The Trail to Sundance Lodge
The speech at Warner Stables beside the Bow River in Banff, Alberta, is short and sweet for the city dude and the two dudettes.
Our cowboy, Lindsay O’Hara, keeps the advice simple before we embark on our two-day trip by horseback to Sundance Lodge 16 kilometers away in the heart of Banff National Park. And that’s a good thing for the three people from Montreal whose equestrian experience is limited to watching western movies.
“Hold the saddle horn with one hand and the reins loosely in the other hand,” says Lindsay. “You swing the reins left over the neck to go left and right over the neck to go right. Pull on the reins to stop or back up.”
That’s it and we mount up. I’m on Drover, my wife Stephanie Whittaker is on Jessie and our daughter Emma is on Spud.
Lindsay leads the way along the river, and in tow are another horse and Red Hot, the mule, carrying two boxes of supplies plus our personal effects.
We meander through the lodgepole pines that sweep up the slopes to the peaks above. The trails run parallel to the river and then up into the forest. The horses follow the leader without much help from us.
They are sure-footed beasts and rarely slip or slide while climbing or descending a steeper slope. When they do, they quickly regain their balance and their easy-going gait.
After a couple of hours of riding, Lindsay leads us to a clearing beside Healey Creek where we dismount, tie up our trusty steeds and prepare for lunch.
He unpacks a barbecue made of a propane tank cut in half with a grill and lights a wood fire for cooking burgers.
We ask plenty of questions and Lindsay, born and bred in Alberta, is happy to respond, telling us about his down time when he visits Australia or Europe. “I don’t like the cold,” he says, explaining why he doesn’t stick around for the powder snow that makes Banff such a major ski centre.
After lunch, we continue the unhurried pace with the trail leading ever higher to Sundance Lodge at 6,000 feet (1,830 meters) as compared with Banff at 4,500 feet (1,220 meters).
Back and forth
We cross Brewster Creek on several occasions as the trail winds back and forth but the horses take it all in stride. They recover quickly when they slip on a rock and I never sense any problem or panic.
We arrive at Sundance Lodge and head for the porch. Enjoying a beer cooled by water from the creek are seven other people including an Ontario couple with their two teenaged daughters, a woman from Repentigny, near Montreal, and two women from Winnipeg, Debbie McCallum and Pat Reid, who are experienced horse people. They are nearing the end of a five-day trip into the mountains.
We join them while the multi-talented Lindsay produces a guitar and plays a few tunes, including the Bob Dylan classic Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.
Sundance Lodge is more than a log cabin. It is a log building with seven bedrooms, a large living room with wood stove and a combination kitchen and dining room with picnic tables.
There are also two bathrooms and showers with water heated by solar panels. The warm water feels good after a day on the trail.
Chef Barb prepares chicken thighs with barbecue sauce, rice and coleslaw for supper followed by pineapple coconut cake with whipped cream. Well sated, everyone again repairs to the porch.
The next morning, the cowboys saddle up the horses after breakfast and we all leave together heading back to Warner Stables in Banff.
For more information:
Holiday on Horseback
132 Banff Ave.