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Range Rover: Both Sides Now

Hiking Bald Mountain in the Purcells, with the striking spire of the Selkirk Range’s Mount Sir Donald in the background.

My last column (“Stalking the (once) Great Glacier,” Pique, July 28), explored the legacy and passing of Glacier House, the late-Victorian era CPR destination tucked into the great bend of Rogers Pass. It was an early attempt to bring Euro-style mountain tourism to Canada, with the added bonus, unlike the Alps, of a complete wilderness setting. Glacier House and the Great Glacier at its heart may have passed into the mists of time, but interest in the hiking and climbing it was built upon has only increased. You can still make forays to luxury lodges in the mountains of Western Canada, but nowadays you don’t just step off a train; rather, depending on the setting, you drive or helicopter into them.

In the former category, I left off my narrative enjoying a sunset honey-ginger spritzer at Heather Mountain Lodge, just off the Trans Canada east of Rogers Pass. Constructed with wood from the property, it offers relaxed views into the Pass from the main lodge or private cabins, along with a wood-fired hot tub and massive barrel sauna. The in-house restaurant named Kindle is a nod to its signature live-fire cooking that features plenty of innovation, my favourite being live radish sprouts from an outdoor garden “planted” in a black olive tapenade, fire-dried to imitate soil. Other standouts were a sablefish and melon amuse-bouche, perfectly cooked elk tenderloin atop charcoal-coloured mint-and-pea tortellini, smoked trout, and a flourless chocolate torte.

Though it’s always hard to leave behind such culinary delights, more hiking was on our menu, this time in the Purcell Range to the east. To reach our next destination, we’d route through Golden, a town with enough of its own appeal to warrant at least a day and night exploration. You can play it, as we did, like this: take the morning to go up Kicking Horse Mountain Resort to visit its resident grizzly, Boo; lunch in its lofty Eagle’s Nest restaurant, Canada’s highest, with its signature truffle fries and outstanding views to three mountain ranges and five national parks; in the afternoon, check out the Golden Skybridge, a new adventure concession whose canyon-spanning suspension bridges not only deliver requisite gut-clenching, but access to ziplines, rope courses, a climbing wall and other activities (including, soon, a much-anticipated pendulum swing). That night, stay in town at Base Lodge, a new high-end, self-serve franchise taking hold in the inter-mountain west (it recently took over an existing property in Golden on the Columbia River and will be building a new lodge across the street). Have dinner at the town’s most beloved eatery, 1122, with its eclectic upscale homestyle menu and outdoor tables on the back lawn.

Next morning, we fly into Purcell Mountain Lodge, another bluebird day bringing spectacular views of the local geological nexus—east to the Rockies, Rocky Mountain Trench and Columbia River Valley; west to the Purcells’ Dogtooth Range and Bald Mountain, and Purcell Trench and Beaver River Valley backed by the prominent, looming wall of the Selkirks—a great, silent sea of rock and ice. We’re greeted at the lodge not only by lodge manager Jackie Mah—one of those mama-bears who can make anyone immediately feel welcome—but also by owner Sunny Sun, a former Edmonton doctor now based in Vancouver who was a backcountry rube when he first visited the lodge but was immediately enamoured—enough to buy it.

After a quick breakfast orientation, we scramble out with guides and hike south to a ridge called Kneegrinder (it isn’t), dodging extensive snow that has only recently begun to melt, leaving white stripes on the landscape between which flowers are beginning to bloom. From the ridge we follow high, rolling meadows back north overlooking the Purcell Trench and Selkirks. Though we’re on the opposite side of Mount Sir Donald from where we hiked in Rogers Pass, it’s even more impressive from this aspect. Glaciers galore sag from the Selkirk ramparts, including the Illecaellewat Neve glacier we’d sat below on the other side of the range. Columbia ground squirrels, a favourite grizzly snack, abound and we encounter many bear digs; since the squirrels eat plant material the bears can’t digest, eating the squirrels facilitates a form of energy transfer from alpine ecosystems the bears spread far and wide. With the winter snowpack just pulled back, there’s also a glimpse into the sub-nivean world that exists beneath it—roots, snow algae, snow mould, insects and animal tunnels exposed. We end at a jaw-dropping overlook of Mount Sir Donald called Poet’s Corner, then climb back up through the forest and out onto the meadow to the lodge.

After a 10-kilometre hike, appetites are activated, and they’re amply addressed by Austrian chef Josef, who grew up in the Alps. His contemporary-style cuisine is influenced by the lodge’s pristine environment and its bounty of wild edible plants and berries.

Next morning, our final hike takes us across extensive meadows in the opposite direction, through a small watershed divide between the Spillamacheen and Beaver Rivers, and back up the other side onto the shoulder of Copperstain Mountain, where we hike the still heavily corniced ridge to a lunch spot above treeline. It’ll take another hour to reach the windy summit from here, but clutching sandwiches, everyone is silently fixated on the views to now-familiar Mount Sir Donald—a fitting end to what could be called our Both Sides tour.


Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn’t like.