Only the daring try Meager Creek volcanic hot springs

August 10, 2010


2010 UPDATE: On August 6, 2010, a massive avalanche on Capricorn Creek, the second-largest such natural event in Canadian history, swept down into Meager Creek and pushed its way along into a portion of  the Lillooet River.

Road access into the hot springs, the Lillooet River campground, and Upper Lillooet Provincial Park, is now completely cut off and seems  likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

A selection of photos of the devestation around Mt Meager and Meager Creek is posted at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dbsteers/with/4869549959/ To read the photographer’s account, visit  thetyee.ca/News/2010/08/12/MeagerLandslide/

Note: The Lillooet River Forest Road is closed at kilometre 9.

Pemberton’s  Slow Food Cycle on Sunday, August 15, is scheduled to go ahead as planned. Visit for www.slowfoodcyclesunday.com for details.

2009 ALERT: During heavy rains on Sept 18 + 19, 2009, a mud-and-debris slide washed out the Capricorn Creek Bridge and covered the Meager Creek/Lillooet Forest Service Road three kilometres downstream from Meager Creek Hot Springs. The mud is waist deep in some areas and some of the large boulders that came down with the slide could shift due to slope instability. The Sea to Sky Recreation District says the bridge will liely be replaced in spring, 2010

2008

When you’re looking for a little sanctuary, a wilderness hot spring does it every time. And there’s nothing like bathing in the most geologically active corner of Canada to up the adventure ante.

Such is the case at Meager Creek, where raincoast weather often adds even more frisson to the hot springs north of Pemberton. In October 2003, heavy rains triggered massive flooding in the Pemberton Valley. Fed by swollen tributaries such as Meager Creek, the Lillooet River, which charts a crooked course through the heart of the valley, jumped its banks. From the air, the scene looked more like the Gulf Islands than prime agricultural land.

The force of rapidly flowing water overwhelmed a 70-metre-long wooden bridge that spanned Meager Creek, cutting off road access to the hot springs located a short distance upstream on the west side of the creek. Thanks to an injection of $900,000 from the Provincial Emergency Program, which covers damage to high-value recreation sites such as the hot springs, a new steel-and-concrete structure was eventually installed. On August 1, the Meager Creek hot springs officially reopened, to the acclaim of local residents and Pemberton tourism officials alike.

In early September, I visited the springs to assess changes in the frequently volatile region. The bridge washout was only the most recent in a long history of cataclysmic events there that stretches back to 400 BC, the date of Mount Meager’s most recent volcanic eruption. That earth-shattering episode spewed ash as far as the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. An inventory of similar incidents includes an avalanche on Mount Meager’s companion, Pylon Peak, that covered a glacier over which Pylon Creek continues to bubble. Nearby stands the jagged remnant of another volcano, Devastator Peak. In 1975, a substantial rockslide on Devastator buried a party of geologists and partly blocked the flow of Meager Creek. The creek’s waters backed up, creating a small lake that took several years to drain. Geologists predict that a resumption of volcanic activity is likely to occur within the next several centuries. With these events in mind, sobering roadside markers were just installed along the Meager Creek Forestry Road. They direct travelers to refuge areas in case of emergency.

The sweeping grandeur of the peaks is enough to momentarily take a visitor’s mind off the prospect of suddenly finding oneself in the midst of chaos. The upside of all this geothermal activity is the presence of B.C.’s hottest and most voluminous hot springs, which percolate on an open terrace above Meager Creek’s silt-grey waters.

“Creek” doesn’t do justice to Meager. Even at its lowest annual level, this is not a stream to be trifled with. Still, as you soak beside it in a near-scalding thermal pool with the wild sounds of cascading white water in your ears, there’s no more relaxing place to be. Just ask Dave Edgington, chief administrative officer of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. On the telephone from his office in Pemberton, Edgington said that having bathed in the springs himself, he believes there is no finer restorative, holistic experience to be found within the SLRD’s purview. He was quick to credit not only financing from PEP for the restoration but also the Ministry of Forests crews who rebuilt the bridge, as well as funds from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts that paid for a complete cleanup of the pools, change house, and pathways at the recreation site.

Although the hot springs are situated on provincial land, the site and nearby campground are managed by the local Lil’wat Nation, with the Lil’wat Business Corporation’s Creekside Resources in partnership with the Tourism Ministry. When contacted by telephone at his office in Mount Currie, the corporation’s general manager, Larry Miller, said that work crews spent months rehabbing the site prior to its reopening. “We cleared blow-downs and installed picnic tables as well as put in culverts and ditches to prevent Hot Springs Creek from undermining the access trail.”

Creekside Resources, which manages a network of recreation sites within Lil’wat traditional territory, has no elaborate plans to develop the hot springs beyond their current “rustic” status, but Miller hopes that a series of interpretive signs will be installed next year to explain the site’s geological and cultural history. “The Lil’wat have millennia of legends about the use of the springs, from poaching fish in the hot water to revering the springs for their natural healing qualities. We look after the place to demonstrate our ownership.”

Over the decades since a road to Meager Creek was built by B.C. Hydro in pursuit of geothermal-power production, the springs have been a magnet for both families and party animals. To preserve the peace and ensure that yahoos and dogs are kept away from the springs, a Creekside Resources caretaker monitors activity, including weather conditions, at the site. With good reason, “if in doubt, bail out” is the operative motto there.

