Cool Trails and Hot Springs in the Kootenays
Friday, April 18 - Monday, April 21, 2003
Story and photos by
The night before our departure from Kelowna, I talked to Greg on the phone and he mentioned I should submit a trip report for him to post on his web site. So here it is.
Finally, Easter weekend had almost arrived. Karen and I (and of course Keera) were yearning for our annual Easter visit to the Kootenays to explore some new terrain and warm our bodies in some of the numerous hot springs throughout the area. As snow can still be falling at the higher elevations at this time of year (and did again this year as we traversed Monashee Pass), 4x4 exploring is kept to the lower trails.
The Kootenays trace their name to back to well known explorer David Thompson (expeditionist for Hudson's Bay Company in the 1800's). He named the region after a local Indian tribe namely the 'Kootenaes'. Extending from the Rocky Mountains some 500 kilometres westward to the Monashee mountains, and from the US border northward to roughly the area delineated by the Trans Canada Highway, the Kootenays are approximately twice as large as the country of Switzerland. The Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges are in the centre of this great inland island of forested peaks, rivers and lakes, ice and snow.
We were planning on an earlier start than usual for the next day and drove into town to pick up the last supplies. On our way there, we fortunately/unfortunately came across a garage sale for potted cedars at an unbelievable price. Two hours and forty cedars later we were back at home, realizing we had our hands full with yard work before we could leave. Therefore we left just as late if not later than usual the next day.
As we proceeded up Highway 6 the next afternoon past Cherryville the rain turned to slush which then turned to snow. At long last up Monashee Pass we pulled into our favourite hamburger haunt, 'The Spruce Grove Cafe'. This ma and pa cafe lies totally isolated, surrounded by mountains of snow on Highway 6 just west of the Kettle FSR exit. Its warmth and home cooking make it a mandatory stop at any time of year.
Tummies content, we hit the snow-covered highway and rounded the many corners to the ferry at Needles where it was now raining intermittently. The open-deck ferry crosses the lower Arrow Lake by means of a large cable-pulley. As usual, its operation was so smooth we were hardly aware that it was suddenly moving. The ferry crosses over to Fauquier (pronounced FAW-KEE-AY). Some sort of ferry has been in operation here since 1913. However, back then the two settlements were in two different locations. Both settlements were relocated to their present location when large parts of the Columbia River basin were flooded in the 1960's with the construction of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam at Castlegar. The dam created a lake some 250 kilometres long, and destroyed farms, summer homes and entire communities.
Heading north now, we surveyed the many Osprey nests that sit on top of the power poles in this area, looking for some sign of the returning raptors. We caught glimpses of a few. Supposedly an Osprey nest (or Osprey condo, as Karen and I refer to them, can be up to 600 lbs. - yes, six hundred pounds).
As we were running short on daylight we passed through Nakusp (approximately 1800 inhabitants), the largest town in this part of the Kootenays and pressed on for Halcyon Hot Springs.
Halcyon Hot Springs, though one of numerous hot springs throughout the Kootenays, stands out in my opinion due to its colorful past and picturesque setting. It lies on the eastern shore of Upper Arrow Lake about 30 minutes north of Nakusp. First utilized by native people, it was fought over, made peace over, then bought by a pioneer (Capt. Robert Sanderson) in 1890. Eventually it was built up to include water-bottling facilities and an international place of healing called the Halcyon Hot Springs Hotel.
The last and final owner of the Halcyon Hotel was General Fredrick Burnham, who owned the sanitorium from 1924 to 1955. Under his direction Halcyon gained a reputation as a place of healing. A room became filled with wheelchairs and crutches from departing guests that no longer required them. For many years, Halcyon claimed to be the most complete health resort on the continent, curing guests afflicted with nervous, muscular, liver, kidney and stomach disorders.
When the General's wife Anna died, Burnham built a small shrine beside her grave, his private chapel to rest and reflect in. This beautiful chapel is still standing today, and is well worth a visit. Unfortunately, Halcyon Hotsprings Hotel burned to the ground in February of 1955, taking the old General with it. The other out-buildings all survived until the 1960's, when the dam flooded the remaining structures.
Karen and I have searched a part of the old Halcyon Hotel site, which is right on the shoreline now, just north of the new Halcyon Lodge built in 1999. We have found many old pipes, metal trim, glass pieces, and the occasional brick.
We stayed in one of the little cabins that the new Halcyon Hot Springs Lodge offers. The new facilities are beautifully laid out. Chef 'Bobby's' excellent cooking and entertainment at the Bistro made for a memorable stay. That afternoon Karen went riding, while Keera and I searched for more artifacts along the beach.
