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Reviews from Georgia Straight, Mainstreet

Georgia Straight
No Path But My Own has as its foundation a manuscript Cliff Kopas left unfineshed whn he died in 1978. His son, Leslie, retraced his father's journeys and completed the book with an almost invisible hand, only appearing on the page to fill in the gaps between adventures with few explanatory words of his own. As well, he chose superb photographs to accompany the finished work. Although I'm not sure his father would have approved of the hilarious photograph of him attired in his wife's pajama bottoms and black high-crowned cowboy hat that appears on the back of the book, Leslie has done him justice in a way that, on occasion, brought a tear to my eye.

Kopas's amusing account of trail-riding in the Rockies and the Purcell Mountains in 1932 is one of four such tales in No Path But My Own. On that trip, a seasoned rancher gave Kopas and his companion, Neil Mackay, this advice: "A horseman never mistreats a horse. They aren't like pets but they deserve respect. Take care of their backs and their bellies - don't sore them or let them go gaunt - and they will take you where you want to go." That is, if you can find them. Near the end of the astonishing six-week trek that Kopas and Mackay made from the Alberta foothills to the Columbian Valley and back , their train of packhorses disappered on them when they were within a day's ride of Lake Louise. Unfortunately both horses and people were running out of food.

"Giving the horses the last of the oats, we turned them loose with only a bell to hold them. They needed plenty of room to graze on the succulent but not very nourishing alpine plants. In the morning we could neither see our horses nor hear their bell. We assumed the bunch was resting quietly behind a hillock or patch of trees." Wrong. Two days and several adventures later, they found the horses, or vice versa, but not before weathering hunger, sleeplessness, and hypothermia.

Because all of this happens to two farm boys one summer more than half a century ago, the story is a more compelling read than if it were about present-day travellers - the historical perspective adds to the adventure. As Kopas explains: "On the flatlands of southwestern Alberta rain was as scarce as paid work. Neil and I discussed the predicament of being young men in a place that had no need for our energy and ambitions." To the 21-year-old just out of normal school and with a penchant for photography, "the Rocky Mountains promised to fulfil some of our dreams. Neil wanted to be a horseman; I wanted to be an explorer. We were at last old enough to travel and we were not expected to work, since there was no work." Cliff Kopas and his friend Neil completed a journey that would be impossible to recreate today because of the corsetting wilderness has endured since that time.

Following the conclusion of his first horseback adventure, Kopas left Alberta and settled in Bella Coola, where he attempted to make a living as a writer. He led similar excursions through the Cariboo-Chilcotin as one way to support a family guiding a young Thor Heyerdahl, among others.
-Jim Christy, Georgia Straight

Mainstreet
No Path But My Own by Cliff Kopas - horseback adventures in the Chilcotin and the Rockies is a series of delightfully written stories of packhorse trips in the mountains. The time is the 30s and these stories have now been published by Cliff's son, Leslie Kopas.
With the inclusion of maps and excellent photos, this book as the ingredients to make you read it a second time soon after you have finished it.
-Tom Lymbery, Mainstreet