“There’s no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothing.” Somebody said that. Somebody from Sweden or Finland or some other place where people regularly contend with Weather, and win. Except they don’t see it as winning. It’s just what they do. Because it’s that kind of country.
Camping in late spring/early summer means that you may find yourself sweltering in a tank top or, alternatively, wearing your winter coat and huddling around a campfire. (As I type this line, I am inside my “living quarters”, wearing a toque and my Icebreaker long undies and my Stanfields wool top (layered over an Icebreaker wool top over a T shirt), and I can see my breath.)
Weather-wise, there’s nothing that gets worse than being wet and cold. Being really, really hot is exhausting, and being in unrelenting wind sets your nerves on edge, and being cold sucks. But being cold and wet at the same time is the worst. The absolute worst. Cold, wet fingers. Sodden socks. Wet jeans clinging to your thighs. Cold and wet sucks the big wazoo.
Last summer, despite the fact that pretty much everywhere else in Western Canada in June and July was expiring under 35+ degree weather, I encountered a couple of days of rain at Ya Ha Tinda, and I was miserable. My awning was kaput after a wind mishap, my tarp situation was suboptimal, and I’d neglected to bring my oilskin. And I had no firewood. At 6 degrees Celsius and raining, with about 6 square feet of indoor floor space, that bit.
Which brings me to my stay at Hummingbird, one of Alberta’s Public Recreation Areas along the Forestry Trunk Road (Hwy 734). The weather on this year’s road trip has, thus far, been hit and miss. I think I’ve only once ridden in a T-shirt, and only once worn shorts post-ride. Mornings have been crisp, and there have been showers and/or chilly winds ever since I left Merritt. But this year, I have been prepared. My other half fixed my broken Shady Boy awning (the manufacturer was utterly unhelpful re my issues. Thank you, Mister Wayde Andrews, for being The Man Who Fixes Everything), which made all the difference in the world to my quality of life in the rain. Camping in the rain generally makes me want to slit my wrists. Camping in the rain when you have a roomy outdoor dry place to cook is… just… magical. “Hey! I can cook! Outside! With space to put stuff! And I can also sit in my chair and drink my wine outside and watch the rain while my stuff is cooking! Oh. my. god.” I could cry.
I also remembered to bring my oilskin, and my long underwear, and I bought many bundles of firewood in Nordegg, the last outpost before I hit the completely unserviced Forestry Trunk Road. Having a way to dry your soggy socks and riding gloves between showers is an excellent thing.
Hummingbird was recommended to me by my friend Cory last year, but I never made it there because I got (pleasantly) trapped by the wonder of Ya Ha Tinda, and never wanted to leave. This year, I’d left Jasper with the firm plan of heading to Ya Ha Tinda again, but when I was camped on the Kootenay Plains, I idly picked up my binder with notes from last year’s trip (I am an obsessive note maker and taker, and while you may laugh, the notes have come in very handy more than a few times), and found my info for Ram Falls, which is more or less adjacent to Hummingbird. Hummingbird was close. Very close. And so I changed my mind, and decided Ya Ha Tinda could wait until later in the trip, when I’d have more time anyway. The morning I was packing up from Kootenay Plains, I spoke with a fellow who was out strolling with his morning coffee, and who, though sans horse that day, had ridden that land for 50 years. And his father had. And his grandfather had. He knew Hummingbird, and gave me enough info to solidify my decision.
Hummingbird is an hour and a half’s drive from either Nordegg or Rocky Moutain House, and it is set up for equestrian camping, with high line poles at most of the sites. We arrived on a Thursday around noon, and the campsite was only half full. We scored what seems to me to be the best site in the place, a grassy treed site with an open view down the valley, adjacent to the creek.
We arrived around noon, and so had ample time for an afternoon ride. After being assured by a fellow camper, Randy, that you couldn’t really get lost, and equipped with an iPhone photo of his map (which turned out to be the same basic map that I’d picked up at the gas station in Nordegg), we set out on the trail. By sheer luck, the trail we ended up on was one that climbed to the top of what, from a distance, looked like a rock slide, but turned out to be a peak of known alternatively as “The Monument” or “The Pyramid”. Cresting that peak (2250m high) alone made the entire trip to Hummingbird worthwhile: we had a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It felt like we were at the top of the world. (And PING! Suddenly, at the top, we had cell service, with data nonetheless). I could text Mr Wayde Andrews about the wonder of it all.
