|B.C.'s Land of the Smoking Water
Story and Photos by Glen Cowley
|Smoking waters relentlessly wend their way to a distant sea; unfurling power
and beauty in their passing.
The Columbia/Kootenay River valley, in mountainous majesty, disgorges its living waters under rolling mists over raging torrents and steaming cauldrons of the earth's heated blood. From Golden to Cranbrook it calls, come here to awe, come here to play, come here to learn.
Since the days of the First Nations Fairmont Hot Springs has been known as the place of the smoking waters.
A place where earth's steaming blood has sculpted the landscape and given man the luxury of its soothing waters. Here too, under the gaze of the weather worn and enigmatic Hoodoos carved by nature and hovering like quiet guardians, the Columbia River begins its 2400 kilometre journey to the Pacific.
The pools and, later, golf courses and skiing became the foundation for the resort community that is Fairmont Hot Springs.
Though discovered in the early 1880's and known for their restorative powers and sweet smell the springs did not come into significant commercial being until 1957 when the resort was no more than a few tent cabins and one small pool. In 1965 Lloyd Wilder bought out his brother and began the serious development of what has become an international destination sporting its own air field.
The pool complex is adjacent to the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and open to the public at $9.00 per adult for the day.
Not surprisingly the hot pool is most often lined with those of more experienced age lounging in its restorative comfort while families frolic in the attached cool pool or plunge into the waters of the diving pool.
A grassy knoll offers watered sunbathers an open air tanning salon. All is set against the majestic backdrop of the Purcells and the Rockies.
Above the resort, on a hill built from the ancient deposits of the springs, there sits a restored historic bath house with three rooms, each of which sports a bathtub size pool of spring waters. Behind the bath house the wandering hot springs support two man made outdoor hot pools where the weary can park themselves and soak their feet.
Toby Creek, at Panorama Ridge Mountain Village 40 kilometres from Fairmont, runs wild amid its cold steaming spray.
With the waters running low at the end of summer I caught one of the few remaining river rafting runs with Columbia Rafting Adventures. Even at low water the 12 kilometre run offered thrills as we dashed through foaming drops, swung around rocks and cavorted with 360 degree turns affording dramatic views of the looming mountains.
Our guide James captained us through the rapids spilling out instructions for us paddlers grinning through the unexpected. The journey left me hungering for more.
Nearby Radium Hot Springs are snuggled at the base of colourful Sinclair Canyon through which the waters dance to the growing Columbia. Housed in Kootenay National Park visitors to the pools are forgiven the $19.50 per car daily park fee provided they park only in the pool parking lot..
Reputedly used by none other than Hudson Bay Company governor George Simpson in 1824 on his tour of HBC posts in BC it was already well worn by the local First Nations people.
Today, enclosed and sporting a cool pool and jacuzzi, the hot springs are lined with bathers of all ages. In the winter the pool is a steaming ghost world and the pathway from change rooms to the pool is sheltered from the worst of winter weather. $6.50 per adult gets you in and a loonie gets you a locker. If you are lucky you may see mountain sheep gazing fearlessly upon you from the cliffs above.
Through the stretch of the valley there are other venues for white water rafting, lazy ecotours along the Columbia, vistas and hikes from the top of summer chair lifts, and innumerable hikes in the mountains and valley. The beauty of nature laid out before you.
To this you may add visits to historic Fort Steele and Bavarianized Kimberley, lake side beaches at Invermere and golfing.
Nor is this land but a seasonal destination. With winter comes skiing on a range of slopes from Golden to Cranbrook as well as heli-skiing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling and snow shoeing.
Whether it is the lure of summer and spring waters or winter snows this majestic valley holds a wealth of treasures.
And through the mists of the smoking waters we are afforded the panorama of nature in its glory. A glory and beauty to be recognized and protected even as we come enjoy its bounty; so that our children's children may know it in its splendour.
This week Traveling Tales welcomes author and freelance travel writer Glen Cowley who lives in Chamainus, BC.
About the photos:
1: Columbia Lake, the source
of the mighty Columbia River
If You Go:
The nearest airport is Cranbrook
about an hour's drive south of the resort.