When I left Jasper on Wednesday morning, my ultimate next destination was Ya Ha Tinda, reached either by a 2-day journey with a stop near Cline River, or else as one long haul. I’m not fond of driving for more than 6 hours with the horse (and I’ve felt a bit sorry for her the few times we’ve gone longer), and since it’s a 7 hr 20 min drive, stopping partway was an attractive idea. I decided to hinge my decision on the weather and how accurate my TomTom was at estimating the driving time to Cline River – if it was pouring rain, I’d likely drive on.
I’d originally intended for my waypoint to be Crescent Falls, but both my friend Ruth and Jim, the Barn Boss at Jasper, had suggested that the Kootenay Plains would be a superior choice. There are no equestrian facilities there, but it is within Alberta’s Public Land Use Zones, which is an area in which you can camp pretty much anywhere you like – and it’s free. Both Ruth and Jim waxed poetic about the spectacular beauty of the area.
We found a spot on the Siffleur River just after noon, and got camp set up. I was a little nervous about how close the highway was (it is CLOSE), and, after my afternoon ride allowed me to discover some more secluded sites further along the laneway, sites that were significantly further from the road, I contemplated tearing down camp and moving everything down there. However, I settled down (my thought process: “Why would she break loose? And if she did break loose, why would she head for the highway? And if she did break loose and head for the totally non-busy highway, what are the chances that there would actually be a car passing? And if she did break loose and head for the quiet hightway and there were a car passing, what are the chances of someone hitting a white horse wearing a reflective silver blanket?) and decided to erect an electric perimeter around the high line. Pai was happy with that, since from the time we finished our ride until bedtime, she was free to graze in temporary paddock.
Camp alone was a pretty scenic spot:
Our ride was indeed spectacular. Beauty riding, as Jim said – there are open vistas up the valley both east and west. Our trail was what variably appeared to be a horse trail, a game trail, and an ATV trail. It is impossible to get lost in that particular location, since there is a river to follow.
We came across a bunch of these at one point, which I later learned were sweat lodges. It was a little eerie to come across them in the silence of the mountains.
I spoke to a fellow camper the following morning as he strolled by with his morning coffee. He was horseless, but he had ridden in the area for 50 years, as had his father and his grandfather. He described trails on the other side of the river that go deep into the backcountry. Jim likewise mentioned that a packing trip could be made from there to Ya Ha Tinda, a 68 km “easy 2 -day ride”.
I can’t imagine a prettier spot to spend the night, horse or no horse. For free.
Camp and Trail Notes for Horsey Folk
There are dozens of places to camp along Highway 11 west of Nordegg (and a little east of Nordegg as well). The campsites are unmaintained, with no facilities – you are boondocking. The are free.
The site I stayed at was Preacher’s Point. There is, from what Ruth and Jim tell me, an area you can camp at the western edge of Abraham lake as well, which would be an spot to spend some time. Some of the trails appear on the Bighorn Backcountry map, but nothing is marked.