Sunday, January 22, 2012


Our horses grazing at Tsacha Lake

The Alexander McKenzie Heritage Trail....June/July 2009  Quesnel, BC to Anahim Lake, BC
200 miles one way on this trail.  This was the route that explorer Alexander McKenzie took from the Fraser River near Quesnel to the Pacific Ocean at Bella Coola, through Anahim Lake in 1793.  Long before Alexander McKenzie, this trail/road was the route the natives used and whiteman used of the links in a network of ancient pathways to Anahim Lake, Chilcotin, Bella Coola, Entiako and Fraser.  These trails...also known as the 'Grease Trail' were used in the trade of eulichan oil from the coast.  Along this route is the historic Home Ranch of Pan Phillips and Rich Hobson circa 1930's (Grasses Beyond the Mountains)  and today some of the family still lives at the Pan Phillips Fish Camp.  There are other settlers still living remote along the trail.

Pan Phillips Fish Camp sign
Pan and Betty Phillips memorial signage along the trail

There are many books written on the historical factors of this trail and there is one exceptional must have book for any wishing to traverse this trail...Second Edition Trail Guide, In the Steps of Alexander McKenzie, written and mapped by John Woodworth and Halle Flygare.  This guide gives you km by km points of view and  maps to follow.  There is also signage along the trail in the form of metal plates that you will find now and then attached to a tree or two along the way.  There is good grazing along the way for overnighting the horses, good water sources but also some of the lands along the route are private owned and one must have permission to cross and use meadows etc.  This trail has all sorts of obstacles to contend with, some being the rivers themselves, creeks, washouts due to beaver dams, bog, washed out and/or old decrepid log bridges, steep grades, boulders and uneven ground and due to the devestation by the pine beetles, much blowdown.  Along the way you will meet wild bands of horses, bears and other wildlife such as  fox, wolf, coyote...water fowl, eagles etc.  You will see the homesteads of pioneers and natives. You will have a ride of a lifetime!

So....our journey....over 200 miles in 10 days ... awesome scenery, great folks and fun adventures. 

We started out early morning from the home camp of Dale and Yvonne Dunn at Titetown Lake.  The Dunn's own the Blackwater-Spruce Ranch and are our guides as we travelled the trail to our destination which was to be at Anahim Lake in time for the yearly rodeo.  Along with Randy and I, our granddaughter, Alise, who was only 12 at the time, our total was 15 ...riders and drivers/swampers.  We are the first wagons to cross this route in well over 33 yrs.  We are taking 3 wagons, with teams of two per wagon, all our camping and food supplies and extra horse shoes and tack repair equipment...extra horse shoes being very much needed but the most important was the bug dope for both horse and riders.  The area is known for the small black biting flies and mosquitos.  Most of the horses and the teams are owned by Dale and Yvonne and are great safe horses used to this type of riding.  We opted to take three of our own horses and it was a real eye opener for them.  Firstly one does not want to go without having your horse used to hobbles and a single leg picket and for sure you want the bells for night...they are placed on the horses necks and its amazing how soon you learn to sleep 'listening' to the bells because you know if the noise stops...its one of two things...the horses are all sleeping too or they are GONE and you are on foot. Another well learned fact is that on the first nights out...sleep on the return trail... because if the horse is going to leave it will be within the first few nights.

Wagons at Titetown ready to load

Our first day on the trail was slower than we'd planned.  Getting the teams into the swing of things as well the riders and dealing with one team that was green and not used to each other was also a factor.  At one point, the one team of Jimbo and Goofy...aptly named...going down a steep boulder slippery section of the of them decided this was not the career it envisioned and promptly decided to lay down and that was that.  Unhooking the team, re arranging, pleading and more pleading...we managed to get the team up and back on track and continued on until our first night at Poplar Mountain where we were to set our camp for the night as well get the cook house in order and the cooks to prepare the meals.  Everyone chipped in and the routine was to be the same pretty well the rest of the trip.  Each day we started our days at sun-up and we were usually all packed and saddled and ready to roll by 9am or so.  We would finish riding around 4 or 5pm every afternoon to set the evening camp along our journey.

Camp at Poplar Mountain

Pan Crossing on the Blackwater River

The Pan Crossing
Up early the next morning, anticipation was in the air.  Today we are crossing Pan Crossing.  This is the Blackwater river crossing that the legenday Pan used to move his cattle to market and to bring goods from Quesnel.  The river we cross is the Blackwater and at very high water its almost uncrossable, if you value your life.  Since we are at the end of spring and a drought season for the Quesnel area, the crossing for us will be not as bad as if we'd come earlier.  As it is ...EXCITING!  The trail here was with the normal that we found would be throughout the trail...bog and steep, sloping and meandering.  Lots of downfall in our way and delays have become the norm of the day while our 'men' chain saw the path so we are able to get the wagons through.  A little easier if the wagons weren't along but its been bad since the pine beetle took over and now the winds bring the trees down as if they are toothpicks in a domino affect.  Our anticipation grows as we stuggle along and through the many bogs and the uneven trail towards our destination of Pan crossing.  We know the history and we know that this river is not always forgiving but we have the faith that no matter whe we encounter, we can do this.  We arrive to Pan Crossing and its looking a bit scary. 

All the riders are to cross the river first and the wagons will follow.  The teams are going to have a rough go due to the big boulders and slippery river rocks, not to mention the strong current and also the fact that you must stay to your right crossing at this spot due to a drop off waterfall type scenario on the left.  A few riders opted to follow Dale, who rode over the crossing first.  All went fine.  Next was to be myself on my young buckskin, Wii, whom by the way is aptly named as he at this point in time is a greenie and is just like a Wii game in that I never know what kind of game he will give me on any given day.  Crossing with me was also my hubby Randy, who was ponying our spare horse and our granddaughter Alise.  One of our fellow riders took the lead rope on Alise's horse to help her cross as she was a little worried.  Randy with our spare horse in tow, while riding his sturdy trail horse Dually.  All was going along just fine and dandy until all of a sudden the horse that was ridden by the fellow helping Alise, tripped and went under water....YIKES!  The look on Alise's face was priceless when she realized she was on her own... but also for this old grandma, not a nice look, especially when I was totally not able to be there to help her out.  I was in a bit of a pickle myself....Wii is not a tall horse and lo and behold the depth of the river and the current took him off his feet and we were floating rapidly to the left of the crossing....scary.  Somehow he managed to gain his footing just before we were to go over the rapids/waterfall...whew!  Randy was able to calm Alise and our fellow rider managed to stay on his horse even though they did a total underwater experience and the only mishap was that he lost his favourite hat in the process.  We crossed to the Pan Meadow to excitedly await the crossing of the others before the wagons would have their turns. 
the Wagons

