top of page

2023 09 Adventure Canada – 10 days on horseback through the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains

Updated: Mar 8

Dieser Bericht wurde mir von der Teilnehmerin Anne Temme zur Verfügung gestellt.



It's the beginning of September. Autumn is near, but the weather continues to be pleasantly summery. Together, 11 brave riders from four different countries set off on what some will later describe as the adventure of their lives.

It is early in the morning when we leave Jasper. Several trucks and three large horse trailers take us and our 17 horses to the starting point, just around the corner from the famous Columbia Icefield Glacier.


We had already gotten to know our horses the day before during a short test ride. They all have a predominantly cold-blooded streak and are strong and sure-footed backcountry trail horses.

Now it's time to saddle up and pack all our equipment onto the horses. All of our personal belongings must fit on our own riding horse. These are mainly rain gear, a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, a few hygiene items and some food plus water for the day. Overall, we tried not to carry more than 20 kg.

Tents, tarps, food and all kitchen utensils are distributed in boxes among the five pack horses. We also have three chainsaws and an ax with us. It is said that the trails ahead of us have not been used for the last three years. This means that there are a lot of trees around, making some of the paths impassable. There is a big task ahead of us...

There is a bustling atmosphere of optimism. Everyone is scurrying around and suddenly it starts. We want to master a total of 140km of the South Boundary Trail through Jasper National Park.

Already behind the first bend, the rough forests of the Rocky Mountains swallow us up and quickly take us from head to heart. No more time for thoughts, all that remains is to marvel, admire and enjoy.


Goodbye civilization – hello wilderness

A new reality is opening up before us and revealing more and more of its breathtaking beauty behind every curve. We slowly wind our way up the first steep mountain. This is the Nigel Pass, crossing which will take us into the first valley. The path is steep and rocky. The free-running pack horses are already becoming very creative and are finding their own way through the impassable landscape.

Once we reach the bottom of the valley we meet the Brazeau River, which we will now follow for the next while. This first day should demand a lot of effort from us. After a short rest, we still have another 10km to go.

We work our way leisurely along the river and have to cross it a few times. We reach our first camp for the night about two hours before dark. We unsaddle our horses and set up camp.

At the same time we collect wood and make a fire. Someone brings water from the river in large iron pots and puts it on the fire. A routine that will quickly become familiar to us. Peter cooks dinner while our guide Gunner and his two helpers release the first half of our horses so they can graze. The plan is to swap horses after a while so that the other group can then go looking for food. The remaining horses wait patiently tied to the trees. Some of them are dozing, they also seem tired from this long day. In the background you will hear the ringing of bells that the grazing horses wear around their necks. But after a while we suddenly don't hear anything anymore! That's not a good sign!


And from now on, every day is a story...

Gunner and his men run in the direction the horses disappeared. It's already getting dark and you can hardly see anything anymore. The horses, still waiting tied to the trees, are starting to get restless. They also feel that the other horses are no longer there. We decide to let the horses that stayed behind graze by hand. And so a good two hours go by until finally a neighing and the quiet ringing of bells reach us through the dark night. We breathe a sigh of relief. After a while the men appear and have three horses with them. They were able to track them to the last major river crossing. The horses were just about to move to the other side, three of them were just able to stop them and bring them back with them. The men had no chance of getting through the deep river on foot and so they had to let the last six escapees go.

The next morning they rode out at first light to look for the missing horses. It took the men more than 4 hours to get back and bring the remaining horses with them, tired but safe.

It was already midday before we had loaded our equipment onto the horses and were able to move on. The route took us further along the valley, always following the river upstream. To our left, vertical rock faces of the nearby mountains rose up. To our right stretched the extensive valley, which then flowed into the mountain slopes on the opposite side.

A very impressive backdrop.




After a few hours we reached our new camp called Brazeau Meadows. We wanted to stay here for two days and take a break. This time we didn't have to worry about the horses running away again. On the one hand, there was significantly more fodder here because the areas had not been grazed in recent years. On the other hand, this horse camp was so well laid out that the exits could be closed with a wooden fence. Because of these good conditions, the whole herd was allowed to run around and feed freely together.

We pitched our tents and tarps right on the river. It was a bit risky not to seek shelter between the trees because of the already very cold nights, but it was also too tempting because of the indescribable scenery.

Brazeau Meadows spoils us with all the benefits that a camp could offer. Some of us went swimming in the river for the first time and were able to wash our hair and clothes. The water was bright blue and yes, ice cold! But what an indescribable feeling of exhilaration when you were then clean and warm, wrapped in fresh clothes. Sometimes the highlights of life can be so simple!


The following day we planned a short ride to Brazeau Lake, basically the place where the Brazeau River rises. But before the day really started, our guide Peter woke us up and brought fresh coffee or tea to everyone where they were sleeping. That created a much cheerful atmosphere. Our mattresses and sleeping bags were covered in a layer of egg from that night. It was the first time we had slept outside in temperatures below zero. So a hot drink was more than welcome!



