Day 20, Saskatchewan Crossing to Banff leg.
Decision time. Our original plan was to continue down Pipestone, then head south-east at the Lake Louise trail junction and ride all the way to Banff. It would be 110km from where we were camped and require crossing three mountain passes after Pipestone. Three long, tough days.
The other option was pull out early and stay south, continuing down the Pipestone valley, to Lake Louise. It would be all mostly downhill from our camp, and we’d be out in a day-and-a half. We could give the horses an extra day of rest in Banff and then back on track for Leg 4: Banff to Coleman.
Geez, I sure wanted to ride that section through to Banff! Pulsatilla Pass is in that stretch and is the cover photo for Tania Millen’s book "Pack Em Up, Ride Em Out". However, the common agreement, commitment and bond between the three of us was the horse’s welfare would always be our top priority in our decision making. First, they’d done an unplanned, extra day of travel to the trailhead and back, thanks to Dixon. Second, the planned route to Banff required crossing three mountain passes versus none if we pulled out early to Lake Louise. Finally, Leg 4: Banff to Coleman was the longest stretch of the bunch, included several mountain passes, and some of the most challenging terrain yet. Two friends, Guy and Eric, both seasoned backcountry packers, had ridden it earlier in August and on one particular section that had always been a concern of mine, Eric’s comment was, “… Be prepared to get your asses handed to you.” If they say it's tough, it's gonna be TOUGH!
Ultimately, the decision was a no-brainer and unanimous. We would pull out early and give the horses an extra rest day in Banff. We’d just have to come back and ride that stretch another time on a future trip. We messaged Peter G, Captain of the Mother Ship, via Garmin InReach to advise him of the change in plans and updated meeting place.
Outside of that, it was once again, nothing but great trails and ridiculous, breath-taking views. A little over 30 km travelled before we camped in a spot near the Pipestone River, fencing off a spot with plenty of belly deep grass for the horses. Tomorrow would be an easy half day to Pipestone trailhead near Lake Louise.