As part of the 2013 Club trail rides, a trip into Banff National Park was planned for the August long weekend.
Ten members signed up early, the trip was booked with Parks Canada, and riders trained their horses to get fit, to use hobbles, and to carry packs if they were to be used as pack horses. The riders themselves got fit and trail ready, and gathered together an extensive checklist of items. Meals were planned and cooking teams and tent buddies arranged.
Due to the extensive flooding in the park, a reconnaissance trip was made into the planned area about 10 days ahead of time. Jason Edworthy, Jesper Trangeled and Ramona Matheson set off and found that many trees had fallen across the trail, and severe washouts had left gaps in the trail. They used their gear to cut the logs, dig trails across the washouts and scout the situation. They also reported the details to Parks Canada, who kindly dispatched a trail crew to the area just prior to the actual pack trip.
By the time the trip took place, the group was down to eight riders, with six packhorses. Riders included Jesper Trangeled, Jackie Pratt, Gene Danysk, Murray Van Koughnett, Gina Howard, Jordana Fraser, Brad Strangeland and Jason Edworthy. We met at the Springbank High School at 6 am (well, Jason and Jesper were a bit late due to a gate latch problem that released a pack horse back into the field for a while). We arrived at the Moose Meadows trailhead about 8 am, spent time organizing pack boxes and top packs, loaded the horses and threw various diamond hitches, then hit the trail up Johnston Creek about 10:20.
All the bridges along the route were washed out, but since we used fords, it was not a big problem. We arrived at our planned lunch stop, a Parks Canada patrol cabin, about 2 hours later. We continued up Johnston Creek, past the intersection to Luellen Lake, and were happy to see the washouts so well repaired by the trail crew. We had an hour or two of light rain on the way in, so slickered up and kept riding. We arrived at camp, near Badger Junction, at 5 pm.
We set up camp, which involved untacking and inspecting horses. Several had some sore spots from packs, Jason's saddle horse lost 2 front shoes (which our resident farrier, Murray, did a great job of replacing with minimal tools). We set the ponies to grazing in the meadows with hobbles, we installed high-lines for their nighttime rest, we got a fire going and the kitchen set up. We also installed our bear protection system, a portable electric fence that Jordana brought, set up in a rough circle, with pack boxes with food and cooking gear inside. We set up tents, and protected our tack and gear under sheltering trees.
The sound of tinkling horse bells, the thud of hobbled horses hopping to new graze, and the soothing flow of the nearby creek made the camp perfect.
Saturday, we tacked up after a good breakfast, and headed up to Badger Pass. It was a steep trail, but it levelled out into a pretty valley with waterfalls, wildflowers, larch trees and great views. We climbed up past patches of snow, over a headwall where we had to stop precariously while a log blocking the trail was cut, and lunched just below the summit. Although the day started with clear blue skies, it got cold up there, and we soon headed down for a relaxing afternoon and evening in camp, with lots of stories, joking and cooking.
Sunday, we left camp at 10:30 and headed up to another pass. It was also beautiful, with lush meadows, tons of wildflowers and larch, glacier views and warm weather. As we climbed up to Pulsatilla Pass, we had to repair a small washout so we could cross safely, then it became very steep and just before the summit, we rode over a large patch of snow. The valley beyond was gorgeous, and we headed down the steep trail to have lunch beside Pulsatilla Lake. Brad was brave and had a quick, fresh dip in the water. A thunderstorm suddenly swept in, we saddled up and climbed back up and over the pass, then spent time in the sun after the storm passed in the meadows, arriving back at camp mid afternoon.
Evening campfire time was spent preparing gourmet meals, easing the trail aches with some refreshments, and listening to tall tales and lies.
Monday morning dawned cool and cloudy after heavy overnight rains. The fire was smokey but warm, and even before breakfast, packing up began. After weighing the loads, now much lighter for the pack horses, all were loaded up, saddled up and ready to go about 11 am. We made it about 3 km before one load was bucked off, and of course it began to pour rain. Fortunately, the rain let up for our lunch stop, but following that a heavy thunderstorm hit, with lightning close by as we headed down the trail. The weather cleared before we got back to our trailers at about 5 pm, and unloaded.
The group rode about 75 km of rough, steep trails over the weekend, spent 3 nights in a wild area of Banff National Park, climbed 2 of the most beautiful passes in the Park, and honed their horsemanship and mountain skills.