Adventure in the East Kootenay’s ‘Big Country’     May 25-27, 2022

Intro by Terri Perrin, Member at Large.    Story by Barb Hart, Okanagan Chapter

Photos by Barb Hart, Arlene Ladd and Teresa Devine

Paticipants of the East Kootenay Inter Chapter Ride

The East Kootenay Chapter (EKC) of Back Country Horsemen of BC (BCHBC) was established in 2015. While the chapter is based in the city of Cranbrook, its membership region is large, encompassing the area from the US border north to Golden, and from Creston east to the Alberta border. After a period of relative inactivity over the past couple of years, due (of course!) to the pandemic, EKC’s 31 members decided to host an interchapter ride May 25-to-27, 2022 at the new Grasmere Recreation Campsite. This location is a Recreation Sites & Trails BC site developed in partnership with the BC Ministry of Forests. Grasmere Rec Site is located in the Koocanusa Recreation Management Area and consists of hundreds of hectares of Crown Land and active grazing leases.

Organizers were thrilled with the attendance. A total of 47 people participated in the camp and rides —41 riders and horses, one mini-horse, and six non-riders. Thirty-five attendees were BCHBC members and the others were guests. (Several of whom became members after the event!) Participating chapters included members from EKC (17 folks), West Kootenay, Yarrow, Shuswap, Okanagan, North Thompson, Quesnel, and one member at large. Though Quesnel was the furthest members came from, some non-members came from Pincher Creek and Coaldale AB.

There was one sanctioned group ride on the Friday, with trail guides leading 28 horses and riders. Saturday had three guided rides: one locally, where people were not required to trailer out, but could ride in open fields with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop; one to Silver Springs, near Elko; and the third to Silver Springs and onward to Purple Canyon. This third ride was modified to the shorter version once people got to Silver Springs.

Sunday’s ride required trailering up the highway to what locals call the Cutts Ranch or Ingham’s Homestead. These are adjoining properties, and a generation apart, but are now protected grazing land for wildlife with the Nature Trust of British Columbia and BC Ministry of Environment.

“This was the first time we have gone camping with this group. Everyone was so polite and friendly!” recalls Yvonne Abbey, Central Kootenays Chapter member from Creston BC. “It was very nice to ride and camp in a different area, other than the usual places we go. The organizers had many different types of rides to please everyone, as well as different lengths of rides. From riding with a guide to just riding with your own group on your own.  We enjoyed hearing from the people that knew the history of the area. We learned a lot from the stories told and we were surprised at how many other couples like to ride horses and camp in the Kootenays. The poems and entertainment [on Saturday night around the campfire] were very creative and interesting. I even bought a book by one of the local writers, who I found out knew my parents. All and all, it was a great weekend and we got to witness some beautiful wildlife and wildflowers!”

This event was a huge success thanks to the hard work behind-the-scenes by Steve and Erin Bryant, Aaron and Tracey Macdonald, Karl and Robin Arnold, Brian Marriott, and Waneta Roux. The planning committee also extends heartfelt thanks to the many participants who stepped up to help when they saw a need.

Attendee and Okanagan Chapter member, Barb Hart, took the time to recount her experience to share with fellow BCHBC members and those interested in riding in the East Kootenays region. The full account of her ‘Big Country’ experience can be read below.

Riding the meadows. Photo by Teresa Devine

“An amazing three day riding adventure with our East Kootenay Chapter last weekend!” said Teresa Devine. “It was such a fantastic group of fun, dedicated and supportive horsemen; super essential to have been able to take part in this event. It was wonderful to reconnect with old friends and a gift to make new ones. I highly recommend becoming a member of this fun, dedicated and supportive group of diverse horse folks.”

Base Camp

Barb’s Big Country Recollections

My friend, Gena Rome, (chair of Okanagan Chapter) and I were due for a road trip. She had just purchased a nice three-horse living quarters trailer and wanted to put it to the test. We are retired endurance riders and have camped and ridden together for 12+ years, always with her driving our accommodations and me pulling the horses. This was our first time being able to travel in the same vehicle.

Without a doubt … It was a haul! It took us two days to drive the 625 kms. Day one, we drove from West Kelowna south to Grand Forks and then stayed at a friend’s place overnight. It was a beautiful scenic drive, but oh my, the mountain passes. Her truck pulled the new rig beautifully. We arrived at the Grasmere Recreation Site on Thursday, around 4:00 p.m. Just as we finished putting our panels in place, the water truck arrived to fill out our pails. Aaron MacDonald, who was our ‘water boy’, had been watching us and waiting for the exact time to pull up right to our spot. Talk about great service! (There is no water source at this site.)

