The alpine has held a strong draw for me as long as I can remember and August is my favourite time to reach those rugged mountain heights. The mountain passes are snow-free and the wild flowers are still in bloom.
The spring flush of bugs have thinned, although really, there are no bugs in the Kootenay when compared to the infested likes of northern BC, Ontario or Quebec.
I moved to Nelson a few months ago to work at the Star, and on my second day on the job it was my luck and pleasure to interview the outdoor enthusiast Mary Woodward, who was approaching her 80th birthday and still logging in more days skiing and hiking than many youth in their 20s. From a lady who had a 240 page book journaling her hikes, pictures and all, I asked her opinion of which hikes to tackle during my first summer here.
So it was thanks to her that I was heading up the Glacier Creek forest service road.
Some people might wonder why I would venture right past the perfectly gorgeous Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, but the reason is simple: my canine companion is not welcome.
My dog is approaching her 12th year, but she has an athlete’s heart. As long as her tail is wagging, she will saddle up beside me, dog pack and all. She loves the wilderness more than me.
I opted out of the MacBeth Glacier day hike as I surmised it would be difficult to find a suitable camping spot. Monica Meadows was further beyond but the Backroads Mapbook description sounded like it would be a relaxing place to spend my days of rest.
When I drove into the remote parking lot I was surprised to see four vehicles. It seemed like a high volume for the end of a long dirt road. I found out that they were all day hikers which in retrospect makes sense, as it’s a straightforward easy one-hour hike to reach the sub-alpine meadows, which is a relatively short distance.
Monica Meadows is an oasis of lovely garden-like tarns surrounded by the mountain homes of the MacBeth Icefield and Horseshoe Glacier.
I had the place to myself for an entire 24 hours and reveled in thought. How does no one know about this place? It’s so easy! Why aren’t more people here? But even a group of 10 people seemed like it would be a disaster for the delicate ecosystem.
Despite my temporary isolation, surrounded by the beauty of nature, I still found small reminders of my work life.
Just over the mountain ridge to the east was the infamous Jumbo pass, glacier, hut, trail and proposed site of the Jumbo Glacier Resort. Surrounded by mountain valleys, I commonly marvel at the perspective: I am but a speck of dust in the landscape, and I find that grounding and healthy.
To think a municipality of 5,000 will be appearing in a place so remote seemed arcane when there are an abundance of incredible ski resorts scattered within an hour drive. The ski industry has struggled since the recession in 2009. Upon my return to Nelson I was assigned to cover the send off rally in front of Nelson’s city hall as people gathered in support of sending campers to monitor the development.
During the second day of my hike, the views were amazing. The clouds had burned off but there was a scent of forest fire in the gusting winds. By afternoon, a heavy haze filled the neighbouring valley, particularly down the return road to home. As the Slocan Park fire and other blazes had me and my newsroom co-workers contacting the South East Fire Centre information officers daily, I wondered which forest fire was taking off in the strong winds. As it turns out, it was smoke from fires burning in Washington and northern BC.
Knowing it’s a short hike out, I stayed to the end of my second day. It wasn’t until I was on the trail out that I encountered a dad and three kids hiking in. How great is that? The kids get a trip with dad before they have to go back into the classroom in September. But will they? Until the BC Teachers Federation and the BC Public School Employees Association come to a contract agreement, the teachers will remain on strike and students will not be learning in their classrooms.
It was not until I arrived at my truck, to find a couple and their dog throwing on their back packs, did I realize that my solitary overnight experience in Monica Meadows, especially in early August, was a rarity.
A vehicle in the parking lot had a Teck ID hanging in the rearview mirror and I thought of how the Regional District of the Central Kootenay is currently suing Teck Resources Ltd. for the contamination from a tailings pond near Salmo. The Mount Polley tailings pond breach came to mind next. The effects of industry on natural environments overwhelm me.
On my drive out, the tall hemlocks bowed their drooping tips high above.
A quick stop at Duncan Lake provided a welcome swim in warm water in comparison to the chilly waters of Kootenay Lake. Tired and weary, I headed to the Bluebelle Bistro & Beanery in Kaslo. I had already written two articles where their food was raved about — the MS Bike West Kootenay Glacier Challenge and another one featuring a group of motorcyclists that was filming a promotional video for Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism.
Grateful they were open on a Monday night, the charming patio, delicious food and live music were a comfort to leaving the alpine behind.
And to Mary, who passed away shortly after her 80th birthday, thanks for your welcome to the West Kootenay alpine.