The teams of Clydes were the first to cross.  Thelma and Louise are the steady well trained team and they were the first to cross and lucky no problems at all.  The next team was Jimbo and Goofy and by now they had settled into their task of pulling and they too were good at the crossing.  The last team was a team of Percherons, Abbott and Costello, and we aren't sure exactly what went wrong but one of the wheels seemed to have caught between the boulders.  The team stopped mid stream and could not seem to pull.  Back into the river with his horse went Dale to see if he could grab the bridles and encourage the team to continue pulling...and pull HARD they did.  Finally freed from the boulders, they too finally made it to the meadow on the other side.  We had two dogs along the way as well.  One opted to ride in the wagon for the crossing but the other didn't and he ended up getting swept downstream a ways but alas he too made it to the other side and joined us in camp. 
Abbott and Costello

Amazing, exciting...thrilling....lots of comments as we were all on a pretty good high from the thrill of it all and the meadow was full of chatter from us.  The horses were pretty tired by this time so we decided to make camp for the night here in Pan Meadow.  There is lots of grazing and water and even an old log cabin to explore as today we are setting camp earlier than normal.  Lots of time to take the fishing rod and hit the small creeks going into the river.  Dale and Yvonne's adult son Josh was the greatest of fishermen and provided us many meals of fresh trout along the way.  I think you need a fishing licence.  Most nights after settling the horses, getting the tents all up, getting our camp cook area set, and eating, it wasn't long before most people turned in for the evening.  Most nights were clear and starry and quite pleasant though the temperatures did drop now and then.  It was becoming the normal to awake to a tent that was covered in frost or ice.  Some nights the temperatues dropped to -7 so nippy mornings but alas a little bailey's in the old coffee gets the blood running.  Besides the tradeoff is the bugs...colder temperatures usually means the bugs are less though not always.
Pan Meadow

The next morning saw us off along the trail again though today, due to new road construction which will dissect our route, we will have to ride a dusty 12km on the new gravel road before the end of the day.  None of us of course are looking forward to this but still fun all the same, especially to see the looks on the faces of the Kluskus natives that use this route to their remote reserve and the loggers that passed us.  I guess they didn't expect to see horse and teams and that many riders!  Our camp tonight is to be at Sandyman Meadow.  This meadow too is very lush and has deep creeks meandering through it.  Fish in the creeks.  And a great place to wash the trail dust off.  We are a little concerned though as we see the signs of the wild horses that belong to the Kluskus Band.  These horses have been born and raised wild for years and years but there is a problem if these horses show up; especially as one of the bands is headed by an old, ugly stallion well into his later 20's and not with a nice attitude towards others herds..ours.  It is recommended that one takes along a gun, as we have encountered this stallion while on other trails in the area previously and he is not very nice.  Very aggressive.  At any rate along the way there are many small bands of wild horses and for the most part they are more just interested in us and not about to join or come too close to us.  The wagons are a bit on the noisey side and this helped too.  These horses are usually found in meadows but they do move to higher ground most of the time for the summer.  Most bands are owned but are born and raised wild. Some were domestic horses that have escaped owners and formed their own bands in the wilds.
Small band of wild horses

We arrived to Sandyman meadow later afternoon and it was so nice to have a little more time today to set up camp.  There is time to explore some of the meadow and to do some fishing.  We had planned a route that would take us out of Sandyman meadow but the log bridge was in very poor shape not to mention that the creek's banks were super boggy.  Not nice for the teams and the wagons so we will take another route instead. 

Sandyman Meadow

Sandyman Meadow is burned every year by the natives.  Its a pretty lush place with clean running water and feels pretty good when you get the chance to bath in it.  Thats the other thing outhouses...its all with nature.  Recommended to take a small folding shovel.  We saw signs of the wild horses but we were lucky as they had passed through at least a week ahead of us, heading for higher ground.    At Sandyman we were joined by some of Dale and Yvonne's family members as they were able to get to this point via vehicle, though a long and dusty drive.  They have brought more supplies for the trip because we will not be off the trail now until nearly Anahim Lake.  We will leave bright and early in the morning.

With the back drop of the Itcha and Ilgachuz Mountain ranges, the scenery on this trip is diversified.  Open meadows, treed areas, swamps, lakes, rivers, and mountains.  The terrain is forever changing.  We will take the  road for a short time when we leave in the morning.  We will find our trailhead before the Kluskus villiage and will have to cross Squirel Lake itself.  Its not to deep as we cross at the head of the lake...where it begins from the mountain runoff.  We hope to make it to the old Baptiste homestead where we will set up our next evening camp.

Tia and Randy and our three horses on the trail

Wagon on the trail
 The morning started with some kilometers on the gravel logging road again and then through some logging areas in the bush until we reached the trail head just before the Kluskus Villiage.  After climbing higher on the trail we come to a lake and open meadow on the other side.  Squirrel Lake is the name we know but I am sure there are other names it is called by.  This crossing is short and sweet and provides a nice drink break for all the horses.  We all preferred to drink bottled water along the trip.  After crossing this we wander along the lake side and into the deeper woods.  The trail once again is boggy and rough, especially for the wagons and I for one was happy to be on a horse and not bouncing along the route with the wagon.  Our lunch breaks along the trail are usually whereever we feel the urge and its set out on a tablecloth for all to help themselves.  There are always good meals no matter the meal of the day!  Yvonne did a wonderful job with the choice of foods to bring as well the preparation and actual cooking while on the trip.  Most chipped in to help whereever they could whether gathering firewood, setting camp or whatever was needing to be done.

After a nice lunch break we continued on towards Baptiste's homestead.  Along this part of the trail we will be following along the Kushya River...its a ways down from the trail but you see it off and on and you hear it most of the time as it rushes by.  The forest here is quite thick and shaded and lots of blowdown.  The guys were excellent with their chain saw skills and delays were not long when we did encounter blowdown that we were unable to get around.  Pine Beetle....

