Muskwa-Kechika Alumni Tell Us Why They Ride
Martin McNamara, Ottawa ON, Canada
My 2 week Expedition in the glorious Muskwa-Kechika Conservation Area, in July, 2018, was truly the trip of a lifetime!

The spectacular mountain scenery along with the many sightings of wild animals (several grizzly bears, in particular) and numerous crossings of the fast flowing, pristine rivers, generated a level of continuous excitement that I will always remember.

Equally impressive during the entire experience was the excellent leadership and daily assistance provided by Wayne Sawchuk and his very capable wranglers, Alex and Michelle.

Last but not least, was the total confidence and safety I felt riding Toni, one of the many outstanding and reliable horses, ultimately responsible for such a wonderful Expedition.

Thank-you All!
George and Liz, Kitchener ON, Canada

We were away in northern BC near the Yukon border the past 3 weeks... crossing the Rocky Mountain Divide on horseback. Amazing, exhilarating, sometimes terrifying and unquestionably the most physically and psychologically demanding odyssey for most of the 7 paying participants, along with the expedition leader (Wayne Sawchuk, of Muskwa-Kechika Adventures and 2 wranglers), have EVER done. That includes fairly arduous off the grid developing country travel Liz and I have done, including high altitude trekking in the Himalaya and Andes, climbing Kilimanjaro, Machu Pichu, assorted marathons, et cetera.

After arriving and spending two nights at the Muncho Lake Lodge, we flew in on a float plane to our base camp...and 15 days later emerged from the bush 100 kilometers southeast, hammering along for 4 hours via a jet boat, the only craft sufficiently sturdy and with a shallow (4 inch) enough draft to navigate the Tuchodi River.

Breathtaking vistas, impossible climbs and descents, often on horseback, but just as often leading a 1200 pound horse (Liz was on Levi, Kemela on Tony, Al on Cassiar and me on stalwart Percy) up or down steep, narrow trails on the edge of a cliff, too many river crossings to recall, all ice cold and fast moving water, eerie swamps. We had rain, sleet and snow co-mingled with nice weather... wait 20 minutes and it changes in the mountains.

10 horses with riders and 13 heavily loaded pack horses at the start, all incredibly sure footed and each one with a personality. These are very large, serious working horses, not the stall bound version we did our piddly 12-1 hour lessons on earlier this year. They are also enormously well-cared for and loved, so no PETA concerns, despite the inherent risks.

Took all of us to the edge of our mental and physical stamina at points pretty much ever day, but turning back simply was not an option. You just kept moving forward. The guide and 2 wranglers were a calm, confidence inspiring, endlessly good humoured, remarkably intelligent and indefatigable trio... Wayne, who is a 62 year old enviro-cowboy-philosopher; Alex, a 26 year old bright introvert, who also is a farrier and heads up search and rescue operations in his region in the off-season; and Michelle, the strongest woman I have ever met, also in her 20s, an amateur equine vet... she's ridden across America on a horse, and later New Zealand). All three utterly fearless, unflappable and impressive in their own way. Remarkable strength of character (x3). Emotional anchors for all 7 of us, two of whom were seasoned riders, and acknowledged being out of their depth at times.

Never say never... initially my sense was not likely again, but there's something that keeps pulling me back. This was a trip that eclipses anything else we have done. Never felt more conflicted about a holiday, or more alive when in the midst of it. We shall see...Next year it's a sedate trekking on foot through a section of the El Camino in northern Spain, with 5-star accommodations, dining and fine wine. The contrast couldn't be more extreme. From the time we left base camp until the boat roared up to shore of Little Tuchodi Lake, we saw no other people, and only 2 planes.

See National Geographic November 2008 issue, "The Great M-K". M-K = Muskwa-Kechika region, about the size of Ireland. Wayne was instrumental in having the frontier designated an environmentally protected area. We did the same 15 day 4th leg of the 105 day expedition, with the same guide/leader (Wayne) and I had Percy as my ride, the same horse featured in the Nat Geographic article, albeit he's now 26 and getting long in the tooth. I cannot stress how intensely one bonds with the horses; your life is in their hooves, literally, from start to end. Tireless, sure-footed, gentle giants... until the wasps spooked them; then they were all full of piss and vinegar.

