Editor's note: This article is representative of the many handcart treks taken by youth and adults throughout the Church this summer.
CHIEF MOUNTAIN, Alberta — At dusk, in the lush green foothills of the Canadian Rockies amid thousands of blooming wild flowers, 120 famished Lethbridge Alberta West Stake seminary-age youth with their 50 leaders, all in pioneer attire, cheered as they entered their campsite in the shadows of Chief Mountain, pulling 12 well-laden handcarts.
It was the first day the youth's four-day pioneer commemoration. Since breakfast, the company had eaten only trail mix and water. They had finished an arduous nearly 11-mile trek over undeveloped terrain, up steep inclines and through streams, mud holes and ruts as deep as three feet.
"It's pretty difficult," said Tom Pasterfield, a priest in Lethbridge 12th Ward. Josh Prince, a Lethbridge 9th Ward teacher, commented, "I have a deeper respect for (the pioneers) for what they did."
"Broth never tasted so good," said one optimistic youth as the company sat around fires drinking broth with a few chopped onions. The meager meal was a reminder that broth made from boiled bones was often dinner for the early saints.
"The greatest value (of the trek) is in fortification of the youth," said stake President David P. Koegler. He said the activity "is done with a purpose of increasing testimony." President Koegler credited parents and leaders for "holding ground against what the world is doing. The stake maintains a steady 75-80 percent youth activity rate."
Cheryl Seaborn, counselor in the stake Young Women presidency, said that fewer than 10 youth missed the trek.
Under blue skies and warm sun with a cooling breeze, the weekend pioneer activities commemorated Alberta's 100th and the Church's 175th anniversary, and Joseph Smith's 200th birthday.
In the late 1800s, President John Taylor asked Charles Ora Card to prayerfully select a Canadian site for an LDS settlement. Southern Alberta, or "Zion of the North," was chosen. A temple was soon erected in Cardston. Lethbridge 10th Ward Laurel Jaylyn Brandley's ancestor, Theodore Brandley, an early missionary in the Midwest, accompanied President Card to Canada. Lethbridge10th Ward Mia Maid Brandi Leavitt's ancestor, Thomas Rowell Leavitt, also came, founding the city of Leavitt. Josh's ancestor, James Prince, helped settle the nearby community of Leavitt.
"The mud (was) so much fun," said Mia Maid Kara Seaborn, even though her frilly pioneer dress was muddied. Her positive attitude reflected that of the entire group. Chris Anderson, counselor to stake Young Women president, Elaine Dick, said there was "no complaining." Sister Anderson said that because she helped pull a cart, she appreciated what the teens and the early pioneers had to do. "Even if they (the youth) pulled it (the cart) half way, they would have been my heroes."
Kara's sister, Sariah, 18, wanted to make her own pioneer dresses and shawl, so she took lessons in sewing and knitting from ward members.
Celebrating those sisters who traveled alone when the men either died along the journey or served in the Mormon Battalion, the young women, without assistance from priesthood holders, pulled the handcarts for a half mile up a 40-degree incline, a15-18 percent grade.
Young women's comments about the women's pull were filled with emotion.
"I pulled my hardest," said Athena Bottomly, adding, "I was crying. I don't know how the women did it day after day."
Others said, "I realized how much I rely on the things the priesthood brethren do for me," and "It helped so much to have the young men walk beside us, give us little flowers, kind words or a light hand on our back."
At the half-mile point, the young men eagerly assisted. Groups reaching the top returned to help others.
"I learned you really can't do much without your team. You couldn't go out and do this alone," said Olivia MacGregor, 15, of Lethbridge, a friend of Mia Maid Dani Nalder of Sharon Park Ward.
Heavy June rains (16 inches) beat the record for the entire growing season, said stake Young Men President Mark Sauer. Camp cook Diane Sauer said the leaders had prayed earnestly that the rains would abate for the trek weekend. Prayers were answered.