or shoes with a heel.
  • Sandals or water shoes for stream crossings.
  • Camp shoes, such as athletic shoes, sandals, or Crocs.

Sleeping Bag

We recommend a down bag rated at 25 F or lower, weighing less than three pounds.

Sleeping Pad

¾ or full-length closed cell foam or insulated inflatable pad, such as Therm-a-Rest, with repair kit.

Day Pack

We don't allow daypacks or backpacks for riders while on the horse. We give you a saddle bag to hold your items. You may bring a small pack for when you are walking around camp or exploring the area. This will need to be packed down into your saddle bag.


  • 2 pair synthetic liner socks
  • 2 pair heavier synthetic or wool blend socks
  • Shorts/hiking pants
  • T-shirts/hiking shirts
  • Good quality Goretex or comparable hooded rain jacket and side zipped pants; ponchos not recommended.
  • Sun hat/riding hat. Make sure it has stampede strings
  • Underwear
  • Long underwear top and bottom, such a Capilene or Merino wool
  • Warm pants, such as expedition weight capilene
  • Warm shirt, R2 weight
  • Warm sweater or pile/down jacket
  • Warm hat or hooded jacket
  • Lightweight capilene gloves

Personal Items

  • Plastic or metal coffee mug
  • Two 1-liter wide mouth metal or hard plastic water bottles or 2+ liter hydraulic reservoir
  • Sunglasses (a leash is useful)
  • Personal toiletries
  • 30+ SPF sunscreen (1 oz.) and lip balm
  • Insect repellent
  • Headlamp & batteries & Luci lantern
  • Pocket knife/Swiss Army knife
  • Personal medical kit, e.g. medications, Band-Aids, OTC pain relief, foot repair items
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Ear plugs
  • Bandanna
  • Towel

Optional Items

  • Camera with spare batteries/card(s)
  • Reading material
  • Charger/solar charger
  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Liquor
  • Swimsuit
  • Tent & footprint, if using own
  • Repair tape (Tenacious Tape)
  • Trekking poles, stream crossings and knee protection
  • Extra trash bags to line duffel
  • Collapsible wash basin & clothesline w/ clothes or safety pins
  • Solar shower
  • Water filtering/treatment device
  • Playing cards

Fishing Equipment


  • California Fishing License (not available at or near the pack station. Purchase in Bishop or through
  • Rod (3+ piece)/reel/line
  • Compact metal rod case
  • Canvas creel (no tackle boxes)
  • 1-3 pound leader material
  • Flies: black gnat, mosquito, grey hackle, brown hackle, & royal coachman (No. 12-14 hooks)
  • Bait: worms & Pautzke red eggs
  • Egg hooks, worm hooks (No. 10-14)
  • Split shot
  • Lures
  • Pliers
What are the guides responsible for and what items are provided?

The crew will pack all of your gear, move it to the next camp location, unpack the gear, set up camp, care for the stock, collect firewood, build a campfire in campfire approved areas, set up a latrine, cook the food, clean up the kitchen, and clean up the camp after you leave to ride to the next destination.

  • Crew of two packers and a cook
  • Stock and tack
  • Permits
  • Breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner
  • Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juice, and cold drinks, such as lemonade
  • Trays and plates (bring your own cup)
  • Napkins
  • Eating and cooking utensils
  • Grill, pots, pans
  • Stove(s) and fuel
  • Collapsible tables and tablecloths
  • Washbasins
  • Firewood
  • Tent, on request
  • Folding chairs
  • Light rainfly, as needed

Toilet facilities in camp

  • Toilet tent or privacy tarp
  • Collapsing latrine
  • Toilet paper

Shower enclosure on layover days


Shovel and rake



Weight Limitations
  • The dunnage limit is 30 pounds per person. Dunnage includes clothing, sleeping bags, fishing equipment, liquor, personal food, etc.
  • You may bring your own tent up to 10 pounds. The tent weight is not included in the 30-pound dunnage limit.
Packing Your Gear
  • Bring belongings in stout canvas or nylon duffel bags. The ideal size is approximately 14" x 32".
  • Your sleeping bag can be in a separate duffel bag.
  • Line the inside of all duffel bags with a plastic trash bag to protect your gear from rain and water crossings.
  • Place all cosmetics, soaps, medications, etc. into small plastic containers with close-fitting caps, THEN into sturdy resealable plastic storage bags. If anything breaks or bursts from altitude changes, the plastic bag contains the spill.
  • When possible, transfer alcoholic beverages to sturdy plastic bottles with tight fitting caps. It will save weight and protect against breakage.
Low-Impact Guide For The Wilderness User

We are dedicated to conducting our trips so that others following us will find the country unspoiled. Livestock is a natural part of the wilderness and when properly managed enhances man's enjoyment of our unmechanized wilderness area. Today, just as it was when the entire west was mostly wilderness, the horse and mule remain our companions and servants in wilderness travel. We practice and expect you to observe the following during your trip.