We were warmly welcomed by club chair, Erin Bryant. The campsite was in a beautiful grassy meadow with trees on the edge for high lining and lots of room for panels. It was an enclosed     pasture bordered on all sides by fences or a lake. Notably, there were NO BUGS. A big tarp was erected near the campfire over the tables that would become our buffet and gathering area for the weekend.

That night the sky opened up and it poured all night long. Gena and I, thankfully, had purchased new rain sheets the day before we left as our old ones had lost their water repellency.

On Friday morning, there was a ride meeting at 11:00 with the ride to leave at noon. The rain had stopped, for the most part, so we all set out following our trail master and ‘water boy’, Aaron.

Off we went, 28 horses and riders who were all pretty much all strangers to one another. Gena and I looked at one another wide eyed, thinking … This could be interesting! But Aaron was pretty chill, a seasoned cowboy, I guess, who didn’t get rattled if you wanted to ride beside him or out in front. We all did our own thing, according to what worked best for our horses. There were no incidents of aggression, as far as I could tell. We pretty much bushwhacked for over 11 miles in a nice big loop ride that took people west to Koocanusa Lake  and various other scenic spots. I told Aaron that I gave him a 10/10 for trail technicality! The horses were so busy watching where to put their feet as they picked their way over deadfall, twigs and stumps that they paid little mind to who was ahead or behind them. It was much more interesting to bushwhack than ride down the trail.

Riverview ride.


Getting to Know Folks on the Trail

As we horse folks are always curious, some people asked Gena what breed her horse, ‘Phire’, was. I had the brainwave to make a bit of a game out of it, so I quickly said, before she could answer, “Can you guess the breed?” A few people tried and asked for hints, but I said “We will tell you if you get it right.” We gave one clue—that he was gaited. One really persistent fellow followed along coming up with some pretty good answers. About two hours and six miles later, he finally figured it out, and then said “I should get a prize.” I replied “we’re working on it.”

About midway, we came to the edge of Koocanusa lake. What a breathtaking view it was of the snow capped Purcell Mountains and the banks of the lake below! The lake is actually a reservoir that was formed in the Kootenay River and flows through Canada and the USA, hence the name ‘Koo-Can-USA’ Lake. The water level had not started to rise yet so there was quite a lot of sand exposed along both sides of the banks. There was, however, quite a drop off in this particular area, so we couldn’t get too close to the edge. I had not been down in this part of our province before. I had no idea of the beauty I would see.

After about 4-1/2 hours in the saddle, we returned to camp to prepare our contribution for the burger and smokie meal. Our campsite was situated close to the main tent so that we met a lot of really nice people on the way to their camp spots.

The plan for Saturday was to ride to Silver Springs to see the Purple Canyon. However, it was going to be about an eight-hour ride and that is too long for this old gal to sit in a saddle at a walk. So, Gena and I took an offer from a couple of gals who live nearby (and were part of our group) and know the land. Shari had ridden up beside me on her paint gelding, ‘Deeks’, a few times the day before to admire my horse as she is a real fan of Arabians. Teresa stood out as the gal who wanted to ride parallel but a little ways away from the group on her green-broke Appaloosa mare, ‘Xena’. The appy looked a bit like she had been hit by a paint gun and had very interesting spots and color!

The Green Mare

Teresa, Shari, Gena and I left camp at 10:30 on Saturday morning, with lunches packed and rain gear still on our saddles, just in case. (If you bring rain gear, I have found, it probably won’t rain!)

We headed in the same direction as the day before, but stayed on the nearby trails so that we could stretch out and cover ground faster, as endurance riders like to do. In no time flat, we arrived at Koocanusa Lake. This time we made our way down the sandbank to the water’s edge. Teresa and Shari watered their horses, but our boys were reluctant to get too close. The edge dropped off sharply and neither Gena or I were up for a swim, so we headed back up the bank.

At the top, I stopped to empty the sand out of Erro’s Renegade boots. The trails had been so soft that there was no need for back boots. A little farther along, we dropped down to the water’s edge again. I took Erro’s front boots off before descending. I haven’t ridden barefoot all around very much, so this was exciting for me. Observing the distinctive ‘purple stones’ and rocky outcrops that are unique to this valley was a highlight.

