Leaving Ubar

It was with quite mixed feelings that we left Ubar. We were excited at the prospect of the next leg of our Canadian adventure but had had such a super time that it would be difficult to match but already things were beginning to change from our outset.

Bailey, accompanied by Sophie, kindly drove us in to Hinton, set on the banks of the Athabasca downstream from Jasper, which delayed our inevitable goodbye. We had missed saying farewell and thank you to Brenda the night before and thought we would miss Ray but he returned just after we’d packed up the car. I had spent sometime in the corral the day before petting and stroking our 4 legged friends for the last time. We had become very fond of the trail horses. They may not be as prized as the reiners but each had their own character and a lot of heart. It was lovely to just be within the group and despite their size and strength, not feel at all vulnerable as I would have done at the outset, mainly from lack of equine familiarity. The horses at the other end were also lovely but a bit less predictable or stoic.

The four of us enjoyed a pizza and went to check-in to our Days Inn motel. Our room was spacious, clean and well appointed. We even had a massage chair much to Sophie’s delight; I think she would have stayed in it all afternoon. IMAG1242Finally it was time for them to leave, Bailey had to be back in time for Larry to see Johnny, her horse. With a few damp eyes we separated but can keep in touch on social media which makes parting so much less final.

The next few hours were spent trying to get up to date on the internet with all the backlog of photos, amendments and corrections followed by a meal and soak in the bath. Our early bus required an equally early night which somehow extended to 10.30 but it was lovely to roll into crisp cotton sheets and a fairly firm bed. Our previous bed had been comfortable but quite soft (I wonder if Martina has already taken occupancy!) We had enjoyed the brushed cotton sheets when we first arrived and the nights were chilly but latterly the temperature had risen considerably so even though we’d thrown off the bear cover and duvet we were still hot as we didn’t dare expose any flesh for fear of night-time bitey things which seemed to invade the room despite our best efforts to keep them out.

A 3.30 toilet call evolved into getting up time and we gathered our final pieces of luggage together to walk the 3-400yds to the bus stop. No mean feat with a bulging 90 litre back back and equally full 30 litre pack on our fronts plus another holdall with wellies, food and coats (it was still far too warm even at that early hour) and a further bag containing breakfast which was actually the leavings over of the previous day’s evening meal. We arrived at the bus stop at 4.10, the expected time for the bus for a 15 minute stopover. Gazing towards the east we could observe the colours of the sunrise but not the bus! It finally materialised at 10 to 5, we could have had another 1/2 hour in bed, along with a torrential down pour.

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Whilst we had enjoyed a few hours sleep in a bed our fellow travellers wouldn’t have so fortunate, leaving Edmonton at 12.30am, just as we had done 4 weeks previously. As the bus pulled in it looked half empty but on boarding I was met with a tangle of legs across the aisle as most seats were occupied by a prone body across both. We had to disturb a chap in order for Roger to sit down, my partner was inattentive enough to have alighted to go to the loo without ‘reserving’ both seats. We set off and soon the purr of the engine was accompanied by the snores of many passengers.  The initial part of our route took us back into Jasper NP but without the beautiful weather we’d previously experienced. I thought that the early hour might reveal some wildlife snacking on their breakfast but perhaps the main highway deters that although the traffic is still light. The clouds contained us for most of the journey, 5 hours of pine tree laddened hillsides, until Clearwater in the lee of the Rockies. Here we emerged into blue skies and sunshine, lower rolling hills and the first farms we had seen, both cattle and arable. No sheep here remember, only wild ones to be shot!

We are headed to Kamloops where we change buses but the next two to Langley were fully booked so we arrive at 10.30am and depart 5pm so we’ll see what we can find to do within walking distance. Hopefully a ‘left luggage’ for a start. We have been warned that there isn’t much here but it is a major junction for various routes. May just need to read our books in the sunshine, drink coolers and eat poutine!

LATER

We emerged from the bus station into an out of town concrete shopping and eating area, not much to do. Roger noticed what looked to be a nice enough park over the road so we crossed and made our way to the entrance. It was only at the gate we realised that it was the cemetery! This didn’t deter us as there was no where else and we weren’t going to be disrespectful. We hadn’t noticed what it was from a distance as there were no standing headstones, only flat ones. We spent a little while wandering the paths in the sunshine and couldn’t help but notice the number of joint graves with single occupancy; the first encumbant having resided there for quite some time. We had a guessing game as to the reason, usually the male was already interned so I suggested that she was up and off as soon as he’d snuffed it. Roger proposed that it was due to a significant age difference and she was still alive. Looking at some of the doubles there seemed to be some basis for this, we noticed up to a 26year age difference.

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The sun was beating down on us again so we retired to a memorial bench in the dappled shade to read our books for a while. It may seem a bit weird but it was a lovely peaceful setting, just the distant sound of the road and closer noise and smell of a lawnmower and freshly cut grass. I glanced up and there, wandering through the trees some distance in front of us was a lovely white tailed deer. We watched it meader amongst the trees and bushes, grazing casually in its progress (see if you can spot it in the photo). There is something quite nice to think of that scenario playing out above your grave, isn’t there? When it finally disappeared we took our leave and wandered back towards the road, noticing that a few of the older graves appeared to have been recently dug up and held no grass, just soil, strange?

We had a drink at Starbucks whilst deciding what to do next and realising that we had little choice. Roger noticed on the store list at the entrance to the retail park ‘Lammle’s Western Wear and Tack’ which really did deserve a visit. What an amazing shop, particularly after where we’d just been and were headed. There is certainly nothing like this in the UK to my knowledge, maybe English riding shops but not real Western. We spent quite some time checking out all the goods and chatting to the lady behind the counter who assumed that, as tourists, we were here for the Calgary Stampede, sadly not.

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We finally left there to grab a bite to eat before our next 4 hour bus journey to Langley and happened upon a great place in the middle of this concrete jungle. We sat outside but in the shade and enjoyed our meal and were just thinking about moving when one of the staff came to bring down the shutter as a storm was approaching. We were allowed to be inside despite having finished and barely exited the patio before the first huge rain drops began to fall. They don’t just do rain here, it is almost semi tropical the way the thunder storms build up during the day’s heat. Anyway we’re on the bus now, headed to our second ranch and adventure so more news on that after we arrive and I’ve checked out the internet connection. Not sure what we’ll start with as it is Canada Day tomorrow, 1st July, but horses will still need feeding.

20. Socialising

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Don’t ask, its gone to his head!