The next morning after savoring our soaks and relaxation at the healing waters of Halcyon we continued our journey northward up Highway 23 to seek some trails. Our goal was the northern Lardeau Region and more specifically the Incomappleau River watershed for some exploration.
We knew we were hitting isolated country when the 'highway' we were on (Hwy 31) turned into gravel. And then we encountered snow slides that had most likely occurred one or two days previous. These slides had brought down debris fields of rock and trees that had been obviously just cleared by hand (chainsaw and most likely truck-mounted snow blades), leaving just enough room for one lane of traffic. No warning signs, and no sign of any authorities. Must have been some determined locals that dug themselves out!!!
Our sights were set on the former mining town of Camborne, on the eastern side of the Incomappleux River. The Incomappleux River was born among the mammoth 10,000ft-plus mountains in Glacier National Park, and carves its passage through extremely remote and rough terrain. The only access into this watershed is through a narrow canyon through which the Incomappleux rages, and the road is carved from the granite walls.
Camborne, as most mining towns, had been built on the fortunes of the mines that were operated in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The town went through a series of reprieves, the last of which occurred in 1952. It lasted until 1958, when a series of fires caused the Sunshine Lardeau Mine to suspended operations, and Camborne City eventually become smothered in cow parsnip and devils club.
After a number of wrong turns and stops for route taking, I located the trail which at first was actually a reasonably decent logging road. As the mountains started to close in on us, we realized the canyon would have to be close. When we finally reached the crack-like fissure it looked just like the pictures taken almost a century ago that I had studied; the deafening roar of the swollen, glacier fed Incomappleux River frothing on the right, and a boulder strewn path half carved from the canyon wall and half supported by a bridge type structure on the left.
I asked Karen if she'd mind taking a picture as I crossed. Usually she is not overly keen on taking pictures, but this time she readily agreed and hastily picked her way through the rocks and boulders to the other side. Then it occurred to me... 'she'd rather walk across this part than drive'. Ah, no problem I'm sure this is a perfectly stable 'half bridge' I thought and started across. Of course right at that point a pumpkin-sized rock decided to let gravity free itself from somewhere up above, and landed a short distance in front of me. Because of the noise of the river, I didn't hear a thing. Fortunately, as I continued on no further gifts fell out of the sky. However, once through the canyon, I started to get a little unnerved at the prospect of further rockslides. Particularly since we'd passed several already and if they happened in the canyon we would have no way of getting out of the valley (... I already mentioned the fact that according to the map, this was the only way in or out, didn't I?). Also, surely nobody would care about clearing this route for who knows how long. Ok, I thought, let's just get to Camborne, look around, and then turn around! I kept these thoughts to myself not wanting to alarm Karen.
We drove on for several km's, and with a gain in altitude we started to encounter increased snow. We came across a cabin, which, as always, required closer inspection from Karen. As Keera pursued musty scents from long ago, Karen sleuthed for clues of the last inhabitants, I suddenly realized that the thing that surprised me the most at the cabin site was the amount of snow that can find its way into a tied-up runner. Man, I hate wet feet... should have gotten out the boots.
We continued on again, but soon found I had to lock the hubs to keep going. My BFG AT's were definitely out-matched. Struggling to maintain traction on numerous hills where slush, snow and mud all combined and seemed to laugh at our Toyota seeking passage. On one particular hill, I had to walk the tires from side to side to just the right amount of throttle to keep up my momentum. On another hill, we continuously slid back down and after numerous fruitless attempts. I thought winching would be the only recourse. However, even though there must be several million trees in that valley, do you think I could find one big enough and located properly when required?? Of course not, and no I don't carry a Pull Pal. So I aired down a few more pounds, backed up an extra long way and let her rip. Up we went, and over. Woo-Hoo! Even the dog was having fun now. Finally, we came across an area which we presumed was Camborne (as it turned out, we were later told that it was not). We got out to recon the area. It looked like we could make out the cuts from the old mine trams that would have traversed the 7000ft mountain to the East of the site (which I thought was Mt Lexington). After further exploration of the area, we decided to have a late tailgate lunch and rest a bit.
As it was now mid afternoon, and we had a fair bit of snow, AND I was still thinking about further pumpkin-sized rocks coming down in greater numbers in the canyon, we decided to turn around. We would return in the summer when the snow had disappeared and the ground was more stable. Instead of camping in the snow that night, we would make for one of the oldest original hotels in BC, the Historic Windsor Hotel.
