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2014 Rocky Mountains Explorer Trail Willmore

2014 Rocky Mountain Explorer Trail  

 There are two of us. Zsolt Szabo from Hungary and I will spend 4 weeks in the Willmore Wilderness and Kakwa Wilderness. With borrowed horses and equipment for 4 weeks. Preparations are in full swing. A new tent has been designed, saddlebags and equipment have been upgraded to the North American conditions. Food and maps are the big challenge. Garmin delivers, but what? A map where only rivers and mountain peaks are visible, no contour lines and no trails. For CHF 130 a mess. So we cancel and get our money back.

Günter Wamser recommended the region to us and the Long Riders put me in touch with an outfitter who would provide us with the horses. Percherons, Fiordies crossed with Tenesse Walkers.... Let's see what's coming our way.

4 weeks without contact with the outside world. I'm curious to see how we'll cope. 4 weeks without beer. You can't quickly go to the supermarket and buy something you've forgotten. What absolutely has to go and what is superfluous ballast. For example, batteries for the electronics. No possibility of recharging. So everything is reduced to one type of AA battery. Solar charger? Yes, but no sun, so no? Notebook and pen to write the blog but save batteries. First aid with all the little things you hope you never need, but if it's not there, tough luck. Diarrhea, blisters, sprains, aches and pains, it all has to be there.

Food, it's going to be exciting. I know the Americans. Everything low-calorie in bulk packs. Unusable for us and which of the dozens of products do we take? We need 3400 cal a day. It has to taste good. Flour or crispbread and pumpernickel? Do we bake it ourselves or take it ready-made in a tin? Everything has to be packed bear-proof in the saddlebags. Small packs for two people, nothing should be burnt or thrown away. Garbage must be taken out again. Curd soap so that the grizzly is not attracted by the smell. Maps are now Garmin compatible, spare maps and satellite phone are organized.

Organized a solar charger today after all. I can use it to charge my AA batteries and my tab. Weighs 600 grams and is A4-sized, but only 5 mm thick. Plus Garmin maps, hopefully with contour lines and trails this time. The description sounds pretty good.

The fence set for 3 horses and tethering pegs. I'm curious to see what Stan thinks. Stan is the outfitter who rents us his horses. I had a look at his equipment, no wonder he needs one packhorse per person.

28.6.2014

Equipment is collected. Still needs to be supplemented with the stuff from the ride leader's bag. But I'm now at around 40 kg for both of us. Let's see what else Szolt brings.

I returned from the Sprinz route on Saturday and took a break yesterday. Took the horses to the neighbor's and washed and sorted out my stuff. Today I took the saddle away to be repaired and sent parcels. Szolt will arrive around noon and we'll go through our equipment together. We'll start tomorrow. The shopping lists are ready and tomorrow we'll have to pass the time at Amsterdam airport. A book seems to be the right solution. Let's see what there is to read. We have all the equipment we need, so we only need saddlebags in the back and possibly a roller or something similar. But I don't think the packhorse has anything to carry anyway, and we can pack a lot more on top. Stan and I don't agree on that. He thinks we absolutely need 4 horses in pairs. I think we can manage with three. Let's see. Tomorrow the plane leaves at 7am for Amsterdam, then Vancouver and we should arrive in Prince George BC at 1600.


29.7. Zurich - Mc Bride BC Canada

We fly via Amsterdam to Prince George in the north of BC and are picked up there by Stan. As the connection was calculated too tightly (it takes at least 3 hours between arrival and departure to Prince George, due to 200 m long queues at the immigration counters) we don't make the planned flight and are rebooked for a later flight. So Stan has to do the shopping for us, which makes the adventure even more exciting, because not only do we have no idea what's available, but now someone else has to decide for us what we'll be eating for 4 weeks. We spend the next day putting the equipment together and adding to it. The horses are shod and test-packed. We get two Fiordis, Hassan and Pal (with Percheron parts) and Brass, the Morgan horse. The saddlebags are firmly attached to the saddle (which is very impractical and we changed them) and the horses are designed for riders weighing up to 150 kg. You can still fit a lot of luggage on them when we Europeans are sitting on them. But everything here is XXXL, from the trucks on which our pickups fit comfortably on the loading area to the trailers, which can accommodate at least 10 horses. We go out for dinner with Stan and various friends.

31.7. Mc Bride Holmes River - Blue Berry Lake 10 km

The next day the time has come. Stan manages to get up at 7 a.m. and it's 9 a.m. before the horses and equipment are stowed in the trailer and we set off. After 2 hours we reach our turning area and Stan quickly rasps the teeth of his Morgan. Then the packhorse, Hassan, is loaded up and we set off to tackle the 4-hour route. The path up is very steep, very arduous with lots of knee-deep roots and large stones and sometimes the horses simply climb up the mountain in the stream bed. Hassan the loaded Fiord is not really interested in climbing the mountain, on the contrary, he is only interested in the food that can be found on the way, so he simply stops to eat and keeps snatching the lead rope out of my hand. Finally, I tie the lead rope together with Morgan's reins so that he at least notices for himself when the person behind him is no longer walking and so stops. The strategy seems to work and after 2 1/2 hours we reach Blue Berry Lake and are greeted by a black swarm of huge horseflies. We unsaddle and try to lever the horses. Szolt gets hit in the head with the shod front hoof by the Morgan and the chain of the hobbles damages his glasses, so that in addition to a bruise, he will be reminded of the first day with one eye for the next 4 weeks. Finally we are able to give the horses some relief with bug dope, a greasy, smelly paste made from tree resin, petroleum and other additives, and clean our red hands (from the blood of the slain beasts) in the lake. We set up camp about 1 km below the paddock we had set up and make a fire to chase away the mosquitoes and boil water for dinner. The freeze-dried meal from Mountainhouse doesn't taste bad and so we lie down on our mats, satisfied, albeit with a partially buzzing head, and await our first night among wolves and bears.