Randy at Baptiste's 

 There is a myth that the spirit of Antoine Baptiste's spirit still enhabits this homestead and we are somewhat inclined to believe this as many times Randy and I have stopped at this spot when we travel this route with other friends to visit our remote friends, the Chadwell's, and every time there has been an incident of one type or another but mostly bucking horses!!  Yup...a few folks felt the hard ground but not by their choice.  Other little weird things kind of happen there too but you have to see and feel it for yourself. 

At Baptiste's, our camp was once again set for the night and the horses all settled into grazing.  A nice little piece of the Khukya River runs through the meadow that we are camping in.  So far we have been super lucky and there are not many bugs, which is totally unusual for this time of the year.  It is still very cool at night but hey after long hours in the saddle, one is fast asleep when the old head hits the pillow.  There are signs of wild horses again but none to be seen.  Here at Baptiste's we have many shoes to replace on the horses.  I think in total, with the whole trip, it may have been 9 replacements along the way.  The bog just sucks off those metal shoes and over the years Randy and I have tried other types of shoeing methods and finally are totally happy with rubber shoes that we get from Germany.  Like wearing runners but love that they protect the sole from the rocks and boulders and are flexible and we do not seem to loose them in the bogs.

Horses grazing at Baptiste's

grazing at Baptiste's...these guys work pretty hard pulling the wagons.

Next day our destination is to be Tsacha Lake.  The camp is to be set up at the old McKenzie Lodge, now abandoned.  This was a fly in fishing destination for many many years as well I think clients also came by horse, atv and skiddo. 

Leaving Baptiste's, one of our friends was true to the myth, and lo and behold if his steady broke trail horse didn't decide to go into rodeo mode and buck him off big time.  So....spirits....???.....maybe!  Today the trail was up and down and quite boggy and with lots of boulders.  Soon we will pass our friends homestead and their band of wild raised foundation Quarter horses.  Randy and I have bought some of these wildies and they are just awesome horses, taught to survive by their mothers.  Strong and sturdy.  We are hoping we will run into some of these horses as seldom to they allow the stallion to run with the mares.  We see their signs all around us but most likely they have now headed to the higher grounds.  We will not stop for a visit this time as we are running out of hours to get to our destination before nightfall.  We are now not only chain-sawing blowdown but also having to repair bridges that are in much disrepair due to age and beavers.  Funny how it takes so many men to figure out the gals had it all figured out fast.

the Men!

One scary incident before we reached our destination was when one fellow, whose dog was along, had to fall a tree for the wagons to pass.  He made sure we and horses and dogs were all out of the way but for some reason his dog came back to him and the tree fell on the poor dog.  Luckily he was found after taking off to the bushes yelpping and suffered no more than many bruises and nothing broken.  This is a dog that has his own sleeping bag in the tent.  Good bear hunter though.  Along this part of the trail we also saw huge wolf tracks, as well bear, moose, deer and ground fowl.  Being as many as we were, the wildlife did not approach yet we are sure they were aware of us.

Finally we reach Tsacha Lake and our camp for this night.  Some of the folks decided to clean out some cabins and to spend the night indoors as all the beds, equipment for the cooks, the fishing name it it was just as if aliens had taken the humans and left the material things.  Our cook shack was set on the decks of one of the cabins so this was much nicer for those cooking.  The horses were hobbled and let out to graze while all of us decided to explore the lodge and the cabins.  At this time our friend J. Chadwell arrived from his homestead on his ATV to say hello and to see if we needed for anything.  He was also kind enough to allow Randy and I the use of his cabin on the lake...more private and boy was it nice to have a wood heater, a bed and a very very very cold bath in the lake.  Before our evening meal some of the guys decided to entertain us with their guitar and signing skills.  While exploring the Lodge, one of us encountered a hunters game of Trivia...after a big meal we retired to a big bonfire, set with benches and proceded to play the game...tons of fun and even little gifts that Yvonne had prepared beforehand.  Fun time with lots of laughs.

Even the 'city' horse got in on the entertainment.

Thelma and Tsacha Lake

Cabin at Tsacha Lake..our gear.

Rocky, Dually and Wii at Tsacha Lake
Randy and Tia's horses

Next day on the trail was to see us stopping in to visit with Robbie and Linda Phillips.  Robbie is the son of the late Pan Phillips.  Rob and Linda live at the Pan Phillips fish camp, where they have a fly in recreational fishing operation on Tizzie Lake.  There are nice cabins, big meadows and a landing strip for the airplanes.  Very nice people and with lots of history to relate.  We spent an hour or so here before heading to the Home Ranch which was the homestead of Pan and Betty Phillips further down the trail to Anahim Lake.
Pan Phillips Fish Camp

After our short but fun visit with Robbie and Linda we proceded along the trail...this time climbing on trails a bit on the slanted side and full of boulders and blowdown.  Lunch stop will be at William Cassam's homestead.  William Cassam and family no longer live here and I have heard due to the fires of 2010, the homestead no longer exists as it was burned in the forest fire that swept through there.  Lunch breaks were always welcome and even more welcome was the chance to explore.
William Cassam homestead

When we arrived to Cassam's it was quite evident that the bears had been there just before us and had ransacked all the cabins and outbuildings.  Quite the mess they left.  Lucky for us we have not encountered any bears so far.  Continuing on after lunch and heading to Pan Phillips home ranch for the evening camp.  The scenery here is beautiful with the backdrop of the Itcha and Ilgatchuz Mountain ranges.

The mountains

The terrain is now opening up a bit and there are more meadows as we come near to Pan Phillips homestead.  Evidently this land has now been sold to new owners and they are not receptive to riders or tourists and therefore this place is no longer an option for camping.  The old homestead still stands as does the older outbuildings and it was a real eye opener to understand the lives of these folks with their day to day chores.  Nothing was easy for them but from the stories it seems the family thrived quite well and did quite well with this land.  Haying was done with horses, and cattle were driven from here to Quesnel for yearly sales.  Vancouver newspapers, at the time, described these as "the longest cattle drive on the North American continent'.  Grizzly bears were also the normal for the homesteaders and many a time Betty Phillips had her path to the ranch house blocked by these intruders.

