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2016-december-13-avalanche-country-copy

avalanche country

DECEMBER 13: THE FINAL LEG

My trip over the Kootenay Pass today is brilliant! The deep royal blueness of the sky is breathtaking and the sun glints off the white-capped mountains.

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Fernie

I’ve stopped for breakfast in Fernie, a popular Alpine town near the Lizard Range of the Rockies that is completely encircled by mountains, and the drive west from there along the Crowsnest Highway No. 3 is deliciously beautiful.

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Condensation rises off Elk River

Condensation rises off the frozen Elk River under the morning sun, whispering upwards in billows of white into the frosted blue landscape.

Highway 3, which I’ve picked up at Sparwood, goes all the way to the coast. I’ve travelled it many a time in all seasons. It’s a beautiful scenic route passing through some of the best parts of British Columbia and the shortest road to the sea. It’s also very windy.

My “change oil” light flickers on in Fernie, less than a week after my last oil change, but I’ll have put 5,000 kilometres on the car by the time I reach Nelson, driving day after day through all sorts of road conditions and in very cold weather.

Directly west of Fernie, there is no stopping due to avalanche risk. The mountains tower over the road on my right and a steep embankment runs down to the river on my left. Eventually, the embankment turns into a high cliff as the road climbs higher.

2016-december-13-kootenay-pass-bighorn-sheep-copyThe roads are compacted with hard ice and snow and slippery patches, but traffic is very light and I keep my speed down. Signs warn of ice, crosswinds, limited vision, leaping deer, and big-horn sheep – and I come across a herd of the latter on the road over the Kootenay Pass between Creston and Salmo. Between Elkford and Sparwood, I see a herd of elk and a fox.

I’m a bit worried about the road over the Kootenay Pass, because as I approach Creston at the bottom of the pass in the early afternoon, the sky turns grey and light snow begins to fall. The mountain peaks ahead of me are draped in fog and a highway sign advises the roads are snow compacted with slippery sections. By the time I reach the peak, however – at about 1800 metres elevation – the sky has turned a brilliant azure, inviting me to take a series of photographs.

The descent is slippery and I drive at 30 kph along with a small line of traffic. Once in Salmo, I have only an hour to go to my destination of Nelson.