Pam Asheton - Alberta Back Country Equestrian Guide, Equine Workshop Clinician, Journalist / Writer, Photographer, Horse Wellness

Trail Updates - October 29, 2011 - Click images to enlarge
CANYON) CREEK TRAIL (parking at the west end of Prairie Creek Trail) and returning on the gravel POWDERFACE ROAD, mid-week (no traffic)
Trail Updates 2011
Canyon Creek Trail Updates
Canyon Creek Trail Updates

The fall colours when we arrived late, say around the 1 p.m. mark, were THE best I’ve ever ever seen (this trail’s description is being doubled up on the blog, for those that like knockout tree photography).  We parked on the side of the gravel Powderface Trail by the west end of Prairie Creek Trail), snugged on the cinches and the safety gear and off, five minutes tops.  A horse these days who knows his job and thoroughly enjoys the expectation of a ride well done.

Pam Asheton TruckI’d heard about this creek trail, heard even that years back an endurance race had taken place, started I think even, from this very point, and heard too it was a sod, of pure bog. 

Well, long distance international equestrian horse races, the long milers, these days are won on flat or just rolling ground, deserts often as the Dubai sponsorships particularly have come into effect.  Endurance rides in Alberta are still taking place in pure bog and muskeg.  The finishing times for the Californian Tevis Cup, burningly hot terrain, have decreased fantastically this past decade.

Why?? are Canadian endurance race planners (and riders) still riding in bogs and muskeg?? 

Don’t get it.  At all.

So, I’d deliberately chosen this trail after five weeks now of ferociously warm weather, no dew even, not a drop.

From the parking place, the maps are a bit deceptive as you have to climb the hillside to the right (east) of the gravel Powderface Trail first before, peering beadily, you’ll see a mostly overgrown entrance to a trail over its top, with a red diamond well tucked back in.

I was right.  There’s no way I’d ever ride this trail in even ‘normal’ conditions but bone dry, like this glorious day, there were, say, still five bogged creek-type crossings.  Some roots.  One slatted lodgepole pine crossing, decaying and just about OK for hikers but, one foot into with a horse, a log flipped up so we backed up and bushwhacked around upwards and around and back onto the trail.

Fabulous forests and then dirt sections, the sky overhead cobalt blue, the odd chickadee and a ton of squirrel middens. 

Yep, ideal bear country material and I know for a fact it’s a wildlife corridor, respect it too.

We saw a squirrel, another animal I never thought to see, ever, and in such amazing circumstances of just total grace you wonder if the moment, truly, ever happened.

The trail descends again after its mild elevation gain, hardly puff worthy, and then briefly swings right-handed along a creek based valley thick with willows swathing into crimsons.  The afternoon light began to slant, just as we crossed Canyon Creek.  There you hook westwards (left-handed), and it’s not well marked or well used.  No horse shoe tracks, no hikers’ boot treads and one pretty elderly mountain bike’s marking that had gone through a long long time ago.

You kind of follow the very pretty valley, the creek singing its songs to your left, and then there’s a meadow.  Don’t, as I did, continue to follow the trail closest to the river (one slightly scrambled rock climb, not difficult but if you’re not confident in your horse, nope) but instead take the higher trail out of the triangular meadow, which’ll end up taking you, about a mile up, to join again together.

Lovely surfaces for riding, dirt, open sections, meadow and soft turf, with some random campgrounds and fire circles.

Fall Colour - Canyon Creek TrailBecause it was a weekday and late and low traffic volume we returned back on the gravel Powderface Trail, the first part homewards back to the trailer a bit of a swinging circular climb that had been, just lovely, graded and not its usual corduroy that has your shock absorbers trembling.   After that, there’s actually  a good deal of side trails to either side that you spend, in fact, little time on the road itself.

Canyon Creek TrailThe trees rustled and twirled their pinks, their fluorescent yellows and even touches of reds this year.  Back at the trailer, The Fox munching his cubes and thinking pleasurably of his haynet for the homeward journey, and by now seriously almost dusk, two young men arrived, unloading backpacks.  They chose the Prairie Creek Trail going eastwards, a valley that in five minutes would be in shadow and with a temperature dropping like crazy.  Interesting.



Pinto Mare
Here’s a combination of stories of a couple of rides on different horses, different weather conditions on the PRICE CAMP TRAIL connecting to the SHEEP RIVER TRAIL  By October 2007 I needed a newspaper promotional feature ‘new trail’ not included in the guidebook.

The Sheep River area draws me every time.  Like a magnet.

I rang up the ranger station for advice and luckily for the young man who answered my plea for the recommendation of a good trail, I didn’t get his name.  He recommended the PRICE CAMP TRAIL, after a good ten days of intermittent rain and frost, after a season that hadn’t been great anyway in weather condition terms.


We set off from the now vastly modernized SANDY MACNABB EQUESTRIAN area (albeit parking in the day trailhead parking which is very ordinary and no water either, my pet hate), then clockwise aiming for the PRICE CAMP TRAIL to the SHEEP RIVER TRAIL return trip.

The Pinto Mare was definitely having I-am-a-blonde- day.  I’d never worked out why before people had aversions to riding mares but that day, after thirty years of riding mares in competitions without glitches, I got what the deal can be.

She was a nightmare.  We gawped at stones, at the river crossing, at hearing horses ahead and tripping over every stone in order to get her ears right into their backsides.  We slopped through dripping dank trees, after the initial charming dirt track and open wooded poplars, the trail great if you were riding a Clydesdale with feet the size of plates but otherwise - ?

Bleh.  We slopped through more mud, rooted trail, more splashy mud, a brief meadow.  By this point we were past communicating, on bare tolerance terms and then, turning right handed after a not-very-nice meadow, we came to the just re-built downward trail towards the Sheep River crossing.

We paused, or rather, I asked for a pause and we kind of negotiated briefly standing still while I peered with active displeasure at the mildly steep dirt trail already with great gouges of erosion streaks slanting across said dirt trail.

Well-shod, we hugged its left hand slanting to right trail’s edge and, sitting on our butt a few times (she had boots and over-reaches on, small cheer I know), we slid, slithered and plopped, finally, into the river.  I wasn’t, then, impressed with whoever had worked on that trail; the bedding in had no gravel, no base to grab onto; atrocious, no other word for it.

The sun briefly came out and standing in the river’s gentle current of late fall, I asked for a halt while a few photographs could be snapped off.  She twirled around, gawped upwards and refused to acknowledge five months of homework schooling.  The language became, er, not lady-like, at all, as I swore and then, glancing upwards, saw hikers looking down on what, to them, was a pretty picture of a stridingly coloured mare far below the shale and curious rock formations. 

I winced; ah, how voices carry across (and upwards) on water!

We stood still, briefly, like in the ten second range, long enough at least to snap off one decent photograph and then hoiked upwards to join onto the Sheep River Trail returning eastwards higher along the river’s banks.  There were three very nice wooden gates to open and close, and she made sure I remembered every single one of them with active exasperation.  The trail itself improved with the height, the riversong and the poplars and aspens opening out to meadows, beautifully pretty.

Four years on, on a perfect late fall day, not a whisper of wind, the leopard spotted appaloosa The Fox and I set off anti-clockwise.  He was in a mood to thoroughly enjoy himself, no flies, no bugs, whispers of wind and an attitude he takes seriously of looking after The Human.

His Human.

We set off from the still frightfully dull (no water still at the day trailhead site, despite thousands being spent on the opposite side of the road Equestrian Campground) parking, a few other stock trailers piled in there but their occupants already away.

With the Texas gate now across the Equestrian’s entrance, you can save yourself opening a gate or two by crossing over the highway, then simply following on its southern side until the barbed wire enclosing the Campground ends, track left and join, about 400 metres going south, straight onto the Sheep River Trail and head west, young man.

The going was perfect, soft slightly dusty dirt, stunning light and trees the best ever fall colours I’ve seen in ten years of living in this province.  The Fox was thoroughly enjoying himself, stopping politely as five riders roared up in fast flowing walk a few miles on.

“If you want excitement,” they exclaimed with relish, “there’s a bear ahead!”

I smiled, thanked them and rode on.  I’m rather tired of hearing about bears when riding – hiking alone, yep, I’d take a bit more care but if you’re on a good four-legged vantage point and there’s decent meadow to take note, nope. 

The apparently approaching bear didn’t appear, and we dropped down into the Sheep River, beautiful indeed with the rocks running underneath water highlighted by sunlight dancing.  Glacier stones older than time.  Magical.

Then, ah, again that blessed yucky bit of dirt trail upwards this time. 

I stopped to look at the skid marks, presumably of the five horses we’d encountered a while back, and this after four weeks of drought and blistering sunshine.  The bottom bit is OK, just I’d rate it but climb a couple of hundred metres and you see the problem.  The trail’s set overtop two springs, that just slant and run down to past saturation.  I dismounted and guessed at the imprint depth of horse hooves and they’d certainly been well over their fetlocks.

I stayed on the ground, puffing as the trail steepened and wondered why the hell the original work hadn’t included at least a couple of culverts tucked under the still cruddy surface clay - ??

Anyway, over that horrible piece of trail, apologizing to my horse who nodded graciously and then swung on board again.  He gave me, simply, a daisy of a ride.

Not one foot wrong, all day, and back fresh, clear eyed and waiting for that haynet of goodies to munch on the trip home.  One super-contented horse.

(The Pinto Mare, by the way, after her atrocious demonstration of manners that day, was faultless for the rest of the backcountry season - !)


Trail Updates - Sept 5, 2011 - Click images to enlarge
Labour Day Monday afternoon, September 2011 – the infamous 999 trail update for you!

SO many people have fed me information about this trail in the interests of all trail riders, yep, you have to do it yourself and report your own opinion.  At least you yourself know the deal, eh - ?

Mesa Butte EquestrianSo, over the Texas gate going towards the Mesa Butte equestrian campground and then, just before the sign that tells you are entering Kananaskis Country, track left (or south), over a few potholes and there’s a dream of a ‘secret’ (well, it FEELS secret although easily seen but not, er, dusted by the gravel road speed freaks) spot, with trees and close to Three Point CreekCamping SpotHere is where the fall grazing lease cattle are gathered, and where I definitely didn’t look, even remotely, at my finest with perhaps twenty of the handsomest ranchers and wranglers in Alberta loading up their stock back in 2005.

I wrote, with crystal clear recall, in the guidebook of that day.  And, I still remember.  Vividly!

A regular backcountry rider and semi-historian tells me that in fact the ‘999’ brand of its owner, John Ware, is not that at all – instead, he’s explored the strong possibility the brand’s in fact three walking sticks crossed over with a fourth walking stick.

I wonder.  Feedback, anyone - ?

So, unloaded my flashy pinto boy, saddled up, through the wooden gate (seen in the photograph on the right hand side a a tad further away from my spruce friends, OK?) and splashed through Three Point Creek.  Well, back in 2006 or 2007 say, work was done on the lower part of this trail which was renowned for mud, muck, and DEEP going.  Nearly always.

In those intervening years, when in 2005 I unwittingly trailed behind 350 odd cattle being herded in with the sorrel Arabian mare The-Queen-of-the-Desert (she was not amused - and in fact, luckily, those cattle just churned the lethal clay into a complete slurry of sloshed mud instead), I’d heard of improvements, of a trail built up with a kind of run-off ditch running either side of the now built-up trail.

So, after ten days of 2011 late August blazing sunshine, two days of torrential downpour and then another two days of wind and drying sun, we rode southwards and upwards through the mostly spruce and fir forest.

The first kilometre - ?  Bleh! 

The pinto’s range-bred, and has an instinct none of my other horses possess to the same degree of feel, of knowing what’s under his feet. 

He wasn’t impressed.  Neither was I.  And these were prime weather conditions too.

Occasionally - I’m guessing the grazing lease range rider perhaps - has established little side trails through the trees, and which ride past the worst of the spring-fed mud slicks.  Why, oh please, doesn’t that person get asked to plan for an alternative route that kilometre or so of a most displeasing nature??  Frank Coggins, who told me in detailed fashion of similar hazards and routes he designed up in the YaHaTinda area, often with muskeg matting underneath and which have endured decades, why is that kind of knowledge and expertise not being applied here??

The trail climbs, then opens up into poplar, thickly scented now, like a Bev Doolittle painting of secret messages.   The trail is mostly dirt, the odd rock and some roots.  Then down, sometimes slightly different routing to where the Arabian mare and I, much later in the 2005 season, sweated through but beautifully clear to follow, and the trail, too, is much more obvious to the eye in 2011 through the lower pastures as you wind towards the graveled Gorge Creek Road.

I glanced back upwards, by the way, to where the pasture trail moseys into the treeline and then up, and yep, still no red diamond to mark.  I remember that October 2005 day and the map, and thinking, here or - ?  Yes, a red diamond would definitely be a nice reassurance.

And.  On that note, glancing down, every single horseshoe mark I saw that day had riders having ridden very obviously on the North Fork loop and then onto the 999 anti-clockwise.

Me, am I the only rider to go clockwise?  Grin, I wonder.

I also wanted to find out if the previously closed (due to 2005 flooding washouts) graveled Gorge Creek Road was open these days.  Well, when I crossed the creek eventually and onto the road, there was one silver SUV, a lady sitting in her deckchair by the creek and her most vigilant guard-dog.  I’m guessing the road  stays open to the first ‘campground’ area and then the gates still close it  southwards after that – the two washouts, one by where the Missing Link Trail hovers close, and the other way further south by the Sheep River exit, were huge and spectacular back in 2005 and may remain that way still

Feedback, anyone - ?

The climb up (and down) the graveled Gorge Creek Road is brutal (if you’re aiming your horse for world-class three-day eventing fitness levels or endurance 100-milers, these are definitely your training grounds).  The land breezes had picked up and the gravel surface has two clear tire track kind of areas that make it OK for a shod horse to navigate.

Frost-touched leavesMy pinto boy climbed and climbed and climbed, a few puff stops here and there but it was when the descent (and it’s steep in places) began that, keeping a bit of bend in the CENTRAL ribcage, his diaphragm expanded, he snorted, his stride lengthened dramatically and by the time we reached, miles later, the trailer, every single knot in that little horse’s neckline was silky smooth.  He also, on that long road down, was infinitely pleased with the release, sometimes I’d watch a shake start just behind the poll, and then, twice, he almost shook his vertebrae release right to the very end of his tailbone so violently I needed Velcro to stay aboard.  One very happy horse at day’s end and something, as a breathing/training tool, that just blew my mind – not the UPhill, as I’d expected, but the DOWNhill.

And then, finally, you reach the valley far below, it levels out and there’s the Texas gate as the blue metal bridge crosses over the creek.  We strode confidently through the stream, standing there thoughtfully watching dragonflies and him sipping the odd mouthful.  On the creek’s far side is an easily opened wire gate (carrying a rope or reata, and yes, I do recommend in case some superfit 6’2” rancher’s torqued the thing to oblivion), through there, eastwards along the road in the cattle grazed pastures and finally, the trailer whereyes, evidence of the earliest of the fall frost’s shows here with the beautiful scarlets on this fireweed’s leaves.

Wednesday and Friday, end August 2011– Mesa Butte

An interesting experiment last week (August sunshine, lovely!) at Mesa Butte, riding first The Fox the leopard spotted appaloosa with brand new shoes on his now meticulously shaped feet.  That was last Wednesday before hopping on two days later onto the pinto boy on – for him - major first-time experiences backcountry.  Both times on the same trail combo, of setting out from the Mesa Butte campground and undercover stalls after major renovations in excess of $30,000 I’m told.
Mesa Butte Horse StallsMesa Butte stalls
The stabling’s certainly a bit smart.  Everything covered, generous stalls, wood slabbed flours, rubber covered back-of-stall linked chain stoutly fastened, and a fast and easy click-up on the each-end of the release gates.  All good things there.  One noted backcountry rider, who often rides smaller horses, wryly pointed out the horses’ mangers here – and at Sandy MacNabb, are fine for quarter horses and up but for her 14 hh Arabs (or for children’s ponies, say), well, her one mare worked out if she lunged up on tiptoe, she could access her grain ration!  As the photographs here show, yeah, I’m guessing the designer assumed that backcountry horses have long legs. 

Mesa Butte stablingIzzy, from provider Kananaskis Campgrounds contract, rolled up in her pick-up truck as I was saddling up, to replenish the site’s woodpile provisions.  Most courteously, she informed me my previous information supplied in the guidebook (published late 2007) was incorrect and DAY USERS CANNOT USE this part of the car park.

Major drat, as when you ride back in, you can sluice your horse’s sweat off, take him for a nice slurp of Three Point Creek water, and with human washrooms nearby.


Backcountry ridingInstead, Izzy tells me, as these two photographs show, you can park on the areas BY the entrance gate on either side of the road.  In the years I’ve slid in occasionally into Mesa (not on long weekends but always weekdays), I’ve never seen more than three rigs, total, in the whole campsite including the group area but there you go.

Parking areasSo, onto the two rides, two horses, two very different styles of thinking and riding out; interesting experience highlighting those aspects!  With ten days of endless sunshine beforehand, and with neither horse very mountain fit, I opted to slide open the rails by the equestrian campground’s horse entry point, and then ride alongside Three Point Creek going east, towards the 999 trail.  Hunting season’s fast approaching (so too is the fall gather of the grazing lease cattle, when if you luck in as a photographer, just amazing material) and certainly quite a few of the red diamond markers are picked with buckshot – good thing, I grinned inwardly, I was wearing a bright red shirt!

It’s a flattish, mostly earth trail, dust dry just then and with the odd tree root, through the trees, cross over an oil access gravel road and then into a small pasture threaded between poplars and darker spruce .  Where you see the Kananaskis green map marking where the 999 splits off right and southwards, instead I headed north, splashing through Three Point Creek, through the wooden gate easily opened from on board (great for young horses’ training), and then upwards onto the Curly Sands trail.

I rode this number a few years back, just after they’d re-surfaced parts on September 28th and man, it was, with a tad of frost in the ground and with clay on top, akin to racing a toboggan.  We ended, that day, bushwhacking downwards through native grasses and deadfall, before a tendon decided to blow on the slides.

This August 2011, well, the ground’s bedded in well now, great footing.  The view, to the view-chick here, is world-class and if you want to picnic and have thirty miles in every direction laid out in front of you (even better with fall colours coming up), here’s where I’d recommend you propose to your love if the opportunity arises.

Kananaskis RidingHere, the difference between the two horses still makes me smile.  The Fox stopped, looking very carefully all around, occasionally nodding his head in approval at ‘his’ kingdom laid out for his perusal in front of him.  Really!  The pinto, similar weather with the goldenrod thick and splendid and fireweed leaves just on the turn with frost touched red leaves, spared a quick glance, gulped down air and oxygen and powered straight onto the downward spiral.

Pam AshetonThe last part, steepish (and why I ride this trail anti-clockwise as I figure to heave onto your horse and immediately start to climb his equivalent of an ascent to the Himalayas and Annapurna is a bit inconsiderate to say the least) has been re-routed a tad, still obvious a distinct trail though and still comes out by the equestrian campground, say about 200 metres now further west, that’s all. 

Trail Updates - July 28, 2011 - Click images to enlarge

Bogs trap trucks AND!! a Horse Trailer ONE MILE IN on West Bragg equestrian trail - different!

Backcountry Trail ReportHere's another report emailed in from a regular and adventurous couple riding backcountry, who encountered this interesting situation at West Bragg the other week. The recent heavy rainfall has some serious bogs and muskeg here, even on the extremely extensive 'new' trail plan being developed and this combination of a truck and horse trailer adventurously up past say three boggy areas and a good mile and a half, say, along an equestrian trail were all up to their axles.

Truck stuck in boggy backcountryBe interesting to listen to what K-Country conservation officers and the trail building specialists have to say on this one, eh - ??! Here are the comments from the riders' email: "Here are the pictures we took yesterday while on a day ride at West Bragg. You can choose whichever one you want. I believe the sighting of the trucks and horse trailer is on the “Iron Springs Trail”. You would reach the site before you reach the man made gate. I’m guessing the gate would be about 1 kilometre further south."

