Day 28, Banff to Coleman leg.
Once I finally got to sleep, I slept great, but restless legs combined with a swirling emotional cocktail of relief, worry and guilt over Charlie sure made it challenging. The constant scurrying of mice probably didn’t help either. Fortunately, I don’t have a mouse phobia; but if someone did, I wouldn’t recommend an overnighter at Connor Lakes cabin.
Morning was clear and cold. Peter and Tina had a great visit with our cabin mates last night, which I’d missed. We had a great visit this morning; two lady elk hunters who’d rode in from the Elk Valley side, the trail we’d be riding today. We talked of adventures past, horses and mountain trails. It was so great to see a couple of capable young women out there enjoying the wilderness.
It seems to me there are fewer fellas venturing out into the backcountry on horseback. Lots of my buddies’ love getting out there, but some prefer to “glamp”; others prefer motorized transportation; the “horse thing” really seems to be the issue. On the other hand, I know a metric kilo-schwack of 30 to 40-year-old, badass women willing to throw a saddle on a horse and go adventuring; pack a lunch, try to keep up and don’t make plans for after. Come to think of it, all the people we met horseback on this trip were women: the packers (guides and clients) heading into Resplendant in Mount Robson; the Banff Park rangers, Jenika and the crew at Alpine Stables in Waterton, and now, these two at Connor Lakes.
Anyways, I digress. We saddled up, said our goodbyes and hit the trail, skirting the western edge of the bigger of the two lakes, then east, descending roughly 400m, on continually improving trail, past Forsyth Creek Recreation Area to the Elk Valley Forest Service Road. Here we met our driver, Peter G and the Mother Ship.
We unsaddled, loaded up the horses and headed down the road to Elkford, where we found a pizza joint for lunch and discussed our next steps. The Elk Valley had always been considered a key pullout point for us, if the need arose. It was Decision Time.
If we continued, our first day would involve crossing Fording Pass over to the Eastern Slope of the Rockies, an 840m climb from the valley floor to peak elevation at 2340m. From there we’d oscillate between 1850m and 2250m for roughly 60 km, lots of ups and downs. It would not be easy, even if the trail was good.
We’d been fortunate to have great weather for most of the trip, and especially the last several days. That was about to change, with two days of nothing but rain in the forecast. At altitude, in the latter part of September, there was a good chance that could turn to snow.
Finally, the horses. All were tired, including Rodeo. Charlie was running on fumes and Ahi was sore and running on meds.
By now, I’m sure you get where we’re going with this. We’d had a good run. We’d ridden for 28 days, over 720 km of some of the most spectacular trails in the Canadian Rockies. No one had been hurt or killed. It just didn’t make sense to risk it all, pushing for MORE and taking on a mountain pass with sore, tired horses and a crappy weather forecast. We unanimously agreed to call an end to our Great Divide Trail Adventure.
After pizza, we headed back up the Elk Valley FSR and set up camp in a clearing beside the Elk River. In the morning, we’d head back to Waterton and spend the final days of our time together there.