There’s a sign you see as you drive through Radium Hot Springs, that says, “The Mountains Shall Bring Peace to the People.”
The last time I was in Radium, I was 13 years old. Our family drove out from Ontario in our Dodge Dart to meet my brother at Cub Scout Jamboree 1981 in Kananaskis, and then we all carried on west, into BC. As I drove past the outdoor hotspring-fed pool at Radium on my way in to Nipika Mountain Resort, I had a déjà-vu feeling of what it was like to be that kid in that pool, on that earlier road trip almost 35 years ago.
The stay at Nipika was my one planned indulgence for this trip. The resort is a further 34 km beyond Radium – 20 km up 93 into Kootenay Pass and the National Park, and then another 14 km along a logging road.
The property is an entirely off-grid eco-resort in the middle of freaking nowhere. Oh, and also, it’s a little piece of heaven. This was the view from my cabin:
Over three decades ago, Lyle – a former cross-country ski coach – and his wife Dianne bought what was then the Richter homestead, a unique property bordering what eventually became the National Park. The trail system they have established over the years features over 100 km of trails, catering to cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter, and in the summer, to hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, and the occasional equestrian. Their philosophy of marrying recreation with forest preservation and restoration on the 1500 acre woodlot they manage makes them remarkable stewards of the land.
After arriving early in the evening on Friday, I spent the sweetest part of the day sipping beer on the porch while admiring the view, and then relaxing by the woodstove after dinner.
The next day, I saddled up and headed out with Spy for a leisurely late-morning ride with Lyle and Dianne and their two dogs Titan and Morley on the South Trails. Lyle’s gelding Corky was very displeased at having the grey mare join his entourage, and he was spectacularly acrobatic with the kicks he let fly towards Pai’s head, even when she was well over a horse-length away. (“Too close! Too close! I said TOO CLOSE. Look, you: still too close!”) I heard wind whistling off his hind hoof more than once. I’m sure Spy was having PTSD flashbacks.
The trails we rode were exactly the sort of trails I love to ride – winding single-track with minor ups and downs and lots of changes of terrain.
You couldn’t look in any direction without having another fantastic view in front of you. It was dreadful.
As we rode along, Lyle filled in the massive gaps in my knowledge about the Mountain Pine Beetle and what it does to trees, and the things that have led to this natural member of the forest becoming an issue for forestry. Compared to reading about bugs and trees, listening to Lyle talk, with his knowledge of and interest in forest ecosystems, was about five hundred times more interesting. Actually, possibly a thousand times.
We had a lunch stop at the junction of Cochrane Creek and the Kootenay River, high up on a clay/sand bank cliff.
Oh, and by the way, the single track mountain bike trails we rode cling to the top edge of those clay banks. The trails are a rather good test of your horse’s ability to stay focused, mind her feet, and not rush. One wee step to the side, and… eek.
To say that Nipika is pet-friendly would be a massive understatement. This is a dog playground, with resort dogs and guest dogs romping together in the meadow all day. After we got back from our ride, Spy proceeded to decimate every frisbee and Bocci ball game he encountered. His passion for stealing frisbees escalated to the point that by the end of the day, if I let him out on the porch, he would prick up his ears for the sound of people playing a game, and then charge off in that direction to steal their things. (“I need dis!”) He works his cuteness like a weapon, though, and he has made himself universally popular. There have been threats uttered by the cabin full of college boys of stealing him and taking him home to Calgary.
At the end of the day, he was very tired.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a wood-fired hot tub alongside an icy-cold pond, for post-ride relaxation?
On Sunday, I headed out on my own (with Spyderman, of course) on the North Trails. We cruised along the high banks that border the Cross River Canyon, and found another pretty lunch stop.
After the ride, I sat on my steps while Pai grazed, and had various visitors stop by for chats. Dianne came by and we talked dogs and horses. Wendy, who owns and runs Black Feather, the wilderness adventure company – and who just recently got back from guiding a hardcore trip to Baffin Island – is shareholder in the resort who was out visiting from her home base in Ontario, and she, who lost her own Blue Heeler a while back, came by to visit with Spy. And Thor, another shareholder who splits his time between BC and Mexico, came over to shoot the breeze and to invite me to dinner with his crew – a group of folks from Banff who have been friends for forty years. It was an absolute delight to spend the solstice on the porch of the resort’s big cabin, and to share a meal with these lovely, lovely people – I will forget all their names. but there was Wendy and Lyle and Thor, and Thor’s partner Nancy, and then the M’s: Mona, Marsha, and Maya, and there was Anne, and Danaze, and Mike… There were toasts and good food and much wine.
Nipika was a hard place to leave!
Camp and trail notes for horsey folk:
The nine extremely charming, comfy, and well-appointed cabins at Nipika start at about $175 to $200 per night, plus $25 for horse accommodation (includes hay), plus $15 for a dog.
The trails are wide, well-graded X-country ski trails through mixed evergreen forest, and single-track mountain bike trails that mainly cling high on the banks that edge the Kootenay river and a couple of its tributaries. I rode nothing overly steep, although Dianne tells me there’s a trail I didn’t catch that offers a fairly challenging climb to an excellent viewpoint. The single-track trails can give you a bit of an adrenalin kick – you need a sure-footed horse to feel comfortable on them.