"Okay everybody, get to your horses and mount up."
Bettina and Bjarne Kallehauge, Copenhagen, Denmark

Thank you for an absolutely extraordinary adventure, crossing the Rockies!

It was an experience that we will never forget, the endless open spaces in the mountains, the rocks, the glaciers, the rivers, the woods and the swamps. All that combined with "fun with horses", camping in a tent, cooking on open fire, and last but not least, great travelling companions!

As you can gather, it has been an unforgettable trip, and we are already talking about if we should do it again. Maybe Heavens Pass in a couple of years.... So Wayne and Alex, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and all the best for you in future.

PS Could you give Comet an extra treat here at Christmas from me? He is also an extraordinary horse and I am very happy that I got the chance to ride him!
Peter von Tiesenhausen, Demmit AB, Canada

Travelling by horse with Wayne into some of the most pristine alpine landscape left in North America on three separate occasions has only made me want to do it more. Were it not for the Gortex one could imagine living in centuries past or to have Gandalf appear around the next bend. It's an inspirational and unforgettable experience.
Katherin Edwards, Kamloops BC, Canada

Maybe you'll fly in by bush plane, land on a strip bordered by wild potentilla in a scrubby land that pulls you apart before you start, and as you struggle to set up your tent you'll wonder what you’re doing in a place you've never heard of. Or maybe you'll arrive by river boat, on a wild ride that jets you to the prettiest lake you'll ever encounter where you'll hunt for Native artifacts and listen to talking birch trees.

You'll be given a horse, a Toni, Levi, or the good beast Percy, an animal that will carry you over mountain passes, and you'll fall in love all over again as you relearn trust. You'll ride into a landscape that you've only ever seen in a painting or National Geographic, and be that girl on a horse that you've envied for years. You'll pass quietly beneath rock cathedrals certain you will see nothing as spectacular, until you turn a corner, the land falls away, and your mind cracks open again with beauty.

You may sit in a field with an old friend and visit values and beliefs, or dangle your feet in a clear mountain stream and talk Plato, wondering how you came to be this age without knowing. You may do a lot of thinking, erase your past, or just be, but this I guarantee. Long after you're back home, your body leaner, your mind fatter, your view on life will be forever altered and four months later, you'll sign on to do it all again.
Paint the Horse, South Peace Colony, Kiskatenaw River BC, Canada

Hi, my name is Paint and I'm an honest Hutterite Horse. I've been on rental since 2003, since I was about 8. I've carried many a traveler through the beautiful MK and have even carried a great fellow named Michael Coon every single year since I started. Very happy to announce that after the summer of 2016 I'll take up permanent residency with Wayne and the others. Looking forward to meeting you and sharing the journey.
John Leonn, Leamington Ontario, Canada

The two weeks (Aug 2013) I spent at Mayfield Base Camp, with the two 3-day outrides, were just what I needed. Hospitality and camp staff to guest ratio was great and so was the "pack string". Particular thanks to "Cassiar" for taking good care of me and responding in a way that made me believe he knew what I was thinking even before I asked him. Particularly enjoyed very early morning silent canoe trips with Michelle to observe waking & stirring wildlife. I’ll be back with friends... probably 2016.
Connie Haist, Lasqueti Island BC, Canada

Hi Wayne, thanks so much for your photos of Expedition #3 - 2015. Here is a piece I wanted to share with you. I wrote it over breakfast with my son the other morning. I really wanted to share some of my 2015 MK experience with him. A 66 yr. old grandmother trying to explain herself to her 31 yr. old son needs some creativity. So, while he looked at the photos in your book, I wrote this account of how I felt about my trip. You are more than welcome to use it in the alumni section on your web site. Thanks for the trip of my lifetime! I'd really love to do it again in 2016.

This Wilderness

This wilderness, this wildness, seeps into me with the smell of boreal forest duff kicked up by horses' hooves, with the plaintive calls of plover, sandpiper and loon, with the texture of coarse sand from this pristine riverine beach running through my fingers, with the majestic sweep of these glaciated valleys opening in front of me.

