The early winter sun casts a warm hue over the Selkirks in front of me. I sit, thermos of hot apple cider resting on my knee, watching as the snow-ladened scene transitions from gold to rose to a purple-blue tinge. The last is a signal that it’s time to step back into my skis and make the short trek to my car, pulled off the side of Giveout Creek Forest Service Road.
It’s just that in this solo moment, I’m finding it hard to rip myself away. There are no digital devices, no deadlines, no “busyness” — just me and Mother Nature. It’s bliss in a world of chaotic scurry and scrambles. Clicking into my bindings, I remind myself that there’s yet another backroad waiting to be discovered tomorrow.
In fact, here in the Kootenays, there will be enough back roads to explore for a lifetime.
It’s the love of backroads that brought me to the Kootenays. Ever since moving across the continent, from Florida to Utah, for college, an inner-drive to explore overtook me. Without a curfew and with a wild teen spirit that sought avenues of adventure rather than parties, I took to the roads. They were often travelled alone. I took left and right spurs at will, driving into the early morning hours before heading home — or staying another day to quench my curiosity.
An early view of the Powder Highway. Photo: Gina Bégin
The drives became more ambitious. I widened my radius in a constant search to find new areas until, out of necessity, I finally moved into my car. For three years, I crisscrossed North America, from Alaska to North Carolina, Nova Scotia to British Columbia.
British Columbia: Even after experiencing the vastness of our continent during those three years, BC held its own. Nowhere else seemed to contain such ongoing expanses of rugged mountain views, such long stretches of clear, ice-blue rivers, and such numbers of wildlife sightings that it felt more normal to see bears and elk rather than a human.
BC was a place I could simultaneously put down roots and rack up my exploring miles.
Having my options open of anywhere in North America that I could move, I chose the Kootenay region of BC. There was mystery there; it felt more unexplored and wild as compared to the popular coastal mountains of the province — and unexplored is what I like.
Standing near one of my favourite falls in West Kootenay: Wilson Falls in Goat Range Provincial Park. Photo: Gina Bégin
It took a while to get used to having the sights of the Kootenays myself. Being from the States, the most stunning areas are usually ones that are also jam-packed with people. Not so with the Kootenays. It seems that people here intuitively head out in different directions, seeking their own spot of mountain paradise to experience Mother Nature in her glory.
Each time I found myself at some beautiful stopping point, I was in awe — not only at the sight before me, but at the lack of anyone else around. And if there’s something that feeds an explorer’s soul, it’s the feeling that you’re in the midst of discovering something new.
That feeling is addicting.
Exploring Lower Arrow Lake in early winter. Photo: Gina Bégin
The backroads around the Kootenay, Slocan, and Lower Arrow Lakes in particular — these being close to my homebase in Nelson — have delivered me into places I thought were only viewable on nature channels.
My first excursion as a Kootenay citizen led me to Meadow Creek, where I traced waters filled with spawning Kokanee. Being on that deserted backroad, beholding a ritual that had taken place for millennia, made me feel as though some omnipotent narrator would begin discussing the Kokanee’s life cycle at any moment.
Kokanee spawning near Meadow Creek, BC. Photo: Gina Bégin
Their bright bodies held position in the stream; their colouring reminiscent of rose petals and paper lanterns. The gold leaves and moody sky above them darkened, but I continued to stare at these fighters, floored at what I had stumbled across so near my new home.
After that, I invested in a mapbook of the region’s backroads and set out to go as far as I could on as many of those roads as I could — most of the time without any idea of where I’d end up.
Jewels of terrain and wildlife, in unimaginable quantities, continued to be uncovered. Everywhere.
Spokane Glacier on Mt. Cooper — a backcountry surprise. Photo: Gina Bégin
A Whiskey Jack pecks some seeds from my boyfriend’s outstretched hand near Mt. Cooper. Photo: Gina Bégin
There was the road that took me beyond Meadow Creek, along a road thick with trees on either side. With no peek into what lay ahead, I was carried forward by my imagination and an ever-present desire to see what was “just around the next bend”. But that imagination didn’t prepare me for what was coming: As I rounded into a clearing, a chunky pyramid of glacier — inverted on the flank of Mt. Cooper sprawled across my view. If it hadn’t been for the deep division between myself and that mountain, I could have walked over and touched the massive beast.
And, following suit with so many of my previous experiences on these West Kootenay backroads, no one else was there except me, my boyfriend, and the whiskey jacks that fluttered onto our outstretched hands.
The right place at the right time: A few minutes after coming around a bend in the Kootenay Lake East Forest Service Road, the sun had shifted and this backlit beauty disappeared. Photo: Gina Bégin
The backroads of this region are the single greatest source of discovery in my adopted home. These roads have provided access to trailheads that only I have set foot on within my circle of friends, given up-close views of grizzlies and their cubs, shown me sun-lit secrets when I happened to be at just the right place at the right time, and kept my spirit as wild as that teenage explorer who first set out on her own.
Words and photos by Gina Bégin.
Gina Bégin - Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. On a quest to reach the distant adventures of North America, she lived in her car, traveling to ski the backcountry of Alaska, sleep under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climb Colorado's frozen canyons, photograph Nova Scotia’s coves, backpack in southern US wildernesses and munch on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But after three years living on the road and seeing the many wonders this continent had to offer, she chose the place she knew would fit an explorer looking for a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains.