Muskwa-Kechika 2022

August 20

Janis picks me up in FSJ at 8AM. Drive to Muncho Lake is long; lots of construction between Ft. Nelson and lodge. Arrive 5PM. Pat was tent camping; met for dinner. After dinner met Judy, Carol and Barb.

August 21

Breakfast buffet at Muncho. At 9 met at dock for weigh-in, the late one; Wayne is there and is flying in. Two planes, one people another luggage and lots of wood for building. Film crew flying in Wed to film Boreal Forest background for an Ice Age project. Wayne narrates the flight and from the air shows us where we will ride. Meet Mary (chef, Indianian, all around great person) and Ellen (Netherlands, guide). New structures about at Mayfield and water on tap! Great dinner and stories.

August 22

Short morning day hike around Mayfield. Watch horses come in. Get acquiaintd again, will need to relearn a lot! Wayne leads us on a day ride to fetch rafts used to cross th Gataga in case the horses wander across. Pat and I go paddling to pick up second raft that we left at the beaver dam, prtaging across the dam to fetch. Janis reads us a stirring story about Buddy fro "Muskwa A...?. Ellen is a little sick so we might need to delay. The 3 are really busy packing for the expedition.

August 23

Was the latest waking up; heard tents being packed up but had Mary's tent next to mine and thought there was more time. Everyone was already packing up the panniers and saddling horses. Get on teh trail. Wayne walks ahead to the crossing of the Gataga which is really low, not even up to my thighs. Start going uphill leading the horses. Slow going as the chainsaw is not cooperating so the trail needs to be cleared by axe at points. We get to the lunch stop around 4PM (?) finally done with the cutting at the creek. Continue to ride onwards to Ram Lakes; lots of creek crossings. Camp setup is quick and Michelle has dinner ready insanely quick, just after I set up my tent. Very delicious, made by her sister rin (Maska Backcountry Meals...lots of competition awards). All are full and happy!

August 24 - Rest Day - Ram Lakes

Woke up - little early, delicious pancakes and bacon. Help with some camp chores and take the day to rehydrate as it will be really hot. Decide against the log ridge hike and drink nice cook creek water instead. Go out on a short day hike up the valley to a bowl following horse trails taking pictures of flowers and plants, most of which were in Janis' book (see photos). Relaxed in camp in the afternoon as it was hot. Michelle and Alex went to the upper Ram Lake where Urs will be flying in a new chainsaw. Donna bought one on her flight into Mayfield with the flim crew. A dinner plate got stuck in a pot and vaccuum sealed itself there; Pat worked hard for what seemed like an hour to get it out, putting in hot water on top. Ellen told great stories about the horses and herd dynamics and how they always shift on the trail, of how Toni is the "top mare" and doesn't take shit from any of the boys. Saw Urs fly to Mayfield then return and head to the lake with the saw. Waitd up for Alex and Michelle toget back, not still just after 10PM with a long slog bushwhacking through trailless sections. Watched stars at night, no Starlink "ants" up here yet!

August 25 - Rest Day

Woke up early; Michelle started a fire but was tired, understandably, and went back to bed. Spent lots of time talking with the group. Went for a day hike with Janis and Pat to a nice overlook of the valley and the Ram Lakes. Relaxed there looking for wildlife but only saw some small birds and marmots. Back to camp to wash up and do laundry and charge batteries in what might be the last sunny day we have.

August 26 - Lost Pass

Woke up to the sounds of fire with Alex and Michelle up at just before dawn to get the horses from up the valley. Had coffee with Janis after packing up and talked tales about Utah. Long riding day starting out at the creek and moving up past the creed to a pass into a new valley. Lovely views from up on the pass of the lakes plus patches of snow and beautiful creeks and waterfalls. An avalance had occurred since last season so the trail was washed out. Alex and Michelle found a way through; while waiting got to see in person the horse dynamics Ellen talked about with Hank maneuvering to the front and Toni and Tuchodi guarding Bonus; what a different dynamic I&aps;d never seen before! Camped at Moss Camp. Rain was on and off.

August 27 - Bevin's Pass

Another riding day. Awoke around 5 as we need to break up Moss Camp before bringing in the horses which we load where the tents are. Getting here was through the burn, an old wildfire scarred area cuased by a runaway campfire 20 years ago. Wind always takes down teh dead trees so there is always lots of cutting but hopefully not today. As we are treated to great views of the Gataga valley we can't see Mayfield but it is only a few miles away. Janis finds a lovely spot for our first break that is right in a blueberry patch (though there is debate as to whether they are huckleberries). We are walking our horses and alongside the trail patches of wild rasberries that make a wonderful continuous travel snack. There is a patch of deep mud with a hole where Anna falls, so eventually Pat and Carol change horses to look after Anna and maybe to get her a little more training in negotiating the trail. This is her first year on the trail and was an arena horse for children previously. We reach the valley and break out of the first camp but Bob (Locket?) accidentally stepped on Michelle's foot earlier and may have broken it. I hope it will not hurt much; out here there is only so much that can be done. We wind up and across the creeks, slides and windfall that continue to make trail cutting required and trail finding difficult. At one point things mean the pack string needs to turn around and I wind up right near the front with Alex and Locket. Right beter we enter the we enter the Palace going up to Beavin&aps;s Pass. Spectacular. Surounded by creeks, mountains glowing as the sun begins to go down, adn nothing except silence of the sound of water and the horses. A new divination into what it really means toride in this wonderful wilderness. As we start walking over the pass all kinds of alpine wildflowers are along the side of the trail. It is funny to see all the defiant jostling of the pack horses trying to establish their new roder. We can see the next pass up on the horizon. After passing a pretty alpine lake we arrive at our next pretty high camp in a valley right after the pass. The day was so long we are eating dinner with head lamps at around 9. Stil, a day long, beautiful, and profound.

August 28 - Rest Day

Slept in a little today along with the rest of the group. Michelle's foot still isn't great, but she at least has mobility. Started observing some of the cooking and kitchen organization along with Ellen who will be taking over after Michelle flies out for a wedding and to help out on the next leg. Funny how time disappears ou;here; some people are already half way through their trip while I'm just still kind of at the beginning. Went out for a wonderful day hike with Ellen. We wnet past this creek in which the stones were covered in a white coating like paint, which also covered the sides of the creek and even some trees at an animal crossing. Some ou;itters had been at an airstrip at the lake and left behind a trekking pole which I decided to take on the rest of the trip in case my knee gave me guff. The lake into which the white creek drained was a bright turquoise blue almost pearlescent. The clear water showed the white bottom and some moose traks across the lake. Passing the beaver dam creating the lake we went up a ridge to see the valley beyond and look at the pass we are going todo tomorrow. After returning to camp it was having meals talking around the camp ring; watching Alex recommend knots and start organizing for the riding day tomorrow.

August 29 - Steeple Pass

Woke up around 3:30 to go to the bathroom and it was still lightly raining. I hate packing in the rain so did what I did before - lie there half awake and wait for a stoppage or at least a lull in the rain. Around 5 it came, so I quickly packed up my gear and tent to get ready for the trail. After doing dishes and getting everything on the pack horses we set off on the trail towards Stee0ple Pass. We went along some of the trails that I had hiked with Ellen yesterady, past that beautiful blue lake. It looks so different from the top of a horse! We eventually start going up the pass, passing the snowpack and up over the treeline into the alpine. Just like the last pass many alpine flowers were blooming that normally are done flowering by mid-summer. There really is not much of an approach; this pass is steep uphill. Switchbacking, the trail provides stunning views of the valley and the blue lake below, still like a gem ensconced into the landscape itslef. The rain keeps holding off and we reach the top of the pass with a lot of effort (at least for me) but can see both the beautiful valley where we were and the verdant valley to which we are going. It is windy, so we only spend a little time there and start our descent. The first part is on some steep scree, all ground up by the horses so it is difficult toget a solid footing without sliding. I am scared and holding up the group behind me; not safe for all. I am trying to let the others go ahead faster. Eventually we exit the scree and I am a bit mroe calm; Eleen stops to let us take some pictures of the alpine flowers. We being moving through the new valley which is full of pine trees and tall grasses. We spot a huge bull moose walking at the opposite side of the valley, followed by another smaller moose. As we enter camp the rain starts up again, but thankfully it still holds off while we unpack all the pack horses at what seems like the quickest we've done yet. It starts to rain more heavily and we begin to set up our tents. Right as I unfold mine the skies open up; the heavy rain gets into the front of hte tent. I close it up and move back into mthe dryness of the magic blue tarp where the others are attempting totart a large fire. A large black bird, perhaps an eagle, flies by. In a bit the rain stops, again I'm kicking myself for not following that mantra of waiting I had used in the morning. Michelle makes us another wonderful dinner and we all sit around the fire, drying clothes and stuff sacks and talking. Eventually the blue sky pokes through and we are greeted by a wonderful sunset of blue sky and pink clouds. Eventually everyone goes to sleep but Alex stays up and we start chatting about the various games we've played and new ones I'll need to get toplay with my sister. As I go to bed a drizzle starts again to fall, but I am in a tent and hope it will stop and its patter will put me to bed.

August 30 - Rest Day

It was raining overnight and initially when I woke drizzle was still falling. When it finally stopped I got out of my tent and headed towards the kitchen. Only Pat was up and already starting a fire and had the grounds in the large press kettle. As we were standing around waiting, an ember flew up from the fire and straight into Pat's nostril. He inhaled it and made an awful face and I could not help laughing! Michelle woke up to make us all a great breakfast before turning back in for the rest of the morning to get more rest. The morning alternated between drizzle, brief sun and downpour. The trekking pole I found with Ellen by the lake the other day became quite the tool for helping push off the water as it collected on the tarp. During a heavy downpour it seemed as if a full bathub of water was falling each minute. During the rain all of us kept under the tarp just having a nice meandering conversation as we snaked our way through the day. Around midafternoon the sun broke through so I decided to go out for a walk. After initially going along some trails that just met the creek I went up the meadow where my tent was. The horses were on th opposite side of the creek almost directly across from the camp. At the top of the meadow were a few moose trails. The first I tried ended in a creek and I couldn't find the trail across. The second led toa dead end of trees. The third was going up the valley but wound up turning into bushwhacking through pine trees. At head height and wet. Man do I need to learn how to use an axe. Without one, forging ahead did not seem like a fun prospect so I headed back to camp. I helped do some dishes preparing for dinner. I watched Michelle make her bannock and tried to write down the recipie and remember. I'll need to try it at home and hopefully it will turn out as delicious but love is always an ingredient hard to replicate. Everyone turned in early again, so I was the last one up in camp staring at the final embers of the fire. As the sun set I went into my tent tocharge things and rest up. Tomorrow will be a long riding day. We are trying to get close to the airstrip where Michelle will fly out.

August 31 - Heaven' Pass

We woke up early in the morning to embark on a long riding day. Michelle is going to a wedding as it was decided we would push for the next camp to the airfield that also has great horse feed. Again, I was up early to get started and was waiting for a lull in the rain. Sometimes the rain sounded like a cracking fire, making opening the door sounding just that much more plausible. Soon there was a pause and I packed up all my gear and we all got ready to go. A drizzle started right as we were all leaving camp but soon we were on our approach to Heaven's pass. This pass is important to the First Nations as it is part of the High Road, the route that would be taken moving from the summer in the mountains to go and winter in the plains. The approach was wonderful. From camp it was a gradual climb until once again we were above treeline in the alpine. Wildflowers were still out. We passed some nice high lakes that had some loons and their babies. Unlike the other passes this had some phenomenal rock formations on both sides almost reminiscent of the Palisades. As we continued to climb the clouds embraced the peaks of the mountains all around us and soon too we were ascending into the clouds. We began our descent into the next valley and passed by the creek where all the rocks in the stream were a ruddy red copper color. I wonder if it was the same phenomenon as that previous white "Toothpaste Creek" (as Ellen had named it). We were meandering along the creek towards the West Toad river, but the rain continued and at times the trail was rough. It changed between slick mud and being a small creek of its own, so there were sections we had to walk up sketchy portions and lead the horses. On one of the flatter parts of the trail my muck boot toe caught a root acroos the trail and tripped so bad I hurt my knee a bit. But the Unlucky Lottery was not content stopping there. At the bottom of a particularly steep and muddy hill we started leading our horses up, leaving lots of space between in case either rider or horse slipped. There, just after starting, came the single whistle from the rear totop. Then fromway far back, three whistles; a call for help. Something was wrong. Something had spooked Rosie, perhaps a bear re-entering the trail, and she bolted a little, trampling Michelle leading her. Rosie came down directly on Michelle's thigh causing damage where she couldn't even initially put weight on her leg. The entire pack train stopped on the hill while Alex, Ellen and Pat tended to the injury. Eventually Michelle was able to get back on Rosie to ride, even though uncomfortable. In the rain with wind and low clouds there was no way for a rescue to arrive, so all we could do to help was to get to the airstrip where we knew she could get out. We pushed up the big hill, my knee screaming in pain with each slip. Though cold and wet we continued to press on to make it forward. The rain continued and it got colder as the day went, the rain soaking into every seam and weakness in our gear. Not one of us complained and Michelle was still riding in the rear, still making sure to stop to make us all fires to warm us up along the journey as the sun went down. We eventually pulled into camp around 9PM, so a big long riding day again if we needed to so so. Even with her injuries Michelle still, ever dutiful, made the whole camp a wonderful pot of sphagetthi and meatsauce. After a day of consternation for all it probably was the best it could work out; we were at home and knew Michelle could get out. It was getting dark by the time we got intocamp and welcome the stop. Setting up tents by headlamp, we turned in quickly and with a long sleep tried to shake off the day, knowing that in the morning a plane would come and help take care of our friend.

