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Montana Western student leads pack mule string

November 10, 2016

University of Montana Western student Trepper Osburn spent last summer leading a team of pack mules through remote areas of central Colorado, providing supplies to improve wilderness areas without motorized vehicle access.


University of Montana Western student Trepper Osburn spent last summer leading a string of pack mules through remote areas of western Colorado, providing supplies to improve wilderness areas without motorized vehicle access.

Osburn attributes his ability to gain specialized experience in mule-packing to the adaptability of the Experience One (X1) Program at Montana Western. Montana Western is the only public four-year institution teaching under X1, where students take a single class at a time in 18-day blocks.

Growing up in Columbus, Mont., Osburn has been an active outdoorsman much of his life. He has been involved with his local Forest Service since 2012. Osburn participated in a training program at the Ninemile Remount Station & Ranger Depot in Huson, Mont. where he learned how to load mules with supplies and lead pack-strings into wilderness areas without motorized access. Osburn quickly developed a passion for the profession and is pursuing a career as a Forest Service packer.

“I knew that a college degree and experience would be key factors when trying to move up in the Forest Service as a packer,” Osburn said. “The X1 program at Montana Western has been a great way for me to focus on one subject at a time and have the flexibility to gain practice packing in summer and fall.”

X1 allows Osburn to use the first block class offered in the fall semester to finish out the packing season ending in late September. Because of the flexibility of X1, Osburn doesn’t fall behind on crucial class material and can pick up an extra course second block. This wouldn’t be possible in a traditional college setting.


Osburn came to Montana Western to earn an environmental interpretation degree. Environmental interpretation students spend time outside the classroom studying the unique ecosystems, rock formations and plant life that surround Dillon, Mont. The small class sizes at UMW give students specialized attention from professors who are invested in student success in the class room and beyond.

“I have liked all of my professors in the environmental sciences department,” Osburn said. “They have all been supportive throughout my education and have helped me succeed.”

Osburn worked as a mule packer with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional Specialty Pack String based in central Colorado during the summer of 2016. He traveled a variety of trail systems across the state working for the Forest Service and non-profits.

Osburn, his boss and their string of ten mules hauled 15 tons of gravel up a trail to help build a 200-foot long pathway over a treacherous mud bog. Osburn led the mules up a two-mile-long trail three times a day for a week, moving around 1600 pounds of gravel per trip.

“Every day I’m packing is a good day,” Osburn said. “I’ve packed for six years now and have been blessed to ride through gorgeous mountain ranges in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota.”

Osburn stands to assume the head packer position when the current lead packer retires. Osburn was considered based on his vast experience as a packer and education in environmental interpretation.

“I am looking forward to a long career doing what I love,” Osburn said. “This wouldn’t be possible without Montana Western’s X1 program and the education I received here.”

— Montana Western —