Exuberant secrets of the Kootenays

The lesser known trails and panoramic views that make living here more than just worthwhile.

“What a day this has been,

what a rare state I’m in…”

Alan Jay Lerner

Peter Warland

One evening, during those hot days of August, I had a call from a stranger. I was in a very cheerful mood so I picked up the phone. The caller, a man who told me his name, announced that he was doing a survey and was asking folk their opinions on how they felt about living here in the East Kootenay.

As I said, I was feeling extremely cheerful that evening, exuberant even, and so politely told the caller that, although I didn’t have the time to chat about his survey, I had elected to come to the East Kootenay because I’d admired the look of the valley when I first visited, I have lived here for over fifty years, loved my life here and, what is more, I had no intention of leaving until, as they say, ‘I shuffled off this mortal coil’.

The reason for my happiness that particular evening was that Paul and I had just returned from an exhilarating day in the local Rocky Mountains. After a few abortive attempts, we’d re-discovered a trail that had led us easily to a high ridge and to a panorama that had taken away our collective breaths.

That trail had been a close-guarded secret of a few local people. We both had known of its existence but had been unable to unravel its secret until that joyful day when we’d heaved our ancient bodies on to the ridge and stared at the panorama before us.

And there was no-one else there, virtually no evidence of human activity but for a small pile of rocks marking the head of the trail. We’d felt privileged to be there.

A few weeks before, we’d returned battered and bleeding from an earlier attempt to find a practical way up to a nearby ridge. After too many hours, we’d made it; it wasn’t a practical route; I’ve still got the scars.

But this time, there, laid out before us, was the whole Wildhorse Valley and its peaks, basins and pretty lakes. We knew them all.

Paul looked as excited and as young as a man of his years was able; I merely felt a tad more youthful than I ought to have done.

We sat for a while, Paul and I, soaking in the heady atmosphere. Way to our left were the Nine basins where we both had climbed, skied and camped innumerable times. Paul recalled setting up his tent in a meadow that had been filled with Grass of Parnassus. I thought back to discovering a brilliant coloured hummingbird frozen stiff almost at the top of Mount Dingley. We chuckled as we recalled skiing, almost in the dark, down the basins to where our snowmobile waited and then refused to start.

Across from us lay Bear Creek and its two tiny lakes, a popular hiking place these days. George and Maggie, his wife, first spotted Bear Lake from the mountain above it. They’d climbed from the Summer Lake side and were determined to get to it. A week or so later we discovered the new logging road up towards the basin and off we went. It wasn’t easy, we recalled; the game trails had been few and far between.

And there was the East Fork of the Wildhorse from where, when the logging roads still existed, we’d climbed Mount Sneath and Mount Haley plus a high, unnamed peak that friend Sandy labelled ‘Mine’, and where I’d watched two college girls tie their jackets about their waists, pull the tails up between their legs and ‘bum slide’ at breakneck speed down icy snow slopes as I aged far too rapidly.

Further to the right on that glorious day quite recently we looked over at Boulder Creek and the backside of Mount Fisher, a fine peak that we’d both ascended several times but now avoided because of the ‘hordes’ that go there these days. We’d rather climb, as we did on that glorious day so recently, where few others care to tread.