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COLUMN: Fear and wonder at Kokanee Glacier

Star reporter Will Johnson took local zipline tour on a beautiful Sunday morning
Kokanee Mountain Zipline guide Willy Franklyn took Star reporter Will Johnson on a tour this Sunday. He’s seen here turning on the helmet-mounted GoPro camera used for our video “Kootenay Goon goes ziplining.” Photo: Will Johnson

I was pretty high.

It was early Sunday morning and I was hurtling across Kokanee Creek canyon, my feet dangling over treetops that looked like snowflakes, and my tiny shadow was racing me to the other side.

It looked so insignificant.

I knew everything I was seeing would be immortalized by my helmet-mounted GoPro, but still I was desperate to drink in the view — West Kokanee Peak shimmering to my left and the baby blue waters of Kootenay Lake on the right.

I whipped my head from side to side, the wind roaring in my ears, as I tried to capitalize on my 30 seconds of weightlessness.

In that moment I was flying over Crown Land, sandwiched between two provincial parks.

On one side of the canyon, where the sun hits, the trees are moss-covered and slick with moisture. On the opposite side is an entirely different micro climate, dry and cold, where logging companies have cut a swath out of the landscape. I’d hiked through it with my friend Karen and my guides, Willy Franklyn and Graham Gardner, but now that I was above it I could see its true scale.

There’s also evidence of the 2015 forest fires, a discoloured stretch of ashy-looking trees near the top of the slope. The names are like music: Larch, Red Western Cedar, Ponderosa, Hemlock, Douglas Fir. Just before jumping off the platform, we’d been talking about how you could hear them breathe and groan, like Ents, and how being in the forest feels like being surrounded by benevolent elders.

“You’ve gotta use your eyes on this zipline,” Willy had told me. “Some people are too busy screaming to look around and see what they’re surrounded by.”

I was going to make no such mistake. I’ve been bungee jumping before, and skydiving, and I’ve been long hooked on the adrenaline kick that comes from these moments of fear and wonder.

Often it can feel like you’ve lived more in a few seconds than you normally do in weeks — and you know the moments will be replayed, pristine, when you head back to normal life.

And that’s what Kokanee Mountain Zipline Tours, which was founded three years ago by brothers Jay and Todd Manton, is all about. This summer marks their second full season, and recently they took home a Business of the Year Award. With six of these ziplines criss-crossing the canyon, they’ve given residents a brand new way to engage with their environment.

“We view this ecotourism endeavour as a tremendous opportunity to create awareness about B.C.’s natural environment, one tour at a time,” it says on their website.

Eventually I did reach the other side of the canyon, trembling and hooting, where Willy was waiting to unhook me from the harness and welcome me back to the ground. But in my head I was still feeling that sensation of being suspended above it all, gaping worshipful at my surroundings, never wanting to come down.