It was a regular Wednesday afternoon, Fiona and I were trying to decide what to do with our day off. We thought about going to the lake, we thought about biking but we had done that already a lot this summer and wanted to switch it up. I am not much of a hiker, unless I have my skis or my bike to carry me back down with but Fiona had just got new hiking boots and needed to break them in so we decided to go hike the Spineback Trail at Island Lake.
We started out late afternoon and made our way down to the lake then onto the trail that meandered through the old growth forest. The smells of the plants and of the earth brought me back to the days of the Gathering and we shared stories of our childhood and many other reaches of life as we climbed.
Soon we broke through the foliage of the forest and into the rock gardens below the Three Bears and watched the rodents scurry from the cover of boulder to boulder. Fiona led the way as we passed a few groups of people coming down and before we knew it we were at the first bench below the Bears.
We climbed along the narrow ridge which I assume is the ‘Spine’ then sat and had some snacks on the rocks. From there I pointed out some of the lines that you can ski using the ski hill as access, crossing four bowls and ending up below Island Lake’s cat skiing terrain.
After enjoying the alpine views we made our way back towards the lodge. We took a wrong turn and ended up on the Fir Trail which extended our hike by a short time and was a nice addition to our walk. The Fir trees there were beautiful and impressive and we even thought we could hear an owl off in the distance as we came into the meadow beside the lake.
After the hike we enjoyed a beer and dinner in the sun on the deck of the Bear Lodge then made our way back into town just in time for the Wednesday Social at the Art Station where we bumped into many friends including my parents.
I remember expressing how lucky I felt to see this as a normal day in Fernie. From spending time in the beautiful woods to having dinner at one of the best restaurants in town then meeting up with good people for free live music across the street from where I live. What a wonder place this is!
The Lizard Range is a special place. Not only does it create a micro-climate for the valley through a phenomenon called Orographic Lift but it gives life to the town, has what I like to believe as the best ski touring in the area and some of the best views, whether you are looking at it or from it.
The Lizard Range supports many types of life, from grizzly bears, to cougars, to hundreds of plants and insects. It’s run off feeds the Elk River from many small creeks, helping the fish and making the Elk such a world renowned fishing destination. Sometimes the only patch of snow we can see in August is on the Lizard Range, usually Cedar or Fish Bowl. It is no wonder Heiko placed the Ski Hill there. This brings us back to Orographic Lift.
Orographic Lift occurs when an air mass is forced from the plains of Kookanusa and rises as it hits the back of the Lizard Range. As the air mass gains altitude it quickly cools down. Clouds build up behind the mountains and finally when they spills over they unload precipitation, and at the right temperature, it falls in the form of snow.
The endless bowls with ridges and headwalls is why I think the Lizard Range is the has best ski touring. I have merely scratched the surface of what can be skied around here, and each year I try and go a little further. I poke my head around a corner, over the next ridge, which opens up another world of exploration. From mellow tree skiing, to big exposed spine lines, and even caves the Lizard Range really has it all.
Up Cedar Valley, the trees are some of the biggest trees in the area. Cedar and Larch trees prosper here and many that survived the Great Fernie Fire are so big it takes multiple arms lengths to reach around. These woods are where I encounter most animals and if I was an animal, I would hang out there too. Cedar Valley is also host to my favourite bike trails and being in those woods with the giants has a different feel than the rest of the woods that surround the town.
In a way, the Lizard Range has raised me, and is a large reason why I still live in Fernie. With skiing being my main passion, it is hard to find a place like it. My dad, Andrew Brown worked at the Ski Hill for 26 years, and since then has moved up the valley and still works on the range, now at Island Lake Lodge. It is no wonder the force of the Lizard Range is etched in me, as it was likely etched in him before he even met my mother.
It is a powerful place and we are blessed to have it as our backyard.
I have been lucky enough to stand on the top of the 3 Sisters three times. I say lucky because two of the three times was with the help of a helicopter. The heli would land us just below the summit then we would climb the last 500 metres of vertical on our own, which was a still a decent climb. Over the years Ascent has been pressured enough times not to bring people up there with a helicopter for many reasons, so this time my friend Alex Hanson and I took a stab at it without the help of flight, and the feeling of cresting the peak by our own means was incredible.
