The first few yards of the trail took us through a shuttered ski resort (Mount Norquay). Then, tall pines closed in around the narrow track, and we said goodbye to "civilisation". Already, the deep quiet of the back country was upon us, the drone of the infernal combustion engine replaced by the by the steady clip-clop rhythm of strolling hooves. In that close forest, the mountains around us were only glimpsed, their presence mostly inferred by the steepness of the ground to either side of the trail, and by the sound of hidden torrents, still swollen with snow-melt.
We stopped for lunch in a clearing at the edge of a meadow, and turned our horses loose (except Mikes, for purposes of rounding-up). Gophers popped out of burrows to watch as Mike removed a grill from the back of his mule and set about splitting firewood to cook our burgers. From the edge of the meadow, we could see across the valley to the forest on the opposite slopes. Looking higher, the scars of fire and avalanche were easily found; above those, a crest of the slate that gives these young mountains their rugged good looks.
Post-lunch, the forest closed in again, but the ground around us leveled out - a fortunate circumstance, as it turned out. Up ahead, the guide's horse came to an abrupt stop; I was close enough behind to see the problem, which was an uprooted tree stump sitting on the trail. This was a "grizzly stump" - the ant-ridden remains of a rotting tree, dug up and ripped apart by a protein-hungry grizzly bear. Mike's horse shook its head and stamped its feet, and tried to go anywhere but straight ahead; he put his spurs in, forced its head around to face the stump, and soon enough, got safely past.