This wildness awakens me, speaks to me of its people. Flakes of stone left behind in a native camp, I see them gather around their fire near the lake, buffalo robes pulled close about their shoulders. A pile of sticks, still arranged just so, to trap a wolverine, brings a vision of the trapper who came through here 80 years ago on his long snow-shoe trek from Fort Ware, with his ice-frosted beard and his Trapper Nelson pack loaded down with gear, furs, rifle.

I didn't know that I needed to breathe this air infused with the breath of Wooly Mammoth, shiver in this morning chill, watch these caribou, elk, moose, sheep, goats, wolves, grizzlies and porcupine on hillsides and shores.

I didn't know that I needed to immerse myself, breathless, in a numbing glacial river as my horse carries me, surging against the flood of rushing, deep, roiling, milky water.

This wilderness awakens the wild in me, pushes me up steep mountain sides to stand in awe before the raw beauty of this desolate pass. I stand here as frozen rock glaciers silently witness the retreat of millennia of ice; as wind and water gently erode this iron-infused shale, hosting an autumnal palate of lichens.

This wilderness, this wildness inhabits me, will never leave me alone. It claims me, calling me, compelling me to come back.
Guy Waddell, Sydney, Australia

I first heard of Wayne and the M-K back in 2008 via a National Geographic article which showcased the M-K, Wayne's history and his significant contribution to the creation of the M-K Management Area. The story was inspiring and the images shown in the article were breathtaking and I could not get them out of my head.

In 2011, I finally got around to signing up for one the expeditions - heading out from Tuchodi Lakes with Wayne and crew, accompanied by my brother, James. In 2013 I returned to join Wayne once again, this time departing from 'Wayne Central' i.e. Mayfield Lake. The image shown here is at 'Trout Central' i.e. Tetsa Lake, from the 2011 expedition.

In every respect, the Northern Rockies are an amazing place and the expeditions with Wayne literally an experience of a lifetime - hard work, but very rewarding in all respects. I found my travelling companions to be universally friendly, with the team bonding very quickly and working well throughout.
Jakob Hjuler Christensen, Copenhagen, Denmark

By the time I had the pleasure of riding with Wayne and the MK expedition, I was working as a self-employed theatre technician in Copenhagen, Denmark. I needed some time away from all the working hours, and I decided to go to Canada. The wildlife experience was easily chosen, considered my many years of scouting; I needed some fresh air.

I really didn't know anything about horses, but I guess I thought, "Why not..." and I am happy that I did! Those horses are very well trained, and you cannot avoid getting fond of them. I was on the trail crossing the Rocky Mountains divide, July 2012. Going on this expedition, meeting Wayne and all his horses, is the best thing I have ever done to myself.

It's obvious that the nature in Canada is a whole lot more rough than in Denmark, but not just the nature was stunning. Experiencing how the horses work out there, and feeling that special bond Wayne and his horses have is rather unusual, and I still hope to get back there one day!

When I got back to Denmark it seemed that something was wrong, and I had to reconsider what I wanted to do with my life. I can never be sure whether I would have made some changes without going to BC, but meeting the horses and Wayne, who is an excellent storyteller by the way, in some way gave me the fresh air to start thinking. Today I have almost finished my studies to be a teacher, and I love bringing the teenagers out of the classroom and into the forest to make a bonfire. There we can talk of something else than their iPad.
Cathy Hooper, Fort Nelson BC, Canada

Growing up in Newfoundland, I watched CBC television sign-on each morning to our National anthem, and with it a multitude of Canadian images that spanned "from sea to shining sea." For me, the most captivating images were the Rockies, and I knew then that I would one day be amongst it.

Having settled in Fort Nelson in 1993, I'd been aware of the Muskwa-Kechika Special Management area since 1997. I met Wayne while working on a project for a local business in 2007. Wayne supplied over 400 of his images of the Muskwa-Kechika, and I was tasked to select 12-24 images for reporduction as giclee prints. All of the images were spectacular, which made selection a difficult process, and it was an image of Heaven's Pass that put a Muskwa-Kechika Adventure on my must-do list.

