Below is a description of the event by one of
| When I first started playing
in the past, 4 years ago, there was talk of doing something “just
for us, no public”. Last fall, an outfitter was found who, for a
modest fee, would take us on a 2 day trail ride of a Royal Engineer
built trail in the backcountry of British Columbia, providing horses
and accommodations. I made a new outfit for this venture, a
two-piece garment called a Canadian Dress, which according to the
pattern I used, was a “favorite of Indians and Mixed Bloods on the
Canadian Frontier.” I hadn't been on a horse in over 15 years, and
figured it would be better than anything else I had, seeing as how
we decided to Dress according to persona: Royal Engineer, Royal
Artillery, Civilian Naturalist, Voyageur, and two Métis women.
In the beginning, we were 8. The Outfitter preferred parties of 6
but was willing to make an exception for us. At 9 a.m. on July
23rd, in the Cascade Recreation
Area parking lot, a two hour drive by The Number 1 east out of
Vancouver, we were 6. We were met there by our guide, Jim McCrea,
his wife Marilyn, and the two mule drovers, Jack and Lou. The 4 of
them loaded our 40 pounds of kit per/person into panniers, which
were in turn strapped to one of 6 pack mules. Not only had we kept
to the 40 pounds per person limit, but, en bunch, we came in a bit
under. Jim gave us a quickie riding lesson, introduced to our
horses, and rolled a feed tub over for me to stand on so I could
mount up. The horse I rode was a gorgeous 25 years old gelding
named Shilo. According to Mr. McCrea, the only critter he had with
a smoother gait was his mule. After taking my stirrups up yet
another inch, we were on our way.
Jack, leading three of the pack mules, went first, followed by M.
Bastien, the Old Voyageur; Henry Reynolds Luard, Captain, Royal
Engineers; Srjt. James Lindsay, Royal Artillery; Dr. David Lyall,
R.N.; Mr. Jim McCrea, owner Snass Mountain Outfitters; Mrs. Innes,
Métisse; and Mrs. Huston, Métisse. Lou brought up the rear with the
other three pack mules.
For 2 hours we rode up in to and through forest that had never ever
seen an internal combustion engine. Massive old growth cedar and
hemlock that brought to mind dusty green cathedrals draped with of
garlands of ghost green and carpeted in rich brown humus. Further
on, in areas where there had been rock falls --including one
especially massive one that had happened earlier this year-- there
were tiny pale brown birds with black heads and quicksilver eyes.
Critter prints abounded, some old, some still fresh; one set marched
down a spill of dirt to the creek side that small pebbles still
rolled down from. Alpine meadows with wild flowers in bright
puddles of red, blue, and orange, wild tiger lilies, lupines, Indian
Paint Brush, and butterflies of almost every conceivable colour. No
phones, no lights, no motorcars. No power lines buzzing over head.
We stopped for lunch in a cedar cathedral with moss-covered pews of
fallen trees. A scattering of dust-jeweled shafts of sunlight
dappled the clearing. The lack of Modern City sounds was deafening,
but there was the undercurrent of a couple creeks chattering in
their stone beds, a gentle breeze through the trees, bird song,
annoyed squirrel and jay sounds, the soft whickering of the horses
and the muttering of the mules.
Where the first 2 hours had been a gentle climb through forested
park land, the second 2 was a steady climb back almost to
Pre-contact West Coast. We started the climb near a sign stating
that we were leaving this area and entering that area, with a short
sharp list of things to avoid, with an implied warning of "If you
mess up, you will be found only because some critter dragged one of
your inattentive bones onto the trail." Not far from this sign was
a bit of black bear scat (had to be black bear, there were no bits
of brightly coloured clothing, bells, or bear spray that are so
common in Grizzly scat).
Our destination was “The Deluxe Base Camp in Paradise Valley”. We
got there about 3 pm, and unloaded with varying good natured
grumbles about assorted sore spots – Mrs. Innes and I commiserated
about now knowing the EXACT location of where our thigh bones
entered our pelvises-- and divided ourselves off into tents (Luard
and Bastien; Lyall and Lyndsay; Innes and Huston). The horse corral
was up slope from the main camp of widely spaced walls tents, a main
cook tent, and two outdoor biffies, one with a green tarp, one
without. The view from the one without was great: a rolling bit of
high altitude meadow, tufted with berry bushes and long needle pine.
It was so quiet; you could hear feathers rubbing together as the
ravens flew through, and the thunder of chipmunk paws pounding past
the biffies as they hurried from over here to over there.
Now part of the Snass Mountain Outfitter’s gig was they provided
meals, but we asked if we could wave that and provide our own food.
We looked upon it as a bit of a challenge to see if we could bring
our own food AND the pots/pans to cook it in. I say “a bit of a
challenge” because as we got tents and bedding provided, the real
challenge would have been to bring tents and bedding, too. Jim
offered to let us use the really skookum cook stove he had in the
tent; we thanked him and used the battered old sheepherder's stove
outside (sheepherder stove = metal box 2 feet long, 1 foot wide, 1
After breakfast the next morning we mounted up for a day trip out to
a section of the Dewdney trail built by the historic Royal
Engineers, part of which was maintained by an assortment of
volunteers and Parks Canada folk, and part of which hadn't been
touched since gold was found in Barkerville in 1870. None of us
were as sore as we thought we might, at least in part due to Jim
McCrea's constant attention to stirrup length and riding tips, so it
was a pleasant ride to where the maintained and un-maintained met.
We parked the horses and took a nice walk. Had our picture taken on
the un-maintained stretch of the Dewdney, then tramped back to the
horses, and headed over to a log cabin set in a Hollywood-esque
mountain meadow. Jim mentioned that folks volunteer to stay in the
cabin, and do local trail maintenance for this privilege. I asked
how one might volunteer; Jim said that the cabin belongs to a BC
horseman's club and is available to club members only. Dr Lyall
asked if one needed to own a horse to be member of this BC
horseman's club; Jim grinned, said nope, adding that if any of us
joined, he'd be happy to meet us next year in the parking lot with
horses to bring us in, or we could go round to the other park
parking lot from which The Cabin was only a half hour hike . . .
when that parking lot was open.
We stopped for lunch beside a creek named after a Royal Engineer
who’d worked on the Dewdney Trail and had a nice lunch. Feet, hats,
and head scarves were soaked in the snow-melt waters of McCall
creek, and off we went.
I really really need to get *WAY* away from the city every so
often, and where we were was just what the doctor ordered. And I
felt good about the fact that the bit of horse riding I did some 15
years ago hadn't left me. When combined with Jim's little riding
tips, I felt a confidence I don’t recall ever having before.
My horse, Shilo, liked to just sorta kinda amble along the trail.
He’d mutter under his breath and groan like a cranky little old man
on steep downhills. And as Jim had warned, every so often, I had to
give him a little kick to urge him to catch up. Each time we jogged
to catch up, I did a little less slapping up and down in the saddle
and by this point in the weekend I'd found the trick for "moving
with the horse".
Word came down the line that the mounts behind Jim should water at
the next creek. The horse Mrs. Innes was on, Shilo’s 22 year old
daughter Sandy, took a tiny sip, and scrambled after the others.
Shilo, however, stepped into the creek, sighed one of those big
horse sighs and made like he was going to drink the creek dry, and
well, it was a warm dry day and we were at the back of the pack.
Now, one of things I brought with me was a leather shoulder bag that
the inside compartment held my sewing kit tin and all my other
sewing accoutrements, and the outside compartment held a swim suit,
chap stick, and film for the camera that hung from the saddle horn.
I’d gotten tired of having the bag over my shoulder and had wrapped
the strap around the saddle horn, so it hung down in front of my
left knee. My small pottery jug (full of water) hung down in front
of my right knee. The camera hug down which ever side grabbed me at
Shilo finally finished and sauntered across the creek. The rest of
the group was far enough ahead that I couldn't hear them, Lou’s
horse was still drinking, and from what Jim had said, there was only
the one trail and Shilo had made many trips on this trail. Feeling
confidant of my horsemanship, I gave him three quick kicks in the
ribs, and shouted, "Huphuphup" and got up on my toes in the
He gathered himself, surged up the bank, and I got The Major
Adrenaline Rush as he launched into a dead gallop. It was like
flying. Shilo's mane whipped in my face, his hooves pounded
rhythmically on the hard packed dirt, and like the wind we wove
along the winding path, through the trees. A Summertime slalom on
iron-shod skis. For those few moments I was somebody else from
another time and another place. *Nothing* else in the whole wide
world mattered. Shilo and I were a single, winged being, skimming
along the path, nothing to bind us to anything anywhere. And then .
. . . I had just enough time to think, "ohsh*t" as Shilo trimmed a
left-hander just a tad too tight.
Everyone else watched with hugely evident concern as I and a really
droopy Shilo came slowly into the meadow where they had all stopped
to wait for me and Lou. Though not unhorsed, I had probably shouted
something, and was leaning way over with one hand cupped tightly
over my left knee.
My knee hurt so very bad and I was trying so very hard not to cry
but when I saw what was left of the D-ring that had held the two
thin leather straps that Shilo's coiled lead rope was tied to the
saddle with, I just fell apart. I felt Stupid, and well, when added
to the Scared, the Embarrassment that I couldn't stop crying, and
the One Big Throb that was my left knee that I was just sure had
been reduced to goo, well...
In the time it took Jim McCrea to leap off his mule and rush over to
me, I had said, "I hit a tree with my knee. It hurts. And it's
mostly my fault." and Lou had come up, and was saying, "I didn't
think to hurry because, well, gosh darn it, she looked so good as
she rode up out of the creek". And because I'm me, I pulled up the
hem of my skirt. I needed to see just how bad it really was.
There was a red spot just on the inside of the knee, and a long wide
swooping scrape on the outside bag.
Mrs. Innes offered some of the Ibuprofen she was carrying; 800 mg; I
asked for and received 2. I had pulled me together some but common
consensus was that I go back to camp and ice the knee immediately.
I didn't argue. Lou took me the short way back to camp. By the
time we got there, I burned from hip socket to toe tip. Jack came
out from under the shade of a tree with a slightly puzzled but
pleased to see us look on his face. Lou hopped down off his horse
saying “She hit a tree” and tied Shilo to the hitching post. Then
both Jack and Lou helped me down off Shilo.
Shilo looked so very very bummed, I tucked up under his head, hugged
his neck, then patted it and told him he was a good boy, it wasn’t
After a bit of conversating, the unanimous verdict was that I should
have a beer and go sit in the creek. If I needed *ANY*thing to
holler. Beer in hand, I limped to the creek, waded up to that
tree-shaded wide spot, and less-than-gracefully plopped down in the
snow-melt water and had myself another good cry.
The day before, the whole bunch of us had spent a fair amount of
time in that spot, and had seen a single, solitary baby fish, about
6 inches long, swimming in the shadow of the creek bank; I was told
it was a Kokanee or Land-Locked Sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka).
As I sat there still feeling stupid and just a tad annoyed with
myself, the juvenile Kokanee came out, followed cautiously by his
fingerling brothers and sisters. I spent a delightfully preoccupied
non-specified amount of time happily squashing the flies and
skeeters trying to snack on me and feeding them to the little fish.
In short order, the little fish lined up just the other side of my
toes and waited. I sat there until I ran out of bugs to squash and
could no longer feel my toes, then went to my tent and slept until
the sounds of everybody returning woke me up.
Another amenity that the Deluxe Basecamp boasted was a soaker tub.
Start with a large round hole dug into the ground in the shape of
one of those nice expensive 8 man hot tubs. Put boards along the
back rest, place a specially made wood stove on the creek side of
the tub, and then line the rest of the tub with a blue plastic
tarp. To fill this delightful thing, you place a common garden hose
in the creek upstream and uphill from the tub and let gravity and
the current do the rest. Allow two hours for the woodstove to heat
While Mrs. Innes and I made dinner using the really skookum cook
stove in the cook tent, Jack pronounced the water in the soaker tub
hot. Because Mrs. Innes and I prepared the entire dinner while the
men sat in the shade sipping sherry and smoking cigars, the men
agreed to do all the dinner clean up.
It was after dinner that I checked the contents of my leather
shoulder bag. Probably a good thing I waited. Had I looked
earlier, I‘d have probably passed right out, but I DO know that had
it not been for my sewing tin and the double bag it was in, my left
knee cap would have been turned to just so much goo. The force of
the impact mashed one side of the four-inch-tall tin down to half
its height, driving the little Period Appropriate spring steel
scissors in the tin a quarter inch through the opposite side.
Leaving the bag contents on the big outside table, Mrs. Innes and I
went to our tent, put swim suits on under our chemises, and then ran
like giggling schoolgirls to the soaker tub. A hue and cry went up
–the gentlemen had earlier said that we women could have the tub
after them– and the men joined us a few minutes later. We sat in
that tub for hours, talking about a wide variety of things, from old
cartoons, to Things Historic, to just pain silliness, and the
bazillion and twelve stars in the night sky.
The next morning I ate enough 800 mg Ibuprofen to serious alarm a
normal person (good thing there were none there) so I could make the
ride back to the Cascade Recreation Area parking lot. None of us
wanted to leave and could have happily stayed another week, but
there were those with jobs who need to get back to them. When we
stopped for gas Hope, Captain Luard hunted up ice (none in the
stores –the truck hadn’t come yet– but a vacationer who was only an
hour from home gave him what they had left and the ice sat on my
knee all the way home. The next morning, there was a pale brown
bruise around my left knee cap that hurt enough to wake me up.
It still aches a bit, but if I had it all to do over again, I
wouldn’t change a thing.