1/8/2014

At 5 a.m. it is daylight and we leave our sleeping bags. It's going to be over 30 degrees again today, so we want to be on the road early. After a hearty breakfast of granola and coffee, we remove the hobbles from our 3 horses and lead them down to the camp, where we saddle them up and tie them up. It takes us about 2.5 hours until we are ready to ride off and then we head towards the mountain along the lake. It's very steep uphill on a narrow path and I dismount to lead the last steepest meters of the trail. We realize that our packing technique is still in need of improvement and have to re-saddle the packhorse, as the whole pack has slipped backwards on the steep climb. The path, which can easily disappear, leads over three passes on a huge, confusing plateau dotted with lakes. We ride through knee-high lush grass and enjoy the indescribable vastness and the view of the glacier mountains around us. On the way, we have to lead the horses down steep snowfields and I have to keep trying to keep the direction with the GPS. The map on the back is just a single green area without any contours, so finding our way is quite difficult. But we succeed and reach the pass, from where a path leads down to the plain of TwinTree Lake. Shortly before descending to the lake, we pass a meadow. There might be an opportunity to set up camp here. But further down, where a lake is marked on the map, there are only huge scree fields. Brass the Morgan marches unperturbed over the scree to the north and keeps finding a path leading in this direction. And when we finally reach a camp near the Robson Trail, there is no grass for the horses. I leave Szolt with the horses in a swampy meadow and set off in search of an area where the horses would find enough grass and we would find water. I find what I'm looking for at an idyllic lake a little off the path and catch up with Szolt and the horses. We set up camp there in good grass on soft ground. There are hardly any mosquitoes or horseflies here, so the night will certainly be much quieter


2/8/2014

33, 6 km We are now on the road for the 3rd day and the horses are tired. They weren't in really good condition to begin with and they've also lost a few kilos. Since Saddam had a slight girth pressure, we switch the luggage over to the Pal and I ride Saddam on a rope halter. While Szolt is on the Brass. Brass is super easy to ride on a halter, so I switched to it on the second day, but Szolt wants to ride with a snaffle. We ride along the river and the path is easy to follow and soon we are back in open country. The river runs past some deep gorges and here in Jasper Park there are even real wooden bridges that lead over the sometimes violently rushing mountain rivers. The horses have no problems with the wild noise and the dull roar of the wood. They are very frugal and calm and very pleasant to handle, even if they are a little stubborn. The tingling midges have bloodied large areas of hand, but thanks to Stan's bug dope, the end infections are subsiding and Saddam's girth pressure has calmed down again. We ride along the river and find a sign indicating a camp where it is marked on the GPS. However, it takes half an hour of searching to find it. The camp is idyllically situated right by the river in the forest and there is a huge clearing with good grass about 100 meters away. We take the horses there and set up our electric fence shortly after midday to give the horses a little break. We enjoy the campfire and let the tents dry while the horses munch on the tall grass in their 100 x 100 m paddock. Most of the official horse camps are equipped with tethering beams and corrals and, in addition to a fire pit, there is always water nearby and sometimes even a proper outhouse with outdoor toilets.


3.8. Snake River - Oatmealcamp 24.5 km We ride along the lake and the path in the dark pine forests offers a first impression of the impenetrability of the woods. We soon head uphill towards the Snake Pass at 2700 meters. The horses have to pass through some deep swampy areas, which they manage very well. You can hear the swamp sucking at their hooves and sometimes they have to gallop to get out of the mud, but they are obviously experienced and make us feel safe. At the top of the pass, we take a break and enjoy the landscape. It is incredibly vast, ridge after ridge, valley after valley and you expect to see a herd of bissons grazing peacefully, but apart from an eagle, a few birds, marmots and squirrels, there is nothing. At the same time, it is incredibly quiet, so that you can hear the sound of your own blood in your ears. For lunch there is always a piece of bread with raw onion and some smoked sausage and a piece of cheese, according to old Hungarian tradition. Water is plentiful and good, we don't take the Mikropur tablets for disinfection, but sweeten the water with the flavor powders Stan has bought (lemon - banana - apple) or raspberry. I drank almost 2 liters a day the last few days because it was so hot and I was correspondingly dehydrated. The power bars that he had organized have about 2.5 times the volume and weight and are always enriched with soy protein and must be incredibly expensive, I will find out how expensive in Grande Cache. We lead the horses down the Snake River Pass, the trail disappears again and again wherever a river makes its way to the Snake River. The scree slopes along the rivers and the crossing of the are quite tough, even for me, and we have to get used to the swamps that spread out in front of us. The locals call the areas Mooskek and the path usually disappears there because the elk and deer go to the open areas to graze. We let the horses graze and I go around the swamp to look for the path on the opposite side. Sometimes even with success. Mooskek areas are swamps that lie above the permafrost soil. There is open water under a 30-50 cm thick sward and if you are not careful, you will simply break through the sward at certain plants and end up standing waist-deep in muddy water. Each horse also has to find its own track through the swamp, otherwise they break into the track of the horse in front. Brass and Pal do this very well, only Saddam doesn't want to know anything about it, he is only interested in the grass and then just fights his way through the track. We reach Outmealcamp and 10 minutes later it's showering. We just manage to get everything into the tent without it getting wet. I put up the electric fence in the rain and lift the horses by their front feet. The clappers of the bells are freed from their leather straps so that they can ring.


4.8. Snake River Lake - Blue Creek Camp 28 km

I wake up at 3 in the morning because something is wrong. It takes me a while to find out what is causing my restlessness. The bells, the tinkling, it's missing. It's far too quiet. I lie down for a while and listen into the night. It does ring, but it doesn't give me any peace. I get up and go and have a look. The Morgan is missing. The fence is up, but there are only the two Fiordies in the paddock. But looking for the Morgan in the middle of the night doesn't help, so I go back to sleep. The two Fiordies are quiet. So the Morgan won't be far away. When it's light, I'll go looking.

At 5 o'clock it gets light and I get dressed to go and look for Brass. Since he's hobbled, he can't have gone far and I follow the trail we've come. You can see exactly where he stopped and nibbled at the grass before moving on. About 500 m down the trail, he stands there calmly and chews the grass with relish.

The trail leads through the Snake River Valley for the second day and follows the river like a trail. Sometimes it goes over a hill, sometimes the river rushes 40 m below us in a narrow gorge, then it meanders again for 5 km through a unique marshland landscape. The glaciers glow in the background. The ground varies from gray to ochre to light green, depending on whether you are crossing an area of lichen or swamp. It is interrupted by bright circular areas of herb with white edges on dark green leaves.

Soon we come to a lake again and the view is gigantic. This is what the Garden of Eden must have looked like before man began to cultivate it. You would have to have a lodge here, a canoe and a seaplane landing every week with fresh, chilled beer. It would be paradise. In the middle of the forest, I suddenly hear the soft ringing of bells. I stop and listen and see something moving off the trail. There in the forest by the lake are two horses and a man. I call him and am greeted with a howdy by Bill from Hinton. He and his friend Loyd are from Hinton and have come here to fish. He immediately buys us a beer. Although it's Canadian, it tastes delicious. Loyd soon turns up and we chat for a while. We're going to spend the night in the same camp, so we'll see them again later. They ride on to look for good fishing spots and we ride down to the camp. A footbridge leads across the river and we find the camp where Bill and Loyd have already set up camp. While Szolt unsaddles the horses, I look for grassy areas for our horses, but it looks sparse. The sandy ground doesn't offer much anyway, and it all seems to have been gnawed away at some point. At the very edge of the camp I find a small area with sparse grass and set up the paddock there, while the horses, now freed from their luggage, hobbled around looking for grass.


