A Great Ski Lodge–Even if You Don’t Ski

View from Mistaya Lodge

View from Mistaya Lodge

If you like wilderness powder, all you need to know about Mistaya Lodge is that the terrain includes glaciers, alpine meadows and lots of wonderful runs in the trees. Plus the fact that normal access is by helicopter, and guests have the place to themselves.

So what was I doing there? I have reached a point in my life where joints don’t work the way they once did, and broken bones take a long time to heal. Time to put away the skis and bring out the snowshoes. Or if I’m really lazy, just sit in the lodge and enjoy the view (and the fantastic food and always pleasant company).

First the scenery:

View from lodge

View from lodge

The Lake

Looking up

The Spire

The Spire

And ever-changing light:

Sunset

Sunset

Mist

Mist

Moonlight

Moonlight

And a bit of exploring on my own:

Snowshoe track along Wildcat Creek

Snowshoe track along Wildcat Creek

On the next post, I’ll show life at the lodge.

 

ANTICIPATION

View from Mistaya Lodge

View from Mistaya Lodge

What is the best part of travel: anticipation, participation or the memory? I am about to leave for Mistaya Lodge, high in the Canadian Rockies, for two weeks of snowshoeing. This won’t be my first visit–more like my tenth.

I know that getting to the lodge will involve a spectacular helicopter ride up u-shaped valleys where glaciers spill from lofty summits, their crevasses gaping like ragged mouths, and sheer rock walls splotched with snow gleam black and white in the morning sun.

I look forward to good companions, good snow, more good food than is good for me. There will be early mornings and cold nights when sleep comes easily after an active day. There will be peace and spiritual renewal from experiencing a winter wilderness of incredible beauty.

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a year, since the day I left after my last stay. The reality can always differ, of course; the weather may be terrible, the snow heavy or crusty, and last year, I injured my knee just before going, and spent two weeks confined to the lodge. Anticipation is never sullied by actual events or disappointing photos that affect the memory. It isn’t the most exciting or rewarding aspect of travel, but it is perhaps the most enjoyable.

One Month in Geologic Time Part One: Mistaya Lodge

I had to get out of the city.  For the last six months almost everything I had seen, heard, smelled or touched was made by humans or altered or managed by us.   I needed to reconnect with the planet, to regain perspective on my existence.  What better way than to immerse myself in geologic time?  I headed for the nearest mountains, in this case the Canadian Rockies, Purcells and Bugaboos.

In a tiny high valley just west of the Continental Divide lies Mistaya Lodge.

Mistaya Lodge

Accessible mainly by helicopter, this little piece of paradise is one of my favourite places.

Arrival and departure by helicopter

I try to come here at least once a year, and as soon as I arrive I can feel the noise and stench of the city fade from memory.  It takes a little longer to let go of my defences and open my eyes to every sight, my ears to every sound, my nose to the scent of the conifers.  One can spend hours simply enjoying the view from the lodge or walking around the lake.

View from the lodge

Reflections in the lake

Juvenile gull that spent a few weeks on the lake

Of course, in summer I come for the hiking.  Being slow and having bad knees, I usually hike alone.  In solitude I can stop to marvel at the beauty of a single flower, pause to track a bird that keeps disappearing in the branches, sit and watch a ptarmigan fuss over her chicks, or wait for the ground squirrels to get over their alarm at my presence and return to stuffing their cheeks ridiculously full of grass to carry back to their burrows.

Trails lead through forests and meadows, sooner or later turning into more or less well-marked routes or free wandering.  In this circular valley one cannot get lost, but the easiest way to one’s destination is not always clear.  At one point during the week I was frustrated by impenetrable brush and resorted to following a series of grizzly bear diggings (I correctly assumed that bruin was a better route-finder than I was).

There are flowering meadows.

Return from Moon Dark meadows

Magnificent uplands

Rock and flowers

Occasional cairns to show the way

Guide and owner, Dave Birnie, builds a cairn

Karst holes

Karst hole

And alpine lakes.

Long Lake

Leprechaun Lake

After a day of hiking I return to savoury snacks and a cold beer at the lodge.  No, I haven’t given up backpacking, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the luxury of food that I don’t have to carry, cooked to perfection by someone else, and served in a comfortable lodge.  Weather, mosquitoes and horse flies permitting, we sit on the porch in the late afternoon, eating, drinking and watching a flock of rufous hummingbirds fight over who gets to use the feeders.

Snacks on the porch

End of a perfect day

Rufous hummingbird

After eight days in this glorious wilderness I feel refreshed, alive and full of anticipation for the next adventure.  Some of my best memories of this sojourn will be the flowers.

Glacier lilies in August?  Only in the Alpine!  And that little anemone should have gone to seed weeks ago.

Glacier lilies and western anemone

The mountain avens are also early bloomers, but the snows were deep this year and lingered long.  The moss campion, at least, is blooming on schedule.

White mountain avens

Moss campion

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I always hate to leave Mistaya, but I will be back in March to enjoy a week of snowshoeing or skiing.