Monday, September 4, 2017

Passing the Reins ~ reprinted from 2016 Guidebook

Ray Courtney heading into 
the back country
     Imagine yourself on top of a mountain, your legs are tired but the breeze tousles your hair and sunshine warms your skin. Before your eyes is a spectacular scene of snow capped peaks, forested mountains dotted with alpine lakes and puffy clouds in a sapphire sky. The mountains of the North Cascades do not disappoint in their grandeur or beauty and with the horses of Stehekin Outfitters carrying your gear they are easier to access than ever. This Outfitting business has been passed through three generations of the Courtney family; each outfitter hosting trips displays an adventurous spirit mixed with a desire to share the high country. 

The original business started in 1946 when Ray Courtney and Virgil Fellows, friends from WWII, teamed up to create Alpine Packers. This Outfitting and guided horseback business worked in conjunction to several other packers in the area like Guy Imus and Dan Devore. Virgil was instrumental in financing the startup of the business; together he and Ray offered rates starting as low as ten dollars a day. Ray was a 
Cragg and Robbie Courtney
man of many talents and to make a living in Stehekin he used all of them, operating his lumber mill, packing, trapping, gardening and in the winter he found work at ski resorts. As the packing business grew the trips swelled in size, some hiking trips with as many as seventy hikers and riding groups rose to around forty. There was one occasion where all the valley packers combined their resources to take a Sierra Club trip with about a hundred hikers that needed over thirty horses and half a dozen packers. The summer season stretched on into fall with hunting parties wanting to be dropped off and packed out after a week or so. In 1961 Ray married Virgil’s sister Esther and that summer they started their own full service trips dubbed “Hike and Like it”. As the family grew, their children all spent time helping on the trips, packing and leading a string of horses, gathering firewood, pitching tents, getting water and helping Esther with kitchen chores. In 1967 the Wenatchee World contracted with Ray for an annual event they called the “Wenatchee World Trail Hike”. The Courtney’s would completely furnish the trip with food, cooks, horses, wranglers and packers in exchange that the newspaper would place ads to help drum up interest. These well-known local trips went on for forty years, continually drawing repeat hikers as the family would alter routes to enable hikers to see more of the back country sights. On any trip, guests can hike strictly from camp to camp or venture up a side trail to summit one of the looming peaks that offers spectacular views.
Nancy Davis

Tragedy struck in 1982 when Ray was fatally injured in an accident during a trip. In the coming years, his sons filled in to keep the business alive and eventually Cragg and his wife Robbie took over breeding and maintaining the Fjords, taking hiking trips with the help of the family and offering guided rides from the corrals at Stehekin Valley Ranch. This valued service continued for over thirty years until Cragg passed the reins over to his nephew Colter and his business partner Nancy Davis who was currently employed in their Outfitting program. Colter and Nancy will continue to provide quality trips to places like Hidden Meadows, Walker Park, Cottonwood, Park Creek and Rainbow Meadows.  Nancy grew up in a small Vermont town and spent her childhood riding horses, camping, hiking, swimming and exploring the Green Mountains before she trekked across the country with an Equine Studies degree from Centenary College. Colter was raised in Stehekin and to avoid mischief at his parent’s Ranch he would often be out gallivanting through the mountains, fishing, hunting, hiking and camping, driven by an unquenchable thirst to explore new territory.

Colter Courtney heading out with a string

His school years took him to Chelan with his cousin Quin to play football and after tasting a year of college he heard the calling of the mountains to come back home. Taking on Stehekin Outfitters is the best way to continue an outdoor lifestyle and sharing it with guests is a rewarding experience. These trips are about companionship, adventure, freedom, physical exercise, and the opportunity to see God’s country. This work is what we love and you are invited to come along on the trip of a lifetime in the high country of the North Cascades. For the full story of Passing the Reins, visit our website at

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