Ski Across BC - 3 - A Merry Kimberly and a Valhalla New Year!

The following leg of the journey came together remarkably smooth thanks to the amazing support from friends and new connections. Whether it was a warm place to stay, ideas on the best and safest route to take, or a kayak to cross a lake, I couldn’t have done it without their help. Or I might have died trying.

I arrived in Kimberly to a very warm welcome from my good friends Randy and Cyndy. I had worked with Randy in the past with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and he was always a big source of support. He had organized several different school visits in Kimberly and Cranbrook in addition to having a lovely house and bed for me to rest in.

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I knew this area quite well as I had previously spent three summers in Cranbrook fighting forest fires for the BC Ministry of Forests. December in the Columbia valley was quite different from the hot summer months. Cranbrook is about a 28km bike ride from Kimberly and thankfully they have transitioned an old railway into a beautiful bike path. Unfortunately it was covered in snow and I didn’t have time to ski, so I bicycled along the highway. I arrived in Cranbrook with time to spare before my school presentations. This was good because I was freezing and covered in snow.

After several great school visits and lunch with an old firefighting buddy I was invited to the teacher's Christmas party. I couldn’t refuse and was offered a place to stay at one of the teacher's houses to save me from a dangerous return trip on the snowy and dark highway. The next morning the husband of one of the teachers did an interview with me for the local T.V. station and filmed me as I biked off back towards Kimberly.

I enjoyed many amazing meals with Randy and Cyndy and also had the pleasure of meeting their children and friends. I presented at some great schools in Kimberly and met a pretty amazing little explorer at one of them. He had recently returned from a journey that took him from his home to Nepal without flying in a plane. His dad , Bruce Kirkby, is a well known adventurer and they created a T.V. show about the experience, Big Crazy Family Adventure. Bruce has since been a helpful source of guidance for me. 

My time in Kimberly was short lived but I had great company with me as I skied out of town west into the Purcell Mountains. My friend Dave Quinn, another experienced adventurer, showed me an easy route to take. He also had a great chance to see just how inexperienced of a skier I was. We skied up to St. Mary’s lake where I had spent many days climbing in previous summers. The lake was frozen so we were able to ski on it and find rest at a friends beautiful off grid house. I’m guessing he was a bit worried about me the next day when he needed to return home and I skied solo up into the mountains towards Grey Creek Pass.

I passed some parked trucks and followed some snowmobile tracks up a snow covered forest service road. After skiing up and up for a few hours I was almost plowed down by teenagers on the sleds who had paved the way for me. They were surprised to see a solo skier heading up into the mountains without a snowmobile. I told one of them what I was doing and continued up. I thought I was making good progress but I didn’t arrive at the pass until dark.

Dave had told me, as best as he could remember, the whereabouts of a hut where I could find a stove and some warmth for the night. I skied up and down a steep slope three times without finding anything. After an hour I was ready to call it quits and dig a pit in a tree well, but the freezing cold wind helped me to muster the strength to continue searching for the simple comforts of a plywood cabin. I skied up the steep slope once more without finding anything amongst the pine trees. I turned around to head back down and as I did so my headlight caught a glimpse of an unnatural sight. I was glowing with relief to find the cabin.

I then needed to dig out the three feet of snow that were blocking the door. It was a small undertaking for a giant reward. The cabin was simple but it had a stove for warmth and cooking as well as some comfy foam to sleep on. I passed out hard after eating some pasta and vegetables.

The next day I awoke excited and a bit nervous for a long downhill ride. I was nervous because I still had yet to figure out the telemark skiing technique. I was about to teach myself with a backpack on while going down unfamiliar terrain. I decided to stick with the narrow forest road as opposed to skiing through the trees. It might not have been the best idea as it was difficult to stop when the road became steep and there was either a ditch, a cliff, or trees preventing me from turning to a stop. I bailed awkwardly a few times and was lucky to laugh it off without a dislocated knee.

As I rounded one of the bends in the road I found myself staring into the eyes of a cow moose and her calf. I normally wouldn’t have been afraid but Dave had told me a story the day before of how a moose had repeatedly charged him and some friends, and came close to trampling his wife while nearly destroying his snowmobile. I stopped and sent peaceful non-threatening thoughts their way while hoping they would continue to walk out of my path downhill. They left the road and as I skied past the place where they disappeared behind a tree I was prepared to duck and dodge an angry moose. I passed unharmed.

It took a few hours to ski all the way down to where the snow started to disappear and I began to walk with my skis on my backpack. I had purposefully chosen boots that would be comfortable to walk in. After about 20 minutes walking downhill I turned onto the highway and was delighted to see someone walking towards me with a lifejacket on.

Dave had put me in touch with his friend Ann-Marie who was waiting on the shores of Kootenay Lake with two kayaks for us to paddle across. I was amazed and stoked at how smooth this tranistion came together. Within minutes my skis were strapped on top of a kayak and we were paddling out onto the beautiful yet freezing lake. I looked back up the valley I had skied down and felt like I was on some adventure relay race.

I’m glad it wasn’t a race as I was able to enjoy the paddle with Ann-marie. Nobody else was out on the lake for good reason. It was snowing and we were struggling to keep our fingers and toes warm.   

