Leonard Lea Frazer
The hikers of the America’s Adventure group.
The hikers of the America’s Adventure group.

Hiking or horseback riding in the Canadian Rockies? Which would I pre­fer?

“Too late now," I thought, as I caught up with the America's Adventure group.

I unbuckled my massive pack, careful­ly swinging it, and my body weight, into the shear rock-face on our left. We were resting on a steep, solid-wall portion of the Berg Lake Trail in British Columbia's Mount Robson Provincial Park.

"This is where Curly Philips built his famous flying trestle back in 1913," I yelled. My fellow hikers were not impressed by this bit of trail trivia.

"Built entirely of wooden posts and rough-cut planks," I added. There was still no response. "He used to bring his pack-horses right around this curve in the cliff."

I detected a few resting eyes. Perhaps my six teenage companions and their two adult leaders were dreaming of horses at the moment.

“There wasn't a real trail back then," I continued, "just the flying trestle."

They sighed and looked down at the white, churning Robson River that lay far below us.

For three hours we commandeered the next switchbacks of Emperor Ridge hill, the hardest section of our route. Some of the rewards for participating in the Berg Lake hiking challenge were viewing White Falls, Falls of the Pool, and when some of us cooled off by standing in the path of the spectacular horizontal spray of Emperor Falls.

When we reached the long haul to the top of the plateau, we were home. Soon our tents were assembled at the campsite and supper was over. Now, we had time to reflect back on our first day of strenu­ous hiking and discuss plans for next week's horse-hiking experience. We would walk through the park for three more days before meeting with the other half of our group who were presently making their way up the Moose River trail. Just beyond Smokey River, at the rendezvous point, packs would be traded for saddles. Hikers would now be riders and the Moose River Wranglers would get their fair share of day hike adventures as the challenge continued.

"I've done a lot of different hikes with America's Adventure groups and all I could think about today was every time we looked down on those lakes with the milky blue color or up at the glaciers, is that there's so much wild country here. And I just kept on grinning like a Cheshire cat and thinking 'We're in Cana­da. We're backpacking in the Canadian Rockies and it's awesome,” group leader, Laura Stride, commented around the campfire that night. "I could not be hap­pier. It doesn't get much better than this as far as backpacking goes."

 Safely fording Calumet Creek, just before the rendezvous with the horse riders.
Safely fording Calumet Creek, just before the rendezvous with the horse riders.
The group approaches “Windy Point” near the shores of Berg Lake.
The group approaches “Windy Point” near the shores of Berg Lake.

The second day on the trail offered us a further assortment of topography to hike and view in Mount Robson Provincial Park, starting with the long, man made rock walls which we followed while approaching Windy Point. As we made our way over another avalanche area, the trail was fringed by a continuous low rock wall. This protective fence helps the path from shifting or being cov­ered. It was built by youth crew groups in the 70s and various school groups during the 80s. Youth groups still do trail work and other park related mainten­ance jobs today, in exchange for their camping fees. Back-country rangers, stationed at Whitethorn and Berg Lake, always have a project for these groups to work on.

From the rock wall portion of the trail we had yet another awe-inspiring view of Emperor Ridge, glaciers, and a lush green covering across the upper valley. We rounded Windy Point and stepped out onto Berg Lake Flats, which we crossed with much anticipation and excitement. We would soon be on the shores of Berg Lake and at an elevation of 1638 metres. The north side of Mount Robson and the Berg Lake area has contin­ued to be a popular summer destination for hikers and mountain climbers since the early 1900s. The lake is a great start­ing point and main base camp for climb­ing expeditions to the surrounding peaks, and for hikers the campsite provides an excellent meeting place for planning day hikes. From the front veranda of the shelter huge icebergs can be watched as they break off from the edge of Berg Glacier and float across the lake.

Roy Hargreaves and his family con­structed the original building, which at one time was much larger, with bed­rooms on either side. The Hargreaves were outfitters and ran an early version of horse-hiking trips to Berg Lake and beyond from their home at Mount Robson Ranch. Roy's teenage daughters, Ishbel and Margie, used to lasso ice bergs from the lake in a rowboat and, in stock­ing feet and aided by mountain climber's ice axes, they would wrestle small bergs to shore. They used the ice to make fresh ice cream for their father's guests.

Group leader, Tim Bardsley, at the Hargreaves Shelter.
Group leader, Tim Bardsley, at the Hargreaves Shelter.
American’s Adventure Group Leader, Cory Aist, captures the moment.
American’s Adventure Group Leader, Cory Aist, captures the moment.

By the time we reached the Berg Lake campsite we had travelled a distance of 22 km. Group leader Laura Stride explained that the participants in any of the America's Adventure excursions have always been given the opportunity to decide, as a group, when options are encountered, what the next move will be. At this point we had two choices: to con­tinue on the trail, towards the Alberta/B.C. border for two km and hike the Snowbird Pass trail into alpine areas, as well as viewing the Robson Glacier up close; or hiking up to Toboggan Falls on a trail just behind Hargreaves Shelter, climbing onto a mountain plateau, exploring a cavern and experiencing one of the world's most sensational views.

