I met Rob Rylee four years ago at Vermillion Valley Ranch along the Pacific Crest Trail. It was late into the evening and I could hear the unmistakable sound of a Sierra Nevada mule packer by the fire. Rob was entertaining: storytelling, passing whiskey from his liter-sized flask, and giving his guests a show. His beaver-skin hat, wispy handlebar mustache, and larger-than-life personality reminded me of packers I had worked with in the past. But from then forward, Rob exceeded all of my expectations of a packer and, ultimately, a friend.
Rob wasn’t always the easiest person to deal with. He was hard on others, and even harder on his mules – a defining characteristic sourced from his unending pursuit of perfection in his work. Each morning when I would help Rob organize the duffel bags and pack the mules, I would notice his precision. He was, without a doubt, the best of his kind, performing well above the standards expected of the many packers I have worked with in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere. His pride was in his work; how well it was done and how good it looked. He would settle for nothing less and he held himself to no less of a standard. On the days we exited the trail, he would ride out of the forest wearing a pressed white button-up shirt he had kept in a vacuum-sealed bag for seventeen days. He not only played the part, he encompassed it.
Rob was the best packer the Sierra had, and SYMG has been so fortunate to have him be a part of the team. He was a source of laughs, stories, and grand theatrics. But, above all, he was a friend. I woke up each morning with a cup of coffee next to my pillow which Rob had made just how I like it. He defended me against cranky hikers and gave his help and advice when I asked. He treated me like a friend and daughter. From him, I learned to take immense pride in my work, to push myself to be better, and to enjoy the trail.
Rob’s legacy will be celebrated and remembered by all of us at SYMG.
Sierra Zacks, SYMG Veteran Guide