Above: admiring the water of the Slocan. Shallow areas like this led into steep drop offs. The mean depth of the lake is 171m with a max depth of 298m!
Early in the summer Meg and I had booked a Fall trip in Kootenay National park to hike the famous Rockwall trail, a 3-4 day adventure that we had been building up to for the past few months. Unfortunately however we had to cancel the trip last-minute due to a combination of factors but mainly because of the continuing risk of fires nearby, which recently caused an evacuation alert to the next two towns over and would have surely obscured the views on the hike because of smoke.
Having already booked the time off, we both went back to the drawing board and looked to plan a last-minute trip somewhere within 3-4 hours drive that wasn’t close to the fires, a tall order during BC’s worst bush fire season in history. We stumbled upon the small town of Slocan in the West Kootenays about a 4.5 hr drive from Fernie with a beautiful lake backing onto Valhalla provincial park. This was the place! And after a quick call we arranged to rent a double kayak for 3 days and paddle the length of the lake from the north end.
We took off early Friday morning to get to the rental place, Smiling Otter, by 10.30 so we could get a shuttle up the lake. Long story short, someone forgot their hiking shoes about 30 minutes into the drive so we had to double back and ended up just missing the first shuttle. We tried to call them but turns out this little town doesn’t have cell service so all we could do was wait in a quiet little cafe and catch up on local gossip.
The guy who runs the rental company, Jim, got us kitted out and drove us north whilst entertaining us with some interesting if not slightly strange conversations. We bid him farewell and hit the lake paddling by around 1.30 under partly cloudy skies. Having not kayaked much, let alone in a double, it took us a good little while to find our rhythm however we managed a steady pace keeping to the lakes edge and enjoying calm conditions and stunning views of the mountains until we came across our campground for the evening Wee Sandy Beach.
Dotted along the west coast of the lake, there are 7 official campsites with plenty of other places you could pull up on a whim, all first come first serve and the best thing being that they’re free! We had the place to ourselves with an epic spot right on the beach next to a waterfall and running creek. It has to be one of the nicest campsites I’ve ever stayed in! After setting up camp we hiked up to a small lookout at dusk before tucking into some dinner. We brought along the dehydrated meals from Backpackers Pantry we had purchased for the Rockwall trail and decided this trip was the best chance to try them out. Meg had the pad thai and I the beef stroganoff and we were both pleasantly surprised with both. They were deceptively large meals and quite tasty, the resealable pouches made for handy trash containers too.
We both slept well despite a cold night nearing zero degrees and woke up to watch the sun rise with breakfast. We packed everything up and continued paddling south along the shoreline, lucking out with a bluebird sunny day and glassy lake conditions. The shallow water was clear and turquoise next to the yellow sandy beaches and we made a couple of stops at Nemo creek beach for some lunch and Cove creek beach for a swim before finishing the day at South Evans beach. All in all a decent 5-6 hour day of paddling which was helped at the end of the day with the wind at our backs.
We spent the night doing crosswords and reading, enjoying the fading light down by the beach at the campsite. This night we were joined by another couple however along with them, we had only seen about 8 or 9 people over the past 2 days, truly amazing considering how beautiful this place is and it only being mid September.
Having done so much paddling on our second day, the third was much shorter and after waking again at sunrise we took to the lake and were back to the Smiling Otter before noon. The paddling was harder going with a decent head wind and we got a taste of the warnings that we had read about conditions changing quickly. We felt lucky to have had such a calm day previously and could see if it were windier how treacherous it could be. At the end of our 3rd day we had paddled around 44km and the shoulders were feeling well worked!
Stoked with such an awesome experience, we packed up the gear and decided to put our legs to work on a short hike in the area. Jim had suggested such a hike, Gimli peak, in the south of Valhalla which we could do in a couple of hours and still have time to drive back to Fernie by night fall. Driving up the rough road to the trailhead took some time and we encountered a small family 3/4 the way up who told us it was a further 30 minute drive and then a 2 hr hike one way. With this new information and happy with the trip already, we decided to turn around and had a picnic by the river before driving home.
We were both pretty exhausted by the time we got home and were happy that we made the decision not to hike as we would’ve got home around midnight instead of being on the couch demolishing pizza by 8pm. We are already talking about going back next summer and hopefully spending more time on the lake which would allow us to do some of the full day hikes. I would recommend Slocan and Valhalla to anyone wanting an amazing camping/backcountry experience without the crowds (and cell service 🙂 )
Side note: it was sad to find out the other day that the wildfires ravaging Waterton National Park had destroyed the visitors centre and many of the beautiful hiking trails, including I believe the Tamarack trail, that I wrote about just 2 months ago that Meg and I had completed. I feel fortunate that we were able to see the park in all it’s beauty as the scars of fire will remain for many years to come. As I write this rain is falling in Fernie and I can see snow on the peaks, I hope that this is also hitting those fires and they come to an end soon.