September 1 - Rest Day

Woke up int eh morning after sleeping in a bit and started out on coffee and breakfast. Michelle was in a good mood and help Ellen set up the meal. For the final time Michelle showed us how to make dinner. She packed up her things and we gradually all said our goodbyes. The plane arrived early and we were hurrying to make sure the horses were off the airstrip. The Husky landed in the boggy airstrip with big inflated tires, bouncing off the ground. Soon as we all waved Michelle off, in came Pippin to help out on the last three days of the expedition. Ellen got him oriented in camp and Judy and the others were using spare food to help him pack a better lunch then just a bar for the next day. We sat down and ate lunch, after which I went out for a stroll on some of the animal tracks. Fresh tracks from perhaps a moose or a caribou were on the horse trails. Meandering back we started the first dinner without Michelle and were like a group of untrained chefs trying to cobble something together for the stew (turned out great), the dumplings (two Timbits large - such a Canaidan unit of measure), and scalloped potatoes (which turned into sliced fried potatoes). All in all it turned out well, makes the burn on my finger for saving a pot from tipping into the fire have portent. Pippin stayed awake with me talking about Liam Neeson movies and Ice Road Truckers and is always great to have company besides a dying fire. My own fire is not long for this world so any time to tell tall tales, or at least little ones, is always welcome.

September 2 - West Toad

Today was a short riding day. We got to sleep in an hour later and then packed up camp and started to head out through the valley out of the bottom of which flows the West Toad river. The river is lorger compared to the others we've seem and still to deep to cross in places it seems. It was a lovely riding day, mostly sunny with a bit of clouds. Now that we've descended to the West Toad the temperatures have gotten hotter. All the extra layers can really go into the packs today. Following the river we pass through some 30 year old burn areas that give great views down the valley. Over one ridge by the river we see the vlue river snaking through a gorgeous barren rock butte i the distance. We reach one campsite by the next outfitter airstrip but have made good time, only riding about two and a half hours. We turn around to go back to a viable river crossing and find a lovely campsite on the other bank fo the firver that not many people use. As the horses are led out in groups tograze (this outfitter is particular about "his" grass) we sit around exchanging stories and preparing dinner. Janis offer sthe group a cocktail of fresh limes and Tang which alex prepares for the group with a dash of maple syrup. The group is beginning toget ready to leave, starting to give away extyra food and thinking about life resuming, where to stop on the way to their homes and who drives who. For me, however, the adventure will keep moving on. It will be sad to say goodbye to such a fun group of riders for sure. Tonight the horses need tobe tied up as we are tied up as we are close to the highway and they may wander. It's the second night of sleeping close to the horses which is an interesting experience.

September 3 - To Highway

We woke up early as it was anoher big riding day. Today was the ride back to the highway for the exit of the two week Exp 9. We continued to follow along the West Toad along the valley. At our first break we stopped at the top of a large hill and had soe beautiful rock formations around us. They were above the glaciers during the ice age and the valley was covered by the glacial retriet. For our second stop we were along a beach (rocks polished by waters makes a beach here, not sand!) and got to relax next to the beautiful blue water, tall spruce trees and rock faces in the distance. The trail entered along an ATV road that eventually led us to the main camp of the outfitter that had flown the flight for Michelle. Quite the operation; what appeared to be a nearly brand new barn held enough stalls for at least 60 horses it seems! Soon we were in a dirt road and crossed a provincial park boundary. While getting off Toni my wide-ass foot got caught in a stirrup and I was dragged a bit but no worries. Makes one realize just how strong a horse is! We got across a feeder river and there on the other bank were Wayne and Donna waiting to greet us and the horses. This was the last night for nearly everyone together, the end of Exp. 9. Photos, laughter and stories were shared over Pat's excellent beer, a nice dinner and an excellent fire. As the sun went down some wisps started to appear in the sky - the Norther Lights. First time I'd ever seen them. We all stayed woke a bit longer watching them appear and shimmer. Tomorrow they all depart, new friends all. The horses and myself, we prepare to be transported to the next trailhead.