We decided on the Toboggan Falls Trail route but before start­ing out we made sure there were high-energy snacks, flashlights and a first-aid kit packed for the hike. Toboggan Falls was reached in 20 minutes. After marvelling at the wondrous effects of water erosion on the mountainside, we started out for the cave. Two hours later we were at the mouth of the cavern, enjoying the breath-taking vista of Berg Lake and Mount Robson. We had now viewed the south, west and north face of Robson.

Our only real cave explo­ration equipment, our flash­lights, were put to good use when we entered the cliff-side den. The cave had one large pas­sageway, which became progressively smaller as we ven­tured into the depths of the solid rock hideaway.

After our spelunking adven­ture, while sitting outside the cave admiring the view, I found myself telling the story of Rev. George Kinney and his early climbing attempts on Robson.

"It all began when Rev. Kin­ney had a heart attack at his home in Victoria," I explained. ‘George,' says the good rev­erend's physician, ‘you’ll just have to exercise more!' “So what does George Kinney do? You guessed it. He climbs Mount Robson! This event took place in the summer of 1909 after several unsuccessful ascents the previ­ous two years. Using only prim­itive climbing equipment of the day, Kinney, along with his packer, Curly Philips, reached the summit during a white-out. I've been told that the top of Mount Robson is the size of a football field. This may have been why Kinney planted his flag 60 feet (18 metres) below the actual summit. Unaware of this error, Kinney and Philips left behind, buried under a rock pile, a metal cylinder containing a Canadian flag and written messages."

The first official ascent of Mount Robson (3,954 meters) was made by A.H. MacCarthy and W.W. Foster, led by the leg­endary Austrian guide, Konrad Kain, on July 31, 1913.

After taking panoramic pho­tographs of Mount Robson we headed down the trail towards Berg Lake and retrieved our packs from the Hargreaves Shelter. From here we continued on the main trail to the next camping spot, Adolphus meadows, which lay just over the provincial border and the Continental Divide.

On the morning of the third day I hiked with the group as far as the Calumet Creek Crossing, where they forded the creek and continued on to their rendezvous point at the Steppe Creek horse camp.

Meanwhile, the other half of the America's Adventure troop were setting up camp at Steppe Creek on their third day of riding on the Moose River Trail. There were 11 riders. They had sur­vived 28 river-crossings and sev­eral hours of cold mountain rain and had learned how to take care of their designated horses.

The Moose River Riders prepare for their hike down the Berg Lake Trail.
The Moose River Riders prepare for their hike down the Berg Lake Trail.

Third generation wrangler, 18 year old Nathan Powell, was a natural role model and instruc­tor for the group. Under Nathan's guidance they learned to saddle and bridle their horses.

The gourmet camp meals, provided by Borderline Guides, Tony Parisi and Jerry Pedersen, made camp life come alive. In the mornings there were eggs, bacon, hotcakes and coffee for breakfast.

The group was amazed at how all the camping gear fit into the pack-boxes and soft-packs carried by six packhorses. Everything seemed to have a place of its own and not an egg was broken. Travel in pack trains by the early outfitters of the area made horse use a part of the mountain park's heritage.

The Moose River Trail spans a distance of 105 km from its trailhead near Moose Lake by High­way 16, to where it joins the Berg Lake Trail near Adolphus Lake. The trail passes through a jack pine forest, over bogs and swamps, along gravel flats and, at the 21 km mark, past one mountain, which contains one of the deepest caves in North America.

For the first two nights the riding group camped at Resplen­dent Creek Camp where they were able to visit nearby Lazuli Lake. Another interesting spot was a gully in an area that had been burnt out by a fire. Photog­rapher Jerry Pedersen described this area as "silent, mysterious and eerie!” In con­trast, the long stretches of gravel flats were "very wide, open and beautiful."

At the Steppe Creek rendezvous, the hiking group and the riders were reunited. Trail stories were exchanged around the campfire that night. The Exchange of gear was made the next morning.

I met up with the second group of hikers, led by group leaders Cory Aist and Tim Bardsley, as they were approaching Berg Lake.

Hikers rest and view “Falls of the Pool.”
Hikers rest and view “Falls of the Pool.”
Travel Writer Leonard Lea Frazer, at Adolphus Flats.
Travel Writer Leonard Lea Frazer, at Adolphus Flats.

“These kids have trekked upon some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. They have come through as true adventurers and explorers, on horse-back at first, and now have set out on foot to finish their journey,” said Cory about his crew. “I’m proud of them. They’ve had high spirits in some pretty rugged conditions.”

On our way back down the trail I noted an entry in the hik­ers' log book, housed at the Hargreaves Shelter. The remark was written by a fellow hiker only a few weeks earlier.

"Seeing this lofty summit (Mount Robson) at close range fills me with admiration and respect for those two intrepid individuals, Curly Philips and Reverend Kinney, who were not the first to make the top, but came awfully damn close - with­out the significant benefits of Gortex gear and paved roads. Technology will never substitute completely for fortitude, perse­verance and luck, a moun­taineer's most important tools."