I was travelling in the West Kootenays, looking for a place to rest my head. Sunset was in one hour, and I still had to find a campsite! At this point, it doesn’t matter where I camp as long as it’s away from people and it’s just me. I pull off from the highway, drive across a small stream and set up shop. The thick bushes were high enough that my campsite was hidden from the road. This section of the highway wasn’t heavily trafficked, as most tourists stop earlier in the stretch at the natural hot springs. A popular, outdoor excursion company’s home base is a few kilometers south, but other than that, it’s eerily desolate out here.
The camp spot overlooked a small marsh, backing on to the base of a mountain. I parked my truck facing towards the marsh, so I could use my tailgate as a table. Large pine and fir trees filled in the forest behind my tent. I could see that the road that led me into this site kept climbing the hillside, but it narrowed and tapered as the bushes overgrew the path. I didn’t dare drive up that in the morning, no matter what my offroad maps told me.
The air was soothing and warm, even at dusk the weather didn’t warrant any layers. Nearest where I set up my campsite was the small stream, it flowed steadily and silently in the background. After I finished dinner, I walked around my site to learn more about my surroundings, and towards the stream. I could see that some of the rocks in the water glimmered, even at this hour of night with little light. As with anything bright and shiny, I took one for myself. I later learned that it was galena, the natural form of lead sulfide.
The morning was overcast with hazy skies and enough moisture in the air to keep your lips moist. Breakfast was a weird melange of items, as I had recently replenished my food cooler. Knowing that I do not include enough vegetables into my daily diet, I purchased a large basket of cherry tomatos. My theory is that I could eat least eat vegetables as I drive, and feel better about my protein-heavy outdoorsman diet.
Taking a crap in the woods is more pleasant than you think, I implore many people to try it on occasion. I think anxiety for most takes over, and creates an unpleasant experience. As long as you’re far away from civilization and prying eyes, it’s not that bad.
As I finished my business, I could hear water splashing. Foot steps and chatter. That’s odd.
Three middle-aged women were packing their expensive mountain bikes above their head as they entered the camp area. What a surprise to see face where I didn’t expect anyone. The trail that spiralled up the mountainside was actually a mountain biking trail as I learned from the group. I spoke about what my plans were for the day, wished them well and off they were.
My next stop was the historic mining town of Sandon. From the 1890s to early 1910s, Sandon was a bustling mining town, primarily mining for…galena, which contained small amounts of silver. A downtown fire in 1900 destroyed a large percentage of the buildings, but the town was rebuilt shortly after. The town was in heavy decline before the first world war, as the pioneer days were over: the ore required increased labour and machinery to extract from the earth. Later on, Sandon was used as a Japanese internment camp. I’ll share this here:
However, the majority of Japanese Canadians, some 12,000 people, were exiled to the Slocan Valley, in BC’s eastern Kootenay region. They were housed in what were euphemistically called “interior housing centres.” These were mainly in largely-abandoned mining towns (e.g., New Denver, Kaslo, Greenwood and Sandon); or in a government-built camp called Tashme, near the town of Hope, in the Fraser Canyon.
Once moved to the Slocan Valley, they lived in abandoned houses hastily refitted by the government, or in newly-built shacks. The housing was hastily put together and did not protect against the frigid weather. Except for producing shelter, the government did not provide the inmates with any financial assistance. In the United States, the camps offered basic food, clothing and education. But Canadian officials provided no food or clothing, and no schooling above the elementary level. Ultimately, some Christian groups opened up high schools in the settlements. The government hired some Nisei to cut wood, but in general people had to find such work as they could or live off their savings.
After a flood in the 1955 that wiped many buildings out, this was the end for Sandon. With whatever buildings still standing, vandals and looters took over. Now, Sandon is restored by a small group of dedicated people, some full-time residents.
I have visited Sandon a very long time in the past, so returning as an adult with a curiosity for life was incredibly refreshing. All the buildings just as I remember, the black steam locomotive just as gigantic as a kid.
After I finished a tour around the powerhouse (which has been running non-stop since 1901), I jumped in my truck and found the trail I was here for.
The trail slowly became single-track, and it was then I started to become nervous. Trails around here seem to be made for ATVs and mountain bikes apparently. Branches hit my windshield and tree limbs smacked my mirrors as I zoomed up this mountain.
Slowly, the brush became reduced and opened up, revealing the entire valley. The pure richness of trees saturated the landscape for as far as you could see. Mountains clung onto other mountains. The view was endless.