September 4 - Changeover

Woke up this morning and it was the changeover day. The previous group woke up slowly to coffee, packed their tents up, and loaded up their cars. After some goodbyes soon they left for home, and we moved the horses and the camp to the next staging area. Alex went with the first group of horses as the trailer could hold only seven at a time. As we waited Wayne, Donna, Pippin and myself took turns taking the horses out for some grazing around the feed by the Toad. I got on the next load of horses togo to the staging area and had a nice drive through Stone Mountain park and conversations with a quite colorful local rancher. Then I met the new group: Jason, Mike, Randi, Bruce and an old friend, Bob, who surprised me coming right off the truck. Bob had been on the 2019 trip with me from Tuchidi to Mayfield and is still as salty as I remember! The last horses eventually arrive adn Wayne, Donna and Pippin follow. As they were all busy taking the horses out for water I just started cooking the camp dinner, my little way of saying hello for the group. Wayne changed out th4e stirrups in Toni's saddle and brought in the snacks I had left at Muncho. But I am eager as tomorrow will be saddling up again and riding.

September 5 - Tetsa River

We were sleeping by the roadside overnight and around 2AM was woken up by a sound; eventually found out Vern had goeen loose and was being clopping through camp. Soon after a semi drove on by so I just packed up my stuff ready to leave france. Made French Toast and scrambled eggs for breakfast for folks, but they ate all the scrambled eggs and toast before I got a piece. Hungry folks! We then hit the trail when the new riders (but Bob, who I knew...) were annoyed by Toni's pacing to keep eating, so I just went to the back of the pack. Not much conversation in this group without none of them really have knowing or bonding with the horses like the last. Hamish was in the rear with Rosie and was walking as Rosie seemed tired, but I wonder if Rosie was missing Michelle. This grass was the first good feed in a while so I made sure to give Toni as much time to snack away as she wanted; she deserved as much for carrying me so far. I got a little space to whistle and sing to Toni for a bit; I can sing around mountains, people and horses, but not around people. She was off, though, and not like herself. There was a rub on her front right leg that opened up, but maybe it will heal when we stop. The trail is quite nice and apparently popular with horsepackers and a great break as there isn't much cutting. It is also very flat which is a change. The Tetsa river valley is very pretty. The river is shallow but relatively swift with nice small mountains in the edges and larger still snow-capped ones in teh distance. The trees are starting to change color along the riverbanks which are bathed in swaths of gold. After only one small drizzle the day is already nice. We pass into camping area; a pair of hu7nters with horses are in one area but are friendly. They head over to our campfire and say they haven't seen much wildlife and worry about the drop in number and what it portends. All set around teh campfire and around four different conversations start up, but no one really brings me into any of them so I just set. Not as socially bonded as the last group; but then all of us already have our friendships. After a few hours the friendship cosplay dies down and I have the ambers of the fire, reflecting upon how great a day Toni had and wondering just what was wrong and she was trying to say.

September 6 - Tetsa Lake

Today was a wonderful sunny day, I woke up early so started to do whatever camp chores I could save start a fire, not one of my skills. After making some pancakes and sausage for breakfast Alex and crew brought in the horses for a day trip of up Testsa Lake. Right off the start I ran into issues. I had forgot to check my cinch myself after someone else had adjusted my saddle; one of many and all mistakes I do and continue to make around horses. My pad and blanket shifted and I tried to shift it back with weight in a stirrup as Michelle had taught me, but Toni was stil trying to buck me off; Alex had to fix it. A rider had forgotten a bridle so, while waiting, Toni, agaitated and annoyed stepped on my foot, but not full and quickly stopped. I like to think she's aware like Rosie. Once we were on the trail Bonus had a slip and Toni slill felt off. Eventually went behind Bob who confirmed she wasn't right. Marco and I headed back to camp. Had a nice alone quiet time and started off to make the rehydreated dinner along with some great conversation with Hamish and Marco. The group returned with Jason having caught fish at the lake. The dumplings hadn't worked out for the dinner and, combined with camp comments on a failed dinner and no one asking about Toni, it is clear; I don' belong out here. I am old, injured, and just a liabilty for everyone. I can backpack out and remove myself from the equation but I am not allowed. The intersection of life and wilderness is suddenly profound; perhaps this is why it is better for me to venture out alone.

September 7 - Rest Day

Was up all night trying to think of acceptable solutions but none came. I needed alone time to recenter but wasn't allowed to go out on a hike by myself so I just drank coffee and tried to meander a bit around around camp to get some alone time, finding new viewpoints and little hills to se the horses that were out of earshot and view of people and at least entertain what the wilderness alone could provide as I knew it is. Eventually all of those consoling me thought they had a solution for Toni that would not hurt her, welcome news. Mentally I must admit I was never prepared for how unintetionally I might become attached to a horse and how, when she was hurt, it just dragged me down into how much it would affect me.

