September 2018 - An Awe-Inducing Adventure

Riding in the wilds of British Columbia.

by Linda Ballou

I answered the call of the wild with a horse pack trip in British Columbia offered by Tyslos Park Lodge & Adventures. The McLean family has been taking international travelers into Chilcotin/Cariboo Country, one of the last great wilderness areas in North America, for over 60 years. Among their horseback riding vacations is a lodge stay for experienced riders who want to gallop over hill and dale, and horse pack trips for those who just want to rock along taking in gorgeous vistas. This region is also famous for its cayuse (wild horses) and grizzly bear populations, as well as world-class fly fishing. Expert guides and trustworthy mounts take riders, wildlife photographers, and fly fishers on an adventure into an untrammeled wilderness that can’t be reached any other way.

 


A short scenic flight out of Vancouver over the snow-frosted peaks of the Coastal Range gives you an idea of the vastness of the Chilcotin backcountry. You are greeted at a remote airport by the lodge wranglers eager to make your stay a memorable one. The lodge itself is a marvel built from local timbers and furnished with all the comforts of home. It sits on a knoll overlooking the azure blue Chilko Lake that extends 52 miles up a glacier-carved valley sheathed in fir trees.

 

Horses grazing at Goat Camp

I headed out with six riders, four pack horses, and two guides for our first base camp on the shore of a lagoon. There I awoke to the haunting call of a loon floating over still waters that mirrored granite spires sporting snow in July. On the far shore a moose with her gangly calf trotting behind was our breakfast entertainment.

Pack horses on forest trail. Photo: Linda Ballou

In crisp morning air with dew lifting from grassy meadows, we headed out for our next campsite. This is not just a ride, it’s a journey back into a time when you could ride for days and see no one. We rambled through a grove of quaking aspen to a rocky shore of the Chilko Lake to give the horses a drink. The trail that is only used a couple of times a season snakes through alder thickets and then begins to climb. Our sturdy, sure-footed horses charged up the steep ascent with aplomb.

Tika ran with us on our rides. Photo: Linda Ballou

Josh, our accomplished guide, encouraged us. “Stand up. Get out of the saddle. Grab mane if you have to! You don’t want to ‘sore up’ your horses on the climbs.” He was gentle with the animals and displayed a kind spirit and a helping hand to guests. With our safety in mind, he checked cinches and made sure all was secure before leading us along narrow tracks overlooking a charging river, splashing through creeks, and clamoring up and down steep ravines.
    

Deck at Tyslos lodge. Photo: Linda Ballou

Up We Go!

After breaking for lunch in a lush meadow peppered with purple lupine, we continued on to reach Goat Camp at 6,800 feet elevation. We had climbed 3,000 feet and now the air was crisp with temps hovering around 70 degrees. This magical setting was to be our home for the next three nights. The energetic voice of Pink Creek (so named as the minerals from the glacier feeding the stream turn it a salmon color) and the smell of crackling bacon woke me. I was amazed at the quality and variety of delicious meals prepared on an open flame by Louise, a seasoned cook from Australia who doubled as a guide.

The horses spent the nights in a picturesque alpine meadow guarded by granite giants munching on knee-high grass. The day ride without the pack horses is nothing short of spectacular. We charged through boughs of Jack Pine keeping a sharp eye out for trees that can bruise a knee. The forest floor is carpeted with salmon berry, devil’s club, huckleberry, cinquefoil, paintbrush, columbine, rock rose, and lavender asters along with many varieties of ferns and mosses. We hopped a sparkling rill stealing through an alpine meadow and began the switch-backing trail through scree to the top of the world.

Horses crossing on a wilderness pack trip. Photo: Tsylos Lodge

I heard my voice cracking when I tried to express the overwhelming humility I felt at the sight of one of Mother Nature’s finest handiworks. The head spinning 360-degree view takes in dazzling Chilko Lake and glacier rivers carving new valleys in the granite peaks packed with snow in a dome of unending baby blue sky. There is not one sign of man’s footprint here, or in the distance. A stillness and a peace soothed my city weary soul.
    
A Good Group

After a week in the bush, our tiny band of riders had become friends. Five of the riders were from Germany and spoke mostly their native tongue, yet the love for horses and the great outdoors was a language common to all. Everyone pitched in with camp chores and tacking up the horses. Ages spanned 13-70 with women outnumbering the men. It was touching to see a businessman with little riding experience spend quality time with his horse-crazy teenage daughter. They worked together to protect one another on the trail. “Dad, just trust your hoss and he will take care of you,” came from the young equestrienne.

Chilko Lake. Photo: Linda Ballou

I wasn’t the only solo traveler seeking tranquility; a young woman of 25 was also relishing the freedom of being off the grid. At the end of the day’s ride, all were accepted into the tribe over a glass of wine and delicious dinner around the campfire.

Pack trips to the Potato and Goat camps only go out a couple of times a season. They call for a modicum of fitness, a willingness to help others, the ability to tack you own horse, and a desire to see this gorgeous region up close and personal. The undulating 25-mile ride back to the lodge through forests of fir and sun-drenched wildflower meadows gives you the chance to enjoy a real hack. The pack horses know the trail by heart and are sent home on their own.

Horse Riding on Wilderness Pack Trip BC Canada. Photo: Tsylos Lodge

If you prefer shorter, faster rides with lodge comforts that include gourmet meals and a spa in the deck overlooking the pastoral valley and Chilko Lake, “lodge riding” might be a perfect fit for you. Riders from around the world seeking the most authentic riding experience gather here forming a stimulating international crowd. Many do the two-week combination with one week-long pack trip and one week of lodge riding. Non-riders come to Tyslos for fly-fishing. A 21-mile float down the Chilko River garners rainbow trout, bull trout, and salmon in the fall. Photographers from around the globe gather here to capture images of the over 100 grizzly bears that call the Chilko Valley home during the fall Sockeye Salmon run. Autumn is a lovely time of year to be here when the aspen are spinning gold.

Linda Ballou is the author of The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon. For more travel articles, visit her site, www.LindaBallouAuthor.com.

 


If You Go

www.Tsylos.com - Tsylos Wilderness Lodge (pronounced Sigh-Loss)
I suggest the Pacific Gateway Hotel located near the International Airport in Vancouver. They have a free shuttle to South Terminal where you catch the charter flight to Tyslos Lodge, as well as to the International Airport. www.pacificgatewayhotel.com