Adventures in Fernie: how I fell in love with a remote mountain town

My mom first moved to the BC Kootenays to teach about five years ago, when I was only interested in running on roads, and the mountains just meant pretty views. I recall a visit where I ran the shoulder along the highway between Sparwood and Fernie as my fun long run. Or, a day where we roadtripped to Banff, and I ran along the Banff highway as my long run!!!! Fernie is famous for skiing, and of course I wasn’t into that, either. On my first visit in winter, I completed a 3-hour pool run at the Sparwood pool. Yes. The mountains were staring me in the face, but I had nothing to say to them.

I loved the tarmac.

I loved the tarmac.

How time changes!

Thankfully, my love for mountains has grown and evolved dramatically during this time that my mom has lived in this wonderful place. Somehow, I was reacquainted with skiing, and I fell for Fernie’s snow, just like so many others. I loved the fact that a “busy day” in Fernie was like a slow day in Whistler. I fell for the look of the antique streets lined with snow, and at some point the combination of old-fashioned brick buildings filled with high-tech ski touring setups made my mouth water. One year my mom bought me a lesson to learn skate skiing, and this became a big, self-respecting step forward from my good ol’ long pool run routine.

Snow!!

Snow!!

At some point I started trail running. I found the most amazing mountain biking trails, which provided endless fun. I discovered the amazing flowy trails of Fernie Provincial Park, and fell in love with the cushy singletrack, lined by tall meadows. I stared up at the interesting granite mountains surrounding the valley, Hosmer and Ghostrider and others, and envisioned future scrambles with friends. I couldn’t wait to come back and spend more time exploring.

Late in the day during the Trail to Ale challenge. This is just above town on the way down from Hyperventilation!

Late in the day, this is just above town.

Then this past visit, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities. First there was the Fernie Brewing Trail to Ale Challenge, a fun adventure that challenged me to run an unplanned 50k, linking together three trail systems in order to earn a free beer (and handmade medal!). Then I discovered that you can run up a beautiful rolling trail to grab a snack or beer at Island Lake Lodge, before heading out on some amazing, well-marked alpine trails from the lodge, then running back down. (!!) Between those two runs, I found a nice and easy riverside run right from town, and saw the sun set on the Lizard Range. I was in heaven.

A shot from the Mount Baldy loop at Island Lake lodge. I saw not a single person on this beautiful 10km loop in the alpine.

A shot from the Mount Baldy loop at Island Lake lodge. I saw not a single person on this beautiful 10km loop in the alpine.

 

A shot from the FBC Trail to Ale Challenge. These awesome little trail signs were made for each of the goals along the way, and we had to snap a pic with our time for evidence!

A shot from the FBC Trail to Ale Challenge. These awesome little trail signs were made for each of the goals along the way, and we had to snap a pic with our time for evidence!

 

A part of the Old Stumpy/Elk River run, just a few kilometers from town.

A part of the Old Stumpy/Elk River run, just a few kilometers from town.

Just as I thought, Fernie, screw off. You’re a remote small town, and I can’t fall in love with you… I need to go back home to Vancouver. — a lively band started playing in the town center, in a beautifully repurposed train station that now serves as the Fernie Arts Station. Local beer and wine flowing, a cafe owner tells us it’s Wednesday Night Social. I look around at all the happy people dancing, all ages intermixed together, old men and women with hardcore mountain bikes, and I felt so at home.

Wednesday Night Social at the Fernie Arts Station!

Wednesday Night Social at the Fernie Arts Station!

I tried my best to avoid falling in love with this town, but it’s like Fernie was beckoning me. A quaint book shop displayed a selection of entrepreneurship and creativity books, exactly the kind I like… Cute little restaurants sat with gardened patios, with the perfect ratio of sunlight to shade… Everyone was biking, everywhere, so happily. Cafes, yoga and breweries seemed to outnumber any other kinds of stores… And when I sat down for coffee, articles in Fernie Fix magazine seemed to be written just for me. Even the garbage cans were beautiful, with local artwork decorating them!

Fernie is one of those places that has something special going on. But beware… if you go, you may just find that you have to keep coming back… 😉

Another from the Mount Baldy Loop

Another from the Mount Baldy Loop… remote mountains forever!

If you’re heading there, grab a trail map from the helpful folks at GearHub, ($10) and check out the awesome local trail running group by Abi & friends, called Stag Leap. In the summer, be sure to grab some bear spray and a bear bell for further fun times. For a nice, easy 10k trail & river route from town, you can follow this route I made on RunGo.

Till’ next time!

Failures from a Scramble

I went to visit my mom last week, and naturally, she wanted to give me a run for my money. My mom knows I like being active, and she’s seen me eyeing the peaks around where she lives in the Kootenays each time I come for a visit. This time, I brought Julien, who is equally addicted to exercise. So she researched the tallest peak in the Southern Rockies, and was set on taking us there on our first day of the visit.

Fisher Peak, at 2846 m (9336 feet) is the highest thing around Cranbrook, and reports of people doing it online suggested eight to ten hours of fun. So, we thought it may take four.

View of the Columbia Valley below

Except, broken/sprained toes put some plans into question. Julien managed to break or sprain his toe on a chill trail run the night before the Fisher adventure, which was incredibly sad, because I thought it meant the end for Fisher and other shenanigans in the Rockies. If it were me, I would want to rest up and I wouldn’t want to be putting my toe anywhere near a big adventure. But instead, he silently grimaced and carried on with the plan, my mom’s orders! We would still do it, just really slowly and carefully. Hah!

The hike is beautiful. Out of the 1,400m climb to the top, you’re in the alpine after what feels like 5 minutes. There is a short section in the trees, then you follow a river up to a waterfall, before hiking by alpine lakes, and then a beautiful bowl close to the top, surrounded by jagged peaks.

A view from the bowl...

By this point we figured this hike was all reward with little work– only 1,000 meters of climbing for this?!

And then we proceeded onto the final steep pitch to the top, a scramble up some jagged rocky ledges. We took different routes, and we were working away at the slope. Suddenly, I was up high and exposed, with no area of solace in view, and I didn’t trust my Hoka shoe sole on that crumbly steep rock. I was terrified.

Terrified

I looked over and Julien was about 50 meters away, which felt very far. I lost all my confidence, and a strange feeling of intense fear was coursing through my veins. I was paralyzed. Getting up to the summit was no longer something I craved, now I was determined only to get down. But even getting down felt impossible. I couldn’t move!

I laughed at myself as I sat there in paralysis. I pictured my friend Mike hopping down this stuff, or Kilian running right down the face. I thought of all the Hardrock runners, who have to face steep alpine descents after 50, 60, 70 miles and worse, at night. As I laughed, I realized that I had discovered a whole new area of skills to learn, and I could relate it to other skills I’ve learned in the past, like running over roots and rocks. At first I was horrible at running over roots and rocks, and in only a few years, it’s become my forte. I had discovered a whole new set of skills to learn that just need time– and some guts.

Julien on Fisher Saddle

As soon as I convinced myself to crab-walk down, we descended the scramble laughing, and bounced off the trail with another fun, hilarious day in the books. And Julien’s toe was just fine, until we re-injured it again later… but that’s a story for another time.