September 8 - Bathub Day Ride

The weather report held up well and we got to ake up to a lovely sunrise, the clouds down the valley showing up in a wonder pink hue. A little drizzle starting up eventually breaks, leaving a double rainbow stretching across the entire valley. Well rested and closer to normal again I'm ready for a nice day. There's now a specific pad for Toni. I've not seen it before; it has an open spot on top around her withers where the bad sore is. Alex helps me saddle her and shows me what to check on the trail. We get on out and thankfully Toni is walking normally again. Maybe about an hour in her behavior is back to normal: eating everything in sight and giving the horses behind her shit as always. I'm so glad they were able to fix things up so she's comfortable again and not hurting her anymore. After going along the pretty river for a bit soon we take a trail to the right and start ascvending. Wonderful mountain ridges are all around, the high peakd kissed with a dusting of snow from the day before. We get above the treeline and heed gorgeorgeous overlooks as the creek flows into9 the valley below. With only willows surrounding us up we tie the horses up to them and keep hiking up to the shelf. The path crosses fields of big rocks the size of suitcases; I'm really apprehensive but Alex stops and encourags me alone. At the top is a beautiful tarn lake, water crystal claer, surrounded on all sides by denuded rock cliffs just cupping the water as an oyster until raging gravity pu7lls it towards the river and its end. On the way back though I accidentally choose a bad foot hold and I slip just such I twist my knee. Thankfully it seems just to be a sprain. The downhill is step and much hurt, but at the bottom I got back on a horse and made it back to camp with the help of all the team and the horses. Time for some Advil and much but worth it. Here is no less majestic then any other place I've ever been in the MK. Bug these damn willows took my water bottle again However, this time I outsmarteded them. I brought three.

September 9 - Rest Day

I woke up toust a beautiful day in the mountains; few clouds in the sky and sunlight in spades. Today was a rest day, good to let the pack horses continue to feed and the riding horses a rest from yesterday. Although I wanted badly to go out on a day hike, this time I too needed a rest to give my knee time to mend. After breakfast bagles most of the day was spent tending the solar charger tooint to the sun as it marched across the sky, doing laundry, talking with the group that stayed behind and drinking coffee while propping my knee up o a pannier and working on that classic Northern BC tan in the strong sun. A nice chili dinner capped off the lazy day (though others had day hikes and more) and it was time to get to sleep and get ready to ride.

September 10 - Tetsa River to Henry Creek

Today was set to be a longer travel day. I woke up early and packed up my gear, pannier and kitchen as we prepared to leave camp. We quickly crossed the Tetsa and then begain to head up the side of the hills to the pass. I had taken lots of Advil and finally broke down touse a brace and most of the day my knee felt fine. Alex and Hamish however put me on Rosie to start the uphill; I think both out of concern but also to make sure I can keep up with the group and not slow the down. About halfway up we stopped; some of the pack horses nad gone missing. We were waiting for what seemed like half an hour on the side of a slope with Rosie. Mongo and Sal, two of the newer horses, had rebelled and went all the way back to the first camp! Apparently at least Mongo had done the same thing the previous year. Hamish and Marco went all the way back to get them and we then finished our ascent to a ride across a lovely alpine plateau. Descending we passed three nice high lakes where a few hunters were camped. Around 6 we hit the Henry Creek valley. Stunning valley with high mountains ending in almost a V at just higher mountains; how I wish I could just keep on wandering up into them and see where it ends. The horses are tied up again tonight as in the past they've gone back up over the pass. It will be a chilly night; may not be staying up for the moon tonight!

September 11 - Henry Creek to Chischa River

Today was another pass, this time leaving Henry Creek and heading over to the Chischa. The pass trail up was not as steep and bad as the others we've had, but still had pretty views of new mountains and valleys below. We had a nice ride along another alpine plateau and where we stopped for lunch saw a caribou calf and cow right up above us on a ridgeside. The downhill to the valley was a nice path but the dead treefall meant that with the knee brace I had to swing my leg over them all. At one point there were so many path options that I lost the main trail and had to bushwhack a bit to follow the sound of Hamish's voice through the tall willows that obscured all sight lines. The Chischa River valley is quite stunning. The mountains here are a lot more rocky without too much foliage and show all of the dramatic lines and folds of the layers of rock being twisted from the massive uplifting forces of antiquity. Along the way up tocamp Bob spotted a grizzly bear in a burn meadow across the river, which caused a bit of a bearjam of people wanting to see but not always keeping track of their horses. We pulled into camp early and Mark (Matt?) stopped by to give in person details on another pass trail leading out back towards the Tetsa. After remembering we had a package and a whole bit of fun roasting marshmellows for dessert, a lively debate ensued about what consitutes a sandwich (though my concept of defining a set inversion operator wasn't received...) along with other great conversation, giving us time for sleep and rest.