With slightly more gusto, and lots more mud and snow flying on many sections, we retraced our tracks to the gravel Hwy 31, and struck out to the East toward the town of Trout Lake City. Along the way we noticed two bald eagles playing, potentially courting. They truly are magnificent birds, but would not comply and land to have their picture taken.
Trout Lake City lies on the north-west corner of Trout Lake. The 'City' grew very quickly in the 1890's, stimulated by rich mines. According to history books, at its peak the community had five hotels, a water system, a CIBC branch, a phone system, hospital, two general stores, skating rink and a stage line linking it to other communities to the east and west. Unfortunately, in the early 1900's the price of metals dropped, and so did the fortune of Trout Lake City. Within a few short years, the population dropped from 300 to basically one.
That one person was Alice Elizabeth Jowett, who spent over half a century in Trout Lake City. She left England as a young widow with four children in 1889 and sailed to Vancouver. After a few years in Vancouver she decided Trout Lake City was the place for her, and she eventually became the owner of the Windsor Hotel. Luxuriously furnished, the stately three-story wooden building soon became a rest stop for people all over the world, including dignitaries. As with most others in the area, Alice was not immune to the prospecting fever, and she soon had a number of her own claims staked. Until her late-eighties, she diligently paid yearly inspection visits to her claims. In her early-nineties, she insisted in being flown over her claims to view them from above. Despite the virtual death of the rest of Trout Lake City, Alice's hotel remained open over the years, with spotless table clothes and polished silverware awaiting the ever-decreasing number of guests. After over 50 years in the Lardeau region, age forced her to sell the Windsor Hotel and eventually move to a seniors home in Kelowna, where she passed on at the age of 102 in 1955.
Today, the Windsor Hotel is perhaps not as stately-looking as in former days. But considering its age, construction (the original foundation consisted of several logs placed on the bare earth), and the climate it must endure, it is in remarkable condition. The current owner has slowly restored large portions of the hotel, and is continuing to do so. He shared with us some of the hurdles he faced during the restoration phases, and he's obviously determined and has mastered the art of improvising.
We seemed to be the only guests there that night. After an excellent home-cooked meal, we looked through the many history books, binders and artifacts. Soon we climbed the creaky, narrow wooden staircase and retired to our room. The cook told us we were booked into Alice's old room. What an honor!
The next morning we bid good bye to the prominent Windsor Hotel but not just yet to Trout Lake City. We had one more stop to make... the Trout Lake General Store.
Now this is not just any store. What makes this store so unique (in my opinion) is that its been selling gasoline since the early 1900's from the SAME PUMPS!!
Yes, talk about a step back in time. If I remember correctly, the two pumps dated 1913 and 1916. No 'pay-at-the-pump service' here. You'll first need to make the time to head into the store and introduce yourself to Betty (I think that was her name). Betty is one of a few remaining long-time residents of Trout Lake. For History 101 purposes, she suggested a visit to the local cemetery just on the ridge west of town. After determining how much gas I would require ('Fill her up' doesn't work here either), I paid and we headed out to the pumps.
After a quick tour and another history lesson, this time on early gas pump technology, I was 'good to go'. I firmly grasped the pump handle and started to pump the golden fuel mixture from the buried tank beneath my feet into the glass bowl marked in gallons above my head, all the while under Betty's watchful eye. Then, when I hit the appropriate level, I stuck the hose nozzle into the Toyota's gas tank and depressed the nozzle lever. SWOOSH... no electrons required here. Old-fashion gravity and physics ensures the gas vacates the pump-mounted glass bowl and ends up in your vehicle's tank. NOW, HOW COOL IS THAT!!
After recovering from my fascination from using this antiquated technology, we bid our Good-bye's to Trout Lake City and headed home. Of course we couldn't miss the cemetery visit and poked around the mainly overgrown premises. Judging by the legible grave markers, the Lardeau region seems to have provided well for many of its inhabitants as noticed by their longevity.
The trip home was largely uneventful and we arrived back in the dark, unpacked, and soon were all resting comfortably.
Many thanks to Greg for letting me post and share this one trip of many that we have had the good fortune to enjoy.
I hope you'll use this trip report as a spring board to one of your own exploration trips to the Kootenays. If nothing else, I'm sure you'll agree that for the backroad explorer and history buff, the Kootenays offer unparalleled opportunities.
Unfortunately I didn't record all the logging frequencies (as Greg does so diligently).
Thanks for listening.
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