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"VACATION FROM HELL" Where fear and a mountain were conquered
Written by : Gary Bain ( see story below )
VIDEO 1 : Alpine meadows
VIDEO 2 : Barbs' horse falls down in creek
VIDEO 3 : Trail riding the first day
VIDEO 4 : Steep trails
VIDEO 6 : Nearing the pass
VIDEO 7 : Kim chopping through the lip ice
VIDEO 9 : Horses falling down the scree
August 1996, high in the mountains of British Columbia, I stood watching helplessly from the rear of a group of horses and a mule that were standing single file on a sheer game trail. A game trail that was hardly a foot wide that wound its way through two thousand feet of perilous scree towards the summit. At the head of the column was Barbara, my wife, in tears and beside herself with fright. Above her a scant twenty yards was Kim, our guide. He was busily chopping away the lip ice that had formed on the ridge of the 10,000 foot peak that was our only way out. Snow and rain was closing in on us and visibility was dropping rapidly. This was our dream vacation, horseback in grizzly country, in the wilds of British Columbia!!
After being stranded in the Pacific with Barbara in 1990 I thought it would be gracious of me to take her on a real nice vacation. A few years earlier I had gone to British Columbia to film a mountain goat hunt and had fallen in love with the place. There I met Carmen Dempsey, a robust and jovial mountain man that owns Rocky Mountain Outfitters. So I coordinated the trip with him to take advantage of his off-season and at a time that the weather was optimum. His 320,000 acres are in the Kootenay mountain ranges that border the Banff National Park in the Rocky Mountains. I have never witnessed such incredible beauty and pristine wilderness.
We arrived at Golden, B.C. and met up with Carmen and then proceeded to our cabin that was to be our home for a week. Nestled in the foothills of the Kootenays the rustic cabin offered an incredible view of the countryside and adjacent mountains. This was like a trip back in time, to a period of primitive life, devoid of the traces of civilization, quiet and peaceful. The horses were stalled in rough fences carved from the timber of the land. A creek running beside the cabin offered fresh water and the sounds of a heavenly abode. We took a short ride that afternoon and then settled in and contemplated the great fun ahead and what an incredible vacation this was going to be!!
The next days ride was planned to the alpine meadows that were on the mountainside which we could see from the cabin. Kim, our guide, was a stout twenty-one year old man that worked for Carmen during the summer. We mounted up and took to the trail, at least that's what Kim called it!! Hardly an hour into the trip, just as I had turned my video camera off, Barb's horse for the week, Bullet, attempted to climb out of the creek we were crossing and slipped and fell over backwards. Barb very gracefully slid off as he fell and wound up very wet. The horse stayed down but Kim coaxed it up. Bullet had a cut on his leg so we tied him up and and continued, Kim afoot and Barb riding his horse. At a juncture in the trail, Kim told us to take the left fork and proceed to the alpine meadow and that he was going to investigate the right fork and then meet us back at the junction. Barb and I checked out the meadow, which was incredibly beautiful, then started back. Just as we got to the junction Kim was hastily beating a retreat, whispering for us to be quiet. He had just seen a huge grizzly and didn't want any part of it. So we departed the area, picked up Barb's horse on the way back and finished our first days adventure.
Sometime during the next day or so, somebody ( me?? ) came up with the idea that we should drive around to the other side of the mountain range, pick up some horses and ride them back across the 10,000' pass and see Lake Dianne on the return to the cabin. The lake is at a high altitude, snuggled in a valley between the ridges and purported to be an incredibly pristine area. We departed early in the morning and arrived at another cabin where we would spend the night before taking off early the next morning. Bears had recently torn up the windows of the cabin trying to get to the food inside. Barb, at this point was starting to look askance at our plans, but I assured her it was going to be great fun. With an early get-up we could be over the pass by early afternoon, ride around Lake Dianne for awhile and be back home before dark. The most fun of the entire trip I think, was watching Carmen and his crew round up the horses that had been free-roaming since the previous season. A circus ensued as four-wheelers, trucks, a wild herd of horses and a one-eyed mule terrorized the valley and surrounding mountainsides. The animals surely must have known what was in store for them as they tried every trick in the book to elude capture. They finally submitted however and then peacefully relegated themselves to whatever tasks lay ahead.After rounding up the horses and the mule we turned in and anxiously awaited our next day of horsebacking fun!!
