Saddle Up In Canada's Gold Rush-Era Country

12 August 2016
Read Time: 2.0 mins

When I put my three year old on the back of the pony at Copper Cayuse Outfitters’ Pemberton ranch, 30 minutes' north of Whistler, something about his entire bearing changed. It wasn’t just that he seemed taller. He suddenly belonged less to me and more to a 6,000 year-long arc of humanity curving through time, generations of whom until recently lived at one with the horse.

 First encounter: boy meets horse at Copper Cayuse Outfitters in Pemberton, British Columbia, and the writer. (Image: Stu Armstrong)

Recognised as one of Canada's 186 signature tourism experiences, the outfit (who also do trail rides for all ages and abilities) offers a three-day trip to the Li-Lik-Hel Mine that is mountain exploration at its purest. Ride along turn-of-the-century trails, first scratched in by the gold-fevered, past long-forgotten mines, to camp in the 1,800-metre elevation alpine of the Coast Mountains.

One high-profile executive from Vancouver comes riding with Copper Cayuse Outfitters every year, seeking decompression and reconnection that he can only source this far from civilisation, in the alternative civility offered by horses, cowboy coffee, and a night sky ripple-shot with stars that easily outshine your campfire, which offers the only competition around.

 At Copper Cayuse Outfitters in Pemberton. (Image: Copper Cayuse Outfitters)

It usually takes a full day “for all the air to come out of him,” as Don Coggins, co-owner, says of their hard-charging, world-storming guest, but then the magic of horses and country do their work. He’s able to return to a frenetic urban life and weather the storms of the C-suite for another year.


More outdoors adventures in Canada:

Get 'oot and aboot' in Canada. Top 10 National Parks To Visit In Canada

Family fun in Alberta. Banff Made Kid-Friendly: Top Activities For Families


 At Tenquille Lake near Pemberton. (Image: Copper Cayuse Outfitters)

Maybe the appeal comes from an increasingly rare chance to be unplugged. Once you drive past Whistler, and out the other side of Mount Currie - the community at the heart of the Lil’wat Nation’s territory- to the trailhead, mobile phone reception ends. You are officially out of range.

The country rises up to fill in the stimulus-blanks - grizzlies can be spotted on nearby ridgelines, wildflowers and wildberries jostle for attention, mining-era relics tease tales of lucky strikes and busted-down dreams.

The horses do all the hard work, says Don. All you have to do is stay on. The saddle is really the perfect place to soak in scenery. And friendships forged around campfires know no comparison.

 The stunning scenery around Tenquille Lake, BC. (Image: Copper Cayuse Outfitters)

Don appreciates these things. He’s a former business executive spending his sixties wrangling, trail-building and living at camp, running a passion business with his wife, Evelyn, and partners Dudley and Jan Kennett, to preserve a piece of horseback culture in an era when mountain adventure is increasingly dominated by mountain bikes and motorised vehicles.

He firmly believes the heart of the experience is the horses.

 At the end of the day on the ranch. (Image: Copper Cayuse Outfitters)

Handpicked from a wild local herd and completely at ease in the mountainous territory, Copper Cayuse’s horses are trained over a couple of years to be great with people. In fact, the wranglers and horses are singled-out for their people skills. Guests just have to show up with the clothes on their back. Everything else – from sleeping bag to dessert to the releasing of your inner cowboy - is taken care of.

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Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Canada.

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Lisa Richardson

A Bris Vegas girl who got hooked on snow, Lisa Richardson is now based in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, where she writes, blogs, mountain bikes, skis, climbs, and requests deliveries of Vegemite and Violet Crumbles from anyone who visits. She's always up for an adventure - the dirtier and more self-propelled, the better.