Feedback on the TOM SNOW TRAIL...

This entry will be posted on 'Trail Updates' at in a day or two but for those of you heading to the foothills here's a report emailed in from a backcountry rider rated on the Intrepid-Plus scale (!).

Here goes: "We rode Tom Snow from Dawson last fall (Sept and Oct) and it was lovely. All the deadfall removed, some new sections of trail and we really motored. I love that trail. If you want to ride it fast I’m in, but walking that thing would kill me [see what I mean? - the Queen-of-Speed, grin]. On Tuesday last week we rode Tom Snow from Station Flats and again it was in good shape.

And for the blog, the bridge on Wildhorse has been repaired (by Howard Creek) and is highly recommended. We tried the old alternate way to the west of the bridge on the way back and the bog is really nasty now. Whoops, judgement error on my part. Did I mention the moose????"

Trail Updates - June 8, 2011
Amazing how a few days of sunshine lifts the spirits inbetween the last-of-the-blizzards and not-very-tropical-temperature-wise monsoon rainfalls - ! Oh well, Environment Canada's predicting a dry hot summer so let's press the hooves together and seriously pray for serious sunshine (and not too many mosquitoes either!).

Meanwhile, a quick recap here for 'Trail Updates' .  The most recent feedback from the wonderful people at the Kananaskis Information centres is that SANDY MCNABB Equestrian Campground (closed last year for renovations and upgrades) is 'predicted' to re-open again on June 18th

All the sites will now have electricity access, a big plus, and there have been general improvements all round to horse and camping facilities.

After lengthy discussions including numerous stakeholders and equestrian representatives, a re-think on some older trails in this area are ongoing from 2010. 

When K-Country came into being decades back, many  equestrian trails here were based on old exploration or lumber trails, which meandered along valley bottoms and often adjoining creeks and springs.  Combine that with grazing lease cattle coming in May 15th to October 15th, many of these were, in wetter years particularly, badly poached with hock-deep mud and super-slide (for horses) conditions.

The Wolf Creek Campground has been un-designated and dismantled.
The Wolf Creek Trail has been un-designated and will no longer be maintained as an equestrian trail.
The campgrounds at Three Point Creek and Wild Horse have been un-designated.  Not yet dismantled, you can random camp in these (without a permit) but there will be no upkeep, no cut logs for fires, etc.

The thinking now is to exploit the wonderful scenery and drier conditions of south-west facing slopes around the Sheep River areas, which de-frost earlier in the season after winter gates open, and safer to ride quite late too during spectacular fall riding seasons.

Friends of Kananaskis and Trail Supporters (associated with the Alberta Equestrian Federation) worked with this premise in mind to create a completely new trail known  by a few (!) apparent names, let's go for  PRAIRIE LINK RIDGELINE or LONG PRAIRIE RIDGE ('twixt the two Long Praire Loop Trails), higher along the defining ridgeline and drier to ride.

Gem-Trek maps haven't updated to include this one yet.

Normally, next, I'd advocate clicking onto (the official parks website) which is fantastically interactive, maps, trails....the works.   AND gives the very latest wildlife alerts (for this highly useful info click onto 'TRAILS REPORT' and go from there).  This website details explicit conditions of trails themselves.

For this new ' RIDGE/RIDGELINE' trail that's NW of the Sandy McNabb Ranger Station, here's a definitive map link courtesy of renowned guidebook writers and hikers TONY AND GILLEAN DAFFERN (riders, please ignore the 'snowshoe' angle! although here's a useful recommendation from a user posted on their blog in January 2011 extolling the views:
The hiking conditions were truly exceptional and the views from Long Prairie Ridge great. The cumulated height gain is slightly over 200 m. I met only one large party on a Search and Rescue exercise. Rogers mobile coverage is available at the view points at the north end of Pine Ridge, which is good in case of emergency.” 

The Dafferns' highly useful blog links at: and also their regular updates of other areas can be accessed at their brilliant website

If, by the way, you want as a responsible equestrian user to know what's proposed and what's happening in the Sheep and Blue Rock areas, just simply click onto the government site at to download just everything ever said on the subject:


The DEATH VALLEY TRAIL crosses several small creeks and springs, some of which have largely elderly (sometimes damaged) mini-bridge crossings.  Some of these were repaired in 2010 and work, apparently, will continue (funding allowing) – this can be a super super summer ride particularly in dry ground and hot weather conditions but – again with grazing lease cattle and users sinking deep into the valley's bottom area riparian waterways, the latter can be sometimes deep.  Conditions sometimes are claylike clenching consistency and may need very careful negotiating to get through safely.  One year, after ten days of scorching hot winds, two creeksides went nearly to glutinous hock height on the mare I was riding.

Pam Asheton - August 2010:
End August 2010, and what a month!Actually it's been one heck of a year; by my wildlife journals and notes on plants, the spring/summer season's been running consistently 14-17 days behind (and why the fabulous flowers high on sub-alpine hit peak performance more towards the end of July and not mid-month).

What happens for the next two months of possible foothills and backcountry riding, well - ??! - at least those overwhelming mosquitoes have gone walkabout!

