British Columbia - Chilko Explorer

by Hidden Trails 02/06/2007

Chilko Lake, British Columbia, Canada

Seldom visited and largely untouched, the Chilcotin is like a rare gem.  Few people have discovered it, but once discovered, it is rarely forgotten. There are very few areas in the world as beautiful to explore …


It was noon in Arizona, and as I started gong through the large stack of mail that arrives daily, I came upon the Hidden Trails brochure for the Chilko Explorer Ride, and I found myself captivated by the pictures and words of this magical place in the rugged Canadian Rockies.  Is it possible that there could be a place this breathtakingly beautiful?


I called my good friend Donnis Thran and told her that I had found an amazing place where we should go for the getaway we had been promising ourselves for too long.  Four months later, on a gorgeous September day, Donnis and I were at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, boarding a six passenger airplane to be transported out of this world and into a world of extraordinary beauty.


Although you can drive the long way ‘round to reach the lake and lodge, the charter flight is definitely the more expedient method of travel.  The 90 minute flight in and of itself was quite an experience as we flew over the rugged Canadian Rockies landscape, with more lakes and rivers than I had ever seen before.  The final decent into the Chilcotin Plateau, past snow-capped mountains and glacier fields, brought us to the final destination of the landing strip adjacent to the Ts’yl-os Park Lodge.


We were met by Bud McLean the man who visited this Lake in 1957 and knew on the spot that his goal was to build a Lodge and offer adventure seeking people the opportunity to experience Chilko Lake. The McLean’s have lived and guided at Chilko Lake for thirty-three years, and now Bud’s children share his pride and in-depth love of this unique piece of Canada.  The charm of the Ts’yl-os Lodge is that it is a low-key, intimate atmosphere, and that friendly ambiance began to weave its presence the minute we stepped off the plane.


Donnis and I were taken to the Lodge and our private cabin that would be our home for the next eight days.  This week the Lodge was filled with 8 equestrians and 4 fishermen, a diverse group that would bond together over the next days to be friends.  Donnis and I were the only Americans in the equestrian group, with the rest of the eight consisting of equine thrill seekers from England, Germany and Austria.  It was a fascinating experience to join other equestrians from around the world, to compare and share experiences and knowledge from different ethnic backgrounds.  I felt so blessed to have such a wonderful group of new friends to share this week at Chilko Lake.


Karen McLean announced that we were to all meet at the horse corrals and choose our mounts for the week.  I was very impressed with the quality of the horses that were offered - a variety of different breeds – but all fit, sound, and well trained.


“We really are not looking for the novice rider clientele,” Karen explained, “Our goal is to become known for providing good, responsive horses for medium to expert riders. Our horses are fit and able to travel over of the trails at a good trot or gallop.”


As the week went on, I truly appreciated their vision and their horses. The fact that all of the 8 equestrians were capable trail riders who loved the opportunity to ride the trails with other experienced trail riders really added to the enjoyment of the week.


Within the hour we were all in the saddle and on the trails for a ride that may have been short in length, but it certainly was filled with views that had us all pointing with awe at the lake and the surrounding forest and mountains.  We were given the responsibility for our own horse, and I was especially pleased to have as my partner for the week a Morgan cross gelding named Buck.  I loved his personality, and his confident and responsive attitude.


The gathering of the guests and staff for meals was a very special time each day.  The minute you walk into the Lodge, you feel as though you are in someone’s home.   Every-one sat around big tables, with the chef and staff preparing the food in the kitchen right next to the dining area.  All guests and staff sat around the big tables each morning for a huge breakfast, and each evening for an incredible dinner.  Now, I have to tell you, I came with high expectations about the activities at Ts’yl-os Park Lodge, but I was expecting average meals at an establishment so remote.  However, I was delighted to discover that each meal was different and “gourmet”, abundant in quality and taste, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and breads in addition to steaks to Cornish game hens and a lasagna to die for?