5.8. Blue Creek Camp - Ancient Wall - Caribou Camp 28.9 km

Bill and Loyd from Hinton have ridden up here from Rock Lake in the south. Loyd, who claims to be a breeder and horse trainer, rides a 3-year-old Hanoverian-Percherand mare. I can hardly believe that the 150 kg man is really getting on the slender horse. When he comes back from the short trip in the other direction, the horse seems to be exhausted. The two have 2 pack horses with them, one carrying 2 cool boxes with 40 lfr. The other packhorse is carrying beer and whisky. The other packhorse carries the tent, food (stakes, eggs, bacon, oil, coffee, milk, sugar .... etc.) and a chainsaw. Loyd cuts down some 30 cm thick pine trees and starts cutting 40 cm high logs, which he then splits with the 5 kg axe. Not only is the man XXL, but so is his equipment. Szolt buys a pack of cigarettes from him for 15 dollars and we get half a bottle of whisky in change. We boil our water and enjoy our chilli con carne from the bag while the two of them grill their steaks on the fire. Afterwards, we sit around the campfire for a while and Bill tells us that he has a trap line along the Sheepcreek where he sets traps in winter to catch martens, foxes and other furry animals. He also has a lodge there. We sleep under our tarp and the four horses of the two Canadians are simply tied to the trees during the night. In the morning, they fry bacon and eggs in their cast-iron pan while we saddle up our horses. Today we will have to let the horses graze for a long time so that they can get their food. We follow Blue Creek north along a deep gorge and soon the trail leads up and down through light-flooded pine forests, always following the course of the river, which sometimes rushes through narrow passages as a torrent and sometimes comes along as a leisurely stream. After 3 hours we reach the Ancient Wall Camp and decide to let the horses catch up on their rations here. In the meantime, we take a bath and after 2 hours, refreshed and invigorated, we ride on towards Azur Lake. We reach the dry plateau at 1 pm. Here, in the shade of the trees, we grill two of the sausages we brought with us over a fire and let the horses rest. They doze tied up under the trees and an hour later we set off again. Brass is really pushing on, I wonder if he's ever been here before. We reach Caribou Camp around four o'clock and let the horses out into the forest with their bells and hobbles to look for food. We set up camp for the night and while Szolt makes a fire and cooks dinner, I fetch water and put up the fence for the horses for the night.


6.8. Azure Lake - Hardscrabble Pass, West Sulphur Trail 28.3 km

In the morning the horses have gnawed off the pasture. So we let them forage for more food in the surrounding area and pack up our stuff. Szolt now has a good handle on weighing the two plastic crates and the two clothes bags and although the weight decreases daily, the two sides are always the same weight. The packhorse is saddled with the carrying frame and the front and rear belly straps are tightened extremely tightly. A single chest strap, which is not connected at the bottom, is pulled in front of the chest. The two boxes are then hooked in on the left and right and the two garment bags are placed on top. The tarpaulin is placed on top, which is wrapped between the pad and the box at the front and rear. The lashing rope is then placed over this, which is again fitted with a belly strap. A sling is thrown over the middle of the load, hooked onto the belly strap on the right-hand side and then knotted with a sling on the left-hand side. The sling is then looped over each other twice from front to back and the end is pulled through to lash the crate on the left. The rope is then passed along the front of the garment bags and pulled through the loop on the other side, which is looped from back to front. Again, the other crate is secured with the rope and then the rope is pulled around the rear side of the garment bags, passed forward and knotted with the loop on the waist belt. This system is called double-diamond and is really suitable for the wilderness. Stan Wallchuck is an instructor and gives courses in this type of packing.

The two riding horses are tied up for the time being, but when we finish with Saddam the packhorse, one horse is missing. Brass is gone. Silently, clammily and quietly, he must have made off. He is no longer hobbled and the bell clapper is locked. Panic sets in, where is the guy? I run down the path we came down yesterday and run until I can see the whole valley. But as far as I can see, there's no horse on the trail. So back and in the other direction, but after 2 km there's nothing to be seen either. What now.... Since the two Fiordies aren't neighing, he must still be somewhere nearby, but I can't hear anything. There's nothing to see in the dense forest anyway, so I grab Pal and climb up. Szolt has searched the area in the meantime, but comes back with nothing. I ride back the way we came and remember that yesterday we first came to a lodge where there was grass before we found the camp. So I ride back to the lodge and there, at last, I see the Morgan standing peacefully in the grass, munching away. In the meantime, Szolt has managed to calm down the packhorse, who doesn't like the idea of being left alone like this and, after I call him, comes towards me on foot with the horse. We swap horses and my heart rate slowly returns to normal as we mount up. The trail leads up the mountain and Lake Azzure lies below us. The trail disappears completely just before the forest and we wonder where to go next. We try to get through the forest, but it's hardly possible. The trees are too close together and we can't get through. We decide to go downhill, as there are no trees down by the lake. A mistake, as we realize, because down here is a huge swampland in which we almost drown. I take out the maps and study them, comparing them with my Garmin map and the trail on it. Somehow there's a problem: the trail ends on the Garmin and starts again somewhere else, but there's no connection. And exactly where it ends is also the border of Jasper and Willmore Park, which we are now entering. What the heck, obviously the trail runs much further up to a pass and so we climb up the mountain again and this time fight our way up the mountain in a direct line. Surprisingly, this is better than crossing the forest, as there are always clearings that make the way up easier. There is absolutely nothing where the trail is marked on the Garmin map, but we simply follow the direction and then see a cairn at the top of the pass, where we find the trail again. Now it becomes clear that the Garmin trail is only a straight connection from this point down to the lake, and obviously the track recording started here at the pass, because from here it is suddenly correct again. We lead the horses down over large slabs of rock until we finally come to some grass again where we can let the horses eat. We are in a wide basin and we can see some deer grazing in the distance. Now the path runs off the Garmin track again, but it is easy to find and leads past huge ponds dammed by beavers to the east. Here we also find the camps marked on the Garmin, but these are not suitable for horses. Climbing up an embankment in a stream crossing, Brass slips off with his hindquarters and climbs to keep his balance. I fall out of the saddle into the stream bed and roll to the side as Brass falls backwards on top of me. I'm lucky that my knee is bent downwards, otherwise it would be over now. He pulls himself up again and I stand up, a little embarrassed. But apart from a scratch on my back and wet pants, nothing happened and I get away with it. A little later, we find an area of grass and decide to stay here. However, there is no water nearby and I set off in search of it. According to Garmin, there should be a camp in the valley and as I'm fetching water down in the valley by the river, I see a roof flashing in the green landscape in the distance. I return to camp and mount Brass to look for the cabin I had seen. While I'm still riding away, I hear one of the Fiords neighing and Szolt obviously has his hands full trying to stop the two hobbled horses from following me. It's a brand new wooden lodge, beautifully situated and with water nearby, but without any access to the grass. So I turn back and we stay where the horses have grass. When I get back, it's just starting to rain and we put our stuff away. 30 minutes later, the sun is shining again and the horses are grazing in the fenced-off meadow. I lie on my camp site and write while listening to the horses' bells.

