Posted by: cherylyoung | February 20, 2012

Day 19 Mosey Through Hoodoo Country


Day 19 Mosey Through Hoodoo Country

By Daniel Wood

For several hours now, we’ve crossed and recrossed channels of

the metre-deep WokKpash Creeek, our horses’ hooves skidding on

submergedstones and the current threatening to sweep us


The animals balk at each icy encounter and have to be coaxed on

wared, But this prodding requires taking charge, being boss,

kicking the belly of my lethargic nag. Gyspy.

And that requires keeping my feet in the stirrups-which, I note with

consternation, are often underwater.

It’s only Day One of a week-long, 100 kilometre pack trip in the

remote Northern Rockies/  Riding-wise, I’m a gen-u-ine City

Slicker , a “how –do-you-steer-this thing greenhorn: and I’m

trying simultaneously to learn the basics of horsemanship and

equine psychology, remain in the saddle, and keep my boots dry.

The 64,000 square kilometers of Muskwa-Kercika wilderness that

stretch ahead of me and my two riding companions: photographer

Graham Osborne and Ters River Outfitters guide Doug Andrews,

is largely terra incognita despite the fact that it contains

spectacular mountain scenery, boreal plains, muskeg, several

hot springs: ;and some of British Collumbia’s largest herds of

big game.

  Within this vast northern region i s Northern Rocky Mountains

Provincial Park, created in 1999, and within that, our primary

destination- – the astounding Woldpash Gorge, site of one of the

largest collection of hoodoos on Earth.

There are no roads here.  The distances are huge. So pack horses-

and I’m learning riding skills- are essential.

As the hours pass, the whitewater creek becomes confined in a

gorge and we’re forced to climb steeply to a forested trail that

follows the canyon’s rim.

And here I learn two more important things about horseback


First: there are two kinds of low-hanging branches: the ones

that merely remove your hat, and the ones that can, if you not

alert, decapitate you.

And second: when ;your horse passes through a narrow gap

between two trailside tree, your stirrup-clad, southbound toes

can suddenly become northbound.

And that hurts!

Along the canyon’s eroded banks, the aspens are yellow flames.

Rising above, black spruce climb the slopes around us toward a

second, higher bank of colour as the subalpine plants- birch ,

willow, dwarf bluebeberry-are transformed by the fiery

metamorphosis of autumn  Higher, still, the 2.500-metre ridges

are stark, glaciared limestone, the dramatic upthrust a treeless,

grey expanse unchanged since the end of the ice age. 

It’s at this point I notice the rifle stock protruding from beneath

our guide’s saddle.

What’s that for?” I ask

“In case the unimaginable becomes imaginable,” Andrew says


He sees me roll my eyes “A bear,….a grizzly  or something:” he

adds “Maybe you fall off your horse and break your leg.

  I shoot you.

Drape you over a log for a day “til rigor mortis sets in, Then we can

load you on a horse, so you won’t slide off.

“Glad I asked,” I tell him But now, every big rock ahead is-in my

imagination  grizzly and every prod I deliver to Gypsy’s belly a

potential act of suicide.

“Then, the first hoodoos appear.

We gawk like visitors at an extraterrestrial freak show. 

A battalion of massive columns protrude about the cliffside.

  Each is 10 or 20 or 30 Metres tall, and each supports a boulde

r that if often five times wider than the pillar’s topmost

sedimentary pinnacle. 

Some boulders are the size of armchairs: some the size dump


  Every one is a miracle of balance.

And as far as I can see up the valley, extending for five kilometers

along both sides of the canyon, are thousands more balanced


It’s a landscape that, literally defies gravity, and I find myself

laughing at the absurdity of the scene.

I feel so delirious riding amid these towers that I begin what will

become a week long reprise of every cowboy song I ever knew.

I run through “I’m an Old Cowhand”and “Home on the Range”

and a dozen more half-remembered tuned, sung off key to the

rhythm of Gypsy’s plodding gait.

I punctuate each ending with a corny “Ee-HAH!” At time, I think

I see Andrew cringe.

I figure, if he’s going to shoot me, the least I can do is annoy him.

At a particularly incredible cluster of balanced rocks, we

dismount and survey the panorama, trying to interpret the

visible geology. 

It’s clear the limestone cliffs that enclose Wokkpash Canyon have

deposited a thick bed of gravelly, concrete-like clays onto the

valley floor during some post-ice age time. 

And that ancient glaciers and landslides helped to scatter the

huge boulders that now cap the eroded creekside columns.

Andrew and I compete for best metaphor to describe the bizarre

hoodoos but I have to concede when he finds the perfect imagery.

They are, he says like chess pieces with the symbol of each one’s

status-knight, bishop, queen,king-balanced atop the column’s


At that, I announce- out of stupid, male, antiauthoritatiian

bravado – that I’m going to knock one of the immense balance

rocks off it’s pedestal.  

I bombard the nearest cap rock with stone.  It’s like a flea

threatening to topple and elephant.


That night beside Wokkpash lake, our campfire blazes amid the

alpine cold.

And the aurora borealis rains down monsoons of pulsating pink and


I take comfort in the fire’s warmth, the celestial lightshow, the

sound of the bobbled horses grazing nearby and the fact I have

not fallenoff gypsy nor been  shot.

Despite the vastness of night and enormity of B.C/s northern

wilderness.  I feel safe: huge mountains surround me on three

sides, and on the fourth and army of stone chessmen stand guard

against danger.

Info (Tetsa River Outfillers:250-774-1005—





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