Destination: Moose Mountain Horseback Adventures, Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada.
Best time to go: June to September.
Overview: This five-day pack trip took a group of intrepid riders into the pristine wilderness of the Canadian Rockies.
Day One: This eight-hour ride to our first camp took us across 12 miles of steep hills, forests, and streams, surrounded by snowcapped mountains. We encountered a small herd of wild horses. The stallion galloped near us as if to steal some mares for his harem.
We arrived at camp around 4:30 and assembled a highline to picket the horses for the evening. After a hearty supper of steaks and baked potatoes, we rode the horses bareback down to a nearby stream to water them for the night.
Day Two: We broke camp early, as this would be our longest day in the saddle. The ride to our second base camp would take us deeper into the wilderness and cover 17 miles of backcountry. We pulled out at 9 a.m. and headed for the Hogback Trail, a narrow ridgeline path taking us past Three Point Gorge. We then headed to our lunch stop on Forget Me Not Ridge (elevation 7,100 feet).
We crested the summit, had lunch, and headed back down the opposite side of the ridge. We continued on to the Big Elbow River, the site of our base camp for the remainder of the trip. We reached our river camp by 5 p.m. We dined on spaghetti against the magnificent backdrop of Three Point and Cougar Mountains.
Day Three: This day's ride would be only eight miles, but would take us into a scenic box canyon in the mountains just across the river. This secluded valley would be the site where the infamous Box Canyon Derby would take place.
We saddled up and crossed the river. After a long ascent up the mountain on the edge of a deep ravine, we finally entered the canyon. Along the way, we were treated to views of a large waterfall in the valley below. Upon reaching the base of Banded Peak, we allowed the horses to graze a bit while we ate a picnic lunch by a nearby snow bank.
The Box Canyon Derby is a half-mile "no guts no glory" all-out gallop across a flat gravel plain near the far end of the canyon. All the participants formed a line at one end of this stony surface, then galloped furiously towards the finish line. My Quarter Horse, Gunner, carried me to victory.
Day Four: We saddled up and headed out of camp by 9:30. Our intended route was to circle Three Point Mountain overlooking our campsite, a 14-mile ride. After traveling upstream along the river, we cut off and began a steep climb along a rocky creek bed, taking us to an open area just above 6,000 feet in elevation, affectionately dubbed "Midnight's Meadow." It was here that a horse named Midnight, who'd been left in camp on a previous trip, came galloping unexpectedly up the trail.
When we reached the base of Mount Rose and a good grazing area, we ground-tied the horses and began to collect some deadwood for a fire. We then roasted sausage links over the flames.
We continued on toward Cougar Pass, riding along rockslides of brown shale. As we descended into the old-growth spruce forest within the mountain pass, I felt like I was entering a primeval land, surrounded by lichen-covered trees dressed in strands of green witch's hair and brown old man's beard.
We then began a steep descent toward Cougar Creek. The final few feet of this passage would prove to be too steep and rocky to ride, so we dismounted and sent them down alone to the creek bed below, one by one.
The final leg of the ride along Cougar Creek provided scenic vistas of waterfalls and curious rock formations. We rode in and across the streambed along the way and arrived back at camp by 6 p.m.
Day Five: I made my way to the river to watch the sunrise illuminate the white snowcaps on the mountaintops one last time. We collected our supplies and loaded the three pack horses, ready to pull out of camp and start the 16-mile journey back to civilization.
We rode to Powder Face Ridge; our steep 2,000-foot climb led us to what I considered to be the best panoramic view of our trip. We stopped for lunch at an elevation of 6,600 feet, the entire Elbow River Valley spread out below us.
As we continued higher toward an elevation of 7,200 feet, we hit an impassible wall of snow, forcing us to walk our horses along this barrier until we found a clearing allowing us to reach the summit. We continued on foot for a short distance, as the trail was extremely rocky with difficult footing.
When in sight of Moose Mountain, we could climb back in the saddle and continue down toward our pick-up point.