7.8. West Sulphur Creek - Jack Knife Pass - Snow Creek - Muskek River Camp 32.6 km

Everything was frozen this morning. A few days ago we would have been happy to have ice cubes in our tea, but this morning it's just cold as we crawl out of our sleeping bags. We climb into our cold and clammy boots and our feet are cold for quite a while as we lead the horses downhill. Soon we come to a fork in the trail, where we continue down along Sulfur Creek. But we have seen enough forest and decide to go to Jack Knife Pass to get out of the forest. The Garmin map and the maps provided by Stan are a real challenge for me, as I am used to Swiss topo maps. The paper map is black and white, shows hardly any contours and, above all, is not correct. The trails are only roughly marked, there's a trail here somewhere, we don't know exactly where and the map on the Garmin is simply garbage, because the river, whether 50 m wide or a trickle, is always exactly the same width, about 0.1 mm on the monitor and barely visible in sunlight, especially as all the contours and contour lines have simply been painted over in green and nothing is recognizable.

Fortunately, the trail is easy to follow and the view up the pass is wonderful. We take a break on the pass and let the horses graze hobbled. The fact that the horses roam freely and make use of this makes Szolt nervous, as his usually stand still and munch on the grass, while ours are here looking for treats and are constantly on the move. We head down the mountain in open terrain, where we find a good spot after 25 km, but keep going anyway because we want to take a day off. We continue into the Snow Creek valley and follow the river up the mountain. At the top is a huge plain with lots of beaver ponds. We cross the pass and the path leads us through heavy thickets. The bushes are taller than we are when we sit on our horses and the path below us is barely visible. The branches tug at us and try to hold us down. The camp that was marked at the fork down in the valley is not there, but 4 km further on we find a great camp with plenty of grass. We will take a break here so that we can reach Grande Cache on Sunday.

8.8. Muskek River - Rocky Pass - Big Graves Cabin 32.1 km

We lie under our tarp and it rains again. But the Cordura material is waterproof and we are dry. Thank goodness. The horses are munching in their fencing and some animal, probably another grass-eater, doesn't dare to enter the pasture we've occupied and creeps around the camp all night. The horses keep looking in one direction, but it's too dark to see anything. In the morning it was considerably warmer than the days before, but everything is soaking wet. We go back along the trail we came yesterday and head up the valley towards Rocky Pass. The trail runs alongside the stream and we have trouble finding it. At a point where a meadow extends from the ridge down to the river, we stop and let the horses graze. I climb up the hill and find an old camp and a completely different world with vast swamplands and mountains in the background. A trail runs along the top and we follow it for the next three hours through the dripping wet bush. Chaps or chinks would definitely be an advantage here, especially if they were waterproof. Hip boots would be even better, then our feet would stay dry too. Wet down to our underpants, we reach Big Graves, a huge plain where several rivers meet. There are graves here and we marvel at the small white gables and the crosses planted over 100 years ago with names and dates of death from 1904, etc. Thunder rumbles in the distance and we find the camp marked on the map at the edge of a small wood. We park the two Fiordies there and I take Brass and ride 2 km further to a cabin I've seen there. To my astonishment, the door opens and I ride back to fetch Szolt and the other two horses. Next to the cabin there is waist-high lush green grass and we fence the horses in. The hut has wood, a stove, 4 beds and a larder filled with food for 10 people. Unbelievable. We put our stuff in the hut while it's pouring with rain outside. Half an hour later the sun shines again and after an hour the sky turns dark and gray again and it hails. Sun and rain alternate at regular intervals, but we sit comfortably in the heated hut and enjoy our evening meal. It's wonderful to have a roof over our heads. The mattresses are covered with plastic covers, so we put our horse blankets on top and go to sleep in our sleeping bags.


9.8. Big Graves - Grande Cache 35 km

We are up early and enjoy the cocoa we found in the pantry. We leave two bars of chocolate to make up for it. The horses have eaten their fill of grass and we are soon on the road again. It was to be a leisurely, short day as we wanted to camp again before reaching Grand Cache tomorrow. The mountain trail is very well maintained and almost a little boring, which we follow over hills and through sparse forests. In a small valley we come across Cowlick Trail, which we continue to follow. As there are two camps marked on the map, we leave the first one with lots of good grass on the left and want to stop at the second one. A mistake, as there is no second camp and we are in the middle of the forest with no grassy areas, so we decide to continue to Grande Cache after all. Grande Cache is pronounced French and was founded in the days of the fur hunters and the Hudson Bay Company, who set up a fur depot (large camp) here. The Cowlick Trail ends at an open gate at the back of a ranch. I don't know how this is handled here (in Alaska you get shot if you trespass on private property) so we make our way through the bushes over to the other trail, which we hope will take us to the main entrance of the ranch. Half an hour later, we're back at a fence, this time very close to a corral. Again we turn around and continue in that direction, only to find ourselves back at the same fence a few minutes later. Okay, I give up and, leaving the horses and Szolt behind, I climb through the fence and march towards the houses I see a little further down the road.

I briefly introduce myself to the two young men and ask if they know where we can stay here with our horses. They just say: go ask Curtis, he will help you.... Just down the road. I fetch Szolt and the horses, open the fence and march down the road, where Curtis and his family are already coming towards us. What we don't know... Curtis is a Mountain Cree Indian from the Aseniwuche tribe and married to a white nurse from Grand Prairie and he is one of the tribe's Elders. We chat until late in the evening and then go to sleep in our tarp


10-11.8.2014 Life with the Cree Indians

Property is not important to the Indians here, things are dead and have no soul and are therefore not relevant. Plants, animals and people are important, not because they own things, but because they have gifts and abilities. The tribal people also define themselves through these gifts and abilities.

Even today, 10 generations later, the life of the Indians here has not yet adapted 100% to the western style of values. On the contrary, the two cultures still seem incompatible, even though Curtis, for example, has managed to gain a foothold in the Western world. One of his cousins committed suicide, his sister is an alcoholic and his sister's son is finding life very difficult. Curtis himself works as an excavator operator for the local Chinese coal mine and is a guide and tracker for hunters. He is married to a nurse and they have 2 children together and 2 children from her first marriage. However, Curtis was not without his problems as a teenager, and he has a history with the police. He had stolen a car and when he was arrested, he went into hiding in the bush for 5 years. Only his brother knew where he was and brought him flour, salt and patrons from time to time. After 5 years, the police suggested that he would not have to go to prison if he handed himself in voluntarily and the 5 years in the bush would be credited to him. He has turned to the traditional lifestyle of the Indians and found content and meaning for his life. He now wants to pass on this lifestyle to the young people of his tribe from next summer.