  • Protect the wildlife and water quality. Wash off sunscreen and insect repellent before entering a stream or lake. Wash yourself, clothes, and dishes at least 100’ from water sources. Never use soap, even biodegradable soap, in streams or lakes.
  • Bury human waste 200 ft. from water, campsites and trails. Dig a hole 4-6" deep and after use tamp with sod.
  • Choose a tent site at least 100 ft. from water (THE LAW) where drainage will not be a problem, avoiding the need to trench. Tents and camp areas are not allowed on grass or meadowlands.
  • When breaking camp, return the spot to its natural state and broadcast a covering of needles and cones. Scout the area to make sure nothing will be left behind. Remove the smallest pieces of aluminum foil and trash.
  • Don't pick flowers or cut branches from live trees. Use only downed wood for fires.
  • Utilize pre-existing fire rings where possible. Don't surround fires with rocks! Dig a hole in sand and cover when finished. When you leave camp, bury ashes from fire rings. Leave existing fire rings clean for the next user.
  • Pack out all trash. Don't bury garbage, scatter organic wastes or leave foil in campfire pit. Burn cans and flatten. On our group trips we have a bag for cans and aluminum foil.
  • You are required to keep bears from getting to your food at all time


It is your responsibility to read and understand our cancellation policy before making a reservation.

Naturally, no one books with the intention of cancelling or postponing their retreat, but unexpected things do happen, so please purchase travel cancellation insurance once you have made your reservation. We highly encourage you to purchase trip insurance.


If you cancel your trip, AndShe'sDopeToo does not offer refunds for any reason. A portion of your payment may be used as credit for another retreat to be taken the next calendar year.

Depending on when you cancel, cancellation penalties may apply.

Fees are determined by the following schedule:

  • If you cancel more than 90 days before your retreat start date, 100% of your payment may be applied to another Retreat.
  • If you cancel 89 – 60 days before your retreat start date, 75% of your payment may be applied to another Retreat. You will forfeit 25% of the price of your retreat.
  • If you cancel 59 – 30 days before your retreat start date, 50% of your payment may be applied to another Retreat. You will forfeit 50% of the price of your retreat.
  • If you cancel 30 days or less before your retreat start date, you will forfeit your entire payment.

Exceptions to our policy cannot be made for any reason. We do not offer credit for a guest arriving late or leaving early.


If AndShesDopeToo must cancel a booked retreat date for any reason without the option of a postponed date, you may transfer your full retreat payment to another retreat, or you may request a refund of your payment to us.

AndShesDopeToo is not responsible for your expenses incurred in preparation for any cancelled retreat, such as airline tickets, loss of work, and/or other costs associated with preparing for your trip.

Day 1 August 2nd: Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit to Virginia Canyon 7.8 miles

The trail follows the north side of Blue Lake and then climbs fairly steeply in open forest to Cooney Lake in the first mile. The route then climbs 750’ past the Frog Lakes on shale slopes to a saddle at mile 2.6. The rocky path descends steeply to the Green Lake Trail junction at mile four. Turn left at the junction toward Summit Lake and climb 170’ in 0.4 miles to the lake. The trail drops steeply as it enters Yosemite National Park, turning into a gentle descent down through Virginia Canyon after the junction to Virginia Pass. The path down the canyon is through lodge poles and meadows, with areas of trees downed by avalanches during high snow years. Our usual camp is about 1.7 miles down canyon from the Virginia Pass junction.


Day 2 August 3rd: Virginia Canyon to Smedberg Lake 15 miles

Enjoy the gentle descent down Virginia Canyon to the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail at mile 2.3. The trail to the right continues down the canyon before climbing 1,000’ fairly steeply up Spiller Creek and finally up to a saddle at mile 4.6. Wonderful views to the west open up as the trail undulates another 1.4 miles to Miller Lake. Camp is another 0.2 miles along the west shore of the lake. The lake is fairly shallow which makes it a good swimming lake. There are wonderful views across the canyon of the Tuolumne River as far as the Cathedral Range to the south from near the outlet of the lake or the low dome to the west of the lake.

