Back at the ranch – a road into the Canadian backcountry
The number of travellers heading off on seasonal gap years and volunteer programs has become a growing trend. In November, I embarked on a short-term work-travel visa to Canada, to experience this growing trend first hand.
After a whirlwind trip and what felt like a stint on The Amazing Race, I had covered 7 cities, 5 Countries, 4 Continents, 6 Flights and 31 hrs flying time, transiting through 7 Airports in only 5 Days and a drop in temperature from 32 to – 4 degrees, before touching down in Vancouver.
This was not my end point – I hoped to follow in the foot steps of many other travellers who flock to Canada for the winter ski-season in the Rockies; exposed to endless rolling landscapes of white powdery peaks, shredding up the slopes and engrossing oneself in the absolute beauty of the wilderness.
Rather than finding myself on one of the more renowned resorts like Whistler or Banff, an opportunity arose to head out to the backcountry working on a ranch and hunting lodge. I jumped at the chance with little thought and was on a shuttle bound for the ranch located in the South Chilcotin Mountain Ranges, joined by 2 beackpackers from Germany and Ireland.
The landscape morphed with each passing hour as we edged our way deeper into the remote mountains, further away from any semblance of urban life, only rugged valley’s, craggy cliffs, skeletal trees and winding mountain passes blanketed under a foot of snow.
My companions and I glanced at each other with uncertainty as to where exactly we were heading, neither of us having experienced such pure wilderness. California Big Horn Sheep prance majestically on the steep cliff faces. The mountain passes plunge deep into icy valleys and the driver plays a constant game of dodge avoiding rocks which have fallen from the hills above.
As we near the ranch a number of bright red “DANGER-Hunting” signs jump out against the bleak landscape and this is only testament to our final destination. A remote wilderness, 2hrs from the nearest country town with cougar, grizzly’s, bob cats, wolves, moose and deer.
After arriving one can only admire the sheer beauty that surrounds you; the crisp air, the mist which eerily makes its way through the fir trees, the loud shriek of a hawk above and the neigh of the horses from their snow covered paddocks, to the cry of a lonesome wolf which echoes across the hills. The myriad of footprints that criss-cross the snow is beautiful but also sends an eerie chill down your spine knowing what might be watching you from a rocky outcrop.
It all just seems a little surreal, like the page of an adventure novel or a scene from a western movie, the setting brings alive everything I had heard about the Canadian Wilderness.
Life back at the ranch has opened my eyes and broadened my mind to the different lifestyles and places that people choose to live. It is moments like this that makes travel all the more rewarding and to test yourself in new situations, environments and lifestyles.
As H. C. Andersen wrote so poetically, “To travel is to live” and I was certainly getting my taste of the Canadian backcountry and wilderness.
by Terence Eder
Freelance Travel Journalist & Avid Backpacker