Home Ranch - Pan Phillips homestead

After Pan Phillips homestead we continued on until we reached the homestead of the Lamperts.  Here is another family eeking out a living in a remote location.  Mr. Lampert is very much into the Myan calendar and has proceded to build himself a 'space ship' so he can fly up off the earth and see the destruction first hand on landing after the end of the myan calendar in December of 2012.  He honestly believes this and who are we to judge.  We were happy to have a place to picnic for our lunch as well to enjoy the company of him and his wife.  They were very happy to see fresh fruit and especially fresh apples so if you head their way make sure you take them a treat or two.  Mr. Lampert guided us through his property, over a rickity old bridge over a swollen creek and away we went...trail part in water from the creek and part dry.  Our teams really were amazing and did such a good job with such a hard physically demanding trail for them pulling the heavy wagons.  They learned quite fast into the trip that every opportunity to rest was a good thing.

After our lunch stop and visit with the Lamperts, we had hoped to spend the night at the homestead of another native Peter Alexis, along the way, but this was not to be.  We continued on for a long day of riding on trails that were pretty wet and boggy but still ok for the wagons.  The area had opened up a bit but now was starting back to forest lands.  There were long meadows on the north side and the wagon road entered into the Lodgepole pine forest and the road became pretty rocky...boulders...but our trusty teams and horses made the trek that day without problems.  Camp that night came just in time as all riders and horses were getting tired and wanting to make camp.  We overnighted now at the Hunting camp of Pan Phillips.  An old barn type building still stands and a few adventurous souls decided to put up the tents inside even though pack rats and such had long inhabitated this barn.  The grasses as well pulled in with wagons and horses became alive with what seems millions of mosquitoes...nasty little beasts and I do strongly recommend that one takes along good bug dope, not just for themselves but also their horses.  These mosquitoes were obviously laying in wait for us to arrive.  They were short lived though as the evening temperatures dropped quite drastically and our morning found our tents covered in a thin layer of ice and the temperature close to minus 7...I guess our elevation was the culprit.  We set camp, had another great meal and wasn't long before everyone and critters were down for the night.

Hunting camp of Pan Phillips

The next morning found us all refreshed and looking forward to another day....we were to only be on the wagon trail for a bit longer before we would hit old logging roads on the Anahim side of the mountians.  The temperatures we hot and the roads were boring and  dusty but much easier going for most of the wagon horses.  We were not without incident though and though nobody really has the answer as to what was the cause, our one team of young Clydes, Goofy and Jimbo, totally walked right off the old logging road and over an embankment....full of huge boulders.  This could have been an extreme disaster but luck was with us all that day.  Ray was driving and Yvonne was on the wagon with him.  All of a sudden us riders saw the team go over and Ray go flying off the wagon and down to the rocks...along with the horses....Miracles do happen and other than a few scratches and for Ray a few cracked ribs and Yvonne some pretty good leather burns, all ended up fine.  We were able to use the other teams to pull the wagon back to the road and the wagon was not damaged so other than this short delay...we were back to miles of riding the gravel roads.

Wagon crash

On the logging road with Anahim Peak now in sight

The day was long and dusty, with most of us not really into the road riding after many days on the trail.  There was no other choice and the hope was as we came into civilization again we would be lucky to find a spot to camp for the night that would give us the area we needed to graze the horses but especially to have water.  Most of us would have loved to have had a bath by this point too but nobody was really doing a whole lot of complaining though our friend Bill with his city slicker horse was more than frustrated with his horse wanting to 'jig' his way down the road for hours.  We stopped at Poison Lake for our lunch break.  A very nice little lake with picnic area and I hear a good fishing lake but catch and release.  Another friend was driving one of the wagons at this point and made too sharp a turn and broke the tongue on the wagon...thankfully Dale and Yvonne's son Josh, being a mechanic, refused to come without a tool box so soon the tongue was fixed and ready to go.  Amazing how many men it takes to make a decision on how to fix something...LOL!!  I did find out after riding that this lake is also a breeding ground in early April for hundreds and hundreds of garter snakes....Oh Yah...thankfully we were not there then.

Poison Lake

Fixing the tongue on the wagon

Continuing after lunch was a hot and dusty trek.  We did not know where we would stay this evening as civilization encroached for sure.  We did not know how long our day would be and with the heat and no tree cover our horses as well us were getting hot and somewhat cranky.  We did have the pleasure though of seeing some wildlife, in the form of bears, so that was a bit of a highlight.  Roddy, Bill's dog, is a lionhunter by breed, and for him the bear was just as good as any old lion his ancestors had hunted. 

These guys were pretty curious

Dust, heat....long day and dusk approaching.  Finally a driveway type road so Dale took his riding horse to check out the area and see if we could find a spot with water and grazing for the evening.  The area around us was dry and we had not seen many creeks or streams for a long time.  Dale was gone for quite a bit of time while we all rested on the side of the road and waited.  Finally Dale came back to us with good news.  A large ranch in the area had sub ranches and he'd found one.  Cluspot Ranch was to be our hosts for the night.  I am afraid I've forgotten the names of the crew that lived at this part of the ranch but there were so welcoming and spoiled us rotten, even arriving to present us with cold beer.  Our horses were given a huge corral system that was overgrown with grazing as well hay was offered and there was a creek that ran through so horses were all happily bedded down for the night and us riders very happy to set out tents and have that welcomed cold beer.  Wonderful people, farmers and ranch people are in the Cariboo/Chilcotin area.  We are also informed we have another camp for the next evening with the same ranch but at the home area further down the road to Anahim Lake.  Showers are offered here and boy was it a pleasure to enjoy this hospitality.

out the backyard of the 1st Cluspot Ranch camp

Kitchen set up at the 2nd Cluspot Ranch location..the home ranch..
Alise, Theresa and Yvonne cooking up a storm after refreshing showers in the bunkhouse!!

After a good nights sleep and good rest with good grazing for the horses, we were on the road again but today would be our last day and a short day as we ride in to Anahim Lake and to the Rodeo!!  We are to camp in a private acreage that is expecting us, and is far enough away, though still walking distance, to the actual rodeo grounds.  Things can get a bit crazy with all the party time and rodeo so this is best for our tired horses and us.

Final camp at Anahim Lake...Rodeo Time!!

As it turned out the rodeo camp was also the original winter cabin that Pan Phillips and Rich Hobson used their first winter in this area.  They had a lucrative business of transporting goods from the Bella Coola area throughout the Chilcotin area and as far as Quesnel.  A beautiful little creek runs through this property and the owners now still have this cabin on the property.

Winter cabin of Pan Phillips and Rich Hobson ...their first winter in the area.