The trail leaves Miller Lake to cross a wide meadow to a wonderful view of the mountains surrounding upper Matterhorn Canyon. The path then switchbacks down through the forest before bottoming out in Matterhorn Canyon at the junction to Burro Pass at mile 2.3. Continue left on the Pacific Crest Trail, dropping gently through forest along the meandering Matterhorn Creek for 1.2 miles. The path turns away from Matterhorn Canyon to follow Wilson Creek, climbing steadily through open forest to gain 1,000’ over 2.3 miles, crossing the creek several times. The trail finally leaves the creek for a final 600’ sunny ascent over one mile to Benson Pass. The route descends 900’ in 1.7 miles to the large meadow at the inlet to Smedberg Lake. Watch for the comfortable camp in the trees near the stream on the east side of the meadow.


Day 3 August 4th: Smedberg Lake to Benson Lake 8.5 miles

Smedberg Lake is a beautiful lake nestled in a slick rock basin beneath towering Volunteer Peak and easily warrants a leisurely day enjoying the lake. There are some excellent side trip options, however. Rogers Lake (4.5 miles RT, 900’ gain and loss) is one mile by trail off the PCT and has traditionally offered excellent fishing. Hikers might want to add a two mile RT, 300’ gain and loss off-trail walk over slick rock to Surprise Lake.


Day 4 August 5th: Layover Benson Lake

The trail follows the southern shore of Smedberg Lake before crossing a low ridge and dropping briefly before climbing 250’ to the Rodgers Lake junction at mile 1.2 and then the Murdock Lake/Rodgers Canyon junction at mile 1.5. The route then descends steadily, dropping 1,900’ in 2.9 miles to the Benson Lake junction. Hikers might need to wade Piute Creek just before the junction early in the season. Benson Lake is known for its sandy beach and excellent swimming and is worth the flat 0.8 miles RT side trip.

The route leaves the trees as it climbs 1,400’ out of the Benson Lake drainage in two miles to a series of small lakes below Seavey Pass. This section warrants an early start in hot weather. The lakes provide excellent lunch spots before the easy ascent to Seavey Pass. The trail then drops to the PCT/Kerrick Meadows junction. Leave the PCT, turning right to follow the trail toward Kerrick Meadows and Buckeye Pass. Camp is up the trail 0.7 miles, just past the stock gate and across Rancheria Creek.

This camp is at the edge of the large Lower Kerrick Meadow and is a favorite camp with remarkable views of steep walled peaks surrounding the meadows. There are great bathing pools just downstream of camp.


Day 5 August 6th: Lower Kerrick Meadows to Upper Kerrick Meadows 5.5 miles

It is tempting to cross the creek to rejoin the trail, but travel north through the meadow along the west side of the creek to join the trail after it crosses the creek. The route moves through a series of meadows separated by small sections of forest. Go straight at the Rock Island Pass junction at mile four. The Peeler Lake junction is another 1.4 miles. Camp is in the trees at the edge of the meadow, about 0.1 miles northwest of the Peeler Lake junction.

This is a short, relatively flat day. Consider a side trip to lovely Arndt Lake. Leave the trail about two miles from camp, shortly after the trail passes through a small canyon. You can walk up the grassy apron of the outlet creek to the lake, about ½ mile one way and 100’ of elevation gain.


Day 6 August 7th: Upper Kerrick Meadows to Twin Lakes 8.7 miles

Return to the Peeler Lake junction and follow the trail 0.7 miles to Peeler Lake. You will be tempted to rush past the lake on this last day of the trip, but take the time to walk down to the lakeshore to enjoy this beautiful lake. A great access point is from the Yosemite National Park/Hoover Wilderness boundary sign.

The trail follows the northern shore of Peeler Lake, climbing a low ridge at the east side of the lake. The route then starts the long descent toward Twin Lakes, dropping 400’ in 0.7 miles to the Robinson Lakes junction. Following the route toward Twin Lakes, the trail drops 1,000’ through forest toward Barney Lake. The path leaves the forest to contour along the dry talus slope above the swampy area upstream of the lake, eventually dropping down to a perfect lunch break at the beautiful lake at mile 3.9. The trail drops steadily in and out of an aspen forest and then along a treeless stretch, which is compensated by a panorama of the Sawtooth Range and other named peaks. The trail reenters the forest to end at the Mono Village campground. Walk through the campground to the entrance where you will find your packers unloading your gear. Plan to meet the pack station driver at 2:00 to return to the Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit station.

I have limited to no riding experience, will I be able to attend?

Riding experience is considered when you are assigned a mount. We have horses and mules to fit your level of expertise. All traveling pack trips move at a walk. Our crew will help you get comfortable before we leave the pack station. We ride as few as 2.5 hours to as many as 6.5 hours in a day on a traveling pack trip. Look at the trip itinerary for some ideas.
Although you don't have to be an excellent rider to participate in the horse drive, some time in the saddle is beneficial. The pace is faster (lots of trotting) and there are a number of hours in the saddle. Please call us if you have additional questions.

What type of food can I expect?

