I call shotgun. This is my first bush-plane ride and I’m not giving up the best seat for our 90-minute flight from Vancouver to a remote lake in the middle of British Columbia’s Chilcotin plateau. My son, Jack, can sit up here on the return flight. Mothers give up a lot for their kids – this trip, in fact, is for him – but I grab the chance to play co-pilot in the Gulf Island Seaplane’s de Havilland Beaver, a symbol of the Pacific Northwest since the late 1940s.
As we soar through mountain valleys we’re often parallel to jagged snow-capped peaks. I can’t stop taking pictures but I also can’t stop watching our pilot. Ryan yanks and pulls levers to keep this old bird in the air. At one point, he even pulls out a paper map to double check the iPad app he’s using.
The Beaver descends, the pontoons splash down and we glide along Young Lake until Ryan cuts the engine. We drift toward shore surrounded by the silence of the woods. “Since there’s no dock and the wind has died down, I’ll paddle us in,” he says jauntily, then hops out onto a pontoon.
This is the closest we can land to Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort, a working ranch where we’ll learn to ride horses and fly fish. Despite knowing full well that horses have hair, I am calling this trip the “fur cure,” because while so many families eased the sadness and isolation of the pandemic by doting on new pets, allergies made that impossible in our home. I’m hoping that working with horses and experiencing their uncanny ability to read human emotion will be more beneficial and calming than anything the doctor ordered.
The Siwash ranch house is an 8,000-square-foot, two-storey log home. Antler chandeliers and a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace dominate the living room, while upstairs are three rooms with king beds and high-thread-count linens to crash out on. Gourmet meals are served by attentive, kind staff. It’s also the home of Allyson Rogers, who runs the guest ranch with her son, Marshall Fremlin.
A log barn not far from the lodge smells of saddle leather and hay; it’s full of bridles, boots and the bits and pieces needed to care for 20 horses. Around dinnertime, wranglers will release the herd into the wilderness to graze out of sight. In the morning, they always return, sated and waiting by the gates, ready for work.
On our first morning, we meet our mounts: I say hello to Cherokee, a dark brown quarter horse mare, while Jack strokes the blond mane of Mack, a gentle, enormous, 16-hand high Belgian quarter horse. I’m surprised how well matched my fair-haired, reserved, six-foot-one son is to Mack. We’re taught how to brush their coats and clean their hooves. We’re told how Cherokee and Mack will pick up on our feelings and confidence (or lack of it), so I try to quell my nervousness as I keep my left arm on Cherokee’s back and hug her hind end with my torso as I swing round and brush her other side. It works! And I smile as I listen to Jack murmuring sweet nothings to Mack. The wranglers help secure the saddles and we set off on our first trail ride.
Siwash ranch is 3,600 feet above sea level at the foot of the Cariboo Mountains. It’s surrounded by too many lakes to count, rolling hills and acres of forest recovering from fire. In 2017, much of the old-growth fir burned, leaving sky-high trunks entombed in carcasses of blackened bark. It’s shocking to see the destruction – and yet, also thrilling to see the forest come back to life. The dead trees stand in striking contrast to sapphire skies and emerald-green grasses. As we plod through the landscape, we pass aspens trembling skyward, purple fireweed brushes our stirrups, and wild pale pink roses bloom furiously.
Over hill and dale we go, learning how to guide our horses through muddy bogs and unexpected streams. It’s a lot to think about, but I notice how my son’s shoulders are less tense and both our moods have lightened.
That night we sleep at Siwash’s “star camp” – four glamping tents on a ridge about a five-minute walk from the lodge. We eagerly jump in the cedar-plank hot tub to watch the sun set slowly behind distant hills. Once darkness falls it feels as if we’re under a tent of starlight – those burned out trees allowing for 360-degree views of the twinkling night sky.
The next morning I join Jack and our guide, Jake, for a little fly fishing. Jake’s enthusiasm is infectious – I even catch a five-pound rainbow trout – but I’m also happy to sit in the boat and enjoy the symphony of wildlife: Sore birds cackle and caw; a duck’s wings thup-thup-thup as it skitters across the lake; fish plop for flies and I spot the steady silent ripple of an otter’s wake. Nature is healing itself as it returns from the fire just as we are clawing our way back to life from the dark days of the past. Perhaps it’s an oversimplified metaphor, but it touches me just the same.
If you go
Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort is a 2.5-hour drive north of Kamloops. It hosts between 12 and 16 guests and is a member of the Magnificent 7 Luxury Wilderness Lodges and the Condé Nast Johansens guide. Activities, fine dining and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are included. siwashlake.com
Gulf Island Seaplanes flies from Vancouver airport’s south terminal and the downtown harbour docks. Extend your holiday with stays at the glam, in-terminal Fairmont Vancouver airport and its recently renovated sister property, Fairmont Vancouver Hotel, a short walk from the downtown docks. For travellers returning from fishing trips: The Fairmont Airport hotel has a fish valet with a dedicated freezer.
The writer was a guest of Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association. It did not review or approve the story before publication.