On horseback, members of the Quesnel Canadian Ranger Patrol (CRP) trotted through an area with a rich history of gold mining last month in a mission stimulating what it would like when they are called to deploy for a ground search and rescue.
Exercise Goldfield Sojourn got underway Thursday, July 15, with a convoy of trucks and trailers driving from Quesnel to Wells where a reception centre was set up. Rangers met with village residents, community officials ,members of the local RCMP detachment and the Wells Volunteer Fire Brigade.
From there, the rangers drove to a new location and set up an administration area and camp where they spent the night, said Captain Natasha Tersigni, public affairs officer with 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol (CRP).
The group departed on horseback in the morning and rode through Barkerville Historic Town and Park up to Groundhog Lake, riding a rocky, steep trail that follows the old Cariboo Wagon Road and a historic ditch line.
“When called upon to assist, members of the CRP typically have less than an hour to gather their equipment, including their horses, and begin deploying to the location where the search will occur,” Tersigni said.
“To be an effective asset to a search, the patrol needs to be able to quickly move from its home location and self-sufficiently stage out of a new area.”
Mobility and communications were a key focus of the three-day exercise that also gave members a chance to familiarize themselves with the terrain and facilities within their area of operation.
Tersigni noted pack horses owned by individual Canadian Rangers require minimal logistical support and can be used for ground search and rescue operations and long-range patrolling in harsh conditions. In addition, they’re able to navigate harsh terrain where other modes of transportation such as vehicles and ATVs are not able to operate.
The Quesnel CRP’s deployment skills were put to the test earlier this year when they were authorized in late March to support a ground search and rescue operation for a missing young boy south of Hixon. While the boy was found safe before they were asked to deploy, Tersigni said all of their members, horses and snowmobiles were mobilized within an hour.
Goldfield Sojourn wrapped up with members and their instructor, 11 saddle horses and five pack horses riding down from the mountain and back through Barkerville after spending the night in their shelters.
They returned by vehicle convoy to Quesnel on Sunday, July 18.
“On top of the exercise itself, Canadian Ranger Sgt. Paul Nichols (Patrol Commander for the Quesnel CRP) and his leadership team worked closely in the months leading up to the exercise with Canadian Ranger Instructor Warrant Officer Kirk McColl to plan the logistical and training aspects of the exercise,” said Tersigni.
Quesnel CRP member and former Quesnel Cariboo Observer editor Lindsay Chung said her favorite part of the training was learning how much she could pack in her saddlebags and how self-sufficient she can be while riding on horseback and getting a chance to sleep outside near her horse.
Riding through Barkerville was a fantastic experience, she added.
“But ultimately, this training was about preparing ourselves for the eventuality that we are called upon to assist in a ground search and rescue operation using horses, and I feel much better prepared for that after doing this exercise,” Chung said.
“It was a great chance to try out our kit and figure out what we actually need and what we can do without, and I think getting the chance to do that trial run, as well as getting to work so closely as a team with my fellow Canadian Rangers, was a great confidence-builder.”
Patrol-level exercises for the Quesnel CRP, that also meet regularly in Kersley, typically occur twice a year. Last August, the patrol held equine instructor standardization training at Kersley’s Pen-Y-Bryn Farm south of Quesnel.
Their next exercise focusing on marksmanship and navigation will run from August 27 to August 29.
Established in 2019, the Quesnel CRP is part of the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, which covers British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and specializes in equine mobility.
They currently have 16 members who bring a wide range of horse, life and military experience to the table, including a veterinarian and endurance rider, champion roper, therapeutic riding instructor, helicopter pilot and heavy-duty mechanic. Tersigni said while horsemanship and equine mobility are a key focus, their primary role remains making sure the Canadian military can operate in the local area and providing local knowledge.