Anyway, off we went trotting and then cantering all four of us in the soft sand along the edge of the lake which ended in a long narrow spit. (Because we were not part of a BCHBC-sanctioned ride and were on our own, cantering was permitted. Normally, on a sanctioned ride, horses are kept at a walk.) We were squealing with glee like little girls who couldn’t be having any more fun anywhere else but in this spot. Thank you, Shari and Teresa, for being such great tour guides.

Riding the meadows

We were back to camp after 18 miles and 5-1/2 hours and arrived in time to wash up, tend to the horses, have a glass of wine, and chat with the others to ask how the ride to Silver Springs went. I guess all was going along fine, until our fearless leader, Aaron, had a cow elk leap up right in front of his horse. Well, ‘Hudson’ spun a 180° in one direction, with Aaron going in the other, equally as fast. Poor guy landed hard enough to get banged up pretty good. By the time he got checked out at the local hospital, it was determined that he had broken four ribs. Say goodbye to at least half a summer of riding. As it turns out, the cow had just dropped a calf. Poor girl. No privacy anywhere, it seems.

Saturday ended with a yummy catered dinner followed by poetry readings around the fire. Terri Perrin, a BCHBC Member at Large and our Saddle Up Magazine article Coordinator, recited a poem about her childhood horses. It was very well done. Then, local author Dennis Dilts read from his book called Cowboy Memories. Also very entertaining.

There was a little more visiting with new friends around the campfire, a little shopping at the BCHBC merchandise table, and then off to start packing up camp as on Sunday we were trailering to our next ride site and then heading home.

Sunday morning we gathered at 9:00 a.m. to get instructions from Erin Bryant for Sunday’s ride. We were to trailer up the highway for about 10 minutes. The proposed ride would take us to the Inghams’ homestead, which was sold to Nature’s Trust in the 1950s, to become Sheep Mountain Conservation Property Complex. It was originally settled in the early 1900s. The Inghams farmed and planted apple and cherry trees. The old buildings are still standing 100-years later. We did not get to the Cutts’ homestead (other riders did), as we rode off with Teresa and Shari again because they had offered to be our guides for another adventure.

We saddled up at the truck and headed up the trail about mid-morning. We went through the gate into Sheep Mountain Nature Conservatory and up onto a plateau of a beautiful grassy meadow. The girls assured us that there were no gopher holes, so we were free to stretch out and go at whatever pace we felt like. I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of this magnificent area. This is truly BIG COUNTRY as I kept playing the words to the song (In a Big Country) in my head.

A little farther along, we came to the edge of the canyon overlooking the Elk River, up about 2000-feet. It was another amazing view. Stalagmites of sand had formed as the bank eroded over the course of many hundreds of years, I imagine. That is probably why the old trapper’s cabin appeared to be way too close to the edge of the cliff. One good west wind and that cabin would be blown over the edge!

The Old Homestead

There was more lovely meadow riding where we came upon a pond with perhaps the last cherry tree from the old orchard, resplendent in its deep pink blossoms, perfectly reflected in the water. We rode up to the old Ingham homestead where we were joined by a couple of riders from our camp. I love imagining what life had been like for them so many years ago. How hard they all had to work in those days. We arrived back at the truck at 1:00 p.m. after a fabulous 10-mile ride. We said goodbye, with warm hugs for our new friends, promising to meet up again on the trail somewhere and headed home to West Kelowna with an overnight stay in Golden.

We set up camp at the Golden rodeo grounds. As we were having dinner and a glass of wine. admiring the beauty of the snow capped Purcells in the distance and CP Rail below, we were approached by a fox. No doubt, the fox was a frequent visitor to the rodeo grounds as he was not at all shy to see what we were having for dinner. That is another first for me as I have never seen a fox in the wild.

We made it home safely on Monday after a wonderful getaway. Thanks Gena. You are a superb wheelman, as my Dad would say. I promise I will get my heavy trailer endorsement and my truck equipped to pull your rig for our next big adventure.

Thanks to the volunteers from the East Kootenay Chapter of BCHBC. You put on one helluva a great weekend. It was well organized, fun, in a beautiful meadow with great people and NO BUGS! The only downside was Aaron’s mishap. Dan, from Wardner, you left too early before we could present you with the prize for guessing the breed of Gena’s horse.

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