His tribe was originally at home down in Jasper and was expelled north to Grande Cache in the middle of winter at the end of the century before last. Many of the old and young members of the tribe died on the arduous journey and their graves can still be found out in the wilderness today, for example in Big Graves, where we also passed by. It was noticeable on the ranch, where he has 20 horses and 15 longhorn highland cattle, that on the one hand the work was very professional (corrals and fencing for the horses) but at the same time there were tools, toys and equipment lying around everywhere, which left a very untidy impression for us Europeans.

The Cree believe in a duality, the creator and the great spirit (female) that is inherent in every living being and every plant. We spend a lot of time with Curtis and his brother Richard, who is something like the spiritual head of the tribe. Richard in particular tells us about the history of the Cree and the Indians in the West in general and it is fascinating to listen to him. We spend the whole weekend together because we have to wait for Monday to go shopping and receive our package from McBride.

On Monday we take the time to meet Basil Lamerts from the Willmore Foundation and we spend 2 hours with him, discussing trails and possible routes and listening to his advice and experience. He is 83 years old and still leads the crews that cut the trails outside. We try to get hold of decent maps, but this is not possible, so we go shopping. We send equipment back to Switzerland and also to McBride. In the evening Richard comes with his girlfriend and brings us some herbs and dried elk meat, which tastes excellent. We have a long chat about Indian history as he sees it and he writes down the 10 commandments of the Indians for me.

1 The earth is your mother, take care of her. Honor all your relatives. Treat the earth and everything that lives with respect, be it plants, water, air, quadrupeds or poultry, they are your relatives. 2 Always be close to the Creator and his great spirit in everything you do. Open your heart to them and remember them. 3 All life is sacred, treat all living things with respect. Respect yourself and all people regardless of color. 4 Work with others for peace and harmony so that all may benefit. Take from the earth only what you need and no more. 5 Help and support wherever necessary, promote the common good. 6 Act rightly and be grateful to the Great Spirit. 7 Take care of a healthy mind, body and soul. 8 Speak the truth and be honest at all times, especially with yourself. 9 Follow the rhythm of nature and give part of your earnings to the community. 10 Enjoy the journey of your life, leave no trace and take responsibility for your actions.


12.8.2014 Victor Lake - Grande Cache - Sulphur Gates - Coral Creek Camp 29.1 km

As soon as I saddle up, I notice that the Pal isn't running 100% smoothly, but it's impossible to pinpoint where the problem is coming from. We ride off and bypass Grande Cache on a southerly route and he seems to settle in, but as we lead him down the hill it becomes very obvious. Szolt also has a black out on the mountain and falls. It's over 30 degrees and he's hypoglycemic.

I take him to the shade and he drinks some ginger ale. Then he feels better, his hand hurts from the fall. I give the horse a dose of Equipalazone and we continue down to the bridge north of Grand Cache and the 7 km gravel road to Sulfur Gate. Sulfur Gate is so named because two rivers join here in front of a rocky gorge. It is the Sulfur Creek and Smokey River. Pal is doing ok with the medication, but I still don't want to ride him. We hope he'll be fine again tomorrow. We follow the trail towards Sheep Creek and hope to find a camp with enough grass and water soon. We miss the trail to a cabin at the top of the mountain and the second camp doesn't seem to exist. The trail along the Smokey River leads over the Kvass Flats and after almost 30 km we reach Corall Creek Camp. We receive a warm welcome from the crew there and after looking after the horses, we enjoy several cans of Canadian Pilsner together. We sleep in one of their tents and enjoy dinner together, cooked by a young farmer from Edmonton.

13.8. Coral Creek Camp Sulphur Gates 26 km

We check the horses first and our Fiord is lame. Really not good.... Either he has been kicked or something is wrong with the tendon or the hoof. We can't find anything definite. We call Stan and can't reach him, call Curtis and agree with him that he will bring us a replacement horse to Sulfur-Gates. I saddle the Morgan and give the Pal a double dose of Equi. Riding Brass, I take the Fiord by the halter and ride him as a hand-horse the two-hour ride back to Sulfur Gates, where I hand him over to Curtis, who has brought me his Rocky Mountain Horse Fast Eddy. The saddle fits reasonably well and we switch to the pinto. We trot back to Coral Creek Camp, but the day is still over because it's already past midday when I get back. We rasp the back hooves of the Rocky Mountain Horse, as he is only shod at the front. It's hot and humid and I'm glad I don't have to be out and about. There are about 20 horses in the camp, all large-framed, heavy animals that graze freely without bells. Every now and then the whole herd gathers in the coral to get rid of the annoying tingling midges by the smoking fire. They commute between the river where they drink, the forest and the Coral, and occasionally visit our three grazing peacefully in their paddock.

14.8. Coral Creek Camp - Dry Canon Camp 32 km

We leave Corall Creek and its crew with a morning coffee. The trail from the camp leads back up to the mine road which we follow further west. After about 7 km we ford the Smokey River. However, I can't find the start of the trail until I realize that the trail marked on the GPS first leads away from the river and then returns to it in a wide arc. So back again and now it's clear where the trail runs. We follow it over a high ridge in the forest and here we also find a few forgotten traps from Bill's trail. But apart from black grouse there is not much to see and we ride the whole day in the light forest. After the crest we come to a small stream where there is also a camp, but it is 3 o'clock in the afternoon, so we decide to take the Dry Canon with us. The path leads steeply down to the Muddy River and we take a break on its banks. On the other side, the path leads up to a small pass. The valley is probably called Dry Canon because, apart from a few ponds below us in the valley, there is no water to be seen and on the left flank of the mountain you can see the remains of burnt trees stretching their barren branches into the sky.

After the pass, which is very swampy, the path descends slowly and we come to a wide valley with lots of good grass. An elk antler attached to a tree shows us the way to the camp and at 5 p.m. we reach the camp marked on the map. It is beautifully situated in the forest slightly elevated from the river and the horses have good grass here. Fiord lies down again and again and chews on his fetlock, I wonder if he might have colic, but then pay no more attention to it.

15.8. Dry Creek Canon Camp - Smoky River Cabin 25 km

Saddam our Fiord is lame as a post. I don't know what's going on, but I've never had two horses go lame on one trip. But what the hell, we have no choice and have to turn back. We can't wait to see if it gets better, we have to get back to BC in a few days and without a packhorse it looks bleak. The Morgan is loaded as a packhorse, Szolt rides the Indian pony and I lead the Saddam saddled behind me. Thanks to Equipalazone, he can walk reasonably pain-free when he does, but the first few steps hurt just watching him. Nevertheless, we have to go back and I lead him back to camp along yesterday's route. Morgan is really great, he immediately understood his role as a lead horse and runs ahead of me so that I can be pulled up the hill by his tail. He finds the path on his own and avoids the fallen trees just as we had done on the way here. We reach Smokey Creek towards evening. The river is dark gray and you can no longer see the bottom, as it has rained heavily upstream, it is also about 30 cm higher today than it was a day ago. Almost Eddy and Brass walk calmly through the water, only the lame Saddam doesn't feel like carrying me across and makes a fuss. But after some back and forth, he also crosses the river and we stop here at Bill's Cabin. It's still 7 km to Corall Camp, and we want to tackle it first thing in the morning.


