Another day in the Kootenays

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Sometimes I feel like I live in a travel magazine. Last week, I was rushing to a meeting in Cranbrook, running 5 minutes behind as usual. Feeling the stress levels rise, and my foot get heavier on the gas pedal, I crested the Wycliffe Prairie, saw the golden grasslands and Rocky Mountains stretch out in front of me, and I couldn’t help but be awestruck. Again. I can’t count the number of times that I have driven from Kimberley to Cranbrook; I grew up here, so let’s just say it’s a lot. Still, every time I am momentarily mesmerized by the stunning panorama that unfolds in front of me. It’s not to say that other areas aren’t stunning, but what really makes the Kootenays unique is the sheer diversity. From golden grasslands to old growth cedar groves, sheer granite peaks to towers of limestone, this region is stunningly spectacular, and not surprisingly, home to an incredible wealth of biodiversity and seemingly endless areas to explore. I remember borrowing my friend Dave’s topo map to look at a route in the Southern Purcells and it read like a story book. His dotted line traced the route through valleys, over passes, up peaks, marking good tent sites with water. All along the way, notes of wildlife sightings dotted the map: 3 goats, grizzly sow and cub, 5 goats, 4 elk, and it continued all along the route. Our wilderness is still truly wild, home to healthy wildlife populations. I never quite got used to not having to think about bears when I lived in Europe. The Alps are stunning, no question, but they lack the feel of true wilderness for a Kootenay girl who considers wildlife key to the wilderness equation. There is a special spot in my heart for the Purcells. Neighbour to the extravagant and attention-seeking Rocky Mountains, the Purcells take a different approach. Perhaps it’s their age that makes them more humble; their 1.5 billion years on this earth puts them in the wise, elder category for me! Driving along the Rocky Mountain Trench, they come across as unassuming in comparison to the jagged peaks of the Rockies to the east. But don’t be fooled: the Purcells are just as stunning and gnarly as the Rockies, they just make you work harder for it. And where they do choose to flaunt, you’ll know it: 1000m+ granite spires in the Bugaboos, the alpine lakes of Shangri-La, the wilderness of the St.Mary’s Alpine Park, the Jumbo Glacier at the Lake of the Hanging Glacier, and the list goes on. It’s an area that’s inspired fierce loyalty from those who’ve gotten to know it well. I only claim to know a small area of the Purcells intimately, but I’m adding my name to the list.