Experience Horseback Pack Trips
Halfway down the ridge our entertaining guide, Dewy, smirked, tipped his weather-beaten cowboy hat, and rambled into his legendary cougar story. “It was winter,” he drawled. “Nice evening for a sleigh ride. (Spit.) Had four or five city slickers on the wagon. All was well. But then we rounded a corner and suddenly there was a lot of commotion. (Spit.) Horses were spooked. Lots of noise. (Spit.) Thought it might be a cougar and, sure enough, I looked behind me and there she was. We were eye to eye for at least five seconds, or so. Could tell she was ready for a fight. (Spit.) So I just poured her another drink and she sat back down.”
Horseback rides at the Anchor D ranch, especially with Dewy at the helm, are guaranteed to get a little colorful. It’s all part of the experience. And, for that matter, so are the stunning mountain views, the camaraderie, and the opportunity to let your hair down, leave the city behind, and just breathe some pure, pine-scented Rocky Mountain air.
Located 15 kilometers west of Turner Valley on Hwy 546, Anchor D offers the quintessential Alberta “home on the range” experience. The ranch, blessed with an idyllic setting in Kananaskis Country, has a wide variety of horseback riding options. From over-before-you-know-it 2 hour trips to sevenday pack adventures along ridgelines and pristine valleys deep in Kananaskis Country, there is something for everyone. Not surprisingly, given the spectacular country and the quality of the experiences at Anchor D, people come from all over the world to hit the trail with Dewy and the gang.
After the scenic 45-minute drive from Calgary, my boys and I rolled into the ranch and got our bearings. It took me all of three minutes to realize we were in for something special on our day ride. Truth be told, with his classic cowboy drawl, Dewy had me at “howdy.”
Weeks earlier I had been tempted to sign up for the legendary Lost Trail Ride, one of many multi-day rides from the ranch. However, I wasn’t sure our riding skills were good enough. The Lost Trail Ride, like many of the memorable trips from Anchor D, incorporates challenging river crossings, steep, mountainous terrain, and plenty of high-in-the-alpine drama.
And, unquestionably, it’s these extended, week-long pack trips that are the real deal, the bucket-list adventure that typically leaves riders with powerful, life-long memories. “It’s always amazing to see people change as the trip goes on,” says Dewy. “The camaraderie, the friendships, the trust that is built is quite remarkable. The connection you gain with your horse and the natural beauty puts you into a different state of mind. People almost always leave changed. And, if my stories haven’t rattled them too much, usually for the better,” he says with his trademark wry smirk.
For our more relaxing day ride, however, I wasn’t expecting to have too many “Man from Snowy River” moments. With my two 10-year old boys in our posse and a few other greenhorns visiting from Utah, I wasn’t really expecting to get a whole lot further than the corral gate.
However, as Dewy so eloquently stated, “What’s the use of having all them hills if yur not gonna get up ‘em every now and then for a little look see?” So look see we did.
After climbing some 300 metres above the ranch on a twisty trail, we traversed a rocky spine and the stunning, non-stop views of the saw-tooth peaks of Kananaskis commanded our attention. That is, until the next story.
Although the cougar joke went right over their heads – as well as quite a few other yarns – other unscripted moments made lasting impressions on the youngsters. The most timid of the cowpokes, one of my inquisitive twins, was quite alarmed when his young steed, Rocky, abruptly decided to water a few weeds. The healthy flow was a real eye-opener for the young feller. “You don’t get out of the city much, do you, boy?” quipped Dewy after the little guy nearly went into hysterics.
Urinating spectacles aside, the young lads held their own during the trip. Even a fairly steep descent down the last ridge went smoothly. However, they did get a little squirmy. when Dewy dismounted to investigate a fresh bear track – “Grizzly, came through a day ago,” was the confident verdict.
Not surprisingly, the love of these mountains runs deep in Dewy’s blood. It’s no act. There are no pretenses with the man. He’s free here and he tells it like it is. “Most people don’t properly appreciate these mountains. They’re caught in the rat race.” So true, I thought.
High on the exposed ridge on the homestretch, with the warm, amber light glancing off the aspens, I offered my own tidbit of wisdom. “Horses just fit perfect in this type of landscape.”
Dewy was quick to respond. “Yup, ain’t that the truth. (Spit.) A few more seconds passed and he continued. “Reminds me of this saying I kinda like,” he said. “There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.”
And everything else that’s ever roamed these hills, I reckoned. Including, of course, the cougars.
By: Andrew Penner
For more information about Anchor D visit anchord.com
Other reputable outfitters to try include:
– Boundary Ranch (boundaryranch.com).
– Brewster Adventures (brewsteradventures.com)
– Moose Mountain Horseback Adventures (packtrips.ca)
– Sierra West Cabins & Ranch Vacations (sierrawestcabins.com)
– Skyline Ranching & Outfitting (skylineranching.com)
– Timberline Tours Ltd (timberlinetours.ca)
– Wild Deuce Retreats & Outfitting (wilddeuce.com)
Alberta is home to many ranches and horseback riding outfitters. Many offer a variety of riding options. Nearly all outfitters offer beginner rides as well as day-long and multi-day rides into the backcountry. For more information visit the Alberta Outfitter Association at albertaoutfitters.com