September 12 - Rest Day

After a decent night's sleep I woke up early still and after reading a little in the tent got motivated and out of the comfy warm sleeping bag. No one else awake yet, so I began to gather some wood to start a file, the end goal of which was to make coffee. Bruce soon joined me and coffee was to be had! Later people drifted awake and after breakfast decided the day. I went out for a day hike along the horse trail with Bob and we had a nice meandering joking conversation (or mutual ribbing sepending on one's point of view) commiserate with group gossip (as is bound to happen in such settings). But soon we found a beautiful spot on the river with a little waterfall and a beautiful blue pool. And just wonderful tasting water! AFter relaxing for a bit the splinter hiking group found the spot (alebit from a different route) so Bob and I high-tailed it back to camp to make claim to the remainder of the rice noodles for lunch. Just like Toni it can be amazing how much food can motivate a soul! Later, after getting firewood and a nice dinner people filtered out to bed. Hamish wentout in the dark and started makign elk calls, which Jason in camp started returning but was confused as something in the ordering didn't sound right. Back at the campfire eventually we saw a light in the distance and, yeah, it was Hamish fucking with us. But he had great stories about seeing a bear and with a great laugh we had a nice relaxing way toend the day.

September 13 - Day Ride

Today was another gorgeous sunny day; I hope some of the newer folk just understand how unusual this weather is for the MK! A little frost in the morning gave way to a nearly cloudless sky and a baking t-shirt only afternoon. Alex took the riders up the trail along the Chischa River further upstream. It really is a pretty river valley, wide and banded on both sides by some stark peaks that seem like a thousand feet up from the valley floor. The strata are still folded and varying in colro with some glacial and water fueled rock flows painting hte walls with palettes of colors. If only a geologist were here! Stains on the mountain walls belie the path of seasonal waterfalls hundreds of feet tall; how amazing would it be to see this place in later spring, even if one could get into it! Side canyons abound, some seem navigable, some nestling little vertical canyons of their own. We stopped and ate lunch at a spot wher ethe Chischa was carving a canyon of its own; I stayed back a little from the group and ate within a wonderful patch of blueberries just staring at the mountains around me. In the meadows from the trail we saw an elk and a few caribou. Back in camp we had a lazy late afternoon, let the horses go again to eat and again, dinner and a fire, and a nap.

September 14 - Day Ride

Waking up a little later and after breakfast it was time to start thinking about how to plan meals; the cookig oil was nearing the end and not too much butter was left. But Alex came up with a good plan and we saved the cooking butter so we should be good to both reach the highway and have days in reserve. The horses had not wandered too far so we had time to go on another day ride. We went back up the Chicsha River and this time turned into one of those drainages and lovely side valleys. It had a little canyon in it carved out by a creek still flowing and gave us beautiful waterfalls and swimming pools and yet more tasty water and great views. The trail kept going up tohat seemed like a pass behind it, but it was getting late. We turned around and headed back tocamp for a lazy afternoon. Randi gave the group some whiskey which was enjoyed and led to great conversation and some impromptu kung fu around the fire. It is odd that I am already sad knowing my time here is coming to an end at last, like the paper in my notebook.

September 15 - Rest Day

Today was a nother rest day here in the camp on the Chischa River. While the riders in general seem OK, maybe a little tired, the horses seem like they need the rest. The long day in the rain we had weeks ago now seem to have tired them all out and they all need a good feed. I'm glad Frisco and Anna also have the day to feed having had the riding days off. Bruce and Mike went out for a hike but everyone else was basically just relaxing in camp, so I only walked around close by, charged batteries and took some photos of the river. The riders and wranglers are talking about return logistics so the mindset of the end is beginning to permiate the atmosphere for everyone. Dinner's usually boisterous, but tonight it was quiet. Perhaps it is the upcoming end, perhaps it is because we are leaving camp tomorrow and the group isn't used to being on the move, perhaps the uncertainty of the upcoming rain and how it might affect packing up. For me, I have a bit of the runs, so am unsure of how well I'll sleep. But for sure I have enough TP left, a whole extra roll. Great for starting fires and the unexpected...always great to be prepared!