I stopped for a few pictures at a small pull-off of this trail, what seemed to be an old forestry road. Up this high, the air was brisk. Small pink wild flowers dotted my temporary parking stall, curious that no one else could enjoy these flowers except me. I felt very much alone on that mountain side.
I started my truck, made sure my map was taking me to the right place, and I began driving. A cliff appeared to my left, dropping down a few hundred feet…then a few hundred feet more. The makeshift road grasped the side of the mountain as much as it could, it truly could not have been made any wider. The earth became black, perhaps from some type of mineral. Shale became increasingly more common and I also became increasingly more agitated. The lush, green trees faded away and colossal rocks appears in their absence.
If there was anyone on-coming, I would be forced to reverse in very shaky terrain, on rocks that slide incredibly easily. Not something that I wanted to even think about.
I came around a corner and there was a young man wearing a white tank top cutting wood. How? All the way out here? This is bizarre! There are no vehicles anywhere, there are no houses that I passed. There are very few people who even live in Sandon, how the hell did this guy get here?
I asked him what he was doing, he said he was cutting wood with his dad. He motioned with his hand towards the hillside, a large tree was felled onto the road. He was bucking the tree when I came around the corner.
He had a joint in his hand, extended his arm and said to me “you want a blast?”
Goodness I couldn’t imagine about being smoking marijuana right now, I’m trying to survive this drive! We chatted briefly about the mountain and my destination, he mentioned he hasn’t been up there since he was a kid. Well, at least I know I’m in for a treat.
The trail remained as narrow for a few more kilometers until there was a fork in the road. Finally I had a chance to breath, hoping that the worse was done. I passed a small lake, with a handmade sign: Meteor Lake
A road washout 50m ahead meant I had to hug the passenger side of the road extremely hard. A portion of the road was destroyed, it looked as if the ground itself just gave out. As I drove nearer I looked down the cliff, and thought that at least least if I rolled down it would be into water. The trail was not meant for vehicles like mine, this is about the time when I started having serious doubts. Turning around would be impossible, nevermind increase the risk of on-coming vehicles.
Tire marks on the ground led to to believe this was used as an extensive ATV trail. I felt very out of place.
The trees changed. More aspen and larch appeared. We’re going up!
A jutting mountain peak appeared before me, encompassing my entire field of vision. Over-looming trees lined the path, and small gravel rocks filled the road. My map showed I was nearing my destination and my satisfaction in my choice was increasing. One last hill climb, around a bend and I’m there!
The small gravel rocks turned into baseball sized rocks shortly. The grade increased to such a degree that seeing over the hood was difficult. I popped my truck’s gear in 4 LO and started crawling. Crunch, clack, pop! Rocks slid against one another, and shot over the precipice.
People came into view. Mountain bikers. Long hair. I approached them with my truck. It was the same group of bikers from this morning! They were following the same trail throughout the day, as I would have drove parallel to them along the highway to Sandon, and then up this cliffside. I said I’d see them at the top, unpaused my music and continued.
The baseball-sized rocks disappeared and the shale took it’s place. The sun-exposed this slip, allowing the dirt to heat up in the summer day and become loose. If, somehow, I’m driving around a corner and my rear tire loses traction on a piece of shale, that means my truck and I are meeting the same fate. Soon I could become immortality-challenged.
Hugging the side of the rock face, I drove incredibly slow along this dirt overhang. It was entirely the width of my truck and no wider. I don’t think I ever sweat so much in my truck. Alone, middle of nowhere, driving on a ridge that could take me somewhere unknown, or even worse, somewhere impassable. Then what?
The sheer drop to my right increased my grip on the steering wheel. If I glanced to the right, I could see that there were trees some 500 feet below. So if I do roll of the mountain, at least those will stop me.
The road widened and I could breathe. It took me to an abandoned mine, equipment littered the opening. Wooden trusses still held upright, what looked to be some sort of mine cart bridge that disappeared over the cliffside.
The sun was high in the sky at this point in the day and beating on my body. At this altitude the wind cooled you down instantly. I explored the mine as much as I could, I walked over mine cart rails and sheets of metal. There was a constant flow of water out from the mine. The water was frigid cold and crystal clear, I could only speculate where the water could come from. The mine shaft was no taller than 5 and a half feet, wooden support pillars stood supporting rock. A rusty pipe hung to the ceiling and continued deeper into the mine.
I sauntered around the mine and found many piles of antiques, all garbage. Vintage 7 Up bottles, tobacco tins, oil cans. An egg carton from Fort Steele, BC. Rock core samples.
I made it! Here I am at the top of the world.
The mountains roamed over one another in the distance, and the dense trees coloured the landscape.