So off to the rodeo!!!  Friday night is a notorious night...true to tradition someone always, and I mean always lets the bulls out of the pens!!!  The first night is just bull riding later in the day and not sure why this tradition but guaranteed the next day you will see the planes flying and the hooting and hollering as they bulls are sought after to return to the rodeo grounds.  Luck for us as these bulls were heading in our direction but alas were contained before meeting us in camp.  The bull riding is lots of fun and lots of amateurs try their hands at this wild and wooly game!
Bull riding at the Anahim Lake Rodeo

Every morning there is a big Pancake breakfast at the rodeo and this was much appreciated by all the cooks, especially Yvonne while on the trail.   The Saturday brings out the Rodeo parade before the rodeo actually starts.  Fun to watch the small town folk and amazily young riders that take part in not only the parade but the rodeo as well.
In the parade

Saturday and Sunday saw us taking in the rodeo and enjoying the evening dance at their rodeo hall as well every evening for $10 a person you could enjoy a meal of bbq steak, corn on the cob and all the fixings and as much as you could eat.  The beer gardens were fun and not unusual to see a horse or two hanging out there while their riding partner enjoyed the brew.  For Randy and I this was the end of our Quesnel to Anahim Lake adventure.  Our daughter-in-law and kiddies drove to Anahim Lake with our horse trailer to meet us and return us to home...a long drive and we were pretty tired campers by the time we got home.  Alise, Randy and I must have each spent at least an hour each in long hot showers before hitting our warm and cozy beds for a real good nights sleep.  Some of the others had hooked on to return via the trail and in total they rode a good 21 days.  The trip home was different than coming to Anahim in that the rains had hit and the trails were wet and waterlogged wherein some camp spots were now unaccessable due to the water levels. 

In all this was a trip of lifetime, full of history and shared with many new found friends that we still keep contact with.  The wagons were the first in some 33 or 35 yrs to make this trek to the rodeo.  Our one way was a good 200 miles and the others put in a good 400 miles but for certainly was worth it all. 

If you are interested in this trek, Dale and Yvonne Dunn of the Blackwater-Spruce ranch, here in Quesnel do this trek if there are folks interested.  You can get details off their 

So folks...happy trails....not sure where we will take you next but most llikey either the Itcha Mountains to see the Mountain caribou or maybe to Mexico to ride to the winter habitat of the Monarch Butterflies by Valle de Bravo.   Hope you enjoyed this...yes I know these blogs are long but really hard to condense such fun times on our horses!!  Thanks for reading....Randy and Tia

Friday, November 25, 2011

Riding Chile South America

Every winter Randy and I like to take off from winter here in British Columbia and head to a warmer climate.  Our interest in riding has lead us to folks throughout the world who have invited us to ride/work with them or we book our own treks with world known outfitters that provide us with our adventures.

Our latest adventure began its conception through mutual friends and friends of friends and thankfully one being able to translate language for us.  Chile is spanish.  We speak english and a little faulting spanish.  With our friend and translator Nora, we were able to set up our travel to Rari, Chile to ride and help a local horseman Danilo and family move their herd of horses to the high grazing lands of the Andes.  We departed Dec. 8th 2010 and after many hours on airplanes we arrived to Santiago, Chile.  We are not big city folks but we do enjoy the sites and sounds and good dining of the city...helps to enjoy people watching too!  After time in the city we headed to Rari via bus.  Rari is a little country area near the larger city of Talca and Linares.  We had great laughs with our lack of language skills but did eventually arrive to the rural home of Danilo, where we were met by Nora and given the keys to La Casa Azul...the blue house that would be ours to use for the week before the trek moving the herd of broodmares and their babies, young horses and of course the stallion. 

Danilo is known for his horse breeding and his feat at winning one of the yearly competitions for Chile in Endurance.  I see now why!!  We were introduced to our horses and the others right away.  We had the week to get organized and ready for the trek.  First on the list was to round up all the horses from the different pastures around Danilo's area, bring them into the chutes for yearly worming and sorting, then to the corrals for hoof trimming, branding and preparations were made for the camp itself.  Mula's...Mules were brought in and readied as they will be our pack critters.  Packs are not like our packs...they are rebar with either goat skin or plastic covers.  They do not weigh or tie their packs as we do here in Canada but there wasn't a one pack that slipped or gave any sore spots or problems to any of the mules.  They are great animals. 

Finally we are ready to leave.  Off to the high mountains but alas it will be a good 8-10 days to reach the summer grazing area for this herd.  Along the way we will encounter other herds, vaca (cattle herds) and huge goat herds...all heading in the same direction.  The sounds of greetings from all the gauchos is amazing and wonderful...beautiful sing-song voices and words...we will also encounter the hassle of getting the herd of approx. 45 head of horses around or through a new Dam project.  As it turned out the company that is building the dam provides the herdsmen with trucks and drivers to take the livestock across the dam project to waiting corrals at the base of the mountains.  We were also amazed to find out we would not encounter any wildlife.  Nothing other than a huge spider that looked like a trantula but we were told they are not poisonous...I was taking no chances and made sure I shook out my sleeping bag before I crawled in.  Spider phobia me!!

The day we left was an awesome warm pleasant day and filled with anticipation for the days ahead.  We had two new foals to deal with which are now added to the mobile herd.  One foal about 12 hrs old and the other a day....they were quickly bundled up and put into the back of the farm mini truck atop many layers of sheepskin and blankets, legs and necks tied so they couldn't get up and with plans to meet at the end of the trail on day one, they are then returned to their mothers for the evening, after having a lunch break with mom as well. 

The first day to the Andes saw us heading up the small mountain in Rari and crossing over to the other side to wander along country roads and trails.  Keeping the horses in line was a bit of fun the first day, which pretty well is a normal event with any herd move anywhere in the world....but all said and done and nobody lost or misplaced, we arrive to the holding pens to await our truck to take us across the Dam.  Riding the trails to the holding pens was through forest and trails that had steep slopes with washout river centers though thankfully dry and not having us slip and slide ....keeping the herd together was hard too as there were only 5 of us to do the work.  The horses had not been fed much while in the home corrals and therefore were opting to head off in all and every direction in search for graze.  Soon though we got into the rhythm and had them in order and on our way to the holding pens.