Access: The Meager Creek hot springs lie 205 kilometres north of Vancouver via 52 kilometres of paved and gravel roads from Pemberton. Opening hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A day-use fee of $5 is collected at the springs from those 12 or older; a night at the pleasant campground on the Lillooet River Forestry Road is $10 per site. The hot springs officially close for the season on October 31. From then until snowfall shuts the Lillooet River Road, access to the springs is on foot or by bike from the gated entrance to the Meager Creek road, seven kilometres west.

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Text CR Jack Christie

Photo CR Louise Christie

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It’s getting easier to camp in B.C.’s provincial parks

August 10, 2010

BCprovincialparks

One of the rewards of staying at the 'Ksan Campground in Hazelton is touring the adjacent historical village and museum.

Summertime, and the camping is easy—and it’s getting easier by the day.

In recognition of an aging homegrown population coupled with an increasing number of newly minted Canadians with no outdoor experience, this year B.C. Parks is bent on attracting more visitors to two Lower Mainland provincial campgrounds. Specifically on offer are sheltering roofs and soft beds.

In April, Sea to Sky Park Services, a Vancouver-based company contracted by B.C. Parks to administer 18 provincial campgrounds such as Alice Lake in Squamish, announced that two log cabins featured during the 2010 Winter Games had been relocated to Porteau Cove Provincial Park north of Horseshoe Bay.

When reached at his office in Mount Seymour Provincial Park in North Vancouver, where his family has run snow-sports facilities since the 1990s, general manager Eddie Wood said that the Olympic cabins are a great way to introduce people to the outdoors and to provincial parks. “There are three things I like about the new Porteau Cove options: the proximity to Vancouver and Squamish; the ocean at your doorstep; plus, cabins give us an opportunity to attract more people to the park, a demographic who don’t have camping gear or families with ageing parents who still want to come together in the outdoors.”

Wood pointed out that the cottages, which are already heavily booked, come fully equipped “with all the amenities of home”.

Rates for the winterized cabins, which have a maximum occupancy of four, run well above the $30 cost of a vehicle-access campsite at Porteau Cove: $219 per night during summer months and $139 in the off-season.

In May, Wood announced a similar initiative at Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park, where this summer a nine-metre, four-person RV trailer rents for $125 per night, linen not included.

In 2007, then–B.C. minister of parks Stan Hagen called for expanded choice of accommodation in a number of popular campgrounds.

Until this year, aside from a call for tenders, there was little evidence of what the government had in mind.

“We don’t want to take away from existing campsites,” Wood said, “especially as use over the past two years really picked up when fuel prices skyrocketed. We’re working with B.C. Parks to identify new areas of the parks for future sites or bringing in RVs at low season, such as May-June at Cultus Lake.”

Overall, Wood said, although camping got off to a slow start this spring, weekends were the exception.

“Victoria Day was the strongest we’ve ever seen. Due to the weather, there had been a real downturn in day visits, but on Thursday [July 8] we had to close the gate at Alice Lake by early afternoon because of the volume. For that to happen midweek is almost unheard-of.”

For reservations at Porteau Cove or Chilliwack Lake provincial parks, visit discovercamping.ca/.

Cabins and RV camping are one thing; overnighting in historic residences and locales offers an elevated experience infused with the spirit of the past.

Such is the case at Fort St. James National Historic Site in B.C.’s Interior, where Parks Canada has just announced that for the first time visitors can spend a night in the fort’s restored 1880s log home this summer.

Bring your jammies and the staff does the rest. Cost: $100 per person per night, dinner and breakfast included.

For Fort St. James National Historic Site, call 250-996-7191, ext 25.

The incomparable reward of camping is the chance to share the outdoors with the sounds of birdcalls and rushing rivers as a full moon rises above a snowcapped peak.

Such is the nature of another Interior site, the ’Ksan Campground in Hazelton, where Gitksan First Nations have lodged for millenniums.

Beneath the weathered face of Mount Rocher DeBoule, or Stii Kyo Din, once stood an ancient city-state, Tam Lax Aamid, where several tribes lived harmoniously beside the Skeena River.

A catastrophic series of events, including the massacre of warriors by supernatural one-horned goats, led to the abandonment of what may have been one of North America’s largest pre-contact societies.

’Ksan offers far more than a picture-perfect campground.

The past blurs with the present at the adjacent historical village made up of five longhouses.

Executive director Laurel Smith-Wilson explained that when opened in 1960, ’Ksan became the first aboriginal museum in Canada. “Our original structure, the Fireweed House, was moved here from historic downtown Hazelton. Despite ceremonies being outlawed for a time in the 20th century, our regalia and customs remain intact.”

Take a look for yourself.

An abundance of food allowed the Gitksan, or People of the River of Mists, to camp here year-round.

At the very least, treat yourself to a night too.

Camping details at ’Ksan are posted at www.gitanmaax.com/businesses/ksan-campground/.

Unfortunately, travellers these days aren’t scrambling for space at ’Ksan—or elsewhere around the province, for that matter—which means bad news for Joss Penny, chairperson of the Camping and RVing B.C. Coalition.

Established in 2008 to promote rural, nature-based tourism, the nine-member group represents more than 1,100 public and private campgrounds. “In a recession, tourism is the first to feel the pinch,” Penny told me. “It’s tough out there right now.”

For maps and information on campgrounds throughout B.C., visit Camping and RVing B.C. Coalition’s Web site.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie