Rocky Mountains, Banff, Canada -- A rush of adrenaline surged through me as I felt the horse beneath me easily overcome the steep incline up Rainbow Ridge. The drop of several hundred feet to the right of our narrow pathway was clearly visible and though it made my own heart pound with exhilaration, it did nothing to deter my mount.
At the top, our group of Holiday on Horseback trail riders were rewarded with a breathtaking view from 7,000 feet up of the Rocky Mountains deep within Banff National Park. This kind of spectacular scenery is a photographer's paradise and was typical day on our weeklong adventure horseback trip last July.
My dad and I had been planning the trip for a few months. He's an experienced horseman and me... well, I'm a city girl who's often been described as just a bit "prissy". This horseback and tenting trip would be the most roughing-it experience of my life so far. I figured that what I lacked in experience I made up for with enthusiasm. I wasn't alone in that.
Within our overall group was an eclectic mixture of experienced horseback riders and complete greenhorns. We were from all walks of life, including ranchers, university students, families, and businesspeople.
For 70-year-old Mary Johns from Wyoming, it was her fifth Holiday on Horseback in the past 20 yeras. She's been riding all her life and is a part of a women's group of experienced horseback riders, some of whom accompanied her on this trip.
"I've been on the tenting trips and the lodge trips," Johns said. "I keep coming back and I bring groups of people with me because this is the most beautiful country I've ever seen."
Johns was the matriarch of our group, being the most senior in age and in horseback experience. Her patient smile and skill on the trail was a sharp contrast to the exuberance of one of the youngest in the group, Brendon Stoner. The 11-year-old from Boston was thoroughly entertained each day by an experience he describes as "way out there" compared to his regular life.
"I was a little psyched out at first when I had to pack up my own gear and get it in and out of the tent! I've never done that before, but now it's no big deal," he said.
This particular trip, the 6-day Wilderness Tenting Ride, started out with guests being shuttled to Banff's Mount Norquay were they met their guides and their horses. We then went on an 11-mile ride to Elk Lake Summit and then down into Stoney Creek Camp, the first of three different camps visited. The ride covered old growth forests, lakes, valleys and river bottoms.
Our camps were outfitted with canvas tents already set up and strategically placed in various areas within the site so as to give campers some privacy. A large dining tent, complete with tables and a wood stove offered a place for us to gather for eating and visiting.
At the end of a full day ride we enjoyed a piping hot, hearty country meal from the camp's cook. Three guides also accompanied us on this trip, including trail foreman Barry Ferguson.
Ferguson is a true-grit cowboy who has been a guide since 1979. He knows the area so well that when he refers to the mountain expanse as his backyard, you believe him.
"I've met people from all over the world doing this job," said Ferguson. "What could be better than doing a job where you can ride every day and see bears digging up roots and hear the elk bugle in the fall?"
Ferguson impressed our group with his knowledge of every nook and cranny of mountain space on the trail. Each day our group rode out to various locations, stopping frequently to take photos and so Ferguson could explain the terrain. One day we saw a Grizzly bear pop its head up from some bushes where it was apparently digging for something. Uninterested in us, it went back to its rooting.
Marylin Patterson from Ontario enjoyed the sheer rush of adrenaline from the ride itself. Patterson and her two close friends Marva and Nancy, planned the trip as a "girls' getaway". It became even more of an adventure than she anticipated.
"I've never done anything like this before," said Patterson. "I'm normally afraid of my own shadow, but I'm so proud of myself for doing this trip. I always saw these kinds of things in movies, but never thought I would do it myself. You can prove to yourself that you can handle being a cowboy -- at least for a week!"
According to Ron Warner, experience is not necessary for the trip. Warner owns Warner Guiding and Outfitting, the organizer of the Holiday on Horseback.
"You should be someone who enjoys the outdoors and be comfortable around horses," he said, "but you can be a beginner in riding and still have a great trip."
Warner himself has been in this business since 1962. He started Warner Guiding and Outfitting in 1974.
By the end of our trip 20 strangers had become friends, sharing in the camaraderie of our journey. The last day ended with feelings of pride and exuberance at our success in being cowboys for a week, mingled with happiness knowing we'd have memories and stories about the trip of a lifetime.
For more information on Warner Guiding and Outfitting Holidays on Horseback, visit www.horseback.com.