Two and a Half Paddlers in the Valhalla Kingdom

There is just no word to describe BC’s Valhalla Provincial Park. The granite spires of the Devils range stand proud and tall over the forest-covered & rolling hills, steep talus, pristine alpine meadows, glacier-fed lakes and deep unpopulated valleys.

With only a few access points up endless kilometres of rough forest service roads, this little enclave in the majestic Selkirk mountains has little to no amenities to serve its adventurous visitors.  It’s most iconic mountain, Mt. Gimli is slowly starting to get more attention from climbers and hikers escaping from the crowds. At its base, a rustic camping site and no other amenities. Most of the year, one can count more white fluffy mountain goats then humans there.

The “Valhalla” are, if not a heaven for warriors killed at war, as suggested in the Norse mythology, a real Eldorado for alpine climbing, with certainly many firsts yet to be completed.

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Mount Gimli and the classical South Ridge route during our first visit to the Park in 2011

From those high peaks and the thin remnants of ancient glaciers flows pure water, into raging creeks, down thick and impenetrable forest, into steep thalweg, down high drops creating impressive waterfalls and, finally, into the deep turquoise of Slocan Lake. The West side of Lake, as the locals refer to it; the wild side of this 40-kilometre long lake.

If the mineral world up high is inhospitable to the living, down below, by the lake, plants & creatures thrive. Crystal water, home to thousands of fish, bushes fat and heavy with berries and other delicacies to the animal reign.

The quietness and the beauty are not quite disturbed by the few motorboats circling around on hot summer afternoons. Not yet….but certainly soon.

The lake is calling. A canoe is the perfect vessel to explore it. At the marina in Silverton, one of the few settlements on the East side of the lake, we get ready for our 3-day paddle. Filled with food, a shelter, some clothes, our canoe is ready for its passengers. The lake is renowned for unexpected weather changes and wind gusts. We would like to get across quickly.

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Absolute cuteness moment in this stunning nature

But only after a few strides, the charm operates. We all relax and tune ourselves to the lake’s pace.

For us, humble mountaineers, being on the water is unusual, but not completely foreign. For now we enjoy letting the canoe carry our heavy load…and our 15-kg 3-year old. Some have had the same brilliant idea…we are not the only family with small children on the water.

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My crew in its new environment

We soon reach the wild side and the first sandy beach where we enjoy our first of many daily swims. Inviting beaches are plentiful which makes it easy to find the privacy we want to lay in the sun and enjoy our the moment in peace. For those who prefer, company is also easy to find in July and August.

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There, far from any distraction, quality family time just happens

We set up our first camp next to the freezing cold Nemo creek, directly on the sand. Tent pads, food cache, fire rings and an outhouse are also available a few metres away in the forest, sheltered from the wind. The evening is beautiful and warm. After a late afternoon swim, we enjoy a simple and tasty meal together, make a fire and roast some marshmallows.

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Our home for the night

The next morning, after a restful night and a polar bear dip in the creek, we enjoy a hearty breakfast before exploring the land around us. A good trail is set along the creek and we are able to observe the waterfalls. The moss on the ground, the trees and the oversized ferns really add something magical to this surreal nature. We don’t hike the whole trail as we don’t have our child carrier…and the lake awaits.

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Just soaking it all up

That day we paddle, slowly but steadily, sometimes in silence, sometimes to the sound of our own songs and laughter. Our daughter sleeps in a small cave we made in the canoe with thermarests. She rests, recharges her batteries. We paddle in peace and avoid stopping not to wake her up. The sun is hot but the cool of the lake tempers the air and makes it very comfortable. The heat must be almost unbearable ashore, we think.

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A restful nap, gently rocked by the motion of the boat and steady sound of the paddles diving in the water

We reach Evans creek by the middle of the afternoon and set up camp for our second night. Two young guys have already set camp near us on the beach. Later, around the campfire, we learn that they’ve been traversing the park by its ridgeline for over a week. They are two 23-year old local twin brothers. Evans Creek is their finish point and their father is picking them up with his power boat. “They have been fishing and hunting in the area since they were kids”, say their dad. There are no climbers, per say…but certainly hardcore adventurers…They ask us about climbing, what gear we use, how heavy our pack is when we climb and such.

They tell us that around Lake Beatrice, the bush was so thick and they were so tired they built a raft to cross the lake as they didn’t want to bushwack their way around it…Their mom sent their dad to pick them up with bacon, eggs and potatoes that they eat with a lot of appetite. Their appetite for food certainly equals their appetite for adventure.

That night, as we get ready to go to sleep, a huge thunderstorm hits us. Our little one is so tired from her day of swimming and being outdoors in the sun, she drifts off to sleep while the wind gusts shake our small tent and the thunder rages around us…

On the second morning, we feel we now have our camping routine well established. It doesn’t take us long to be all packed up and ready to go. Too bad this is our last day. We are really enjoying the simplicity of living with only what our canoe contains.

Slocan City, our final destination, is only a few kilometres away. We know we can reach it in very little time. Eva still finds the opportunity to have one last restful nap in the canoe. On the way, we take time to make a swim stop, jump off rocks and make the delight and pleasure of this trip last a little longer.

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Water so clear we can see the texture of the lake’s bottom

In the Valhalla Kingdom we will be back, by land. On this lake we will be back, as it is the perfect summer journey to enjoy with the family and certainly how we like to experience lake life.