During the entire two week horseback adventure, the ethereal beauty of the Muskwa-Kechika was never lost, not for one second. Each day presented an excess of visual gifts, earthy aromas, and a feeling of connectedness that words fail to describe; it must be experienced. As gracious hosts, Wayne and the wranglers engaged the riders in campfire dinner conversations that were a wonderful and entertaining way to end each day on the trail.

I believe that a Muskwa-Kechika Adventure allows a person to "turn on" and "tune in" to the random beauty and purposeful importance of nature, while achieving a remarkable internal re-boot.
Stephanie Grand, France and Michigan

I was born and raised in France and lived in British Columbia from 2001 to 2011. I currently live in Michigan where I work as an environmental scientist on soil and air quality.

I am always looking for adventures and riding with Wayne Sawchuk in the Muskwa-Kechika is definitely one of my most memorable experiences. I heard of Wayne by chance while studying resource management at the University of British Columbia; I wrote to him and was thrilled when I heard that I would be able to join a ride. I was completely blown away by Wayne's knowledge of the land and of the ecosystems in which we travelled. The MK is truly a special place, one that reminds us of the awesome power of nature. It is something rare nowadays, to be able to look 360° around yourself and see no trace of man as far as the eye can see, save for your own tracks.

My favorite time on the ride was going to get the horses in the morning. The herd almost always wandered further away than I expected and we had occasionally epic bareback rides back to camp. Giddyup!
David Walker, Vancouver BC, Canada

I have worked on international development projects focused on education, environment, agriculture and health in many parts of the planet for the past thirty years. I had ridden horses in some of countries I have visited but have always wanted to do an extended ride in the wilderness. I read about Wayne and the MK several years ago and felt it was exactly the experience I was looking for.

Seeing a pristine wilderness and learning about it through Wayne and his vast knowledge of the history, land and wildlife was a unique experience and went well beyond my expectations. In the MK you step back in time to how it must have been for first nations peoples and early explorers in a land free of infrastructure and technology. To me visiting the MK demonstrated that determination, cooperation and planning can be the most effective tools to limit the human impact into unique ecosystems. Areas like the MK are vital in providing future generations a window into a world that once was and the need for vigilance to maintain it.
Palle Steen Christensen, Copenhagen, Denmark

I'm a 38 years old set designer living in Copenhagen, Denmark. I'm deeply connected to my Scandinavian roots and have always enjoyed traveling the nordic landscapes. Hiking, canoeing, and roundtrips by car. Mostly confined to the Scandinavian region and Iceland, where I have been many times.

This time I had the time and the means for an even grander adventure. I had considered Alaska and Greenland for a while when I heard of the Muskwa-Kechika expeditions. I'm not a trained horesback rider, but after hearing more from a previous participant who assured me it would not be a problem, I decided to go. I took the time to see Vancouver for a week before heading north for the expedition.

One thing I brought home is the Canadian Rockies. The vastness, magnificence, the overwhelming beauty of the place itself was well worth it. This is a landscape that leaves you speechless when you clear the trees of a valley pass and the whole valley opens up right in front of you. Even in rain - I wouldn't miss it. And when you cross the leftovers of a winter avalanche, it really shows you what this place is made of. How the slow transformation of the landscape has happened over a timespan you cannot imagine. It's just huge. It's a way to experience time itself.

But going by horse was the big experience for me, and I came home with a renewed respect for the animal. Sitting on Percy's back as he lifted me up a mountain side, and feeling his muscles working under the skin was simply amazing. Or going the hourlong stretches over the valley floors and finding a rhythm. Or simply saddling up in the morning and getting ready for a day's ride with him. Looking at the map afterwards and seeing the distance the horses brought us made me very grateful to them. Although I felt the whole trip on my body, I know the horses pulled the bigger load.

If you have been on an Muskwa-Kechika Adventure and would like to add your name and experiences to this page, please send a message to our webmaster.

... a charismatic speaker... a compelling slide show...
National Geographic Magazine, Nov 2008
PO Box 27, Rolla BC Canada V0C 2G0 · phone 1-250-261-1513 · info@muskwakechika.com