Alex and I have been filming together for the past few years, mostly in the winter and it seems every time we go out something stops us from achieving our goal – snow conditions, bad light or weather has turned us around many times. Being summer there are far less variables so we hoped to pull off a successful mission.
Our mission was to summit the middle Sister via Hiko’s Trail. Me with my bike and Alex with his camera gear. We were to spend the night on the peak capturing sunset, the stars and sunrise, then of course the incredible descend from the peak.
We left the truck at 3pm, and with the amount of gear we were packing we guessed it would take us seven hours to reach the top. We both had heavy packs loaded with food, water, camping gear, Alex’s two camera’s including a drone and my bike.
Fifteen minutes in to our hike, it began to rain. It came down hard and I watched the leaves surrounding us dance under the rain drops, something we have not seen in a while. I welcomed the rain, but Alex was worried about his gear getting wet so we hid under a tree until the small storm passed and once the rain stopped we continued on.
We took our time climbing the ladders through the steeps beside The Jumping Waters and continued passed the Bisaro Cave. We were making good time considering our load, then thunder clapped above us and we looked at each other and laughed. Because of the nature of our mission we had to pack accordingly. We didn’t have room for a tent, or an excessive amount of warm clothes. Rain on the peak would mean disaster but the single thunder clap wasn’t going to scare us off. We discussed it and neither of us were that bothered by the idea of having to turn around and walk back in the dark if we had to. Luckily, the higher we got the better the weather became. We pressed on through the tree line and up to The Pass.
It had only been four hours, we were ahead of schedule and figured it would take us about an hour to reach the peak. It is the hardest part though, the last stint. It is nothing but shale and I had to carry my bike on my shoulder almost the entire way. Our tired legs shook beneath us as we made the final steps up the last section of the hike. Placing my tires on the ground at the summit was one of the most rewarding ascents I’ve ever done. We made it in time for the sunset, and what a sunset it was.
We got the drone in the air and took some shots then set up our sleeping quarters. The only cover from the elements we had were the rock walls protecting us from the wind. After the sun set behind Mt. Fischer we waited for darkness. Equally as Fernie began to glow, so did the the stars and I have never seen stars like that. We could see the entire ring of the galaxy stretching from one side of the Earth to the other. Alex took some photos and set up a star-lapse that would run all night, then we went to bed.
I was more prepared for the cold then Alex, but even I was cold. Neither of us slept very well that night and as soon as the sun came up, we rose with it, seeking it’s warmth and admiring it’s beauty as it stretched it’s rays across the peaks all around us. I geared up for more shots and Alex flew the drone and did some more time-lapses capturing the amazing sunrise.
Now, it was time. I felt nervous. The ride down the from the peak is extreme to say the least and we were already on top. There was no warm up, just coast in and drop which I did twice to get two different angles with the drone. After the second shot I waited for Alex to climb down to me and even though now I was below the summit I felt even more on top of the world then I did on the peak. The rush I got from descending that section of trail and hearing how stoked Alex was on the shot had me firing on all cylinders. I was amped and still had 3000ft of vertical to ride.
Unfortunately the gimbal on the drone stopped working after the two shots we got off the top so we were not able to film the other shots we had planned, which fit in with the rest of our ‘failed’ missions, but this mission was not all a complete failure – it was a feat. We battled through harsh alpine conditions, got some wicked photos and some breathtaking footage.
Once back in town both Alex and I felt the strain of the mission, I dealt with an intense fever and Alex had huge blisters on each foot, but we both agreed it was worth it and something we would do again, something we had to do again. For we have unfinished business in those hills.
A few weeks ago my good friend Levi and I planned a short canoe trip down the elk river. I couldn’t find my waterproof speaker so therein lied a difficult decision. Do we bring his speaker? It was a lot more expensive than mine and not waterproof. He asked if we would flip and I said that it’s one of those things, like crashing your bike, you never plan on it but it can happen at anytime. So I left the decision up to him. We are both DJ’s and music is engrained in us, so he decided it was worth the risk to have music on the float.
We put the boat in the water at the Hosmer bridge and the first bit of rapids were the biggest of the whole trip. We narrowly avoided the biggest part, took on water and almost flipped right then and there, but we held on and made it through.