At the holding pens, which consisted of one muddy large paddock type area with a loading dock, two large closed in paddock type areas set aside for goats and then an approx. 1/2 acre of poor graze with a stream running through was the scenario.  As we are awaiting a truck, along comes another gaucho and his herd of horses, then a fellow with a herd of cattle and also a herd of approx. 250 goats.  Randy and I were amazed...all these animals and not one intermingled with another herd...not horses, cows or goats and amazingly all worked like clockwork considering the crowded area and the mud and the big trucks.  We were loaded into 4 trucks and driven to the other side of the Dam.  Riding in these trucks is pretty scary to say the least and the roads steep and not well built at this point.  I was one of the first of us to arrive with a load and I was totally impressed with the reception I received while awaiting the others.  I was greeted by some gaucho's that insisted I join them for their noon meal....I could not resist.  They were interesting and friendly people though once again language...gestures work well sometimes. 

Once all our herd were assembled, we were back in the saddle and on our way to the mountains.  Each day in the saddle was approx. 7-9 hrs.  I was on a slab sided QH type who was 17yrs old but I was pretty happy to have this total responsive and sure footed horse as my mount.  Randy lucked out with a sturdy Peruvian Paso X that had the wonderful easy sitting guy a bit on the choppy side to say the least.  We spent this day in the saddle riding back country roads and up and down trails until we arrived to the hacienda of Danilo's friend where we were to overnight in his pastures and to enjoy a meal on the open fire with Danilo's family and his friends.  This is the first night for the newborn foals to be with their moms.  The dew in Chile was quite heavy and we soon learned that sleeping on the ground, thankfully with a tarp on and below, was not the best way to go.  Sleeping under the stars is one thing but not recommended in the low lands in Chile. 

The next morning saw us up and settled into the saddles and the trail at dawn.  Of course there is always one or two horses that just don't like the agenda and we lost a few that detoured with in the first half hour but Randy and Yito (helper) were quick to the draw and off at the gallop to find the wayward ponies and return them to our moving herd.  Our day was pretty well uphilll all day long, on narrow super rocky, boulder trails that took us up and up and up....the stamina of the herd and the riding horses was amazing and yes the first day or two gave us a few sore achy moments even though we were seasoned riders.  Saddles were traditional Chilian with wood tree and layered with blankets above and under, there was an Argentinian saddle...flexible leather strung tree which is adjustable and layered too with blankets and sheepskin and layers of leather for stirrups and girth.  I must say too these guachos are amazing ropers and they don't use horns to hold their roped critters...all on a small ring on the side....I rode the first half of the ride in an aussie type saddle while Randy opted for the traditional western saddle.  The trail was steep and hard footing and narrow pass ways...barely room to have the horse go through....up and up we climbed through sparcely treed old forests.  At times we would meet another group coming or going and the trail is totally not wide enough for both herds at once.  As I said earlier too...amazingly the critters don't intermingle enroute.  Go own would be upsetting the apple cart in a heart beat!!  If we came to another group it seemed there was a trail etiquette wherein everyone knew who had the right of way and those that didn't stood their herds off to the sides...sometimes barely room to pass...and let the one with the right of way go first.  We were at the top...finally after what seemed hours and I suppose it was hours, in the saddle. 

Lunch breaks....they are always at the heat of the day and siesta is a prerequisite...lunch might be a white bun and maybe a shared can of tuna...or cheese and of course the stead fast matte'...a herb in a cup that has hot water added to it and a silver straw with spoon type holey end on it and sugar added.  I found this not to my liking but many do and most of the mountain men for sure.  Its a social way to share matte with those you meet along the way. I am not an afternoon napper but soon found that the heat of the day...normally high 30's Celsius...made it pretty easy to quickly fall asleep under a big old apple tree or shade tree of any sort...even a shade rock!!  20 minutes for the nap and off we go again.  Horses all rested and watered.

We are now decending but we have a huge rock walled mountain ledge about 400 meters from the river below.  The nice thing about riding here is you can drink the water from the rivers and streams and have no ill effects.  The ledges were narrow and barely wide enough for horse with rider and in some spots we actually had to dismount and hike the ledges, and for someone like me with height issues it was a challenge.  At one point one of the newborn foals, which was now on his own to trek with us, tettered on the edge of the ledge on big with eyes shut closed comtemplating the outcome of a wrong step but I was amazed and reassured that not many were lost.  Gawd these animals are sooooo sure footed its crazy!  Along the legde we encountered a lone rider returning from the mountains...he was as tight as he and his horse could be against the face of the mountain and here we are with herd of 45, mules and 5 riders and we have to get by him....ok...close my eyes we got past him and didn't fall off the ledge still amazes me to no ends!  Once again we hit a height peak and started to decend. Tonight we are to camp at the river's edge and just around the corner will be our first 'check point' where Danilo must get his papers stamped in the morning to allow him the access to the Andes and the grazing areas alloted to him.  He must also show our passports (we carry copies in waterproof plastic) as we too must register to be in the mountains.  Our night was under the stars and early to bed after the same meal as our lunch was...this being the longest day in the saddle so far and it took its toll on us and we were tired.  At least the dew wasn't that bad.  We were given a tent after this night and it was appreciated.  Horses were housed in an old stone corral for the night.  There is no overnight grazing; they will graze what they can on the move during the days. 

Up early and into the saddle the next morning...The herd of horses use two to go to the mountains in the early spring/summer and another route to return due to the water level of the river.  On this occasion they were to take the longer spring route.  But someone forgot to tell the horses and before anyone could they took at a gallop to cross the raging river.  Galloping anywhere along here was a feat in itself as you are basically on what seems to be rip rap for road building.  At any rate this did not stop the horses and off we went in pursuit...Yito ahead of us all...the horses started to cross...scary or what....rapids and depth made the river seem impossible.  At one point as I sat on my horse helpless to the situation both of the new born foals entered the waters only to be swept into the fast moving current and all I saw was legs and heads and more legs tumbling and tumbling through the currents and waterfalls...Yito was the man of the moment. He is a good strong hand and an excellent roper!  With little regard for his own life, he galloped his horse into the river and just as the youngest of the foals was going over a big waterfall he managed to rope it by the neck....but the other one was soon behind the first and Yito was able to reach down and grab it by the ears and tow it up onto his horse...the other he was able to tow in to shallow ground with his rope. I don't know how long I sat there with my mouth dropped open and wondering to myself if I just witnessed a miracle!  The rest of the herd all being older made the crossing in tact and without washing off to sea.  Dilema now was us riders....Yito with the herd and us on the other side of the river.  Danilo decided we could try to swim across on our horses but he found out soon enough that this was not an option.  He and his sturdy horse got about half way and then the current and the amount of blankets on the poor horse as well him were not condusive to a safe crossing.  Randy and I were prepared to cross if all had gone well with Danilo's crossing but thankfully we didn't have to take that option.  Instead we now had a long route around to catch up to Yito and the herd...the herd also including our pack mules and all our gear!! 

