OUT THERE: The Hills are Alive in 'Hills'

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
July 8th, 2009

Out There is a new column for the Telegraph that will focus on adventures outside of the Mountain Kingdom [editor’s note: is there anything beyond Wedding Cake corner and the Nancy Green Junction? We’ve all heard the rumours, but I thought they were just rural myths…] Without sounding too Star Trek-like, our mission is to seek out new life and boldly go where probably lots of people have gone before, and maybe a few spots where they haven’t. This week we venture outside of the bubble to visit an old friend, The Slocan Valley and the hills around Hills.

We’ve already added the millionth word to the dictionary this year and dare I say we’re on the cusp of adding the catch phrase of the year “Staycation” as word one million and one? This past weekend I had the pleasure of staycationing (one million and two?) in one of the many spectacular and unique areas of the Kootenays.

Making a quick Saturday afternoon cruise up the pastoral Slocan Valley, along the jaw dropping beauty of the lakeside highway cut into the side of the mountains, we arrived at Rosebery Provincial Park just outside of Hills. Famous for its garlic festival, our less odorous mission was to pack as much adventure and relaxation from all points high and low into a 24 hour period.

In a strip of spruce and cedar forest along the melt water raging Wilson Creek, Rosebery Park provided the perfect home base for our mission. Shortly after setting up camp in one of the peacefully large and spaced out sites the park caretaker came around to chat about Life of Pi, drop of wood and generally impress with a level of service that genuinely felt like she was a new friend. Anyone familiar with the Hills area knows that this is just the way life is in the Slocan. Happy, relaxed, laid back and friendly.

With 34 degree temperatures threatening to stop us in our tracks if we didn’t cool down quickly we made a bee line to the lake shore, a ten minute walk from the campsite. Smartly planned, the lake shore in the area is largely accessible to the public along the Galena Trail with numerous little private beaches along the marvellously dam-free and natural lake. Was the water cold? Sure. Was it the perfect tonic to a chronically hot summer day? Absolutely.

As relaxing as the yo-yo routine of sun basking and swimming is, it’s hard to let the eyelids close into full relaxation as the views in all directions constantly pull your eyes across the panoramic scenes. Several hundred blue/grey perfect skipping rocks later with a worn out, swim crazy dog in tow we finally receded from the shore back into the darkness of the forest for a camping trip must: perfectly browned, occasionally flaming marshmallows.

Falling asleep early to the sounds of the creek rushing by we slipped into the kind of sleep that only mother nature, a two man tent and sleeping bags can provide.

Charged up by a power breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and ham we traded flip flops for hiking shoes and made the drive out to Sandon and on up the 11km goat path of a road to Idaho Peak. Every kilometre or so along the road as we’d come out of the trees and drive through clear cuts and meadows the battle between my eyes wanting to take in the inspiring views of the Selkirks and my hands wanting to keep the Jeep on the road raged on.

In 30 plus degree weather during early July, the last thing on our minds was snow but, lo and behold, 7.5 kilometres up the road we were stopped dead by well over a meter of snow. Unwilling to give up so easily on our adventure we trudged on, even after fellow hikers turned back, telling us the trail was un-hikeable without snowshoes. The dog didn’t seem to heed their advice as his eyes lit up at the instant return of winter and snow. He instantly adapted and began sliding around on his back.

It was early enough so that the snowpack was still firm enough to walk on top of without sinking in more than ankle deep. The foolhardy hikers before us missed out on an amazing walk up the mountain. Had they persevered through the first kilometre or so of snow they would have embarked as we did upon a snowy, south facing alpine meadow, completely snow-free and overgrown with endless wildflowers. The extra 3.5 kilometres and 1,500 vertical tacked onto the hike to the summit was actually a blessing in disguise. The peacefulness of a car-free environment and the luxury of having an entire mountain to ourselves reset our distorted impression of what silence truly is. Silence isn’t the appropriate word however as the chorus of songbirds, occasional crash, bang and swoosh of rock and snow slides and babbling brooks in rhythm to the swaying of the trees was truly one of Mother Nature’s better symphonic orchestras. Silence in the essence that the only man made sounds audible was that of our shoes slopping through the muddy trail and occasional bursts of Michael Jackson memorial singing to let the wildlife know we were coming would be a better description..

The final few kilometres along the spiny ridge top to the fire tower on top of Idaho peak is equal parts vertigo and awe-inspiring. Surrounded on all sides by the enormous glacier-capped Selkirk mountains, a quick turn of the head provides tourism promotional video majestic helicopter flyover type views, minus the thousands of dollars for the chopper.

All along the route wildflowers in explosions of reds, blues, yellows and everything in between dominate the above tree line terrain. The barren rocky sections between the flowers provided a surprisingly good camouflage for the Ptarmigan we said hello to just before I nearly walked right into him.

6,000 feet above the lake you could literally sit, stop and stare from the summit for days. With the beach calling our name from far below, however, we snapped some pictures, took in the vistas, breathed the high altitude air and headed back down the mountain, informing others behind us who had also been told the trail was inaccessible that indeed it was and they should not miss out.

Closing out the weekend with some more beachside fun before making the cruise back to Rosslandia, we cruised off into the sunset, revived and refreshed for the week ahead.

With geographical wonders like the Slocan Valley so close by we debated the entire ride home why anyone would want or need to spend big bucks to travel to exotic locales around the world when we’ve got Staycation hotspots like this in our own backyard.

The hills are alive in photos. See the gallery here.

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