It’s amazing how much the river changes after every winter. Often at each corner there are two options you can take, and we only chose wrong once, and almost got wrecked. The way we went the river took a 90 degree corner and there was a log sticking out over the river. We couldn’t cut the corner short and got sent into the bank. Luckily there was a stump that I was able to grab onto and stop our momentum, otherwise we would have gotten squashed under the log between the canoe. While holding onto the stump we turned the front end of the canoe then I let go and we laughed as we went by the log.
“That was a close one!” We said at the same time.
On another corner we hit the bottom with the front of the canoe and ended up backwards, we did a full 360 and came out of the corner facing forwards but after that and a few more rapid sections we got the East Fernie bridge and the rest of the way was was fairly calm. A lot of the time we wouldn’t paddle, we would just sit and enjoy the views and of course, the music.
The best move of the day was our exit. We nailed it! Came in perfectly, spun around and hit the shore, almost like we meant to. Levi then looked at me and said,
“Should we go on a bike ride now?” Levi just got a mountain bike and is keener than anyone to ride it, so we dumped the canoe and traded to our bikes.
Most trails are new to Levi, and riding a trail with someone that has never ridden it is like watching a movie you have seen already with someone that hasn’t seen it. It makes it almost as exciting as your first time. I was excited to show Levi a trail I had secretly built on the ski hill after I stopped working there.
Myself and a few friends that also worked on trail crew would go up to the resort after they had closed for the night and work until it got dark. We had a decent amount of the trail started then we neglected to finish it. About a year later, someone from the ski hill contacted me, asking if I new anything about a trail in the tree island beside Siberia Ridge. We had abandoned it so the trail and who built it was not a secret anymore. I was excited though, to hear that the trail crew wanted to connect it to an existing trail and add it to the map. All I asked was that they call it what we were calling it, and we called it ‘Neverland.’
When Levi and I got to the top we were exhausted. It had been a long day in the sun but riding Neverland was going to be the perfect way to end it. And when we got the bottom, we sat and observed one of the best sunsets I have seen in a while.
Note: Building trails without permission is prohibited.
A few summers ago my brother Sam and I lined up two DJ gigs in Whistler. One was a Full Moon party which was somewhere in the woods between Whistler and Pemberton and the other was at a bar called the Savage Beagle. Sam had just bought a van for $700 and we packed it full of our sound equipment as well as our mountain bikes. Needless to say, we were very excited for the trip.
On our way through the rock cuts we were admiring the speed and agility the $700 van had to offer and we began referring to it as ‘the sports car.’ Six hours into the trip Sam and I switched seats and I began to drive. I immediately felt the van pulling to the right so we moved over to the side of the road and noticed the brand new tires were now balled, wires sticking out and all. The alignment was out.
We backtracked to Revelstoke and were forced to spend the night and wait for a tire shop to open. That morning we found out no one in Revelstoke could help us, but a shop in Salmon Arm had tires and the time to get us back on the road. So we realigned the wheels as best we could and headed for the next town.
It was a harrowing one hour drive to Salmon Arm. Going around corners we could hear the tires squealing and we were ready for one to pop at any moment. Finally we began descending into town and just before we got to the first stop light I spotted the mechanic shop we had an appointment at.
Then bang! The front of the van dropped and there was an awful scrapping sound as we slid to a halt. We both looked at each other in silence then jumped out to asses the damage. Not only had the tire exploded but the driver side rim snapped clean down the middle like a bagel. We were so close to the shop but still had to get towed around the corner. Luckily the shop was able to source a rim and get us back on track with just enough time to spare. $700 later, I might add…
We got to Whistler half an hour before our gig and the gig went well. It was a quiet night that night, they had us set up in the cocktail lounge with small speakers, then sometime during the night we found that in the basement was a huge underground club, completely empty. We would have been way more stoked playing on that sound system, but it was a good night none-the-less.
The next day we took out our downhill bikes and had a wicked session at the bike park. Then we went back to our friend Matt’s place, set up our turntables and started working on our set for the Full Moon party. The next day Matt showed us a secret frisbee golf course which had thick woods, unique objects as nets and very uneven ground, making for an interesting game of frolf.
Later that night we headed out into the dark and drove through the backroads in search of the party site, which we found eventually. They had a cool setup, a decent amount of speakers and lights, there were lots of people and the crowd was stoked on our music. That is all we could ask for.
