Canoeing the Kootenays

5 days canoeing and camping on one of our favourite BC lakes

words by Emanuel Smedbøl

Setting out on the Slocan Lake Canoe route

Growing up in BC's Slocan Valley I naturally visited the lake quite a bit. We would spend large swathes of hot lazy summers swimming and camping along its shores, often for a week or more at a time. It was our paradise, our playground, our home away from home. But for all of our visits the western shore remained largely a mystery—enclosed within Valhalla Provincial Park and without almost any road access to speak of, the western shore tantalized us just out of reach.

It wasn't until 4 years ago that I finally took up a paddle and canoed it with my mom. It was a wonderful experience closing that circle, being on my favourite lake day in and day out, swimming every 15 minutes, slowly making our way from beach to beach, exploring old prospector cabins and trails into the mountains, setting up camp in a different place every night, sleeping under the stars, and watching the quick summer storms roll in. Dang. I wish I could spend my entire life out there.

I've done it every year since, and hope to do it for as long as I'm able. Some years we take Megan and my sister, other years its just my mom and me. It's one of the trips I most look forward to each year, and something you just can't really get tired of.

Hazy morning canoing in the mountains Exploring the wild lakes of British Columbia Little cabin on the lakeshore, BC In the old pioneer cabins of the West Kootenays Looking out over the lake from the porch of the cabin Details from inside the rustic cabin Kettle in the cabin

Pierre Trudeau said it thus: "What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature."

There is something special about travelling by canoe day after day. It sparks something in my Canadian roots, rings true with my heritage and my nation's history. But whether it's just that or something deeper still I cannot say. All I know is that it quiets me, fills me with a silent brimming warm-bodied satisfaction. It feels important, like I'm doing something good, something meaningful, something that I will forever treasure. Life is simplified, boiled down to a few feet of space thrown into a wide open landscape in which every direction is home, trimmed down to a bare self-sufficient minimum. Unless you're my mom and insist on packing along a fly swatter.

Canoeing the mountain lake at sunset, BC Camping on the beach, Slocan Lake Canoe Route, Valhallas Morning swims in the mountains of BC Drinking water from the mountain streams Relaxing on the beach, Slocan Lake, Kootenays, BC Jumping off rocks and swimming, Valhalla Provincial Park Canoeing on the lake, BC Lightning storms in the BC Backcountry

Quiet days pile on quiet days. Its just you and the lake and your paddle, arms and shoulders tight as you push mile after silent mile behind you.

The best days are hot days. It regularly gets to be 36˚C on the lake, and the water is cool and clear and perfectly refreshing. Those perfect days become all the more perfect still if a storm rushes in on the still evening air, bringing a banging clanging thundering lightning show, nothing between you and the deep howling summer rains and exploding sky but a thin layer of gossamer tent fabric.

You awake to a world washed clean, fresh and cool and alive with morning. You slide out of your sleeping bag, put some coffee on to boil, and slowly slip into the water for the first of the day's many swims. Its going to be another hot one. Those are the best days. Those are the days you carry with you through the long dark fall and winter.

Swimming in the cold clear waters of BC Looking down the valley, Slocan Lake Canoe route Old photos on the walls of the cabin Scenes from the Slocan: paddling down the lake Hazy evening on the lake, BC Skipping rocks on the lake, Mountains of British Columbia Swimming in the ice cold creeks of the Kootenays Sleeping on the beach Canoe dwarfed by the cliffs and forests of the Valhallas Canoeing down the lake, Slocan Lake Canoe Route Little boathouse on the shore of Slocan Lake, BC Paddling in the wilds of British Columbia