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My Awesome Cat-Skiing Weekend

It’s 4 am and I am wide awake. I am so excited and anxious I have barely closed my eyes all night. The eight-hour road trip from Kimberley to Monashee Powder, near Cherryville, should have exhausted me (in fact it has!) but the anticipation is just too high. The temperature, which was very high yesterday, has dropped a lot and the rain turned into snow early last night. I look out the window. The sky is clear and I can see some stars. The snow has stopped falling.

Warm and cozy between the soft flannel sheets, I can hear my sister’s regular breathing. I smile. I am here with her for 3 full days to experience cat skiing for the first time and to see with my own eyes what her job is all about. It’s her second season as a Tail Guide here. Her alarm should ring soon; the days start pretty early for MPS’ staff. I smile some more and think about the day ahead. It’s the first time that I will be away from my family for so long. 5 long days of “me time”, which is so precious when you’re a young mom. I feel so grateful to have a wonderful husband who also understands the value of it and also welcomes some alone quality time with our daughter. 

6:30 am. I am granted access to the guides’ morning meeting. I hear them talking temperature, wind, new snowfall, avalanche rating, weather forecast, what runs are “safe” to ski and which ones are to be avoided. Truly fascinating. The guiding team is very knowledgeable and professional and listening to them makes me feel like I am in good hands.

After assisting my sister with some preparation tasks such as checking avalanche beacons, filling up the water bottles for the guests, etc. we fill up on a hearty and delicious breakfast buffet. Not far from there in the dining room, another buffet is set up for the guests to prepare their lunches. Salads of all sorts, meats & cheeses, baked goods, fruit, vegetable sticks, dips and different types of bread make up a very inviting selection. It seems like no one will go hungry today, unless one forgets to take his own lunch bag to the cat!

By 8:30 am sharp, the beacon search training begins, following up to an informative avalanche safety and research technique refresh provided the night before by the Lead Guide. In my group, everyone seems fairly savvy on how avalanche beacons work, yet everyone listens carefully to the instructions and welcomes the refresh.

Then we all load the cat after a few more safety instructions. Once again, guests on my group all listen carefully to the Tail Guide’s speech. As she says, the snowcats are big hard machines with lots of blind spots and we humans are small and soft in comparison…no one wants to be crushed under their oversized tracks.

A 15-minute ride up a steep road takes us to our first run. The other 13 guests in our group are not on their first experience at Monashee or at cat-skiing in general. A few of them even mention they are celebrating their 15th anniversary visiting MPS this year. Now that’s loyalty!

Unloading the skis and poles happens very quickly and within minutes of reaching the “drop off”, we’re all clicked into our bindings and ready to go, smiling with excitement. Our guide assesses the slope and drops in. The fresh powder, nearly 15 cm, flies light and fluffy behind him. This sets the tone to our day.

After one, two, three runs of effortless turns in pure “blower”, we all realize our group is made up of solid and experienced skiers so we are able to step it up a notch. Everyone is paying attention to the Guide’s instructions, staying close by and making the transitions very fast and smooth, which will allow us to link

the runs faster, ski more vertical and more challenging terrain. The visibility being fairly low at this point means steep tree lines will be on the program for the rest of the day.

Monashee Powder’s tenure is huge, 17,000 acres total, and the terrain extremely varied, although the visibility doesn’t allow me to gauge the extent of it on that very first day. The Lodge itself being located at 1600m of elevation, the rain and warm temperatures has only had a moderate effect on the snowpack above it so the skiing is absolutely fabulous. At the end of the day, I am in awe and so stoked about what I just got to experience. I am even happier thinking that I have two more days of this ahead of me. As the forecast predicted, it’s snowing hard again!

Back to the Lodge, guests disperse to soak in the hot tubs, take advantage of the Registered Massage Therapist and Acupuncturist on duty or enjoy some Après in the bar where some tasty appies and cold beverages are served.

A little later, a gourmet 4-course dinner is casually served in the dining room by the Lodge’s friendly staff. Helping bringing the plates really works up my appetite. To the sound of chatter, laughter and tales of the extraordinary day, guests and staff all replenish their energy with a fine albacore tuna tartare, split pea and roasted garlic soup, bison tenderloin cooked to perfection and sweet delicacies crafted by the on-staff pastry chef, all paired with a selection of fine BC wines.

Jokes and stories are flying around and I can tell that a long-lasting friendship links Carolyn and Tom Morgan, the owners of Monashee Powder, to their guests and staff. This extraordinary couple, originally from the oil & gas industry in Calgary, literally got addicted to cat skiing and to this little corner of the Monashee mountains back in the 90’s. Back then, guests were hosted in prospector-type tents (Tom would tell you the exact make and model of those tents!) heated by wood stoves…and skiing long straight skis. The Morgan’s have invested all their heart in this unconventional business, making this place unpretentious, warm, authentic, and extremely welcoming, where people gather around a true passion for skiing. This is certainly the reason why their guests return over and over and the Lodge almost sells out a year in advance.

While guests and staff make their way to the bar for some after-dinner drinks and live music, I head right for my cozy little bed. One thing is certain, tonight my eyes won’t stay open and my dreams will certainly involve some white, fluffy snow and steep untracked lines…