Escape from Home – Alberta
Join Matt and Karla as they dive head-first into Indigenous adventures across Alberta. They’ll learn all about medicinal plants with Zucmin Guiding, go further than they thought they could with Girth Hitch Guiding, and find deeper connections with Painted Warriors. You can then join Debbie Olson on her peaceful fly-fishing day trip with Drift Out West Fly Fishing Adventures.
Hiking can be such a different experience depending on who you’re with. For myself, it normally consists of selecting a trail that leads to a mountain summit or an incredible view and then asking friends to join. Recently, however, I joined Tim Patterson of Zuc’min guiding for an educational hike around Mount Yamnuska. While hundreds of other people made their way up the mountain on a very popular path, our small group stayed at the bottom, spending hours in one small area to learn about all the plants and flowers we normally ignore. While I might admire the beauty of the various plants during a typical hike, I certainly didn’t know about all the medicinal or even spiritual properties that some of them hold. For example, Trembling Aspen is beautiful to look at, but did you know that if you rub the “spores” off of the bark, it can be used as sunscreen? I didn’t either until my wife and I joined Tim for this enlightening Indigenous experience. We learned so much about the various plants and flowers, some of which are edible, toxic, or even sacred. Our actual hike into the forest took only 15 minutes and yet we spent hours learning about everything we saw along the way, turning it into one of the most enriching hikes we’ve ever experienced.
Our next adventure was totally different. This time we did go to the top of a mountain, joining Girth Hitch Guiding in Nordegg for a Via Ferrata mountain climbing adventure. Our guide, Tim Taylor, a proud Métis man, created his company to share outdoor adventures that guarantee challenge and growth. This is one of the common threads we found throughout our Indigenous adventures in Alberta. All the guides, whether Métis or First Nation, shared a much deeper connection with their surroundings than we’ve typically experienced. For Tim Taylor, he shares his appreciation for the David Thompson corridor by bringing others on a journey to transformational adventure. You could tell from start to finish that he cares deeply for the people he takes on an adventure.
There are two Via Ferratas in the area and we opted for “The Fox”, which is perfect for those new to the sport. Translated to “Iron Path” from Italian, Via Ferratas basically consist of a steel ladder system built into the mountain, creating a very safe way to go mountain climbing. After giving us some information about the region, Tim equipped us with the necessary harnesses and helmets while teaching us how to climb and what to be aware of. We then hiked uphill for 30 minutes before reaching the beginning of the “steel ladder” that would take us to the top. Over the next hour or so, we climbed upwards of 300 metres, stopping only to admire the jaw-dropping views all around us. My wife, Karla, who normally gets more nervous than I do when it comes to adrenaline sports, had a blast, thanks in part to the safety of a Via Ferrata, but also the caring support of our guide. Once at the top, we sat down for incredible world-class views while having a light snack. It’s incredible how colourful Abraham Lake is, especially with a blue sky overhead. We then hiked down the mountain, stopping at a freshwater stream to douse ourselves in cold water after an entire day under the sun.
After learning about plants one day and climbing a mountain the next, our third Indigenous adventure took us to Mountain View County for a day with Painted Warriors, a popular place to learn archery and practice survival skills. Located just 20-minutes south of Sundre, Painted Warriors is operated in part by Tracey Klettl, a descendant of the Cree and Mohawk people from the area which is now Jasper National Park. Before starting our archery lesson, we got to light the fire that would cook our elk steaks for lunch. This was an important step as the coals needed to be hot enough for the afternoon. Then, we moved on to archery but not before learning about ethical hunting and how serious the First Nation peoples take the hunting of animals. For them, a hunter should be so precise that he can take the animal in one shot. If the arrow doesn’t hit a precise location on the animal, it would only be injured, causing it much more pain and suffering, which is why Indigenous people aim for that precision. It’s something I wholeheartedly agree with.
After our introduction to hunting, it was time for our archery lesson, which began by firing arrows at targets. We were taught how to stand, aim, and properly shoot the arrow. Then, after we hit our targets, we got to go into the forest and practise 3D archery, utilizing their life-like animals as targets. We didn’t have time to “hunt” all 20 of the targets that are dotted across the forest, so we focused on the bear. Although most First Nation groups don’t typically hunt bear for a variety of reasons, it’s a nice big target for beginners. Each animal has the markings of where it should be hit to ensure a fast kill. Any shot outside of that target only injures the animal. My first shot did not take it down and my second shot missed entirely. My third shot, however, was the one that hit it precisely in the kill zone. In real life, of course, I would have scared it away, so it’s a good thing our elk steaks were already being cooked on the fire, otherwise, it would have been a hungry afternoon.
After lunch, we switched gears and went horseback riding. However, rather than go for a typical trail ride, which can be done all over the province, we had a more “connected” experience with the horses, learning how to groom them, saddle them, and connect with them. First, we walked beside them, making sure they were aware of us as we performed various tasks such as walking forward and backward and then hopped on for a short walk and trot. For anyone truly wanting to learn how to ride, it makes sense to actually learn about horses and how to develop a relationship with them. While anyone can join a trail ride, it’s another experience to really connect with your horse and develop trust between each other.
Being Connected is what I found to be the bond between each of the Indigenous adventures we had throughout Alberta. Whether it was learning about the connection between plants and the various First Nation that call this area home, the connection between a guide and his clients on their journey through transformational adventure, or the connection between a horse and its rider, our Indigenous adventures taught us to be more connected with everything we do. Whether it’s being mindful of the nature around us, or even between the experience and ourselves, we can make any experience more enlightening if we simply learn from others, pay attention and appreciate every breath.
Does fishing float your boat?
If you have an extra day to adventure around Alberta, catch travel writer Debbie Olson’s take on her Indigenous fly-fishing adventure with gentle giant Quinn Soonias of Drift Out West Fly Fishing Adventures.
It was an unusually hot day when I set out on the river for an afternoon of fly-fishing with Quinn Soonias, owner of Drift Out West Fly Fishing Adventures. After unloading the boats, Soonias gave a dryland lesson covering the basic techniques of fly-fishing before we pushed off.
Drift boat fishing is about as peaceful as it gets. Soonias pointed out the best fishing spots as our boat drifted with the current. When I wasn’t casting or fighting a fish on the line, I was relaxing and watching pelicans, hawks, eagles and other birds. At 6’7,” Soonias made the paddling look easy and his passion and enthusiasm for fly-fishing was contagious. It’s my new favourite sport. I’m hooked!