So, here's general update and information for the 'summer' so far:

Not an area I've personally visited but an adventurous family local to me legged south to the Oldman River, just off the #22, where it appears there's a rough version of 'random camping'. They took three horses, eight kids and a stack of fishing rods and gear and despite Saturday pissing down with rain, had a real old fashioned camping weekend.
If you drive the #22, where the road turns off is marked by THE only gas station and convenience store in miles, and then just meander up to road's end. Rigs apparently were camped more towards a cluster at the end, tents, whatever! Nice grass for grazing. The river's about 10' wide there, 15' where the boys went fishing further down, and shallow.

It's mostly private land around there, so your trails are going to be limited unless you've seriously bribed or negotiated beforehand with local ranchers. Smile.

Oldman River, which sounds a bit dull, is actually something way more interesting, in fact it originally was a very bad translation for local native language – 'Old Man' referred with some reverence to Creator or however your band or nation feel comfortable with describing - so this river really is God's River. Between here and the Livingstone Gap to me has always been what I think of as landscape with a deep spiritual meaning – and stunningly beautiful. Conservationist, photographer and storyteller Andy Russell rode, wrote and campaigned on many issues for future generations of Albertans here – if you ever see his photographic books up for sale, they're breathtaking – Men of the Saddle, The Rockies and Alpine Canada are timeless.

Gem-Trek maps cover this area up to the Highwood – many trails are not designated (you need either GPS or know how to read a map AND a compass) but it's stunning, the best riding right on our doorstep!

Another alternative is to stay at SIERRA WEST (Randy and Ginny Donahue's operation/telephone 403-628-2431) further south at Lundbreck and perhaps negotiate a guide, or the LUCASIA RANCH (Wayne and Judy Lucas/telephone 1-877-477-2295) more around the Claresholm area. Ranching people at their best.

KANANASKIS' EAGLE HILL: A girfriend poured over maps and groused over about one of my absolute favourite day rides, up to Eagle Hill where the lookout atop (with a handy hitching rail) faces straight across the end of the Morley Flats towards the slab-faced Yamnuska mountain that grabs my soul everytime.

“Clear-cut everywhere,” she complained, so I saddled up a few days later with The Fox.

You turn off the TransCanada and oh bliss! The #68 until you officially cross the threshold boundary of Kananaskis Country is now paved.

The gravel starts after that.   Spray Lake Sawmills are logging up eastways of roughly where the Jumping Pound Demonstration Forest is, so be mindful of lumber trucks. My windshield from one fully loaded lumber truck – and where I hastily pulled over as far as I could to the right-hand side doing 60 kph and decreasing as fast as I could! as he approached wasn't too thrilled.  The approaching truck had an interesting speed on, and so too has my windshield with pea gravel sprayed really impressive cracks now.  Grr.  SLS's office was telephoned later on, and they're getting back to me.. Think positive, Asheton, think positive – well, the thick-as-a-Sahara dust cloud for the next 500 metres after our vehicles passed each other was, er, positively impressive, let's put it that way........"

As for drivers with horse trailers and rigs, well, I'll let you know feedback and good working solutions soonest!

From the TransCanada if you go 21.3 kilometres and then take the little winding tarmac track to Sibbald Lake, and park by Moose Pond (page 51 in the guidebook) on the lay-by there, the ride from there is .........perfection. Shannon mentioned the trail was boggy (she'd ridden two weeks before, after thunderstorm and rainstorms) and yes, there ARE two springs that run across the trail about half-way up the route, but those two critical weeks inbetween of drying weather made it easy walkover with not a squelch.

Alternatively, park down on Sibbald Flats themselves where there are two gravel pullovers – that way you climb up towards the trail marked by an easily seen triangular equestrian on-a-pole sign and towards either Eagle Hill, or combine with the Deer Ridge Trail. Do this option and the ride down through the old growth forest is stunning, like walking in a natural cathedral.

If you do ride from Dawson Equestrian Campground to Eagle Hill, the clearcut there now is a bit of a slog and if you love trees, those extra first miles may dishearten. To ride that way, when driving TO Dawson from the #68, notice the yellow triangular road sign about 400 metres before the campground entrance. If you glance right – there's the beginning of the equestrian route that's take you up and over the clear-cutted hill to Sibbald Flats and onwards.

LUSK TRAIL: This is feedback information in part from last fall and yes, this is not one of my favourite trails but I will go and do it for research purposes in the next few weeks to clarify.

Lusk area has in part been clear-cut, and last October apparently full of dead-fall; an experienced backcountry rider abandoned her ride with her companions after two miles. Might it be an idea to post terrain conditions due to logging/related at the beginning of trailhead markers???

Two riders this spring have told me there's definitely erosion happening there – man, I hope that endless winter of 2009/2010 zapped pine beetles forever! Meanwhile, from my own #68 highway drive end-August, there are two big logging roads into that area on the south side of the road, that cut through old-growth spruce, I am guessing up into the higher areas where lodgepole and jack pine certainly used to exist in 2006. Lumber trucks were loaded up and still exiting, although my conversation with a Spray Lake Sawmills' (and a recommendation I look at their website to download maps of areas being cut or programmed to be, for which they apparently get at least 20 requests a week for a map) spokesperson indicates the cutting in this area is nearing completion.