We didn’t stay too long at the bush party, we had a scary drive home ahead of us the next day and scary it was,we were just waiting for the sports car to fall apart at any moment. Mountain pass after mountain pass, even going around corners was terrifying but we made it. It is not a road trip without a few hiccups. Making it through those times and coming out ahead in the end makes the journey more special, and in this case, worth writing about.
A few months a month ago, when the bike trails were finally clear of snow myself and a group of friends headed into the provincial park to hit my favourite trail Verboten. Verboten (which means forbidden in German) is my favourite trail for many reasons. Mostly because of its root sections and technical aspects but another reason I like it so much is because in those peaceful woods just below the Haulback T-Bar I feel especially close to my friend Connor, who passed away a few years ago. I am not sure why I feel so close to him there but after he died I was riding up Red Tree Road by myself and I felt his presence more than I had ever felt before. I think part of it has to do with being close to the ski hill, where we both spent so much time together working and playing. Now every time I go there, I can still feel that presence which makes it a very special place.
The five of us made our way up Gorby and once we got to the top of Snake Bite we had to walk almost the rest of the way because the road was still full of snow, but I was almost certain the trail was ready. After trying to pedal through the patches of snow we made it to the top of our objective and the trail was, in fact, clear and ready to go.
Max, a new friend of mine went first, and I followed. We went full tilt all the way down until about half way where there is a natural break in the trail. Max slowed to a stop, I was right behind him. As soon as we stopped we noticed a large male moose blocking the trail about twenty metres ahead. Max is from Australia and had never seen a moose before and wasn’t really sure what to do, but we got off our bikes and stayed where we were.
Soon after the rest of the group showed up and we tried to figure out what to do. We could see the moose had his ears back, a sure sign that he wasn’t happy and could be aggressive but we wanted to continue our ride so I slowly started moving towards him, hoping he would simply walk off the trail and let us pass.
With the group behind me I took one more step, talking to the moose calmly, then he lowered his head, snorted and galloped towards me. I quickly picked up my bike and ran for the nearest tree, and by the time I got there the moose had turned around and headed up into the woods. It was a classic bluff charge. I looked back to where my friends had been standing and none of them were to be seen. They had all dropped their bikes and scattered into the woods. I could hear laughter and cursing as they all slowly made their way out from hiding. We regrouped and expressed the fear we had felt as the moose ran towards us, but everyone was safe and we were able to continue our way down Verboten.
It was another lesson learned; moose are aggressive, territorial, and not to be trifled with. As I was running for cover I was thinking how I would feel if someone had been injured because of my actions. Give animals their space, after all, the woods is their territory.
Having grown up in this wonderful place we call home I have so many good memories from being a kid, but some of my earliest, best childhood memories are from the Gathering at Island Lake.
The Gathering was a small live music festival that was held at Island Lake Lodge from 1996-2001. To get to the stage from the lodge you had to walk down a hiking trail towards the lake, the trail would cross over a small creek and open up into a beautiful meadow. During the festival the meadow would transform into a crowd of people of all ages. I remember men and women dancing in bare feet with flowers in their hair, a group of people had a side stage with turntables and a disco ball and kids ran around feeling the freedom of the forest. In the meadow near the stage grounds you could rent teepees by the lake for the weekend, there was live music at night and activities during the day. I remember meeting Scott Schmidt who was one of the organizers, and I also remember hanging out with Craig Kelly who had a strong connection with Island Lake and our family.
As kids we would do arts and crafts during the day, my favourite activity was building mini rafts out of sticks and racing them down the creek. I remember the stinging nettle at the edge of the creek bitting at our skin as we ran trying to see if our craft would make it to the lake without flipping.
The Gathering was my first concert experience and I will never forget the live shows we saw there. Some of my favourites were McGnarlies Rant, TheRheostatics and Keith Greeninger. During the night we would watch the music with our folks and play hide and seek in the dark with our friends. There were so many of us kids, and many are people I still hang out with today.
The experiences we had at The Gathering in those early years of life affected me, without a doubt in a very positive way. My brother and I were just old enough for our parents to let us run wild and what I remember the most from The Gathering is the feeling of being free.