16.8. Corall Creek Camp - Grande Cache the second 13 km We reach Corall Creek around 10 and the camp steward explains that all Taylor, the boss, wants to ride from Sulfur Gates today. If we're lucky, we'll reach him there. We say goodbye again, not without getting another beer from him as a present. At Sulfur Gates we find Taylor quite stressed, because he has about 30 horses there, all of which want to be packed, he has 15 inexperienced riders to help and they have far too much luggage for the few pack horses that are there. He is constantly on the phone trying to organize more packhorses and tells his guests categorically that he only has room for socks and sleeping bags, everything else stays here. We get a soda and when he has a minute to breathe, I show him our problem and ask him if he could drive us to Victor Lake. He says yes, and turns back to his phone. We unsaddle, let our horses graze and try to help him as best we can to get the horses saddled and tacked up. After half an hour, he suddenly says "get ready to go" and a young woman comes up to us (it's his wife and daughter of the U-Bar outfitter) who leads us to the trailer into which we are to load our horses. No sooner said than done, the luggage on the pickup and we are on the gravel road on the way to the bridge, up to Grande Cache, down to Victor Lake and 30 minutes later we stop in front of Curtis' house. We are not allowed to pay anything, so we wish her all the best and say thank you very much.

17.8.-18.8. Victor Lake Grande Cache

We make ourselves at home again, this time we stay in the tidy barn with our sleeping bag and Melanie tells us that her husband Curtis is still on the road and won't arrive until Monday. She calls the farrier and shows us how she has looked after Pal, who is already looking very lively again. All three are in the fenced-in area on soft hay and Saddam is given a cold bandage with frozen berries in a plastic bag.

We feed the three of them very good hay, which is now delivered and stored in the old horse trailer. The farrier will call in the evening to say when he can come and we have to wait until Curtis gets back as we need to talk to him about a horse we can take to BC. I try to reach Stan, but apart from a message on his mobile phone I can't leave anything. I try in the morning, at midday and in the evening, but on Saturday evening his mailbox is also full. So we wait the three days and spend the time fishing and shopping in Grande Cache. On Saturday, Basil's wife and daughter come to pick up a horse that they had stabled with Curtis. She wants to ride it over to another stable where she has better training facilities. Sunday evening the farrier Cody arrives, he is Basil's son and it turns out that Melany is his horse specialist. The nearest large animal vet lives three hours away in Grand Prairie and whenever Cody needs any medicine, Melany helps him out with the hospital's products. He examines our two Fiordies and first takes Saddam's shoes off, pokes around a bit with the clipper and immediately finds a huge abscess caused by a nail that was set too high. Then we take on Pal, and here too he immediately suspects a nail and when he has removed the iron, pus and blood are flowing here too, but only in small quantities and Pal seems to be doing very well again. Melanie goes to the hospital to get new injections and an antibiotic and we discuss the route to BC with Cody over a cup of coffee.


19.8. Sulphur-Gates - Sheepcreek Trail - Dry Canon Creek Camp 29, 1 km Curtis called and we rode out to meet him on Monday. The little Indian boy and the young woman who were with him are delighted with the tour, which must have been very strenuous. Curtis is glad to have brought everyone home safe and sound and I can talk to the boy for a few sentences. After dinner we agree that we can take Fast Eddy with us to BC and that he will look after Saddam. I pay him 400 dollars for Rocky Mountain and he drives us back out to Sulfur Gates in his trailer. Richard and his girlfriend accompany us and after saddling up we say goodbye to our new friends. We ride past Coral Camp, ford the Smokey for the fourth time and ride in one piece through to Dry Canon Camp, but we stay in the wide valley where we set up camp on the left-hand side in a large grassy area. There is grass and wood here, but I have to fetch water from the river below. It's not so easy to carry an open water bag with 6 liters of water on horseback, especially as the distance back seems endless and my arm almost goes numb. At camp, Szolt struggles with the fire that doesn't want to burn and spills some of the water he has laboriously dragged in. The Mountain House pouch lunch is pretty good, today we have some chocolate for dessert and, as always, gallons of tea. The night promises to be cold and we crawl into our sleeping bags as soon as it gets dark. The horses munch on the tall, fat grass with relish and we are glad to finally be on the road again.


20.8. Fame / Trench Creek Trail - Sheep Creek - Casket Creek 31.7 km

In the morning I make coffee and hot water for the Bircher mash. Szolt complains that I haven't turned on the heating, the small hotplate isn't warm enough. Then Szolt takes down the tarp and tidies up the kitchen while I dismantle the fencing and bring the horses in to be saddled. I saddle Brass and Eddy and while Szolt is still busy with the luggage, I start saddling Pal. We set off and find the Fame Trail without any problems, follow it and miss a turn-off at the stream and end up in the middle of a huge marshy meadow. The trail disappears there and I go looking for the trail again. It takes me a while to find the missed turn-off down by the river and I head back to the grazing horses. I lead Brass to a tree stump where I want to mount, but he skillfully takes a few steps back as soon as I have my foot in the stirrup so that I can't swing myself into the saddle. Annoyed, I poke him in the chest area. He turns around, I lose the reins and he's gone. He trots happily back the way we came and Szolt struggles to follow with his pony. The path is so narrow that he can't get past Brass and only when he's back down by the river can he overtake him, but he has to dismount to grab the lead rope. While I'm heading back towards the river with the packhorse, Szolt comes back with Brass and the Indian pony and complains that I'd better hold on to my horse so he doesn't have to ride with wet feet. We now follow the right trail and have to cross Fame Creek at least 30 times. The trail leads through a forest fire area and the wind has criss-crossed the dead trees. After four hours of struggling through the rough terrain, we give up and decide to ride the 6 km back and follow the Sheepcreek, as we have no chance of completing the 24 km in the time we have left. So back we go and this time it's much quicker as we no longer have to search for the trail and can simply follow our own track. We reach our camp again and follow the mine trail along Sheep Creek. The trail in Sheep Creek Valley runs above the meandering river and soon leads through wide meadows and swamps. We soon reach the camp with its helipad and fuel shed, where we find the horse corral and a cabin just below the burnt forest. We lead the horses there and while Szolt makes a fire on the stove in the cabin, I take the horses to the pasture and fence them in. The cabin is cozy with two beds with mattresses, table and chairs and we enjoy our chilli con carne and decide that tomorrow we'll have roasted tortillas and scrambled eggs with ham from the bag.