It's Sunday 29th now, and I have just spent an hour on the Spray Lake Sawmills (and SRD related links) websites and cannot find a map of where current and projected logging areas are.

SLS's representative last week remarked they get 20 or so requests a week for such maps – surely it might be an idea to have an easy-to-find link? AMENDMENT:  Lana Ellis from SLS has just emailed August 30th a.m., with 'how-to-find-directions':  - "On our website, under the Woodlands heading,
choose Forest Management Planning, then General Development Plans, and
you will see the 5 Year Harvest Sequence Map." 

TOM SNOW TRAIL: I'm totally a view chick, the high mountain addict with viewpoints that take your breath away but occasionally, yep, there are other options. Tom Snow Trail to me always rides best if you have the luxury of two trailers so you can ride straight from one end to the other. It's also a ride that's critical of weather conditions – there can be badly poached and muskeg areas, lethal ice in winter, but again, right now, after two weeks of relatively dry weather, it's prime time here. It's not a high use trail either which means you can blend into the landscape. Hawks and eagles are everywhere; magical birdlife, period.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:   Bear and elk had a rough ride last winter as it dragged on and on and on. Both came down from the higher areas when breeding seasons started, and had young in areas further outwards from their usual haunts of the foothills. Berries right now are plentiful, the weather seasons are still all over the place, and personally I'm riding with bear spray – Mrs Bears have had cubs, found their territory and may be in areas way further eastwards than their usual high wild places. Not cool for them and I hope the ones I know of decide they've had enough of humans and end up winter denning back in the mountains and foothills.

The 'Bear Aware' information brochures at Kananaskis Information centres are excellent, and their staff - who rate in the super league – are always in the know as to what and who is where. Their office telephone numbers are also in the 'Appendix' section in the guidebook's final pages for wildlife whereabouts information.
July 2010

Alberta's seasons are running 14-17 days late right now, so you may think you're about to hit August 1st but nope, you want to re-wind the tape backwards a tad. 

On top of that there's been tornadoes, rainstorms, hailstorms and very serious muskeg in some foothill regions right up to max, particularly further south in Waterton and Crowsnest areas right up to the Livingstone Gap, as well as in Kananaskis country (best to look at the Gem-Trek maps and 'read' the landscape – personally I'd head for the SW facing slopes and high, in the main.  The big rivers are, well, generally running fast and deep right now too).

Mosquitoes this year are akin to the populations you get up in the Yukon and North-West Territories – ferocious.  Their squadrons are sending out advance scouts (deer flies) and they're not much fun either.  I've used ULTRASHIELD (horses apparently aren't good with DEET, if anyone wants to comment?) for years but this year, instead of lasting a day including sweat work-ups on hill climbs, it's lasting say two hours max.

The SANDY McNABB EQUESTRIAN CAMPGROUND's closed this year, and some trails around there are in the process of either being constructed or un-designated (many originally followed the old logging trails, fine for logs, kinda boggy for four-leggeds.  Throw in the grazing lease cattle bogging up creek crossings - so this move really is constructive thinking).
Here's a report sent to me earlier this year in April, from a real backcountry couple who've packed and just about done everything, real experienced horse handlers: Yesterday we rode the Moose Loop Trail starting out along the Mountain Road Trail.  On the way back, where the junction meets the Tom Snow Trail, there is a creek crossing with a snow bridge which we were able to cross.  However, this snow bridge is very slushy and will not be safe (perhaps even today) because of the warm temperatures that will cause the bridge to start cracking. There is a foot bridge (with no rails or sides) for hikers which is not recommended for horses.”

(I'm going to re-ride the TOM SNOW TRAIL end August and photograph and take notes, which'll be posted – plus the Jumping Pound Ridge Trail accessing from the Jumping Pound Summit Trail.  From the old Gem-Trek map that's getting ragged now (note to everyone else! - always use the latest maps in publication as details/terrain/trails open or closed may have changed, OK?) the last descent on the southern downward area onto the gravel Powderface Road, at the Mount McDougall Memorial looks, er, as if the possibility of slog-through-bog could be a big deal – anyone ridden this one in the last year or so?)

  Pam Asheton - 2009 Trail Updates
  JULY, 2009
Good friends asked me to ride along this Civic Monday long weekend from Mesa Butte. 
Oh, I thought, Monday....civic holiday.........the trailhead parking will be JAMMED. 
I've also now heard four different stories concerning the NORTH FORK trail, as of last week and a few months back, which apparently has been seriously compromised by huge deadfall.....some people have scrambled around, two people last week ended up in ER trauma and emerg at Foothills after their horses panicked.....mega wreck.