As scheduled, we left early in the morning, with me in the rear, somehow delegated to ride the one-eyed mule, Ace. Kim and a pack horse was in the lead and Barb in the middle. The trip started with a lot of excitement. We saw a moose and two black bears. Then we started getting into the high country. The trails became smaller and smaller, the inclines steeper and steeper, and the weather was getting colder and colder. Barb is definitely not a cold weather person and we were not really prepared for cold weather as it was August and it doesn't get that cold in August - normally!! We had to start stopping more often for the horses to gain their strength and we ran into some deadfalls that slowed our progress. Then the slow and cold drizzle set in with occasional snow flurries. As if that wasn't bad enough, the horses started getting skittish and then we saw why. A bear had killed something on a snow patch and blood was scattered everywhere. We pressed on through a couple of more deadfalls and determined there was no way we would make the pass before dark. With Barb shivering like crazy, Kim and I managed to set her up with a wonderful little nest for the evening. A small two person tent, with wet horse blankets for a mattress and damp clothes for warmth, what more could a person want? We did build a big fire and what saved the day was the big boulder I took from the edge of the fire, then wrapped it in my sweat gear and tucked it into Barb's sleeping bag. It provided her with warmth throughout the night.
We awoke to more drizzle and cold but had no choice but to press on for it was too risky to turn back. After a couple of hours riding we could see our objective ahead. The pass loomed in the distance atop a huge scree slide with a game trail marking the way to the summit. As we made our way up the trail Kim started getting a little worried. He mentioned something about lip ice, a term I had never heard before. He also said he had never seen it in August!! Very simply, the top of the ridge, our way over the pass, was frozen with ice and snow. We went as far as we could but the trail soon disappeared into solid ice as we got within about twenty yards of the top. Kim decided he would chop us a trail through it so we could gain access to the ridge and to the trail on the other side for the descent. The trail at this point was a mere foot across and the scree sloped precipitously downwards for about two thousand feet. I was in the rear behind the mule. The pack horse and Kim's horse were tied together then Barb and her horse out front . Kim started hacking away at the ice as Barb and I stood on the trail, immobilized and unable to do anything. The hours passed and I could only watch as Barb shivered and held back the tears. I felt horrible as there was nothing I could do or say. And one thing was for certain, she darn sure didn't want to hear anything from me at this point! But I was proud as I watched her fear turn to resolve and she ultimately handled the situation like a real trooper. I'm sure she reflected on our pleasure trip across the Pacific and decided she would rather be where she was rather than stranded in the great expanse of the ocean. After about four and a half hours of chopping Kim had cleared the way for us. The snow was flying and the wind howling as Barb started up the incline stabbing her hands into the ice and snow to gain traction. She slowly made her way up and disappeared over the top, much to my relief. Kim followed with her horse as the visibility dropped to nil. She couldn't see what was going on below and thank goodness for that. As Kim started his horse and the pack horse up the steep incline the horses started sliding and fell down the scree. They were tied together and somehow halted their fall and stood still until Kim could get to them. He brought them back to where I was and we unloaded the packhorse and started hand carrying all the gear to the top. Barb had been on top with her horse going crazy wanting to be with the other animals and heard our hollering and could only wonder about what was transpiring. Kim and I coaxed the horses and the mule over the top and then we all celebrated.
The weather suddenly turned in our favor and from our vantage point atop the ridge we could see our way down and off in the distance, Lake Dianne. We would not ride to the lake this day however, for it was frozen solid and Barb had only one objective now, get off this mountain, into some warm and dry clothes and consume a good hot cup of coffee. The ride down was without incident and a fitting finale for the "Vacation from Hell" as she now so fondly refers to our great vacation in the wilds of British Columbia. And I just don't understand it, to this day she has declined all offers from me to take her on a really nice vacation!! Oh, and one final note. In having a conversation with Carmen's wife just before we left for home she told Barb, " You know, I sure do admire you, you're the first woman to ever complete that trip over the pass !!!!"
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