After four hours crossing the lake and paddling up the West Arm to Nine Mile, we were met by Ann-Marie’s partner Sandra and a surpirse appearance from my friend Kat on the shore. So cool as I had no idea they knew each other. We had a lovely dinner and I was invited to stay at their place for another night, even though they were heading away for christmas with their family.

The next day I paddled solo up the arm to Nelson to stay at Kat’s place. It was Christmas eve and I was invited to join my friends Kevin and Kristie at their place for a lovely dinner with them and Kevin’s parents. After dinner I walked up the hill to see some family friends from Toronto who had all migrated out to Nelson. I also joined them the following day for Christmas festivities. It felt so great to spend Christmas with warm and familiar folks.

I left Nelson on boxing day by skiing along the railroad tracks. I remembered the movie “Stand by me” and made sure to check the tracks for vibrations every once in a while...hehe. One train passed me at dusk and I could actually see it’s lights coming around a corner before I could hear it. I had plenty of time to get well out of the way as it chugged slowly by.

I was hoping to find somewhere warm to stay that night but when I asked people, nobody had any ideas. I was sort of hoping someone would have pity on me and offer up a couch, but instead I found some cover behind the local fire station. I started a fire and was ready to deal with the sirens if they came.

The next morning Kat and my friends Sibylla and Chris joined me for a nice flat journey along the groomed ski trail from Crescent Valley to Winlaw. I was then on my own for a 7km walk to meet my Nephew Heron and his family. It was a great finish to another beautiful day on the trail.

Winlaw was a bit north from my planned route so the next day I backtracked about 20 km to meet and stay with Kat’s aunt and husband, Annalie and Victor. I can’t put to words how grateful I am for all the people who have hosted and fed me like I was family. It made all of Canada feel like one big family.

The skis were back on the next morning as I headed deep into a new mountain range. I was a bit bummed I didn’t find anyone to join me for this leg as I would have liked to take a more interesting route across the Valhalla Mountains. I instead stuck to the much safer backcountry roads.  I came to a campground in the early afternoon and decided to have a short day of skiing and enjoy camplife. The site was called Grizzly Creek but considering it was covered in snow and almost January, I was hoping and expecting that the big bears would all be fast asleep.

 I believe these are wolf tracks.

I believe these are wolf tracks.

I dug out a nice big spot under a tree and went about gathering wood for a fire. It was not an easy task in the deep snow. Much of the wood was covered in ice and there wasn’t much dead stuff, not surprising considering it was a campsite in the summer. I managed to gather a substantial amount of wood after an hour or so of searching and falling in the deep snow. I then spent the next two hours attempting to start a fire. The wood was all saturated with rain on the inside and ice on the outside. I was freezing by the time I finally got the thing started.

I woke up early the next day which happened to be New Years eve. I wasn’t planning on completing the crossing of this mountain range in two days but the thought of a celebration with people made me consider it. I skied up and up into the stunning Valhallas. Untracked fresh snow is great for downhills but it makes climbing much more challenging and exhausting. Nonetheless, I made it to the top of the pass with the sun still up in the sky. It was the most beautiful skiing of the entire trip. The snow was sparkling pure and untouched. The trees had been decorated beautifully with the recent dump of the frozen white water.

As i skied down from the pass the sky began to turn yellow, then orange, and finally a spectacular red. I left the road that I had been following and skied down a clearing that had been made for elecrtrical lines. It was nice to get some big sweeping turns in on fresh powder. It then started to get dark and became hard to distinguish terrain features. I rejoined the road and the fairly consistent track of it. I made it to the bottom just as it was becoming too dangerous to continue skiing.The snow had melted on the road so I strapped the skiis to my back and began walking.

It was a much longer walk then I had estimated. it ended up being about a 15km slog to arrive in the sleepy town of Fauqier. There appeared to be only one store in town and it was closed. I kept my ears and eyes open for where the big New Years Eve party was happening but I didn’t see or hear anything. There was a motel in town that showed zero signs of life.

I found some potential cabins for rent online and walked back out of town towards them. I came to the place where the map said they would be but I didn’t see a sign. There was some small cabins and a main house so I walked up to the house to inquire. A man came to the door and I asked him if there was a cabin for rent. He said no but welcomed me in for a drink. His twenty something son was with him and they seemed pleasant and a wee bit strange.

After feeding me well, we sat down and I explained in more detail what I was doing. After a short time the father started probing me with the same questions over and over again. I began to feel a bit uncomfortable and looked to his son for an explanation but he just gave me a glance of apology. The father seemed to be paranoid about my presence and this feeling continued as we brought in the new years together. I wanted to leave but the offer of a warm bed was too tough to turn down. It was a weird and thankfully not foreboding way to bring in the New Year.

I awoke in 2016 to a pleasant email from the owner of the cottages that I was in search of the night before. They were welcoming me to stay with them and happy to support me on my expedition. They were located in the property next to where I was. This was a bit disturbing considering these folks had told me that no such cottages existed. I thanked them for their hospitality and got out of there fast.

The Arrow Beach Cottages were perfect. The owners welcomed me to stay in a beautiful log cabin with a lovely bathtub! I spent two nights there in bliss and enjoyed a lovely dinner with them. They even helped me out with a kayak to cross Arrow lake with. It was another smooth transition to meet my sister in law Marta for the ski to Vernon.

Big Huge thanks to MEC for making the Ski Across BC possible. Their clothing and ski gear kept me warm and comfortable as I crossed the province.