Stepping out of the cabin, I took a breath of fresh mountain air. Already it was getting warm and looking at the cloudless sky it was easy to tell it was going to be another beautiful day.
I walked down to the deep blue Amethyst Lakes, taking in the early morning light shining on the craggy face of the Ramparts, and looking at the lake's mirrored surface, broken only by the boat of one client getting an early morning's fishing.
The scene seemed far removed from civilization, yet it was less than a day's ride from this incredible place - one of the Canadian Rockies' crowning jewels, the Tonquin Valley.
Located in Jasper National Park, the valley is world famous for the Amethyst Lakes and the Ramparts and has been a destination for hikers and pack trips almost since its discovery.
For the past five years, outfitters Kable Kongsrud and Cody Dixon, owners and operators of Tonquin Valley Pack and Ski Trips, have been leading people from all over the world into the valley. They offer a five-day package that includes daily excursions from their base camp, the Tonquin Valley Lodge.
The success of the camp is due to the attention to details, from ensuring good mounts to comfortable accommodations and an excellent menu. Nothing is left to chance at the Tonquin Valley Lodge.
The first priority is ensuring a safe and comfortable ride to the camp at the north end of the Amethyst Lakes. From the Maccarib Pass trailhead to the Lodge it's a five hour trip, including a break for lunch.
The first thing is to match up horses with the riders' ability. Kable says whether a person is on the horse for the first time or an experienced rider, they will be assigned a suitable mount.
Paddy Burns, a veteran of several pack trips, her daughter Patricia, on her fourth trip to the Tonquin, and five-year-old granddaughter Sara were on this trip. Paddy and Patricia enjoyed the ride in, but for Sara, who was a greenhorn, the horseback riding was the part of the trip she like the most, although catching a rainbow trout was a real treat.
“We make sure all the horses are fool-proof before taking them on the trail.” Kable says. “Cody and I ride the horses as long as needed.”
The horses are between five and 20 years old and well suited to the trails.
Kongsrud and Dixon do not take the beauty of the valley for granted. Prior to operating the Tonquin Valley Lodge, Dixon ran an outfitting business providing guided tours in a tent camp. “I've been all over Jasper Park and nothing is as pretty as the Tonquin.”
Even though the majority of the pack trips run between July 1 and the end of August, Kable believes September is probably one of the best times to go. “It's a nice time. The fall colors are out.”
Realizing visitors are drawn by the beauty, the outfitters want their lodge to enhance the experience, so they take a great deal of pride in their camp. That was one reason why Dixon took advantage of the opportunity. With his previous business, “You would wet up a really nice camp and then have to take everything down.”
The more permanent location allows them to improve services and facilities. Although simply furnished with log bunk beds, wood stoves and wash stands, the cabins are cozy and comfortable.
“This really is back to the basics.” says Kongsrud. Smiling, he adds, “Some people have brought curling irons and hair dryers.”
The Tonquin Valley Lodge guests can also expect good, home-cooked meals. The food is excellent and there is lots of it. During the five days, clients are treated to barbecued steaks, turkey with all the trimmings, ham and lasagna. All dinners are served with a variety of side dishes including scalloped potatoes, coleslaw and Greek salad. As well, there are hearty breakfasts and lunches (guests have the option of either having a packed lunch or eating in the camp) and homemade bread, rolls and cookies.
Since everyone at the camp eats together, it allows the clients to get to know each other and, by sharing daily experiences, friendships are formed. After meals and during campfires there is usually time for the quests to sit and talk with their hosts.
For Kable, this is one of the benefits of his business. Although the pack trips can accommodate up to 18 people, he says, “I like the smaller groups. It's more personal, you get to know your guests.”
This sentiment is even more evident at the end of the trip. Instead of just dropping guests off at the corral, Kable and Dixon invite people to stay and socialize. They have a comfortable porch and building at the trailhead perfectly suited for the purpose.
Gloria, who with her husband Garfield tries to meet each group, says this is an important part of the trip.
“This gives everyone a chance to talk about their experiences and exchange addresses.”
For most guests the trip provides an unforgettable back-country experience and little Sara probably summed it up best.
“I'll never forget this trip for my whole life.”
by Heather Berezowski
"One night I watched from my cabin porch as lightening on the British Columbia
side of the Great Divide backlit the Ramparts with brilliant flashes." (pg. 52)
" I had followed the trails a horse through nature's galleries to one of
Jasper's masterpieces, the Tonquin Valley." ( pg. 52)
. Summer 1995.
" … the horses made it easy for all of us. They were gentle and friendly." (pg. 44)
"No roads. No power lines. No pop bottles. We were in pristine high-country." (pg. 44)
Canadian Horseman. March/April 1997. Ride into Paradise. Vol.16, No.1
" Located in Jasper National Park, the valley is world famous for the Amethyst
Lakes and the Ramparts and has been a desination for hikers and pack trips
almost since its discovery." ( pg. 52)
" The success of the camp is due to the attention to details." (pg. 52)
" The first priority is to ensure a safe and comfortable ride to the camp at
the north end of the Amethyst Lakes." (pg. 52)
" The recreational opportunities are certainly an attraction for those seeking
a holiday providing solitude and physical activity, but it's the spectacular
scenery in the Tonquin that sets it apart from the rest. ( pg. 53)
" … furnished with log bunk beds, woodstoves and washstands, the cabins are
cozy and comfortable." ( pg. 53)
" I'll never forget this trip for my whole life." ( pg. 54)
by Heather Berezowski
Alberta Outback. By: John Skow. January 1993. Pgs. 98-103, 115, 120.
" In a region giddy with spectacular mountain prospects, this one exceeds
ordinary, everyday grandeur; it touches the fantastical."
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Canadian Nature Photographer - Photography in Tonquin