The bravado of the women wranglers at the Grand Canyon is a fascinating account of courage, strength and travails, sometimes under severe climatic conditions that can develop in the famous canyon.
Chelsea Plumb and Kricket Scheerer are two of the eight female wranglers employed by Xanterra Grand Canyon South Rim Mule Operations. “We get up around 3 a.m., head to the barn, clock in, load up the mules with panniers [bags] and pack supplies for Phantom Ranch,” said Plumb, who has worked at the Grand Canyon for two years. “Those supplies include toiletry items, groceries, hiker’s duffels and anything needed at the ranch.”
The women saddle up their mules around 4:30 a.m., depending on the season, for their 7.2-mile trek down the rugged South Kaibab Trail.
Their destination is Phantom Ranch, a historic campsite that borders Bright Angel Creek. It is about a 20-minute walk from the Colorado River and is situated in the path of the rim-to-rim and other trails.
The rustic cabins and family-style restaurant and store were built by the Fred Harvey Company in the 1920s and designed by Mary Coulter. These are the only accommodations in the Grand Canyon and a frequent stopover by river runners and hikers. Xanterra Travel Collection currently manages it and reservations are limited.
“One aspect I love about my job is the people I meet on the trail. They come from all around the world,” said Plumb. “I also love working with the mules. It’s cool to see what you can train them to do; they are so much fun.” Plumb works as a packer about 60 percent of the time. Thirty percent she spends as a mule guide and 10 percent of her job is trail work. An average day for her is 10 to 12 hours long and days can be unpredictable.
Last monsoon season, a huge rainstorm developed as Plumb was packing out. “We had just passed the Saddle, which is below Cedar Ridge and a lighting bolt hit the Saddle. It was too close for comfort.”
Working as the only full-time female packer, Scheerer says she prefers mules to horses because of their intelligence, strength and character. “You want your mules to behave and stay in order, so you need to know the mules’ individual personalities for a good trip. Some are better in the back instead of the front. They have a pecking order and some just won’t tolerate another so they’ll bite or kick each other. The placement of each mule in the string considers the individual strengths and weaknesses.”
Sheerer has been packing at the Grand Canyon for only five weeks, but two years before moving she rode a mule from the South Rim to the North Rim. “I knew it would be exciting work so I came back and applied for a position.” Her favorite part of the day is riding back up the trail to the rim. “It’s a good feeling to know everything’s been delivered and I’ve had a successful day and can relax.”
“Chelsea and Kricket make a great team,” said Xanterra South Rim Mule Operations Livery Manager John Berry. “It’s a tough job, especially in heavy snow and windy conditions. It’s good to know your riding partner has your back and will get you out of a bad situation, if one should occur.”
What is your Super Power?
Chelsea Plumb: “My easy-going or go-with-the-flow attitude.”
Kricket Scheerer: “My family has always said that I am a kicking horse; a determined wanderer in need of big landscapes and an open horizon.”
What is the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?
Chelsea Plumb: “When I was younger, I used to compare myself to everyone around me and I always felt down or like I didn’t measure up. Then one of my good friends told me, ‘nobody is perfect, everyone is having problems and when you compare yourself to others you are comparing your lows to their highs. How is that fair?’”
Kricket Scheerer: “Trust in the Lord, Proverbs 3:5.”
What is your guilty pleasure?
Chelsea Plumb: “Sweet Hawaiian Rolls.”
Kricket Scheerer: “Popcorn with real butter and Coke.”
Where do you hope to travel someday?
Chelsea Plumb: “I would really love to see Ireland and old castles there.”
Kricket Scheerer: “I’d like to ride a motorcycle over the world’s most dangerous road in Peru. I’ve already ridden a Royal Enfield motorcycle over the world’s highest dirt road in the Himalayas at 17,500 feet.”
What’s your favorite meal at the El Tovar Lodge Dining Room?
Chelsea Plumb: “El Tovar’s chocolate tacos are amazing.”
Kricket Scheerer: “I’ve never been, but I hear that they have great chocolate tacos!” QCBN
Kricket in snow:
Kricket Scheerer was one of the first 100 women to spend a full year at the South Pole. She worked on fuel systems in Antarctica for nine years, solo hiked 500 miles in Colorado wilderness and was a wrangler at Keystone Ranch. She says she had no problem coming up South Kaibab Trail in what was the worst snowstorm of the season at the Grand Canyon. “The ride wasn’t too bad, just a little chilly for the last hour.”
Photos by V. Ronnie Tierney, Fresh Focuses Photography