With every step I take the air gets thinner. The horse I am leading sinks in the snow up to his belly as he struggles behind me. My boots are drenched – I am on top of the world.
To be exact I am on top of Tear Mountain, one of the many peaks that make up the Rockies. It is June 20 and the snow still covers the majority of the Alpine. Underneath, green trees race to the top as a valley sits glowing underneath.
After riding and walking for more than 4 hours, I simply sit and stare. The view is as breathtaking as the altitude. Stan Walchuk puts his hat over his face and takes a nap next to me. For him, this is just a regular Wednesday at the office.
“Wake me up when the boys get back from exploring,” he says as a rocky patch of the mountain transforms into his bed.
The Canadian Long Rider, runs Blue Creek Wilderness riding clinic, the only school of its kind in the world. Every summer Walchuk teaches different adventure seekers the art of packing in the Rocky Mountains. Not only has he spent years working as an outfitter and guide, Walchuk rode 1,200 wilderness miles during his renowned Cordillera expedition in the early 1980’s – one of the longest and most rugged wilderness journeys ever. An award winning film and book tell the saga from the plains of North America to the Pacific Ocean with pack and saddle horses. This year, I have the luck of being one of his pupils.
I arrived at his farm based out of McBride BC, on a cold and rainy Saturday Morning. The Greyhound bus dropped me off in the middle of town at 6am. With close to 500 residents, sleeping, it seemed like a ghost town. The only life around was a Canadian and British Columbian flag that danced in the wind. I walked around looking for any sign of life. Nothing.
Five minutes later, just as I had given up my search for some form of taxi service, a jeep pulled up. Inside sat the figure of a man. Sporting an iconic moustache, it was Walchuk, or “Stan the man” as he was known in his younger days.
“How long have you been here for,” he asked as he stepped out of the car.
I tell him I have just arrived, place my bags in the back and we are off to his farm. I feel so bad for making him come to meet me so early on a Saturday. I had told him in a previous email I would find my own way to his place. But now that I am sitting in his warm car, I am happy he came to the rescue.
“You have quite the adventure ahead of you, how long do you think it will take for you to get to Brazil,” he asks.
“At least two years, maybe more depending on what happens,” I answer.
The questions continue on both ends and as soon as I know it we are turning into his driveway. He digs up an old pair of rubber boots for me and I am off to the camp, a 5 minute walk from his house. A small blue-healer by the name of Bincky accompanies me through the heavy mud to the foothills of the Rockies.
After a much-needed nap Walchuk drives up in an ATV fully loaded with a delicious breakfast for me. After devouring the eggs, bacon and home fries on the tin plate it was off to work. In exchange for his weeklong clinic I helped rebuild a cabin that had collapsed during the winter. We nailed down shingles, painted the interior and cleaned up around camp. By Sunday night we were ready to welcome the newly arrived guests.
The clinic started with theory and moved its way into training new horses, wilderness riding and pack trips. I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned from Walchuk during my time at his place. Everyday was a new experience and a new lesson. The Trail Riding (packing & training) book we studied, written by Walchuk slowly became my bible.
“…(This is) a book for all horse people, a recipe book full of step by step ingredients – the knowledge and techniques needed for horse travel,” reads the books forward.
On day 4 of the clinic, while up on top of Tear Mountain I simply looked at the valley bellow in awe of how high this horse I was riding had taken me. I walked for 10 per cent of the entire climb and was left exhausted. How could an animal be so strong? So willing to carry someone he had just met to the top of a mountain? I looked back to the tree he was tied to and simply smiled. I love horses. It’s simple. They are as majestic as these mountains.
“My dream is to know and share mountains. Mountains greater than a man’s dream, greater than my dream…” Walchuk writes in the early pages of his book, Cordillera.
Special thanks to Stan Walchuk, his wife Marlene and everyone who was apart of the clinic. This experience has given me the confidence I needed to start my ride home!