September 16 - Departing the Chischa

Back toa regular trail day today so up at 5 to pack up my own gear and then help packing up the camp. Doing the kitchen breakdown into the panniers is now becoming second nature; if only that could become the same for horses and knots! WE follow the trail we took in to the camp and meet up with the outfitter. Alex hadn't been on this pass out before, but everything here is well broken in compared to other places I've been in the MK, so we're all fine. Dorian, though, being Dorian, decided he wanted to make friends with the outfitter's horses instead, so Bob had to do a bit of an artful roundup to get him back into the group. Comet certainly has gotten better over all the years! We stopped for a lunch and met a group of hunters and offered a hand to remove some old trash people had left out there. It still always is so foreign to me since I try to always leave the land how I left it. The way people treat the wild is as different and distinct as we all are. The pass was pretty and the vertical was, finally, a nice variety! Some steep sections followed by easy sections, much more my motoring speed having cardio with breaks. It is wonderful seeing the bands of poplar and other trees turning gold with the fall that is creeping up on this land. After going back down the pass which is rocky, which would not be a great morning start, we set up camp again next to another seemingly unnamed creek. A curious moose cow was wandering around camp and had an odd affinity for tents; I was hoping to just take a quick break from monitoring dinner to set up my tent, but no! The moose had another idea! I figure a horse is big enough; so I give moose space... It would not be scared away, but the spaghetti didn't get burned and eventually the moose went away, temporarily. Sans moose, night arrived, so it was time to fall asleep, reflect on this experience and start to piece together what I've learned during this time.

September 17 - Tetsa to Highway

In the morning it seems we all woke up early. Seems on eof the munching animals I heard during the night during my dozing was that returning moose; there were a few moose "signs" right outside of my tent. After an early breakfast we got one of our earliest starts out of camp with everything packed and on the trail on just a little after 9. Groups always seem to become cohesive just at the end; how frustrating it must be for everyone to just know they need to start again with a new, unknown set of people! The trail back down to the Tetsa was pretty gradual but there weren't too many places to stop. At one creek crossing a rider in front stopped to go to the bathroom after most all the other horses had crossed the creek Toni got her separation anxiety and started to go on trails on the wrong side of the creek, so I got off and led her back to the crossing. After getting back on she wigged out a bit and took me on an impromptu trot through the poplars, branches careening off my face as I struggled to grab the dangling lead rope lest she step on it and hurt herself. I did eventually get it right as Hamish caught up and then Toni finally hit the creek again. Seeing Rosie crossing upsteam she finally calmed down and we finally rejoined the trail. But it's adorable as that is exactly what Toni does! She is lovely and predictable and the moment she sees her friends again she's calm and OK. I do not know anything about horses, but I'm at least happy Toni and I know our neuroses and can work to deal with them as a team from time to time. Soon we were back on the entry trail and back at the highway. Wayne was there waiting with the blessed cooking oil needed to make dinner! Stories of the trip were exchanged as I set up the kitchen and started preparing dinner and one last time improvising the crushed sacred papadums into a bizarre Indian inspired tortilla soup that was thoroughly enjoyed. Bob and I got the most lost I think I was in the woods finding our way back fetching water, but the highway noise was a great signpost in the forest! Now the panniers are empty and the blankets and pads all stacked; the finality of the end of the trip is upon on of us. For me, it was not long enough.

September 18 - Road South

After packing up the horses into Wayne 2's trailer we headed back down the highway south. Outside of Fort Nelson a bridge had been damaged by a truck collision, only one of two pieces of news I had heard during the entire month in the mountains. We all had to chip in unloading the horses and gear from the trailer and leading them across the single lane bridge. Hank did not like the steel diagonal drainages, and it must have been unusual for them all to be above a river instead of in it. But they made it across and we got them all loaded back in and said a final goodbye to Toni, Alex and Wayone, hopefully not a final one but just another in this strange sequence. After a nice dinner with Bruce and Mike I am again into a hotel, such a strange experience. First bed in a month but still couldn't fall asleep, instead thinking of what I have learned and mind wandering, dreaming of returning back here again.


The Photographs

I can't fit my big a900 into the saddlebags, so a lot of pictures were with an iPhone 12 mini. Generally the a900 is only on rest days, but maybe someday I'll figure out how to pack it. It's not fun having a backpack on a horse. Carol gave the group some pointers on horse portraits, so I tried to use a few of those tips...but should have gotten more. Marco was also a very helpful photographic resource and his passion for wild horses is strong and infectious.

Still, maybe one or two can capture a little glimpse of just how wonderful this land is.

Click "Next" in the upper right to begin.