21.8. Sheep Creek - Casket Creek Trail 30.7 km

I'm only awake at 5.30 today because it's dark in the hut. It's foggy outside when I get up and make a fire. I go to fetch water down by the river for the scrambled eggs and coffee and when I come back, Szolt is up too. We enjoy the warm breakfast and tidy up. The trail soon leads into a dead forest, where a forest fire obviously raged years ago and now new Douglas firs are stretching their young branches skywards everywhere. The trees that are still standing have been burnt into bizarre sculptures by the fire and any storm can uproot the old tree corpses. The trail keeps getting lost and I always set off in search of it on foot, walking in a semi-circle to find the trail again. We are lucky and find it again and again and so we follow the river for about 13 km until we come across Casket Creek on a plain. A labeled moose antler points us in the right direction, but strangely enough it is upside down. We follow the trail and lose it, continue riding in the creek bed until that too becomes too tedious, and turn around, back to our signpost. We discover two markings on the trees on the other side of the plain and as we ride towards them, we find a trail that, for once, leads exactly where it is marked on the map. Eureka, the trail is good and we make good progress as it is freshly cut. It leads through sparse forest up to Casket Pass and as we descend the pass we find a camp near a small lake at around 5pm. I walk forward to the lake and then realize that there should be water right next to the camp. I return, Szolt has already unsaddled the horses and left them to graze, and fetch water on the other side of the camp. While Szolt prepares grilled chicken with mashed potatoes to celebrate the day, I set up the fence for the horses and after dinner we set up our lean-to and stow our luggage under the canvas as a pillow.


22.8. Casket Creek - Morkil Pass Camp 30.7 km

It's half past six in the evening. It's cold and I'm sitting by the campfire, wrapped up in my jacket, writing my blog. It's cleared up, but it's really cold. Today, despite the sun, it was never above 15 degrees and now it's probably just under 10. Today was a real explorer's day, the trail disappeared more often than normal, always in the swamps and I gave up looking for it. When it's gone, we just keep going in that direction and it usually turns up again. As the GPS said we had to turn left over a pass, we simply climbed the mountain in an open field and looked for the height. At the top of the pass, the trail was visible again for a few meters, then it disappeared into the field again. Here the GPS trail is again just a straight line and we move on average about 240-260 m away from it in the valley, sometimes north, sometimes south of the marked trail. Nevertheless, we make good progress and finally reach a camp at around 4pm. On the way, we see a wolf before the pass, but unfortunately it disappears into the landscape so that it can't be made out in the photo. Later, after the pass, we take a photo of a porcupine and put up the sign "Welcome to Willmore Provincial Park" again. However, this sign is not exactly on the border either, but 250 m is no distance here in Canada. Tomorrow will be exciting, because I have nothing left, no GPS trail, no planned tracks, just the map, which has proven to be 100% unreliable. The packhorse has a slight saddle pressure and I treat it with Stan's Bugdope. The Indian pony is also a bit chafed where the skin is slipping over the edge of the belly girth, so I'm taking my anti-cubitus skin and sticking this around the girth. This will help.

23.8. Shell Pass - Pauline Creek Camp 23.2 km

It is very cold and very foggy this morning. The horses are looking at ¼ acre, swamp pasture and eating the yellowish grass. Around 8am the sun finally breaks through the fog and then we are ready to ride off. We have to find the trail to Shell Pass, which deviates from the previous trail to the south. We find the small lake that is marked on the map and near which the turn-off should be, and that's where we find it. We follow it up the hill through the marshland and soon find ourselves in a dense forest. The trail winds its way up and we come to a plateau and realize that this trail always follows the edge of the forest. So even if it's not visible, we just keep going and keep coming back to it. Szolt suggests that signs should be put up here to warn the moose to stay away from the trail. The path to Shell Pass is a long one and I consult my Samsung Tab, on which I have installed another GPS map, to see if we are still heading in that direction. Everything fits and we find the trail that leads up to the pass after crossing another pass and a valley. Shell Pass is a gravel hill in the middle of the landscape from where you have an incredible panoramic view. Other horses have been up here too, at least according to the tracks, but we keep losing them and just follow the direction down the mountain. We soon find the trail again and it leads steeply down to Pauline Creek, crossing streams again and again on the way. Today the packhorse is not having a good day, first a tree he has pulled down gets stuck on his neck and wedges itself between the tree and the pack, so that he can neither go forwards nor backwards. I had to saw around the tree and then lift it over the horse to free Pal from his predicament. Then we realized that the rear belly strap had come loose, that all the luggage had slipped forward during the steep descent and was now hanging completely on his withers and neck. So we had to completely unsaddle and re-saddle.

The camp is beautifully situated by a stream, but there is hardly any grass here. We need krafu for this camp next time. I go for a swim and the horses are hobbled and lured out into the countryside. The inner soles of my boots are causing problems and will be repaired today with silver tape. The pockets of my pants also need to be re-sewn, as the bush is clinging to and tearing everything that isn't nailed down. The route is checked again on the tab and I call Stan to discuss the pick-up time with him. The sat-phone works quite well, you just have to be patient and have a clear view of the sky. Szolt is reassured in the knowledge that someone knows where we are and I am confident that we will make the rest of the way to Blueberry Lake in the time remaining.

24.8. Jackpine River - Castor Creek - 20.2 km

We climb over a ridge and then come to the Jackpine River at the height of the Medowland River. Shortly before this, the previously good trail leaves us in a deadwood forest and we decide to let the horses graze here while I set off on another search. I return an hour later without having achieved anything and we simply continue to lead the horses in the specified direction when I suddenly find myself back on the trail after 50 meters. You have to be lucky, but it's only short-lived, because the trail ends in the creek bed at Jackpine. We search in vain for an exit on the other side of the river and decide that the others must have ridden on in the creek bed too. About 5 km further on, we suddenly see an exit and lo and behold, the trail invites us to follow it again. We ride along the banks of the Jackpine and come to Spyder Creek and I want to look for good grass while Szolt searches the other side of the river for a possible camp. Almost Eddy doesn't like swamps and creeks and refuses to go over a 20 cm wide but deep rivulet and instead hops down into the river. When I try to go back up the steep embankment, he slips and is suddenly standing with his hindquarters in deep water while his forehand is trying to find a foothold on the embankment. I slip over the croup and stand waist-deep in water while Eddy crawls up the embankment without me. Super.... We make a fire on the riverbank and I dry my boots while I write the blog and Szolt cooks dinner. The horses stand on good grass and rest.


