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Above (left to right): Mountains gird the shores // Scotty Buxton, local musician and instrument maker // Midge Creek’s massive old growth cedar // If you’re clothed, you’re the weird one.

Nestled comfortably in the cradle of the Selkirk and Purcell mountains, Kootenay Lake has a wild side that belies her seemingly protected nature. Countless side drainages funnel glacier-born crosswinds onto the north-south oriented lake, resulting in exciting and dangerously turbulent waters. Stories abound of boaters drowning or disappearing into her icy depths. Paddlers and fishermen alike know to look to the horizon of- ten and carefully, watching for the telltale black line that signals a change in the Dark Queen’s mood—for the worse. The lake’s many moods have helped shape

the culture of the villages anchored like floats on a fishing net around her perimeter. Each has more than its share of artisans, musicians and outdoor enthusiasts drawn to, and inspired by, the disposition of the Dark Queen. On the outflow of the lake’s West Arm, the city

of Nelson is known globally for its proximity to wilderness and for the quality and availability of some of the best “bud” B.C. has to offer. Not many 7,000-person towns have their own police force, or the staggering array of outlets for ex- pendable income. High-end coffee shops, qual- ity restaurants and trendy sporting goods stores line Baker Street in downtown Nelson, and most locals openly admit that it is income from the underground marijuana economy that is one of the critical drivers of this thriving social scene. Whatever the reason, paddlers can always find a good café, restaurant or live music in Nelson at the end of a great day on the water. The small town of Creston lies not only at the

far end of the South Arm, on the Kootenay River just before it enters the lake, but also at the po- lar opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum from Nelson’s trendy, affluent scene. Steeped in a quaint 1950s air, the Creston Valley supports a unique mix of hard core loggers and fundamental- ist right-wing Mormons from the nearby communi- ty of Bountiful. A surfeit of senior citizens meander the streets at a septuagenaric pace, and the town has the anachronistic air of a community clinging stubbornly to the last echoes of an unsustainable forest-based economy. Ironically, in the agricultural paradise of the Creston Valley—filled wall-to-wall

with apple and cherry orchards, asparagus fields and blueberry patches—the town’s one great res- taurant, the Other Side Café, is rarely open. Between Nelson and Creston lies over 200

kilometres of wild freshwater paddling through remote wilderness. White sand beaches at Laib and Midge Creeks contrast with the steep gran- ite bluffs that protect much of this backyard pad- dling paradise. An eight-kilometre, bushy hike up Midge Creek north of Creston will lead you to some of the finest remaining Kootenay old

cougar—or even a wildly bearded and dread- locked West Kootenay local. At the far end of the northern reach, Koote-

nay Lake fills the front yards of Kaslo, Argenta and a handful of remote, independent communi- ties. Up here the Dark Queen wears a different robe. Her mountain companions are steeper, higher and more rugged. Summits in neighbour- ing Goat Range Provincial Park and the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy reach skywards over 3,000 metres above sea level—over 2,500 metres

Income f rom the underground mar i juana economy is one of the cr i t ical dr iver s of this thr iving social scene.

growth forest, while the gruelling Lasca Creek and Mill Creek trails offer access to the alpine of West Arm Provincial Park to only the most com- mitted hikers. Paddlers will share this wilderness landscape with some of the world’s last remain- ing endangered mountain caribou (as few as 60 of these shy, old growth–dependent ungulates remain in the heavily deforested south Koote- nays), as well as the odd grizzly, wolf, secretive


Kaslo Kayaking (Kaslo)

Kootenay Kayak Company (Balfour)


Yasodhara Ashram (Crawford Bay)




above the lake. Mossy cliffs crowned with pon- derosa pine and Douglas fir lean hundreds of feet over black water, while glacier-fed streams carve their way through steep rainforest valleys— a wild landscape that has attracted inhabitants with a spirit to match. In the late 1960s a wave of talented, intelligent

Americans ran for the Canadian border with the Vietnam draft snarling and nipping at their heels. Many of these folks settled in the Kootenays, pro- viding the basis for the communal, semi-pastoral and fiercely independent nature of these remote towns. Up here at the north end of Kootenay Lake, if you are wearing clothes on a lonely pebble beach, you are the weird one. These expats from the Lower 48, where the

grizzly has been wiped out of 98 per cent of its historic range, found solace and inspiration in their wilderness surroundings. Many passionately led the fight for the myriad of protected areas in the surrounding mountains—West Arm, Kokanee Glacier, Goat Range, Kianuko, Stagleap, Buga- boo, Purcell Wilderness and a host of smaller provincial parks—that help to make Kootenay Lake one of the last, best freshwater wilderness paddling destinations on the planet. All that with access to a cappuccino and a gourmet restau- rant meal, if that’s what suits your fancy.

DAVE QUINN is a freelance writer, photographer and guide based in Kimberley, B.C.


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