Kootenays by Canoe

5 days canoeing and camping on our favourite lake

Looking at a map, the Kootenays have so many lake-filled valleys that the mountain ranges almost look like long islands. Growing up we would spend large swathes of hot lazy summers swimming and camping along the lake's 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.


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.

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 the long dark fall and winter.