25.8. Castor Creek - Jackpine River 20.6 km Unsuccessful attempt...

The next morning we follow the Jackpine to the junction of Castor Creek and look for a trail there. Nothing to be found, but the river itself invites us to ride, so we follow it and ride west along the creek bed. However, it soon gets quite rough and we try to make our way through the forest. After 3 hours we take a break and I try to find a trail on my own, but it's hopeless. There is no such trail. So we turn back and ride back down the river in the stream bed, but again and again we have to get out of the stream bed because it's too deep and fight our way through the forest. We return to a track where I hope to find another shortcut tomorrow. It is steep and very stony here, but at least the tired horses have good grass and we build two primitive bivouacs so that we are at least dry if we have to fight against gravity. It is already getting dark when we finally lie down on the mat and I lie awake for a while before tiredness overcomes me.



26.8. Jackpine River -20 km


We've lost a whole day and now it's getting tight, because we have to be back in McBride on the 28th if we want to catch the flight on the 29th. The GPS says it's still 40 km as the crow flies, normally not an issue, but here you never know what to expect. Early in the morning I call Stan and tell him that we will be at Blueberry on the 27th in the evening and make sure that there really is a horse trail over the Jackpine Pass. Stan confirms this, but with the caveat that the trail may be difficult to find. Okay, we have no alternatives, so we just have to push on and see if we can make it. We get up early, saddle the horses and try to get up the track to get over the pass above the tree line to a snowmobile track that I can see on my Garmin. There is no trail up and what looks so easy turns out to be a nasty slog. The Indian pony even lies down once because it's so tired and after an hour I decide that the horses will take a break in a clearing and I'll go up alone to see if it's feasible for the horses. Szolt is also exhausted by the slog and wants to know if there is another way out of here. I climb up for an hour and am soaking wet from the bushes when I finally stand on the slippery scree and can see where we could get out. The terrain is so steep and the scree so loose that I can forget about trying to get through here with the horses. Demolition.... I hurry down the mountain and 90 minutes later I'm back with Szolt. We discuss the situation and my adrenaline levels rise. Now it's time to pick up the pace and make up for lost time.

We lead the horses down, which have benefited from the break, and ride back along the streambed to the Jackpine River. At a narrow spot, my Indian slips and buries me under him in the stream bed. It takes a while for Szolt to dismount and help my horse to stand up again. I lie backwards in the stream and the water washes over me. It doesn't matter now, I get up and lead my horse the remaining 4 km down the stream. I have to keep moving to stay warm, so I continue along the Jackpine for the next 20 km until I'm reasonably dry again. My feet gurgle in my boots with every step, but I don't freeze. Around 4 p.m. it gets chilly and it starts to rain. I get completely soaked again and now I'm also starting to get cold. We look for a place to camp and find a reasonably dry spot at the edge of the forest on a small side course of the Jackpine, where we also have marsh grass for the horses. Szolt makes a fire, I put up the tent, it's only raining lightly, and bridle the horses. After dinner, I lie down in my sleeping bag so that my temperature finally rises again. It rains heavily all night and I feel sorry for the horses having to stand out there unprotected in the rain.

27.8. Jackpine River - Blueberry Lake 26 km

We follow the Jackpine until I can see the gorge where there will be no way through. I try to reach Stan so that he can tell me where to look for the trail, but I can't reach him. On the off chance I climb up the embankment and make my way through the bushes until I come across a trail that leads up high above the tree line, which I follow until I'm sure I've found the right trail. I turn back and try to reach Stan again to get further instructions, and I reach him. He explains the route of the trail to me and we agree to contact him again when I reach Blueberry. We lead the horses up the side of the mountain onto the trail and follow it for about 2 km. Then it disappears again and all the markings are gone as we lead the horses over rough scree. Two rivers, which are visible above us as waterfalls, have to be crossed and we look for a crossing where we can ford the horses safely. From here I can see the whole area and also the ascent to the pass. As I don't know whether the path runs further up or not, I decide to go down to the river and walk up the pass on the opposite side. As we are now close to the tree line, the bushes are no longer so tough and the ascent on the other side is easy. There are about 300 m to climb before we reach the top of the pass and as soon as we reach the top, we find a trail again. We follow it and soon find ourselves on the path we had already taken in the other direction on the second day of our adventure. The hoofprints are also back and now I can be sure that we will make it. There are still about 2 hours to go to Blueberry Lake when I reach Stan again and make an appointment with him at 20.00 in the evening. We lead the horses the whole way, Szolt also seems to have regained his strength now that he knows we will make it.

There is a tent at Blueberry Lake and we meet a couple from McBride who are resting up there. After a short conversation, we have to move on and lead the horses down the completely muddy path, trampled by 6 horses, to the Holmes Creek road. The mud is knee-high in places on the trail and every time I hesitate, barely keeping my balance, to pull my boot out of the swamp, preferably with my foot in it, my packhorse stops to pluck a few blades of grass and I'm pulled back. I grumble about the horse's selfishness, though he's just hungry as we're two hours past dinner time and struggle down. We reach the road just after 8pm but Stan isn't there yet. We are just about to unsaddle when he arrives and expresses his astonishment that we have a strange horse with us. Did he not hear the message on the mailbox? He says no and I explain the situation to him. He has brought us hamburgers and fruit juice and on the two-hour drive to McBride we talk a little about our adventures.


28.8. McBride

Stan sets off bright and early to bring the Indian Pony back to Grande Cache and we dry our dripping wet equipment. Fortunately, the sun is kind to us today and our clothes dry out. Shortly before 12, the phone rings and Stan asks me where the horse is. I explain where it should be and after 3 hours of searching it is clear that the horse is gone and there is no one around who knows where it has gone. I try to support Stan as best I can and call everyone I've met over there, but Melanie isn't at home, Curtis doesn't answer the phone, Richard is unavailable and so all I can do is worry about the horse and the frustrated owner, who has to return home without having achieved anything. Finally, in the evening, I get a call from Melanie, who explains that the horse had escaped from the corral together with the other horses three days earlier and had disappeared since then. But Curtis is looking for it and will be back on Monday. She is sure that he will find it. Somewhat reassured, we go to bed as we have to get up at 5am. The bus is due to leave McBride for Prince George at 20:00 to six.


29.8. return journey

We are at the bus station at 5.30am, actually just outside the building where we bought our tickets the day before, waiting for the bus. At half past six, the light goes on in the building next door and the elderly gentleman explains that yes, that's quite normal, the bus will still come, it just sometimes takes a while. It is seven when I call Stan to tell him that he will probably have to drive us to Prince George, he says I should wait another quarter of an hour. The bus pulls up at half past seven and we ask the driver if he thinks we can make the 10.30 flight. He says it would be tight, but we have to make it. Okay, one last chat with Stan and we're on the bus to PG for the next two hours. Once there, we grab a cab and make it to the gate with 5 minutes to spare. Thank God, we make the plane home.

Epilogue.

On Monday I call Curtis, he is back but without his horse. He has been following it for over 200 km, but it has a two-day head start and he hasn't been able to catch it. It is on the way back the way we came.

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