Deadfall like this, by the way, happens in weird ways in the foothills and particularly Kananaskis Country, where you get huge storm/wind downdrafts that flatten, literally, some hillsides and then leave the next four completely intact.  So, I'm guessing the North Fork trail caught and flattened - if anyone has a progress report there, email me, please!
Alternatively, Three Point Creek going west is lovely, stony though sometimes, and hard on the horses.....particularly in top heat conditions I've found.  Sometimes we've done two trailers, one at the Little Elbow and one at Mesa, and ridden Three Point and connected to the Wild Horse Trail as a one-way ticket......this is a really good year to do this, at the valley between the two can be muskeg and bog but with these dry conditions, it's probably a dream......early mornings, cool, dynamite views and if you're careful, I've seen lynx, wild horses and elk up here.
Back at Mesa, I'm interested to see what the trail improvements on the 999 have resulted in, again I have heard mega mixed reports, but with such dry weather at the moment it will be fine.  I do, though, intend to ride it September or October and see then what the deal is (preferably with a horse with big feet!). 
And, also at Curly Sands - which when I rode after it being re-surfaced (after ten days of early fall frosts two years back), we cannoned down faster than a toboggan and ended up bushwhacking down for safety reasons, pure tendon tweak material.
Again, anyone else's feedback and opinions, please email and we'll post your comments - !"

Pam Asheton - 2008 Trail Updates


• When I wrote the book, I'd forgotten that most riders don't hike (I do).  Yamnuska is a very popular hike at weekends, climbers get there early in the car park from 6 a.m. onwards, and most hikers slide in late after 11 a.m.  The car park can be FULL by mid-afternoon.  I like my space - on horseback or on foot - and  personally I would recommend only mid-week excursions here during summer and early fall, and not during peak afternoon hours either, and take it from there.  By late fall, because these slopes are largely SW facing, you can usually swing up safely on ground that tends to hold minimal frost, and a simply brilliant place to watch the eagle and hawk migrations, and the local ravens.
• August heat right now and why it's so important to choose your trails where there are streams and creeks and rivers for horses to gulp down great mouthfuls, and to ride earlier and later in the day and not in the midday extremes. The Yamnuska ride is one such example, and the local Alberta Parks ranger has telephoned to mention that a few riders with my equestrian backcountry guidebook have been taking the early part of the hiker's trail, which is steep and narrow and rocky.

So, with my apologies to those hard-working backcountry wardens, they are putting up 'walkers and hikers only' signs on that early part of the trail. In the guidebook, I say to go from the trail-head car-park and FOLLOW THE GRAVEL ROAD that takes you to the bottom of the rock quarry.

You then go left handed clockwise, and safely up and around most of the quarry, before you see an initially stony little trail (on your left upwards through the young poplars) that heads towards the ridgeline high above of the east side of Yamnuska's cliffs.

That's the equestrian trail, and as it's the one you return on, it's softer kinder inclines are way way easier on your horse's legs and knees back homewards. Also in the guidebook is a photograph of showing where the equestrian trail is marked for when you come back down (so you don't go down that finishing section and steep hiker's trail by accident); the equestrian route is a lovely ride through the trees, often on earth, and with wonderful flowers right now too. Much much the best; one couple who inadvertently did come down the hiker's last steep segment also apparently encountered a few loose dogs running around with families on their way up, and ended up speed sliding through rock, shale and close-set aspen trees. They haven't emailed me yet with their comments but I suspect they might.

At Mesa Butte, there's been an oil road put in which alters the description of the way out of camp to the ThreePointCreek and the North Fork trails.  From where the day trailhead parking is within the camp, you can go out through the usual gate westwards and splash through the creek and up the other side (the gravel road's iron bridge will be immediately to your right as you splash and climb out).  Go along for about 200 metres, then turn left onto the (new) oil road for about another 200 metres, then turn right and follow the old established gravel/hard road.  Go along this way (the old trails that ran alongside are now full of uncleared debris and deadfall from storms in late 2006) for a good 5-15 minutes depending on what speed you are travelling...for the North Fork trail keep an eye out for a wired fenced in oil pumping station, wiggle around that anti-clockwise and you're on your trail.  The ThreePointCreek trail is marked now straight off the gravel/hard road and initially begins along a higher, less boggier route than of previous years, that Friends of Kananaskis and the AEF's Trail Supporters put together in 2007 - much better!
LITTLE ELBOW/PARADISE VALLEY:    A regular backcountry rider sent me this report of a trail I personally haven't ridden (yet) but which sounds terrific, beginning from the Little Elbow day trailhead or overnight equestrian campgrounds: 
'Submitted by SWall:  I spent the most wonderful 4 days in the backcountry near Mt. Romulus last week.  We packed in / wagoned in supplies and set up at the backcountry site.   The following day we took a trail to Paradise Valley.  A challenging ride not for the faint of heart.  As we rose into the valley the scenery which was already breathtaking blew me away.     The backside of Mt. Evan-Thomas was incredible - it was bigger than big and so close to us and the sky.   Picture perfection - yet the photos I took could never do it justice.   The flowers in the meadow and along the way were in full bloom and even saw the odd strawberry here and there which was worth the dismount!  

The trail's in great shape though.   Would love to do it again but to go right up and over the pass and over the other side.   Next week I'm off to Peppers Lake near Rocky Mountain House to partake in the 4 day Ya-Ya trip with the wonderful ladies from Wild Deuce - you should meet them! '
***(Wild Deuce, by the way, have their annual end of September mountain horse competitions and auction sales, a special occasion well worth legging northwards to.)

Back Country photo with Pam Asheton - Patrick Price copyright

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