After breakfast around the campfire with warm porridge, we set off. Our horses enjoyed the easy ride to the lake. The sun was high in the bright blue sky. Even though we were very close to the Alpine area, it was warm in summer and the lake was literally inviting us to swim in it. That's what we did first. The atmosphere was exuberant and happy and everyone who dared to dive into this very cold water or even swim was loudly celebrated. If you're not used to it, it takes a lot to overcome, but the Canadian flair and the warm sun made us brave.


Peter then invited us to a hearty lunch from his saddlebag. He had thought of everything. There was smoked salmon from Alaska, homemade dried meat, various dried fruits, nuts and very tasty cheese from France and Switzerland. It all tasted so good out here! We happily ate our way through the rich buffet and listened to Peter's numerous trail riding stories from all over the world.


On the way back we stop at one of the ranger huts. Our guide Gunner, who is a real local and also the owner of the horses, told us stories about the family that once lived there. He showed and an old logbook, which was started in 1978. Anyone who passed one of these huts could register there. So we browsed through these old records and finally decided to immortalize ourselves in them today, almost 50 years later.

The next morning we moved on and left the Brazeau area behind us. This time our destination should be a camp at Isaac Greek. There we would also find the next rancher's cabin and another logbook to browse and delve into bygone times. We learned more stories about life out here in the wilderness. The park ranchers usually traveled through these areas on horseback and some still do so today. That's why there is usually a larger grassy area near these huts where the horses can find enough food. This should also benefit our horses next night.

The trail was easy that day, had only gentle climbs and took us through the most beautiful swamp landscapes, forests, streams, along enchanting waterfalls and extensive grasslands, which were picturesquely framed by the mountains.

The ride wasn't very long and after a few hours we reached Isaac Creek. It was still early afternoon so we had plenty of time to explore this new place. The river was particularly wide at this point and the entire riverbed was so huge that it was difficult to take it all in with your eyes. This scene was surrounded by rugged mountains that began to glow fiery red at sunrise and sunset!

This should now also be the gift of the next morning. It was still dark night when the wranglers started the campfire, fetched fresh water from the river and, with the first barely visible light, we set off to look for the horses.

The atmosphere was magical as we found the horses on the vast grasslands in the mystical light of the blue hour. It was natural for them to come running to us as soon as they saw us. They knew it was time to return to camp. When we reached camp, some horses decided to walk a little further over to the river to quench their thirst. I followed them as the sun simultaneously set the surrounding mountain peaks on fire, bathing the entire scene in a glow of pink and orange. The air above the river was still slightly misty and intensified this play of colors. Everything inside me became completely silent and I would have loved to stop time at that moment.


After breakfast we went back to packing up the camp and saddling the horses. We got better at this routine and this time there was enough time to help load the pack horses. The day before I asked our guide Gunner if he could teach me this. There is a special way in which the boxes have to be attached to the pack saddles using a rope and knot technique. After watching for the first few days, today I was allowed to bake and practice the moves for the first time. A few curious group members also joined us and together we helped the wranglers as best we could so that they were no longer alone with the hard work.

After all the horses were loaded, we set off again later in the morning. The landscape shouldn't change much today compared to the day before. It was a pleasure to ride through this untouched nature. The weather continued to be friendly, sunny and warm. How lucky we were!

After a few hours, the appearance of the forest suddenly changed dramatically. We entered a forest area that had burned down in 2006. The scene almost seemed a bit eerie. Many dead, branchless trunks stood up vertically, countless partially burnt trunks lay criss-cross on top of each other, like in a huge game of Mikado. Young trees are sprouting up by the thousands, crowding together in competition for the best spot and the light. Some of them are up to around two meters high. They are mostly pine trees and we learn that day that they grow very slowly, which is why they were still so small after 17 years. Between all this dense chaos there is a narrow path that we followed for a while.

A little later the path takes us along a kind of ridge and gives us a clear view of the river below and the surrounding foothills of this forest. Everything had burned down as far as the eye could see. The dimensions of this area are hardly comprehensible. A rancher's cabin appears between the trees again. Gunner says that it was rebuilt after the fire.


We make a short but steep descent and arrive at the bottom of the river, which we now have to cross. This time the river is not very wide, but it is fast and deep. The foremost men cross it with their horses. The pack horses, running freely behind, follow. However, they decide to cross the river further to the right. But there the water was much deeper and very rapid through a few rapids. As the last rider, I was further up the slope and was able to watch the scene with slight horror. Peanut and Pepsi were our two strongest packhorses and my breathing stopped as I watched helplessly from above as they barely made it against the masses of water and had to fight hard. While the two fjord horses tried bravely to reach the other bank, unfortunately some of the following horses and their riders also decided to follow the pack horses instead of crossing the river further to the left on the shallower side. It was difficult to see how the horses were in trouble down there and could hardly make any progress in the raging waters. I started shouting downstairs for everyone to stay to the left. But one horse after another jumped into the raging river. Finally a rider was just able to stop her horse on the river bank so that it wouldn't blindly follow those in front of it. We watched with relief as all the horses fought their way out of the water and arrived safely on the other side. The rest of us riders now crossed the river at the flatter point and even there the water was so deep that we got partially wet and the current was so strong that it was a noticeable effort for our horses.