A crew member will prepare breakfast and dinner daily. A hot breakfast is prepared fresh, each morning. Fresh fruits, vegetables and salads are available at dinner each day. Each dinner has a different entree (beef, chicken, pork, etc) and vegetarian selections can be provided, if we are notified in advance. (If you have special dietary needs or restrictions, please let us know and we will make every effort to accommodate you). Lunch is a build-your-own affair, each morning. Sandwich makings, fruits, and snacks are available for you to create your own take-along meal.

Can I come solo?

Yes! Many of our guests travel alone. The camaraderie of a camping adventure is the ideal environment to meet new friends. Majority of our participants arrive solo, it is not uncommon. It is also great to see women attend with friends/family.

Is there a limit on the size of the rider?

The rider's weight and height and general physical condition and riding ability will all contribute to the overall safety of the rider and his or her mount. Riders over 200 pounds or who are very heavy for their height need to be approved by the pack station before they may sign up for a trip. Riders cannot weigh over of 240 pounds.

Minimum age is 21 years old. The pack station needs to approve all people who have physical characteristics and disabilities that may pose a safety risk for the participant.

Are Showers Available?

On our pack trips, showers are not provided. You may bring a solar shower, if desired. There is always a stream or lake nearby and we can provide you with a bucket to carry water. Don't use soap (even biodegradable) in streams or lakes. Wash yourself, clothes and dishes at least 200 feet from water sources.

Are bathrooms available?

On our pack trips a latrine is dug near the campsite every afternoon. You can also dig a "cat hole" 4 to 6 inches deep and bury human waste in it by tamping the dirt/sod over the top after use. Be sure that the hole is at least 200 feet from water,campsites and trails.

When will we get back into the pack station on the return day?

We try to return to the pack station before 4:30pm on the last day. Sometimes it may be as late as 6pm.

Where can i leave my vehicle?

Parking is available at the pack station. Remember that the pack station is in an area frequented by bears. Be SURE that you do not leave any food, gum, candy, or scented cosmetics in your vehicle! We have a storage unit in which you can store small items for the duration of your trip

Where can i stay the night before and after the trip?

Meals, lodging, and well-stocked general stores are available at Rock Creek Lodge (ph. 760-935-4170), Rock Creek Lake Resort (ph. 760-935-4311), and Tom's Place Resort (ph. 760-935-4239). Also, there are numerous Forest Service campgrounds in the canyon, as well as hotel/motel accommodations in Mammoth and Bishop.

Can I bring my Own Horse?

Guests may NOT bring their own horses, mules or dogs on any of the traveling pack trips. The rugged terrain and high elevations can be very taxing on animals not accustomed to the stress. Also, horses and mules are herd animals. Introducing a stranger into the group can cause problems. We welcome guests horses on the Mustang trips.

Can I bring my own saddle?

You are encouraged to bring your own saddle. However, if your tack doesn't fit our stock, or we deem is unsafe, you will not be able to use it.

Can we fish on the trip?

There is great fishing on many of our trips. You MUST have a valid California fishing license. Please be sure to bring a HARD case for your poles. Look here for fishing gear suggestions.

Do you filter our water?

The pack station does not boil or treat water. Campsites are remote enough that we feel safe in using the water. It you want to purify water bring your own filter pump or purification tablets.

How do I tip the crew?

Gratuities are optional and a personal choice. Any tips are generally split among the crew working on a particular trip. Usually tips are given on the last night of the trip - or when you arrive back at the pack station. A rule of thumb is 10% of the price of your trip to be split among the crew -- if you had a GREAT crew - tip more - if you weren't happy with the level of service your received - tip less or not at all.


We are very fortunate to partner with Rock Creek Pack Station for this addition to our Retreat line up in AndShe'sDopeToo. They are working with our team to make this experience consistent with our culture and community. We are grateful for their knowledge and professional guides to create this experience for our participants. We can't wait to explore this area with you!

Since 1947, Rock Creek Pack Station has been offering wilderness and outdoor vacations in the Eastern Sierra, under the ownership of the London family. Herb London was active in the operation of the pack station until his death in March of 2011. His son, Craig, has spent every summer since his birth in 1954 at the pack station and operated the pack station with his Dad.

Craig & CarmenCraig and wife Carmen live in Bishop year round. Craig received a B.S. in Animal Physiology from UC Davis in 1976 and graduated from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1980. Carmen teaches fifth grade at Pine Street School in Bishop. During off-season months, Craig manages the winter office, takes care of the livestock and is an associate veterinarian at Bishop Veterinary Hospital.

The London family is dedicated to serving the public, taking care of the land, making sure the horses and mules of the operation have happy and meaningful lives, and that the crew has a good time and is fairly compensated for their hard work and dedication.