After a fairly sedate 3 weeks on the social front things livened up as we concluded our first placement. Bailey decided we needed a night out to see us off and Friday nights at the Legion is karaoke! Sophie and Martina were certainly up for it. She arranged for Kent to escort us from the ranch, after we’d preloaded on jello shots and a game of ‘sociable’. I wont go into details but it was good fun and lovely sitting out in the evening sunshine even if I was doing my tomato impression again. IMAG1212IMAG1215

We headed into town but there was no karaoke at the Legion that night and it was pretty quiet. We decided to stay for one but during that time there was an invasion of fire-fighters including some people Bailey knew including a nice guy called Dan who stayed with us for the evening. He rolled up to the ranch a couple of days later, showing Roger some photos of the new fires they were dealing with. This coincided with Johnny starting to kick off. Despite his obvious bravery in his job he was first out the door of the arena, even beating Tyler and Joey’s little kids. Courage is a strange commodity.

We enjoyed the rest of the evening despite the band at another bar being universally judged to be awful the following day but everyone was too polite to say so at the time. The only scars from that evening was my split lip where I’d managed to collide with Bailey’s head on the dance floor, not sure how. We returned to the ranch about 2am. Martina wanted to start making pasta, not a chance! Our bed is in the communal kitchen building but there was no way I was going to accommodate someone’s munchies at that time. Guess who was the only one up to do the morning feed?

It was lovely first thing to be out there on my own with the horses in the cooler sunshine but feeling rather tired I decided that I would go back to bed afterwards but by the time I returned after an hour, Roger was up and dressed so no more sleep. I thought I’d done a pretty good job until the following day Bailey enquired who had fed the dogs that morning? I told her that I hadn’t given them anything as they hadn’t eaten their feed from the day before. She informed me that I’d put very expensive horse feed in their dishes. I quickly grabbed them back right out from under Brandy’s nose who seemed to have decided that it was all she was going to get so had just started eating it. Poor things must have been really hungry considering the way they gobbled down the correct food from a very similar looking adjacent container.

By late afternoon we were beginning to fade, having accommodated the children’s party and trail ride amongst other jobs. It was still very hot so we retired to the lakeside for a swim. Well, a paddle for Roger and I, I’m not sure Martina even managed that but Sophie went the whole hog in the rather chilly water. She was rewarded later by some attention from a very cute (and quiet) tiny puppy who adopted her from an adjacent group.IMAG1238IMAG1239 After completing the evening feed and making dinner Roger and I retired to bed early, about 9.30, missing the camp-fire later when the boys turned up from the clinic.

 

It was too hot to work on our last afternoon so we ended up just chatting in the shade of the open kitchen tent. IMAG1240Our last evening meal was provided courtesy of Bailey’s Mum and Dad. We had our first Alberta steak barbecued outside on their decking in the sunshine being overlooked by the Grande Cache hills. It was a very enjoyable evening and lovely to meet the parents after all the time we’ve spent with their daughter who we will miss terribly and really appreciate how much she made our first experience so wonderful.

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19. Horse clinic

We had to go to the clinic, so we were told, it would be really good, they break horses, we should go Thursday evening. It sounded interesting, added to the fact that it was being held in memory of Tyler’s (Ray and Brenda’s son-in-law to be) Dad, who had been a well regarded horseman. When we finished our work on Thursday we packed into the car and headed through Grande Cache, past Sulphur Gates turn off and down a track where there seemed to be a bit of activity. When we arrived it was all over! Bailey2 (B&R’s niece) greeted us as she had been breaking her new young horse. We chatted for a while and then left, determined to be completed more quickly the following day.

Some folks round here don’t call it ‘breaking’ any more as they don’t want to break the spirit of the horse and this was very much Larry’s approach. He wanted to work with the animal, gain its trust and co-operation, work with the horse not dominate it. When we arrived the following day the ‘clinic’ was in full swing but not quite what we expected. A smallish paddock was full of horses and riders, some were wranglers, some were people we’d met briefly and in the middle was a big guy in a white Stetson sitting on a calm bay mare who we assumed was his own for years as she was so responsive to him. We learnt later that he’d borrowed her for the week he was up as there are restrictions about moving horses in and out of the USA at the moment so he had to leave his own at home in Texas.

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He was working with Bailey2 as we rolled up so it was good to see him with someone we knew. Her horse, Jazz, looked very calm so we were a little surprised until, I’m not sure what triggered it but, she got spooked, bucked and reared and charged through the other mounts to the other side of the ring. Bailey2 did a great job of controlling her and bringing her back to Larry as she is only 14 and everyone else was an adult with extensive horse experience.

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The wranglers working with him seemed to have the short straw, they had to ride the difficult horses or provoke the ones to be worked on but certainly seemed to be enjoying their work. We had met a couple, Mark and Andrew, when they’d come up to Ubar where some of the horses were being kept and where the clinic would have been held if it had rained. It didn’t rain, the sun not only shone but beat down with avengeance. It wasn’t long before I was sheltering under a rather inadequate tree which provided the only shade in the vicinity; I even had to pinch bottle of water to ensure I didn’t expire. It has been around 30 degrees for these few days, exceptionally hot we are told and the fire risk has gone back to extreme.

It was fascinating to spectate at such an event as they are not really held for the general public, we just knew the right people. It would have been great to go to one of the shows when Ray was showing or even more, the Calgary Stampede which we miss by a week. We watched Ray practice on Topaz a couple of times and it is amazing to see what he can make the horse do, (see spins and sliding stop in photos below)  just wish he would ride Trigger again as he is so beautiful in full flow. This clinic was held over a week and Larry gradually took the horses from unridden to completely ridable, teaching the reiners how to go through the process of maintaining what they have learnt and being able to repeat it on other horses.

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Tyler, Mark and Andrew all rolled up back at Ubar on our final night when Bailey was going to try to ride Johnny. She had been lunging him regularly and had even managed to get a saddle on him. He’d jumped a couple of feet on the lunge with the saddle on, stirrups bouncing around, had looked great and behaved like a pussy cat. Some had teased her about not being able to ride him and she had him in the arena before everyone else showed up. Mark had managed to saddle up Jager, who had been taken to the clinic that day, and was riding him around, obtaining some element of co-operation. He (Jager) looked great and it was lovely to see him doing something.

The guys were offering advice and she allowed them to take on the task. Johnny didn’t like his synch (girth) pulled that tight and set off bucking and rearing, he’s a big horse. That gave an indication of what Bailey had been contending with so they decided to tie him to another horse as this can calm them down but also gives something more solid to hold him by so a heavy calm packhorse mare was brought in. Very gradually and gently Andrew started to get on him and eventually swung his leg over to sit on the saddle. Johnny looked a bit unsettled but was still. As Tyler started to move the other horse Johnny took off, literally. Joey pulled the kids outside and we dived for the corner. Andrew stayed on for a few seconds, the securing rope came undone, Tyler shouted ‘bale’ and Andrew was flung through the air whilst Johnny bucked and reared to the other end of the arena, he is a very strong horse! He calmed quickly once he was provoked to do more.

Mad horse Johnny, hardly!

Mad horse Johnny, hardly!

 

Bailey was upset but relieved that those who had teased her had now witnessed her problem. They made one more attempt to get on him with the same result but were ready for him with what seemed quite cruel tactics, make it unpleasant for him when he bucked, fuss him when he stops. There was much debate about whether it is behavioural or pain related and after much input even prior to this evening no-one is any the wiser. It does appear that in relation to horse issues there are as many different opinions as there are horse people. Hopefully Larry will be able to have a look at him whilst he’s in the area. Oh and Andrew is OK, bruises like that go with the job, no broken bones this time!

17. Jasper Day 2

We took our breakfast over to the riverside seats which was a pretty special location looking up the Athabasca River towards more snow covered mountains. IMAG1152IMAG1153 This was where we were heading, down the Icefields Parkway, alledged to be one of the 10 most scenic drives. Our guide leaflet gave information on various places to see on the way but also told us that there were very few facilities and advised taking a packed lunch. Our hotel offered ‘bag lunches’ purely for this purpose. It transpired that there were a few places we could have eaten so I suspect they aren’t too happy with that advice. The chef had offered to make me some sandwiches with gluten-free bread but I had requested one of their GF pizzas the night before so they were ready for collection before we set off.

Our first stop was the Athabasca Falls. We were most put out to find that we were having to share this beauty spot with a couple of coach loads! This was the first time we actually felt to be amongst a throng after relatively few people being anywhere we were the previous day but I suppose that was inevitable. Some of the viewing areas were quite congested, not just with the number of people but also their girth. Canadians seem to be going the same way as Americans. They also seemed to be oblivious to the fact that others wanted to be able to appreciate the view and have their photo taken as well. The falls themselves were very impressive but the photos can’t capture the force of the water cascading over the rocks. These were apparently enticing to young men with invincibility complexes as the warning notice and memorial benches attested. It was very sad but pertinent to see these as it was obviously a dangerous place but well protected if you didn’t climb over the barrier! Unfortunately death was inevitable if you fell from the trauma and/or drowning but also hypothermia as the blue/green water was glacial melt.

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We drove on past another ridge of upended land; trees clinging to the slopes for dear life, with nothing to grasp on to but apparently finding something.IMAG1165 I suppose that, as the road wound along a glacial valley, it was inevitable that the river would be the main feature of our roadtrip. Various lakes and creeks (small rivers, I’m not sure where the demarcation is) lined the route and our next stop was Sunwapta Falls, further up the Athabasca. Whilst this was upstream the size and force of the cascade didn’t seem any less at the main point. It was just quite surprising to see an adjacent benign little spout trickling over the edge. IMAG1166IMAG1168IMAG1167Studio_20150623_200429

We enjoyed our stops, cooled by the fine spray whilst gazing at the water, mesmerized in a similar way that one can become transfixed by a fire. I’m happy to admit that I have taken lots of photos but I’d like to think that I take the time to look as well. It appears that some people only see through a camera lense which is quite sad really. I want the photos to revise memories when I get back, of what I saw, others appear to take photos so that when they are home they can see where they’ve been, weird (and pointless).

The weather was beginning to deteriorate, clouds gathering threateningly. We still decided to stop at Beauty Creek where there is a wonderfully located hostel. The warden was very accommodating and started an explanation of the hostelling network and all the Canadian locations. A guest was about to leave to continue on his road trip south which had started in Alaska. They told us about the lovely time they’d had the previous night, sat outside around the fire pit watching the Northern Lights. We’d missed them again!IMAG1172IMAG1171IMAG1170

Our final waterfall was called Tangle Falls which, as you can see from the photo is a very apt name.IMAG1174 We clambered up part of the way but IMAG1176were unable to see a path to the top. Roger wanted to determine what was up there to create such a wide ledge, possibly a lake? IMAG1175

I was becoming slightly agitated by this time by a ‘stalker’! A 15 or 16 year old lad seemed to be beside us at every stop, taking so many photos. His parents were there also but they didn’t seem to feel the same need to stand beside us all the time. He didn’t speak or even make any attempt to converse. Roger thought I was being paranoid until he started noticing him at the subsequent stops. Our task then became to shake him off which we successfully managed to by stopping for lunch.IMAG1179IMAG1173

Our ‘restaurant’ view was the Stutfield Glacier adjacent to the Columbia Icefield which is receeding like most glaciers worldwide. This withdrawl leaves behind a mas of morraine which is entirely natural but makes the area look like a stone works or disused building site. We watched the adapted tour buses taking people out onto the glacier via a prepared road, what’s wrong with using your legs? These came from the new Icefield Centre which we hadn’t particularly wanted to visit. Seeing the vast number of coaches and packed car park reinforced our decision to give it a miss and so we continue onto the top of Wilcox pass where Jasper National Park ends and becomes Banff NP so this seemed a good place to turn around, particularly as the weather was improving so I retook all the glacier photos in sunshine.

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Banff and Jasper boundary

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We headed back towards Jasper, watching the rain clouds deposit their contents in clearly defined locations. The scenery continued to entrance us, just travelling in the opposite direction gave a very different view. This day was going to be about scenery rather than wildlife until we came upon a car pulled in at the side of road. Wow, what exciting animal would we see this time? A goat! a scruffy shaggy sandstone coloured goat who was completely indifferent to us, we drove on.IMAG1190IMAG1189 It was still mid afternoon and we were in no hurry to get back so turned up the road to the mountain tramway. When we reached the base station the weather was still uninspiring. It was quite expensive and there wasn’t a huge amount of time left before the last tram down. Despite the recommendations we didn’t bother and drove on to the hot springs.

As we wove up blind bends on the approach road a black bundle leapt from the trees to cross the road, startled, turned and ran back into the bushes. Another bear and not a particularly big one. We pulled up and watched behind us as a minute later it popped back out and trotted across the road. It was bigger than the cubs we’d seen the previous evening but still quite young. We waited to see if any family would follow, none did so we think that he had maybe been left behind. It was quite a narrow escape for the little fella. I don’t think the gate wardens would have been very impressed if we’d left the park with our trophy impaled on the winch, shouting ‘we’ve got one!’

We continued up to the hot springs which looked just like a heated out door pool but I was very relieved to find that it didn’t smell of sulphur. We luxuriated in soaking our permanently aching limbs, arms slightly the worse for canoe paddling the previous day. There were 4 pools of varying temperatures, I only sampled the warmest 2, Roger managed 3. It is a stunning setting and quite an experience to lie back in the warm waters looking out onto the mountains as the sun gradually sinks towards the horizon.

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We drove back in the gathering dusk, a good wildlife spotting time. 2 moose stopped grazing as we passed and startled to trundle towards the tree line, the bigger one turned and glared, daring me to get out of the car. I didn’t, I suspect he was the sort who would have charged and is the subject of the ‘stay 100yds back’ signs. Further on a coyote trotted across the road, its silvery coat giving an almost ghost like appearance in the half light. Next a white-tailed deer startled as we came abreast of her. She made her escape route parallel to the road and, despite these creatures being regarded as a bit of a nuisance in these parts, we were entranced by her grace and elegance as she loped, wave-like along the grass verge. These 2 days have felt like a real holiday as opposed to the working holiday we’d enjoyed up until this point.

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We hadn’t gone all that far when we saw some stationary vehicles up ahead on the road, had there been an accident? As we approached we could see that everyone was looking to the right at some wildlife, caribou perhaps? We stopped anyway, as one does in these circumstances to ensure that we don’t miss something. After a while Roger pointed out a black blob in the undergrowth of the verge where the trees had been cut down for the road. It was difficult to make out quite what it was until a brown snout and little piggy eyes attached to the black mass emerged from behind a bush, a big black bear foraging for grubs in the undergrowth, totally oblivious to the adjacent humans on 4 wheels! Not content with ignoring us, it’s mate trundled along as well!DSCN1587IMAG1142 We couldn’t believe it. Our little convoy escorted them along the roadside for I don’t know how long, we were mesmerised. They were travelling in a definite direction and we were 4th car back so never quite got a good view of anything other than their bottoms, which was still pretty exciting. Eventually I persuaded Roger, being much more polite than me, to overtake and stop up the road, past the other vehicles and wait for the bears to come to us which he and they duly did. We managed to get some wonderful views of them and took lots of poor pictures in the excitement. My phone storage was nearly full from all the super photos I’d taken so we had to use Roger’s camera again. It also has a better zoom which quickly became redundant! We have deleted many of the 70+ photos we took as some were not very good content, some were quute out of focus and in some the bears managed to hind behind a twig!IMAG1144IMAG1143

A wildlife tour bus pulled in front of us, driven by the park gate keeper’s brother! This, presumably, was a good sign. There ensued a game of leapfrog for the remains of the hour or approximately 2 mile stretch of road. It was so compelling we couldn’t draw ourselves away. We kept vieing for position with the other cars and the tour bus as it was so amazing to see these magnificent creatures at such close quarters in their ‘natural’ habitat. Locals would beg to differ. DSCN1629DSCN1599DSCN1633DSCN1619The dexterity they exhibited with their huge claws was quite surprising. Despite their size and reputation they were searching for bugs under rocks and stones, not flesh and blood. Their worst misdemeanour was to create minor landslides from their discarded hard core or even dislodging rubble with their own mass.DSCN1602DSCN1604DSCN1610DSCN1611

Their progress was sure and steady but there was a river ahead, would they just disappear into the woods? The bus waited at the start of the bridge, apparently aware that the bears wouldn’t disappear down into the valley. Roger was aware of this movement (or lack of) and felt sure that familiarity meant that the bears would come over the road bridge. If he was right, the bridge was empty, so the best spot may be on the other side but still on the road so we took the chance and advanced to our outpost. Nothing happened for a while but the other vehicles didn’t move either so the bears must still have been around. Eventually our gamble paid off, onto the road emerged the first bear and it started to cross the bridge, lumbering along without any heed to the apt watchers, particularly us to whom it was heading. We were tense with excitement, our main question being which side of the Jeep it would pass, driver’s on this occasion. We had a full, uninterrupted and close up view of our visual prey as he/she passed us by before disappearing back into the shrubbery.DSCN1635DSCN1637

Wow! But where there is one bear their must can’t be far behind and, as if on cue the second bear emerged on the far side of the bridge. They ambled across the road, apparently undecided which side of the Jeep to pass. Much to my excitement it came between me and the bridge side which was quite a little squeeze. I had my window wound down where I had been bravely enduring mosquito bites in order to see clearly and take photos. As the bear approached I was troubled with the dilemma of whether to wind up the window as it was extremely close, I could hear its breathing, or sinking my fingers into the beautiful thick black enticing fur coat passing within my reach out the window. In the end I did neither, just held my breath. As this beast disappeared into the undergrowth to join its mate, we looked at each other in pure excitement and awe, how lucky were we!DSCN1638

We decided this was the epitome so wrenched ourselves away and continued our drive back towards Medicine Lake and the setting sun.DSCN1639 The fish were rising all over the water yet there were no fishermen. I then noticed that the density of rising was increasing, quite rapidly. What an amazing amount of fish but it transpired to be raining! This couldn’t dampen our spirits nor the fact that we had probably missed our evening meal but it was a small price to pay.

If we got a move on we may be able to get back in time for a take out meal. So on a totally euphoric high we drove down the mountain road. Around a bend we came across some parked cars where people were out with their cameras, must be something attractive but safe on the left hand side. We pulled up on the right but couldn’t see what was capturing the interest. I got out to have a look at the magnet. It didn’t take much for me to identify the black bundle behind the bushes, another black bear! But why were people out of their cars thrusting cameras at what is potentially a very dangerous animal? I got back into the Jeep pretty smartish. We were well back from the action and on the wrong side of the road so decided to advance and cross over to the active side of the road. As we passed the black bundle I was staggered and delighted to see a little cub!DSCN1643

We pulled in and watched behind to see if anything would emerge from the undergrowth. Meantime, people were out of their cars to photograph one of the most potentially dangerous bear situations, a mother with her cubs! I’m not sure if the length of their camera lenses was inversely proportional to their brain size but there were some very big cameras despite the close proximity of the animals. Even our little camera lens wasn’t required here. A little cub emerged from the bushes and proceeded forward as if to cross the road under the bumper of a parked car. Another car was approaching from the other side and would not be able to see the cub until it was possibly too late. Roger leapt out the Jeep to flag down the oncoming vehicle! I was rather concerned that the mummy might not appreciate his altruism! Fortunately the other car pulled up and he got back into the Jeep unscathed. We peered out the back window and watched 2 cubs and mum lollop across the road and disappear into the bushes. Another amazing viewing, we thought we were lucky before.

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We were definitely leaving it too late for a meal so headed back to the hotel cabins. As we approached our turning into the drive a car was stationary at the side of the road, what now? Merely a pair of elks which didn’t even justify stopping for after our evening experience however, when we pulled into the car park we had to actively encourage them to get out of the parking spaces. Whatever happened to ‘ do not approach the savages’? We shifted these rather beautiful creatures out of the way in a rather blase fashion. After all, we’d been on a bear hunt, and found not one but 3 and 2 babies!

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16. Jasper, 1st day

We left the ranch about 10am.  A bit later than scheduled as Roger had to take the Jeep in to Cache to get the spare tyre fixed, but only a slight delay. The weather was bright and warm so we donned shorts for our mini-break. We had a 2 hour drive ahead and settled into the journey quickly. What would we see when we arrived? There is so much and we were going to have very limited time so I scoured the assortment of brochures we’d procured from the tourist office. The tent we’d been offered hadn’t exactly materialised so we had no accommodation arranged. The local tourist office would be our first stop. We rounded a wide left hand bend and saw what we thought was a loose horse grazing the grass verge. As we approached it transpired to be a moose. I hadn’t photographed the previous one so jumped out to take this opportunity before it trundled off back into the woods. Only later did I see the advice to not get within 100yds of a moose, oops!IMAG1093

We turned right onto the main highway as we approached Hinton, where the bus had dropped us off, and faced the Rocky Mountains proper. We had merely been in the foothills at Ubar. The most striking factor about these mountains, besides their enormity, is that they are, um, well, rocky! I suppose the clue is in the name but I didn’t expect it to be quite so stark. There are tree covered slopes, changing instantly to rock, no grass, heath or moorland just trees then rock. Jagged, angular, vertiginous rock faces, vertical strata clearly demarcating the epochs.IMAG1147

We were greeted at the national park gate by Grizzly Adams’ son, although it could have been his brother judging by his age, with a park guide and invoice. We headed straight towards Jasper town, not that there was much alternative. The road appeared to divide a lake but they had different names on either side. Closer inspection revealed what must be different feeds as one was browny red whilst the other was turquoise green, both were crystal clear. IMAG1097IMAG1099IMAG1098There was a new range of wild flowers to grace the sides of the road including some individual bright orange lilies. I couldn’t obtain a decent photo of them when we stopped so resisted the urge to take a poor one as there would be plenty more opportunities, wouldn’t there? Actually no, the only other time I saw some was in semi darkness the following evening, their vibrancy piercing the twilight.

We made our way into the very attractive town of Jasper and called into the appropriately quaint tourist office, surrounded by colourful flowerbeds, not filled with the usual bark chippings but hundreds and hundreds of pine cones. A very helpful member of staff sorted us out with a few options for ‘cheap’ lodging, we only needed a bed for the night as we wouldn’t be staying around the accommodation long. However, the second cheapest was in a riverside cabin with our own bathroom just 5km out of town so that was sorted via the freephone at the back of the centre. We decided to grab some lunch before setting off and found a restaurant bar advertising poutine, which Bailey had encouraged us to try as a traditional Canadian dish. Whilst we were happy to oblige, the free wifi (and presumably one which worked properly) was also a big draw! So, with platefuls of chips, gravy and cheese topped with ground beef for Roger and chicken for me, we managed to get all the backlog of photos uploaded onto the website (but not onto all the pages yet).

We set off out of town on Highway 93 which starts in Jasper and finishes in Arizona; the north/south equivalent of Route 66. We eventually found our little cabin, not quite on the banks of the Athabasca River but a short walk to the waterside chairs and easy listening distance of the rapids. I was particularly pleased to see the clean hygienic flushing toilet and non-smelly shower. Although to give Ray his due, he informed us on Saturday morning that the shower and toilet in the top barn were now working, yippee! 2 minor drawbacks, the shower floor is still covered in cement, despite my scrubbing and they are located about 200yds away from our bedroom but its progress. So this little room was perfect.IMAG1103IMAG1102IMAG1101

Our next stop was Pyramid Lake to arrange our 1 hour boat trip courtesy of Kent, Bailey’s boyfriend, who had a voucher he insisted he wouldn’t use. We took the road through town and started our ascent, passing Lake Patricia first where we could enjoy a fabulous view of the imposing but unusually, multi-coloured Mount Pyramid. IMAG1104It is quite startling in its completeness which we later learnt was assisted by ‘being closed to all human use’! We continued on to the next lake, hoping that they would be able to fit us in as we hadn’t booked and were quite pushed for time to do all the things we wanted to; no problem.

We chose a Canadian canoe, the ones the Indians used in the old cowboy films. I knew that I would feel distinctly unstable, even without Roger tormenting me, so decided not to take my phone camera with its multi purpose functions and risked Roger’s camera which we hardly use now. Not that I was planning on falling in! These photos may take longer to arrive as the cable is back at the ranch with the poor internet but are now here! We paddled out into the middle of the lake, marvelled at the majestic Mt Pyramid, absorbed the magnificent vistas of the Rockies and savoured the peace and tranquillity.DSCN1575DSCN1579DSCN1580DSCN1582 There was a small island with a footbridge connection so we headed around the outside, as we neared the back we could see that the lake extended round a corner so that required exploring in our intrepid craft. There wasn’t much there and we’d been out over half an hour by now. We could cut the corner back by heading under the footbridge thus lessening the distance considerably which was significant as we were now heading into a persistent if not strong wind. My concern grew as we approached the bridge, the clearance looked to be a matter of inches. Roger assured me that we’d fit under; I wasn’t as confident. I was barely able to move in the canoe for fear of capsizing and had even taken the photos over my shoulder, I wasn’t going to be able to change positions for this tight squeeze. There had been people on the bridge as we approached but I was relieved that they had dispersed before witnessing our demise. My only option was to slip off the back of my seat and hope that I managed to retain some skin on my knees.DSCN1583DSCN1584 There transpired to be slightly more space than that although I brought my Standridge Tunnel skills into play by pulling us through by my hands on the underside of the bridge, knees intact. The only problem now was getting back onto my seat which was extremely ungainly but successful. The cox in the back kept my stroke count up as we worked our way back to the quay after a super and unexpected period. Thanks Kent.DSCN1585

Our next excursion was a 50km drive along a parallel valley following the Maligne River. The first stop was Maligne canyon where we parked up and prepared ourselves for the ’20-40 min’ short walk or further if we chose. It was already past 5pm. As we reached the first bridge for the short walk in less than 10 mins we realised that we may have a bit more time than we thought. We completed the middle walk as the views of the canyon and waterfall were very impressive although probably not given justice in the photos. On our route we did manage to spot the golden mantled ground squirrel and a poor little mite with a justified inferiority complex called the least chipmunk. But they were our wildlife of the day so far and both very cute.IMAG1125IMAG1124IMAG1116IMAG1114 Can you spot us (shadows)?

The road to our next destination was lined with a guard of honour of paintbrush plants, a profusion of reds, pinks and oranges. Despite all the new flora, these stalwarts seemed to absolutely thrive in these surrounds.IMAG1134 Medicine Lake was next on our list and we pulled into a fairly busy car park at the bottom end. A keen ornithologist had his camera, using it as a telescope, pointed at the nest of a bald eagle containing a couple of fledglings. I didn’t get the full story as I think they were German but picked up the gist. Reading the information boards, which I must say are plentiful and helpful but fairly brief, I found that the lake has an underwater drainage system of caves, so in winter it empties, almost dry despite having no obvious outlet and when all the other lakes are full, hence its name from prior to comprehending this anomaly. IMAG1105IMAG1133IMAG1129From this vantage point we could see the razor sharp edges of the Colin Range. A whole layer of the Earth’s crust seems to literally have been upended by 80-90 degrees giving very sheer smooth surfaces sliding straight down to the water. Avalanche warning signs are plentiful as little will hold the snow on these slippery slopes. I’m not sure if they are a climber’s Mecca or actually insurmountable.

Other signs instructed us that we should be careful about caribou as their numbers are dwindling severely. If I had realised just how fortunate we’d been to see one on our first morning I would have been more attentive. It is unlikely that we’ll see another. Interestingly there are also signs informing the masses that that it is illegal to appraoch or feed the wildlife. I knew it wasn’t recommended but didn’t realise it was illegal. All the signs and information are in French and English and I can’t help but smile seeing that ‘wildlife’ translates to ‘sauvage’ in French when thinking of the squirrel and least chipmunk.

We continued up the Maligne Valley from Medicine to Maligne Lake keeping our eyes peeled for more extensive wildlife. It was getting towards dusk so an appropriate feeding time. It was quite surprising how far into the trees you could actually see considering their density. I suppose it is the relative narrowness of the trunks that allows the view to penetrate when travelling at some, though not excessive, speed. We were ever watchful for the elusive bear, each tree trunk or upturned root system could have been a Paddington, Rupert or Winnie until another angle revealed their true identity. Everyone who comes to these parts as a tourist seems to be on a bear hunt, it is our holy grail. However, there is also that concern about what to do if one does meet a real bear as they are very big, strong and unpredictable.

We arrived at Mailgne Lake in the early dusk, midges were starting to come out in force which was a shame as at the bottom of the lake, where the river began tumbling down to the mighty Athabasca, there was the greatest profusion of birdlife we’ve come across since arrival. All sorts of winged beasts were swooping and diving by the bridge from which we viewed them, presuambly feeding on the bugs which were feeding on us and final drove us back into the Jeep!IMAG1137IMAG1136IMAG1128 I suggested we go back to the visitors centre to have a drink or coffee indoors to be able to appreciate the view up the lake under protection. The carpark was a little way through the trees so having deposited the vehicle we ran the gauntlet of the wooded area only to find that everything was shut. Perhaps these pesky midgies even have a significant effect on trade! Beating a retreat we got back into the car and headed down the road, hopefully in time to get a take-out pizza (yes, even gluten-free) from the hotel and download all the day’s photos on our super fast wifi!

15. Fires 2

With the permit safely obtained Ray put us onto the task of burning the fallen wood in the trail horses corral. There were strewn trunks and branches everywhere you looked and as far as you could see as well as the charred evidence of previous fires. The forest fire in the wilderness park was reported to be under control, thanks to the recent rain, although over 12000 hectares had been burnt 24km away. The flames had leapt into Jasper National Park but only destroyed 50 hectares there. Hopefully we wouldn’t have any close shaves despite Ray giving us a blow torch to get the damp wood ignited!

Roger had been tasked with chopping the logs into various smaller grades for kindling etc whilst Martina and I were to set fire to the corral – only joking!! Ray was busy in the top barn, still trying to install the new and 21st century shower and toilets for us ‘workawayers’ so we were left to deal with the organised destruction. Fortunately Roger knew well enough to not leave me on my own with a blow torch so he helped us get 4 fires started. The permit was for only two but Ray doesn’t adhere to minor technicalities. It isn’t all that practical to haul great lumps of wood very far particularly with the additional challenge underfoot.

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The recent rain had turned the ground into a muddy swamp, clinging onto our boots with a vice like grip. Trying to walk through this gloop, over uneven surfaces, carrying or dragging resistant tree trunks whilst curious equine hosts investigated at very close quarters, was a recipe for a mucky disaster. Amazingly we all managed to stay upright throughout the whole day although I’m not sure how, even the quadbike got stuck. Also, these horses didn’t seem to realise that they, as animals, were meant to be afraid of fire and kept getting far too close but were totally unphased, none actually burnt themselves. The smoky atmosphere may have affected Mitsy’s lung condition as she kept coughing but had a similar affliction as a human who hasn’t done their pelvic floor exercises, so one had to watch the juxtaposition!

Shirley investigating Roger's jacket, the chainsaw and blowtorch!

Shirley investigating Roger’s jacket, the chainsaw and blowtorch!

After lugging the chain saw and heavy log lever/trunk prop around in the heat of both the day and the fire drenched atmosphere, wrenching my feet out of every sucking, grabbing step, up and down slopes, I was getting more than a little fraught. I decided that 6 hours in this environment was more than enough for one day and went to collect the quadbike to load up the equipment. I’d had to leave it outside the corral as there were scraps of hay in the trailer from a previous feed load and some discarded grain which had tipped out of the bucket when Bailey and I had to negotiate some bumpy ground at speed to ensure we didn’t get stuck. Earlier, when the bike had been in with us, the horses were almost fighting amongst themselves to devour these fragments of food, discarding all other bits and pieces into the mud, cans of pop, blankets and possibly the penknife, which has yet to re-materialise.

As I came round one of the fires in the ATV, there was a pile of wood about 30yds away, remnants of a previous fire. I could just quickly load this into the trailer, drive across to the other fire and stoke it up for the evening as well as getting rid of the previous debris. This would have taken very little time if we hadn’t had another equine invasion in such a short space of time so that by the time I turned around for my third ‘chuck’ into the trailer I was completely blocked by horseflesh. Getting a little frustrated by now I tried to barge my way through them but was never going to succeed, so had to go the long way round to the other side of the trailer to dump my load and completely negate the whole point of using it; I might as well have walked across to the other fire.

Martina and I finally managed to dump the wood and collect the kit but were unable to extract ourselves from the quagmire in this 4 wheel drive vehicle with only 2 of the aforementioned propulsion devices working! I was stuck in the mud. Advancing and reversing to try to extricate ourselves was not helped by having horses front and back who were reluctant, to say the least, let alone slow, to move out of the way in case they missed a morsel of grain. Finally I managed to get some purchase and started to accelerate out of the mud when Buttercup ambled across my path and I had to break, getting stuck again!!

Animals are afraid of fire - not!

Animals are afraid of fire – not!

We eventually emerged, hot, sticky, sweaty and puce, even by my standards! A white truck was coming up the drive so I gave a cheery wave to who I thought was Bailey, only for it to transpire to be Hunter and his Mum. Strange coloured British people, the redskins are supposed to be their side of the Atlantic.

14. Back to work

(am still having major internet  problems but think i have managed to upload absent photos for chapter 11 and 12 and some of 13 but none for this yet, possibly!)

Weather continues to be quite dull so the morning’s work was fairly routine, painting doors, collecting discarded wood, more chain sawing and collecting rocks. In the afternoon we had the arduous task of desensitising 3 of the new horses and 2 of the babies, yearlings. It was lovely. Echo had transferred to us with 2 other horses from Brenda and Ray’ daughter’s stable but was not very happy with human contact. Thunder (2) and Jet (yearling) are the new pulling horses, the former being very manic and the latter is too timid so more work required there. Arizona and Pebbles are the babies who have been here since birth but need to get used to being handled.

IMAG1068We got Echo into the stalls and began brushing her with lots of soothing noises. Bailey started braiding her tail and mane which she tolerated very well. She calmed very quickly and seemed to enjoy the TLC and nothing being asked of her afterwards, i.e. 700lb pack. If horses could talk I think she would have been quite surprised just to go back into her paddock afterwards. We then went up to Meg’s corral where all the others were now located; the Canadians, the pulling horses, having only just moved in the previous day. Meg was keeping Thunder in line and unfortunately Jet was copping for her ire as he is always in the senior shadow.

We built a small pen just outside the gate and first in was Thunder, no surprise! Bailey haltered him and took him back into the corral to teach him some manners and respect. Meanwhile Jet had ambled in; the grass was a strong temptation. I managed to get the halter on him quite easily and we went for a lead walk around the corral, stepping over fallen trees and circling back when he decided to overtake me on the return trip. I enjoyed it anyway but also because I hadn’t been all the way to the back where a decent sized stream (creek) meandered immediately the other side of the fence.

Arizona was next in, investigating what everyone else was enjoying. She was considerably more uneasy but the halter went on without too much drama so she was rewarded with grain. We started brushing and braiding her beautiful ginger coat, more grain. Bailey even managed to get her to lift her foot a few times, more grain. Pebbles had been trying her hardest to insert herself, head first, through the fence, mortified at being left out. Once it was her turn though, she was much more reticent, even the grain bucket had limited appeal. Eventually she succumbed and we fussed her like a pair of mother hens, which she put up with grudgingly. Hopefully none of them found it too much of an ordeal as we have to repeat it every few days.

Pebbles & Arizona

Pebbles & Arizona

We sat and chatted with Brenda, who had managed to get off work a bit earlier than usual, discovering the plans for our new workaway colleague who was having a bit of a nightmare trip from Italy. Bailey set off home excitedly to collect her Mum’s BMW to drive the hour and a half to Hinton to pick up Martina so Roger and I were left to catch and stall the rides ready for the evening lesson.

We managed that without event but once in the tie stalls, the imposing clouds, which had been threatening all afternoon, decided to disgorge their load and an almighty thunderstorm ensued. It would appear that most of the times when it rains here it does so in earnest and storms are quite common, hence, possibly, the incidence of forest fires. The stalls to which we had taken the horses had a tin roof, the noise from the rain and hailstones was almost deafening. Coupled with the lightening and every closer thunder produced a fairly stressful environment! Hunter, a 12 year old novice, was brushing Meg before putting on her saddle so had her out of the stall tied to a post. She did not like the noise at all, I half pulled him away whilst she started to get somewhat restless on a short rope. Mitsy was in the end stall so was getting pelted from 2 sides by the hail and rain as well as tormented by the megadecibels. Her mount, Matthew hadn’t yet arrived so I went over to try to reassure her. There would be no way she could hear any soothing sounds above the cacophony so I just kept stroking her until she resumed eating which I presumed to be a positive sign. Matthew seemed in no hurry to take over when he did arrive so I just continued, counting the seconds between flash and thunder as the storm passed over and away. Meanwhile, Sparkles and Daisy stood by completely unperturbed!

Today has been the farrier’s visit (and tomorrow). Cody arrived about 10am so start on as many as possible. I was in the cabin, destined for Martina’s accomodation who, we only found out at 9am from Bailey, still wasn’t in the area. Bailey’s pick up had been aborted part way through the previous evening and Ray had left early this morning, supposedly to collect her but he returned solo mid morning. He informed us that he was then on his way to meet her in Hinton. Bailey thought she was going to Grande Prairie, 2 hours in the opposite direction. We were so glad that it was nothing to do with us but I was pleased to have a bit more time to make the cabin more welcoming. I swept up the insect carcasses again, saddened to see the demise of a dragon fly, laid out the rug and assembled the cot (camp bed). I used the cardboard tops from the large box, which had contained the wood burning stove, to fashion into a door mat and boot store. We transferred a set of drawers from the caravan and their was a battery operated oil-fashion lamp to make it look reasonably homely. I decided not to light the stove, even though it felt a little damp, as I thought it might not be a good idea to leave it lit with wooden floors and walls and a plastice tarpaulin ceiling.

No news as to when we move into the other one. It had rained all night resulting in the area infront of her tent turning into a quagmire. Slightly embarrassingly, the one we would be moving to was still reasonably high and dry. We fashioned a walkway of duckboards primarily do that she wouldn’t need to get her wellies on immediately on arrival.

Shirley having her pedicure

Shirley having her pedicure

The rest of day involved transferring horses too and from Cody for their hooves trimming. In the middle of this the fire permit assessors turned up and seemed more interested in the horses than the fires. Two was on his most attentive behaviour and actaully in transit between the stall and corral when they arrived. The permit was duly granted. All except 6 horses had their chiropody treatment completed before Cody called it a day. Roger and I swept up all the debris, mucking out the stalls for the first time since we rolled up. Also we had to collect all the large pieces of hoof as the dogs really enjoy them!! It was surprising that neither of them were trodden on as they weaved in and out of 3 legged horses to obtain the delicious remnants! They will be having them as their evening chew for the next few weeks.

Sonny checking out what Cody has in his back pocket

Sonny checking out what Cody has in his back pocket

13. Mount Ambler

We woke, on our next day off, to misty dreary skies. After the rain of the previous day we had low expectations. It was a bit of a dilemma to decide what to do, so much here is geared around the outdoors and another lazy day seemed a bit if a waste. By 10am though, the skies were clearing and plenty of blue was visible.

We started our excursions off Highway 40. We were looking for the pull in for Twin Falls but just missed it and had to drive on to find somewhere to turn. Ray had mentioned that it was opposite Gun Range Rapids and in looking for a suitable place to do a U-turn we spotted the rapids. We parked back at the turning for the Falls and walked back to where we’d spotted the rapids between the trees. You don’t get many people walking along these roads, not when there is over 100km between places. There are no pavements but a roadside track for ATVs, All Terrain Vehicles or quad bikes, in English.  We scrambled down the tributary creek and I was able to devour my first wild strawberries of the season, absolutely delicious. We pottered around at the water’s edge and I spotted some moose/elk hoof prints in the sand. We were just about to leave when a guy approached, he was with Wild Blue Yonder who organised white water rafting trips down the Smokey River and was preparing to meet a boat which had been put in just below the town. We decided to stay and watch them negotiate the rapids, with appropriate shrieks and screams, before making our way back to the Jeep.

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Approaching doom!

Approaching doom!

In the midst

In the midst

The vehicle carefully climbed the steep rocky track up to a clearing where we left it alone, as usual. It was a fairly short ascent up to the falls but with all the recent rain we were very aware that the path wound close to the edge of what appeared to be an unstable undercut. We were walking, or hiking as it is called in this part of the world, through a lovely messy deciduous forest with more wild flowers lining the path along with copious amounts of honeysuckle and loads of wild gooseberry bushes, although far too early for their fruit. As we rounded a bend we surprised a group of white tailed deer who looked up startled and then leapt, almost silently, into the undergrowth. We achieved an opening where we did get a super view of the falls. If you enlarge the photo you can see a cairn has been built at the top of the lower fall which must have taken some feat as it is pretty inaccessible.

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Not content with this level, we resumed our ascent into the ‘not recommended’ section despite there being a reasonably well worn path. It was significantly steeper and again we took advantage of the root system crossing the incline as well as another considerately positioned rope and emerged at the top of the falls. The view down the Smokey valley was worth the climb. We didn’t dare get close enough to the edge to see the waterfalls from this angle as we were reluctant to let go of the only secure looking tree although this resulted in getting covered in pine sap which I was unable to wash off for several hours!

By the time we were reunited with the Jeep it was still only 1pm and the skies looked good so our next stop was along the unmade Beaverdam Rd which wouldn’t be a dustball after the recent rains. We turned off and started another ascent up part of the course for the Canadian Death Race (Ruth and Lewis take note!) which takes place here annually. 24 hours to complete 125km including 3 mountains and a wild river, Canada’s toughest foot race, strewn with rocks and roots, mud and bugs and maybe even a few bears! So we drove up the first 6.5km! I’m not sure of our height by this time but the flora had changed to……lupins! We hadn’t seen any since New Zealand where they were commonplace. These were still budding but there was something comforting in seeing them. We set off on one of the described trails, to Mount Ambler, following what was an ATV route, although without any peace shattering (but the signpost had been peppered with shot!) We climbed through evergreen forest and climbed, and climbed some more! Hill climbing in Britain seems to involve ups and downs but not so here, just up, and we could see nothing through the density of spruce trees.

The path petered out (would it ‘peter in’ when we returned?) quite suddenly. We were unsure of our route but noticed fluorescent orange tape tied to some trees ahead, much as we had done with Bailey when chartering a new route on the horse trail ride. The guide leaflet had advised us to ensure that we could retrace our steps as some of the paths were infrequently used and therefore indistinct, but we had nothing with us. We decided to trust our unknown trailblazer and followed their course with blind faith. They took us through rarely used deep undergrowth and past some blackened trees and lichens from previous forest fires, possibly 2-3 years ago, judging by the regrowth. The Old Man’s Beard seemed particularly spooky, much as one would buy from a gimmick shop near Halloween but this was real. Not sure if it was black from singeing or soot or perhaps it was Young Man’s Beard, but certainly must have been an inspiration for the Adams family or even Snow White!IMAG1052

Our restricted path eventually joined an ATV route again, so thank you anonymous trailblazer. We continued our ascent, past tortured tree stumps, impersonating Elk-like skull skeletons, their upturned roots mimicking antlers. At one point we came across some really weird looking white stuff at the side of the track. We were wearing light trousers and T-shirts but still sweating profusely in the muggy heat and exursion so it didn’t occur to us, until we touched it, that it could be frozen!! We had reached the lower snow line.IMAG1054 We were so deep in the trees that it was difficult to comprehend our altitude, where we were and when we would emerge. The hillsides are so completely covered with woodland that it was quite conceivable that we wouldn’t ever find an exit! What if we got lost? All the forest looked alike. No-one really knew where we were going. I’d told Bailey that we might try part of the route to Mount Hamel but the top of that was covered in snow so we’d changed our minds (haha). We could turn around at any time but what if the top was just around the corner? There was no way of knowing, just more trees and poo! Lots of poo, presumably moose or elk, much like the reindeer droppings on sale in the west around Christmas but not actually disguised in chocolate. We only learnt afterwards that moose aren’t very friendly either! But so much dog poo! really? thinking about it, probably not too domesticated, i.e. coyote or wolf! Thank goodness I was still clinging to the bear spray.

I was getting somewhat disheartened and bitten and would have turned back when faced with yet another steep climb. Not because of the ascent so much as the prospective descent; steep downhill is not my forte. Roger’s positivism kept me going further. Our surrounds had altered from tall spruce trees to those of merely 10-12 feet. Then, without any further warning, we emerged into an alpine meadow. Amazing vistas captured us in every direction. Underfoot, petite plants and flowers blossomed and bloomed as a carpet of delicate structures and colours. IMAG1057IMAG1060IMAG1064

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A group of kestrels (is there a collective noun for these solitary creatures?) played amongst the adjacent tree tops, presumably fairly young predators with few predators of their own. We could see across to adjacent mountainsides and were able to establish that we were now above the tree line as well as the snow, not that there was any white stuff here as we were south facing. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that in this environment, which has probably changed little in many centuries, we were very avant garde and took a selfie!Studio_20150616_204428

It was tempting to linger indefinitely but finally we bade farewell to the meadow and disappeared back into the trees. Our descent took a fraction of the time of the ascent and we tumbled back to the ranch after an excellent day which had such an unpromising start. Bailey came round later and introduced us to Kent, her boyfriend and Coolers, 7% non-sweet lemonade, far too nice, and Kent was nice too. He brought us a voucher for canoeing in Jasper National Park, where we hope to go next days off. After testing the Coolers we took her horse, Johnny, into the arena to lunge where he performed beautifully and lapped up all the fuss and adulation afterwards. Just a massive shame that he wont let her ride him!