The next morning, when I got up to feed the steed at 6:30 a.m., it was 2 degrees out. Yup. You read that right. Almost freezing. I was so dispirited that I went back to bed for another hour until the sun crested the trees and warmed the joint up a little.
I’d planned my Friday ride to be about twice the distance of the 3-hour ride the day prior, and one that stuck to valley floors for the most part, at least based on the map I had. We set off in decent weather, and had a pleasant albeit somewhat muddy tour along the outside of that giant rock pile of a mountain. Halfway along, after negotiating my favourite kind of trail – the kind that clings to a steep hillside with certain death on one hand – for a very long stretch, we hit what I now know is known as “Windy Creek” (“wind” as in “wind your watch”, not “the wind in the willows”) and/or “Fourteen Trails”, a part of the trail that crossed the creek about forty times, mostly through scrub that is shoulder-high. Your horse has to be cool with blindy bushwhacking through bush, which, thankfully, Pai is. She is a very good girl. (I, on the other hand, was saying out loud: “This is BULLSHIT. What kind of trail is this? This is BULLSHIT.”) We were rewarded by the vista at the top of the subsequent climb, one that looked towards The Monument on one side, with a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains in every other direction.
It began to hail as we finished lunch on the summit, and rained on us the whole way back. It continued to rain all evening, and all night, and all of the following morning. I was very pleased that I had decided to bring an array of blankets for Pai. It was so miserable on Friday night that I suited her up in her winter (read, Vancouver Island winter) blanket, since she was shivering in the lightly insulated turnout she was already wearing. (The saying holds true for horses as well as people).
My last ride was on Saturday, with my rowdy neighbours. Rowdy neighbours are usually people having a good time, which frequently translates to people who are fun to be with. I’d popped over the night before seeking trail advice, and they very kindly invited me to ride with them the following day. We (Jodi, Mick, her sister-in-law Mel, Tenise, and her daughter Morgan) rode to The Chutes, which are a gorgeous set of waterfalls along the Ram River.
After seeming like she might actually be a good citizen for the first 20 minutes or so of the ride with three other horses, Pai, once we picked up Tenise and Morgan, who had rented horses from the trail riding outfit down the road (a lady who has been operating her business there, in the middle of nowhere, for the past 50 years), morphed into her usual Queen of the World persona and insisted on being at the front of the pack, and set a blistering pace, ears pinned and hoof raised against all challengers. (“Gee, I wonder why that girl always rides alone?”)
Hummingbird feels like you really are far away from everything. At the top of The Monument, in the lee of the wind, we looked down over the world and it was utterly silent. There was no sound at all. No birdsong, no insects, no rushing water, no airplanes or traffic, no wind, nothing. Nothing at all. I don’t think I have ever been in a place in nature that is utterly, utterly silent. I never met anyone else on horseback on any of my three rides; we did meet some fishermen on ride to The Chutes. Our first night in camp, Spy was on high alert when he heard wolves barking and crying across the creek.
There are tons of other trails to explore, and so Hummingbird is on the list of places to visit again.
Camp and Trail Notes for Horsey Folk
There are two campsites at Hummingbird, one just after the hairpin turn just along from the trail riding outfit, and one a few km up the road. The first one has about 15 sites with high line poles along a laneway. The second one as at least as may sites on the perimeter of an open grassy meadow. The first site is along Hummingbird Creek; the second one appears to be dry, although there may be a small creek I didn’t notice. I think my site was the nicest of all. The one across the laneway (which could be considered three sites, since there are three highline pole set-ups) is also a good one – they are open and grassy and yet still treed. The creek is right there.
There are signs telling you to pick up (your damn) manure, but other than one tiny arrow at the end of one driveway, none of them indicate where you might be able to dispose of said manure. Turns out, you need to drive your horse poop X km down the road to the disposal site. It’s a head-scratcher.
The trails are obvious
but not signed or named. The map is reasonably accurate, if you know where you want to go. For instance, The Monument or The Chutes do not appear on the map. But the trails to get there are accurate, if you know that’s where you’re headed. Intersections and points noted on the map (H2, H4, etc) are not signed on the trails. If you have a decent sense of direction, and can note landmarks, and have an ability to note whether a particular creek should be on your left or your right, you’ll be fine.
The trails can be extremely rocky. And some of them are a grind.
There are no ATVs until July 1st; even when they are allowed in, there are designated non-motorized vehicle trails that are suitable for horses.
Camping is free. Dogs are meant to be on leash, though that regulation appears to be regarded as a “meh” sort of thing. There is no high-lining to trees, and electric paddocks are not allowed.