Catching up to the herd was another extreme experience for us.  We took off at a gallop and our only route was across the base hillside of an old road that was about 300 meters above us.  The whole side hill was rip rap and huge boulders and here we were galloping across like it was a sand arena!!  Basically shut your eyes, hang on and hope the horse doesn't falter and fall into one of the many many holes between the rocks.  You have to remember too these horses are flat shod in a one size fits all type scenario....nothing like our spoiled horses over here.   When I say these animals are sure footed...they are the best!!  We soon met up with Yito who was moving the herd in tact towards our location.  Siesta on the beach under a full apple tree, next to my horse was a welcome event compared to the morning we had.  After lunch break and siesta, we were heading to the location of the home of Llaten and his brother and his mom.  LLatin is to join us on the rest of the trek as we are now going to be picking up 4 German young gals and guys to continue with us to the grazing valleys.  They are all students of tourism and Danilo is putting together a ride trek which will be offered to the public. 

Getting to Llatins' was a pretty mild affair and very enjoyable with herd behaving and moving at a nice rate, on the banks of the river or on the rural road, it was easy compared to the morning.  Along the route you have no need to worry about food...everywhere there are trees laden with apples and plums and cherries and other fruits ..some we've never had before but were soooo nice and juicy and welcoming.  We arrived to LLatin's just before dark and set our tents in the pasture.  Danilo and Yito continued up the road further to house the herd in the corrals at the next check point we had to go through to get into the mountains.  Here the feds will count the herd and make sure passports and papers are all in order.  In the mountains you don't know where the border is between Chile and Argentina.  Llatin and his brother and mom are the local 'store', pub and bootleggers though Llatin makes his living helping move herds as well doing fine and beautiful leather work for horse gear.  His brother works now for the dam company and his mom feeds and keeps the place in order.  The river meanders past their acreage and was a great spot to hit the hot rocks and have a somewhat but much needed bath.  Dinner was served out on the patio which like the rest of the house is with dirt floor and old wooden table and chairs.  This is also the pub!  Very quaint.  But very hospitable and we loved our hosts and their stories. 

The next morning saw the arrival of our 'greenhorns' that were to trek to the high mountains with us.  Some were somewhat riders and a few not so much.  Our day started off with trying to figure out how to pack the many changes of clothes and over packed bundles these people wished to take along.  It worked but I for one saw no need for what they thought they needed for a few days.  When with the natives you do as the natives and basically even one change of clothes is too many...LOL!  We travelled along the road to begin with until we reached the hacienda of a weathly couple from Santiago, who I must say were wonderful people and welcomed us to cross their properties with open arms as well picked us cherries that were soooo delicious.  Once across the valley area from their hacienda we once again started our climbing...we are now into the base of the Andes and our destination is two valleys beyond the volcano San Pedro...whom by the way was steaming and giving us a show now and then.  Remember too this is the same time as the earthquakes were hitting Chile in 2010.  Actually they did quite a bit of damage to certain areas.  At any rate...yeah to seeing San Pedro up close and personal.

Our siesta this day was on the side of a mountain in scrub type brush no higher than ones knees but the ground itself was now starting to not only be steep but very slippery with shale, gravel and sand.  Before our lunch break we hit a super steep mountain to climb...herd is basically in single file now and we are winding our way up and up and up....we do have one problem though as one of the yearlings was not fairing well and was in need of rest and water.  Basically as the morning went along it was harder and harder to keep this yearling up with the herd and I know this horse was thinking of leaving and dying.  At one point he decided to head to the downside which looming was a huge cliff dropoff and he would have slid over.  Randy was above me on the trail and I decided I could not let this horse die and went after him....I managed to turn him back to the herd but not without taking my own breath away!  I could only 'feel' it and I saw the look on Randy's face....I was sideways on the downslope and the ground was sliding out from under my horse and we were going to slide down and over this cliff....quietly Randy said...turn your horse....I asked my horse and he responded right now...he was too not about to let us go over the cliff and when I felt the solid ground once again underfoot I thanked the beings that will and let out a huge sigh of relief.  Too close for comfort on that one!!!
We rested the horses and ourselves for a bit....our next camp was to be closer to San Pedro. Basically we camped on the side of the mountain.  During the evening hours while we slept the herd of horses split into two and one half with the stallion took off on their own to 'greener' pastures...they have 3 grazing areas that they move between during the grazing season and for some reason the stallion decided to take half the herd to the farthest area.  Yito was up early and on their trail and was to meet us at the abandoned hacienda which would be our next camping spot.  But alas half the herd was still with us abet on the wrong mountain which separated them from us by a rock slide.  One of the mares in this group was ready to give birth at any time or day so was not moving fast and with her were young mares and foals and a few yearlings.  Danilo yelled to Randy and I to 'cowboy' up and we had to go with him to gather these mares and get them back on track to the right mountain and up it.  Quietly picking our way over the massive rock slide to reach the herd we had left, I wondered once again if my sure footed mount would miss all the gaping holes that appeared between the rocks.  Each hole big enough to snag a foot and break a leg let alone any rider falling off on this stuff.  YIKES!!!  As it turned out the herd decided to go into gallop as we were trying to gather off we a mad gallop as well so we can contain them and corral them to the right direction.  I can't believe I did what I did, nor can Randy...we basically took the task at hand and didn't think about what we were to do ...if we had of we'd have probably not done what we did and that was to gallop not only across this massive rock slide but up the steep side of the trails here till you reach the top and galloping herd that wants to spread in all directions....WE DID IT!  We had them back on track and on to the right mountain and the right trail.  Danilo stopped at this point to tell Randy and I that we were real 'cowboys' in his eyes and at that point I realized that fear is all that will hold me back and I can overcome that in any way in my life from now on. 

