Halcyon days in southeast BC

Letter to an old friend: When there was still magic in the trails

Peter Warland

Geoff, old friend:

I feel so sorry that you never made it here to visit us, and climb with us in this lovely valley. I know you’ve been to the Himalayas but, as you told me, you really didn’t do much there because of the politics and those companions of yours who wandered over into Chinese territory and caused all the ruckus.

I know that you and I with the gang had at least one season in the Alps at Chamonix, but being able to live here at the foot of the Rocky Mountains has been a wonderful experience.

If you had managed to visit us, I most certainly would have tried to bring you in from the west, from Vancouver. Most friends and relatives that came here did so by way of Calgary and they most certainly enjoyed the drive through the Rockies and the national parks but they missed the joyful sight of the Rockies and Fisher peak that you get when you drive from the Coast. When almost here in Cranbrook, you would have come past deep, chilly Moyie Lake and then, suddenly, the valley would have opened before your eyes and you’d have seen why we chose to live here.

To the west of Cranbook and our neighbouring town Kimberley are the Purcell Mountains which, in many places even taller than the local Rockies, lie back and present wooded hills, long meandering valleys with snowy peaks in the distance. To the east stand the Rockies, the long ridge of the Steeples, the arrowhead of Fisher Peak, the aptly named Teepee and ridges continuing along beside the valley and the roads north.

When we first came to live here, there had been a great deal of mining, much of it during the war, and many companies were still logging the forests and so there were dirt roads going up almost every valley. If we took care to keep out eyes open as to the activities of the logging trucks, we could use those roads and get into the heart of the mountains and find ways up them. In many of the upper basins there was little evidence of anybody having been there before us. We followed game trails and found our own ways. They were exciting days.

I well remember entertaining Dick’s visiting daughter Caroline and naming a tiny lake after her. We swam in that lake but she stayed in the frigid water for ages. It was only later that we found out that she had a job teaching scuba diving in the sea off Scotland. My cousin Ron stayed with us and he had the thrill of watching four grizzlies cross our path as we drove up a steep, eroded road. My cousin’s daughter, a real Londoner called Elaine,  followed us along the ridge beyond the Lakit Lookout  one day until we heard her plaintive cries of “‘Ere, Wite for me!” We waited.

The Simpsons, Alan and Joan enjoyed themselves and we spent several sunlit days with them on the ridges, the only real excitement being that Joan got her foot wedged in between some rocks and we had to cut off her boot.

We’ve climbed almost all of the peaks in this area except, maybe, some of those crumbling ones in the middle of the Steeples. Some folk claim that they’ve traversed the lot, but I not sure.

The odd thing is: almost all of our mountain friends have been immigrants as we were. When we first arrived here the locals rarely ventured into the mountains unless prospecting for minerals or, more likely, hunting. I recall one fellow watching us through his binoculars as we yelled and screamed, glissading down a steep snow-slope and then, when we got to him, being baffled because we were neither hunting nor prospecting.

But things have changed over the last sixty years. The once almost deserted mountains have tracks all over the place and, on a sunny weekend in summer, the local Rockies can crawl with people like downtown Vancouver.

You missed the halcyon days, old friend. Pity.