Pumped full of adrenaline, but also happy and satisfied, a few minutes later we reached our new camp on the Southest River, which would accommodate us for the next two days. Here there was a grassy landscape several square kilometers in size and therefore plenty of fresh feed for the horses. They left happily when we released them that evening.

The next day was supposed to be a break day for the group. They would go on an easy ride in the area again, or just stay in camp and rest. Everyone could decide that for themselves.


However, Gunner and the two Wranglers had other plans. They wanted to ride as far ahead as possible on the next section of the route to clear up as many fallen trees as possible. They had invited me to come with them. With shining eyes, I agreed. The next morning the four of us set off early, not knowing what to expect on the stage ahead of us.

There were a particularly large number of fallen trees in the forest fire area. However, most of them were passable, so we decided to clear them up on the way back. First we wanted to ride out as far as we could. Our deadline was 2 p.m. to turn back so we would be back at camp by dark.


We had to cross the river a few times. This had repeatedly washed away the trail, sometimes up to several 100m. For us it meant finding the trail and putting new markers on the trees. Sometimes the path was completely overgrown with thick bushes that we had to ride through. You really couldn't be squeamish here. One or two times we lost our way, but were able to find it again quickly.

The men cleared as many trees as they could that day while I followed with all the horses in tow. Tired, we reached camp in the evening just before dusk. Satisfied that the whole group would have a much easier time tackling the next section of the route the next day.


Up to the Alpine...

The next camp awaited us near the Cairn Pass, just below the tree line. We were supposed to stay here for two days as another team had to move out to clear the trail in front of us of trees. This time two men from Parks Canada were flown in by helicopter to support us.

So there were 6 of us heading out that morning, which was good because the number of trees blocking the path was incredibly high this time. There were so many that unfortunately we couldn't finish that day. So we still had to clear about 9km to the next camp the following day.


While the trail team bravely worked their way through the trees, the rest of the group took a hike up one of the nearby peaks. The hard-working hikers were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the surrounding valleys, lakes and rivers. Autumn had already arrived up here and the colorful blaze of colors was another bonus for the eye.

The next morning Gunner, his team and I set off early. We wanted to get a head start on the rest of the group so we could continue to clean up. In the last 5 kilometers or so the group caught up with us. We were making very slow progress. There were now so many trees down that it was no longer possible to get through. All chainsaws were now in use, Peter and another participant pitched in. With our combined strength, we fought our way through to the end as a team and finally reached our last camp for this trip on the Medicine Tent River very happily.


We set up camp somewhat wistfully. One last dinner together around the campfire. Gunner and Peter created something particularly delicious for us that evening. One last night under the starry sky, the sound of the river, the quiet tinkling of the grazing horses in the distance, I took it all in again before I fell asleep.


The quiet tinkling of horses in the distance?!

It disappeared again the next morning. The horses had wandered so far again that we could no longer locate them. It took Gunner and his team about 3 hours to bring them back this time. But then it wasn't really exciting for us anymore. We were used to it by now and it's just normal for things like this to happen. For ten days now we have been living exclusively in the rhythm of nature and with the circumstances that the day brought us. We haven't known what day of the week it is or what hour it is for a long time. So even such an event can no longer upset us. Breakfast is served and then everyone dismantles the camp as much as possible. When the horses arrive at camp, we load them hand in hand and set off.


Our final stage lies ahead of us. And it was also to be our most challenging of the entire trip. We are still high up in the alpine area at over 2000m. There will be a few very steep climbs and descents today. The path is sometimes less than 10cm wide on the steep scree slopes. Very exciting for us, but the horses are incredible and cope with this with a lot of strength, endurance and the necessary calm. But even they are said to be so out of breath a few times today that we keep letting them stand for a moment so that they can catch their breath. The view was simply fantastic and is difficult to describe in words.

After a few hours we reach Rocky Pass. Gunner's entire crew was already waiting for us there. They cheer for us. We are happy and deeply moved at the same time. We lie in each other's arms and a few tears roll. The pick-ups with the horse trailers are ready to take us out - out of the wilderness, back to civilization...


Thanks

Before I set off on this trip, I believed that the biggest challenge would be the time out there in the mountains and especially the very cold weather next. Afterwards I was able to learn that the biggest challenge for me personally was getting back. The simplicity out there showed me how little it actually takes to feel connected, whole and free. This experience is a huge gift that is priceless. From the bottom of my heart, thanks on behalf of the entire group to Peter van der Gugten from extremtrail.ch and Gunner from astoriaoutfitting.com for the idea and implementation of this very special adventure.

This was the ride of our lives!


Anne Temme


3 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page