 Camp that evening was an abandoned hacienda in much disrepair but it had a good water system running through it as well good shade trees and some grazing for the herd.  There were other herds grazing nearby but no intermingling.  Yito showed up before dark and had found the rest of the herd but decided to leave them at their grazing area as they would join up later on in the summer.  At this place we were able to explore a bit as our new riders were worn out and were not ready to go on to any other location that day.  We climbed up a mountain...and lo and behold there was a huge waterfall cascading down 100's of meters to a huge gorge below.  It was like standing on top of the world or at least what I imagine it might be like.  Absolutely gorgeous scenery!!  Dinner this evening was a mutual affair with everyone chipping in, sharing and cooking and cleaning.  Not much to pot and a kettle basically.  Actually our one pot had double duty originally as it was the pot the dogs at Danilo's were fed from but they (not the dogs!! LOL!) cleaned it well. :-)))  Everyone had a good sleep as the next day was going to be crossing the snow fields at the base of San Pedro Volcano.  Yahoooooo!  Us from BC are used to riding in snow so we were not apprehensive.

The next day was up hill and climbing once again.  Our ground changed off and on from the shale and gravel and sand to more rocky and gravel type terrain.  The winds were stronger up here at close to 8000ft above sea level and the air much cooler and fresher and more fall like in temperature.  Glad we had brought along layers to wear as all layers were in place this day.  Finally we reached the snow fields.  The snow was clean but punky and one did not know if there was movement under the snow or not.  This can be pretty scary as could be ice and water movement.  Danilo was the first to go and test the route...all on a downhill slope now crossing the side of San Pedro to the bottom of this volcano.  Danilo decided the going was good so next was the herd...and Randy and I too ....the snow was only about knee deep on the horses and one hoped our sure footed mountain horses were just as sure footed in the snow.  One of our riders had had a bad experience on this route the past year and opted to use her own legs to travel down the slope as last year she experienced her horse tumbling head over heal down the slope and her tumbling right along with it.  We made the decent in fine order and was nice to hit the valley below where the winds were less strong and the temperatures much higher.  We rode though areas that were like alpine meadows with wildflowers and streams and new growth starting to appear.  The grazing is a very course bunch grass type of vegetation but the horses love it.  In this area we also encountered bog but the signs were not the same as here in BC riding boggy areas.  Here it looked like emerald grasses but in fact was a very wet mucky bog but at least with a bottom.  We spent the rest of the day travelling between mountain ranges and basically went two valleys over from the base of the volcano.  Here we had a nice grassy camp for the evening and even had some wine flowing and good stories to share while we watched Danilo and Llatin make us up a batch of dough for making something we'd say was close to bannock...This was where we were leaving our herd for the summer and they would stay here now from Dec. till March when they would be rounded up and returned to Danilo's home place.  Danilo also has over 250 goats in the mountains too and they had made the trek a few weeks earlier than us with the horses. 

Our return was much faster without the herd and a different faster route was taken....mostly through valleys with some mountain climbing but in one day we were back to Llatin's home and family and giving our goodbyes to our German tourism friends.  The next day saw Yito heading off to Llama Lodge, which is owned by the one german girl and her family, where he would be taking out some greenhorns on daily rides.  We had a nice evening at Llatin's and I for one was really wanting a shower or bath.  I was told I could use the shower house and though Randy could have too, he has no problem to strip down and use the river.  Me at this point being the only woman and wanting my privacy opted for the shower house....quite the experience but once the life of the natives!!!  My shower house consisted of a mud floor shower with a stand on and the shower head was a piece of garden hose that was put up through the roof and into a bottom of a 5 gal bucket to gravity feed the water.  There was a wood plug in the end so you didn't waste all your shower water!!  I felt revived, renewed and happy for another out of the ordinary experience.

The next day was to be a long day for us in the saddle.  We took a whole different route and this was mostly old abandoned roads through the mountains.  Our ride was at a fast jog/trot for 10 this is endurance and especially for me on my slab sided sewing machine gaited pony!!  My body was rejecting the abuse towards the end of this day.  We had to flag down a truck once we arrived to the holding corrals at the dam site and luck was with us as all the trucks for hauling the livestock had quit for the day.  Danilo was able to get word to the company though and soon we had the truck to take us and our horses and one mule to the other side of the dam.  We will be camping in the holding corrals at that end for the night.  This is special though as two of the houses by this camp also doubled as pubs and one could either go there and have a beer or buy takeout.  Randy and I decided to take a few for takeout and to set up our tent.  We are sleeping in the goat pen tonight.  There is a light bulb in the tree above our tent and the switch in the tree....very quaint.  Randy and I found some stumps to settle onto and have our much awaited beer when all of a sudden the gate to the goat pen opens and in comes a rolly polly elderly man who doesn't speak a word of english nor regular spanish...he speaks a very old dialect that even Danilo has a hard time to understand...but we had the best time with this fellow for at least an hour or so while he visited us.  He laughed and we laughed heartily even though all our communication was by gesture.  Bottom line for him was he was telling us to make sure we turned the light in the tree out before we hit the hay as the electrical came from his home...this was his property leased to the dam company.  He was a fun, funny and up beat person that made our day!!

The next day we were up bright and early...smelling of course as bad as goats....and on our last leg to Danilo's home again.  We rode fast and hard and it definitely was a very welcome sight as we came to the last high point of these valley hills and saw his place.  We arrived back to La Casa Azul on Christmas eve.  La Casa Azul is just down the road from Danilo.  We were very tired and very happy and very much pumped at the reflection of our trip to the Andes on horseback.  Danilo and his family are more than wonderful people and all of Chile is a safe place to travel.  The scenery we saw via bus travelling from city to city and rural is very much the same as BC but with more flavor.  The wine is super!!  The people are wonderful and helpful and we'd go back there in a heartbeat.  We have much more of South America to still explore and what better way to do it than on the horses and with the working folks.  This is their lives, this is our adventures. 

I will post more of our rides shortly and hopefully figure out how to add the pictures.  Till then...happy I might take you up the Itcha Mountains in BC.  We'll see...or maybe along the Alexander McKenzie Heritage trail with mega history to tell you...or maybe riding the mountains in Spain or in Wales or The Superstition Mountains in Arizona....and of course yes we do have another ride happening this Mexico and to see the winter habitat of the Monarch Butterflies.  There is a whole world of riding out there and I hope reading this might make you want to do this yourself.  contact me if you need logistics and information on how to go to certain places to ride.  Cheers for today...hope you enjoyed this.