Each day the trail riders would meet for breakfast, and Karen and Bud would go over the ride for the day.  A stretch of unpredictable cold, wet weather put a crinkle in some of the rides that we were scheduled to experience, but we were still able to head out daily on 4-6 hour brisk rides to different places surrounding the lakes.


Each day we were treated to fabulous trails through the fall colors, with vistas of the mountains and lakes that defy description. My favorite ride was when Bud took us to the very top of the highest peak, and as we dug into the lunch that was prepared for us to enjoy on the trail, all riders were content to just sit in awe of the views below us on the Coast Range and Chilko Lake.


We returned each day in the middle of the afternoon, with time to relax in our cabins, or enjoy the hot tub on the deck, with a good glass of wine, the sunset over the lake, and the memories of the day to share with our equestrian friends.  We also enjoyed the opportunity to do some hiking, and canoeing on the lake at day’s end was just an amazing experience.  There was so much to do!


The Lodge is at the end of the Chilko River which is the beginning of the 50-mile long Chilko Lake.  This river and lake remain as one of the premier streams in North America for wild native Rainbow Trout.  One of the reasons that I picked this September week was that it was at the height of the final journey for the spawning of the Sockeye salmon.  Over one million salmon make the 700 mile trek each year to spawn, and the Lake turned red with the abundance of these salmon.  Although it is illegal to catch the salmon during their spawning (and since they don’t eat during this season, they seldom are caught), the river is filled with plenty of trophy sized Rainbow Trout to keep even the world class fisherman happy.


Donnis and I took a day off from the riding to fulfill our dream of becoming “fly fishermen.”  Our fishing guide, Matt, was an amazing teacher, as he took two “never done that” girls and turned us into fly fisher(wo)men to be proud. Although we started the session a bit wild in our casting, a patient Matt helped us get the hang of it, and by days end, we had hooked about 18 fish, and landed nine “BIG FISH” to the boat. Of course we had to have our pictures taken with the biggest ones, and then Matt gently removed the hooks and turned them loose since this river and lake is a “catch and release” environment.


With the return of the salmon comes the Eagles, Osprey, Blue Heron, Seagulls, and Coyotes, and yes, the Black bear and Grizzly Bear – all come to feast on the bounty of the river and the abundance of the Sockeye Salmon.


At the beginning, eight days away from the frantic world of work seemed like an eternity- but here I am, waiting for the airplane to arrive at our own version of ’Fantasy Island’ to take us back to the “other world.  It was a week that was timeless, and yet the time went by too fast.  It was a week spent with strangers who had become friends, sharing the passion for good horses on exciting and breathtaking trails, bringing home the truth that no matter where in the world you live … horses can bring us all together.  It was a week that filled up all of my senses with the things that are most dear to my heart – horses, trials, friends, and rugged scenery that can only be described as Gods’ Greatest Splendor.


Yes, the water really is that blue, Yes, the surrounding 10,000 foot mountains really are that majestic.  Yes, the wildlife really is that abundant.  Yes, the Lodge really does feel like home. Yes, the McLean family really are that committed to making each and every guest feel at home and experience all that your heart desires.


There is an exercise in meditation where, in a moment of stress, you are suppose to close your eyes and “go to your special place,” bringing into your eyes mind,” a place that brings you great joy and peace. So at moments when the work day gets a little crazy, if you see me sitting with my eyes closed and a smile on my face … you can be sure that I have returned to Chilko Lake and the Ts’yl-os Park Lodge . . . Buck and I are galloping over the mountains trails, with the wind in my hair, the turquoise blue lake below, and an eagle and an osprey circling in the blue sky above, and my heart is filled with a peach and joy that comes when we experience God’s amazing masterpiece from the back of a horse.. 

A trail rider’s memories by

Susan E. Gibson


If you want to join us on a trip of a lifetime, please, contact Hidden Trails at  1-888-9-TRAILS

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