The interview: adventure guide Brian Cross on the lure of British Columbia’s peaks

A born-and-bred British Columbian, Brian shares his passion for the mountains he calls home — and tips on how best to tackle them.

Mountains throng the map in British Columbia, spearing skywards in an endless spread that invites hikers to spend time in nature and reset.

Photograph by Destination BC/Kari Medig
By Ben Lerwill for Destination British Columbia
Published 7 Sept 2021, 16:11 BST, Updated 13 Sept 2021, 16:06 BST

British Columbia has long been a headache for cartographers. Vast swathes of the 365,000sq-mile province are still blanketed in nature, and these eagle-flown, bear-roamed expanses tend to be anything but flat. It's this wilderness that beckons, driving hikers to explore craggy ridges and wooded valleys, with the help of a network of trails and facilities, in search of remoteness, vastness and majesty — and the clarity of mind these attributes provide.

Toward the Rockies in the east, the mountainous Kootenays region is a prime magnet for those in the know. Here, surrounded by steep slopes and sub-alpine glades — and a three-and-a-half-hour hike from the nearest road — you’ll find the Mount Carlyle Backcountry Lodge, owned and operated by the seemingly ageless Brian ‘Bomber’ Cross. We catch up with him to find out exactly what he loves about life in the Canadian west.

Brian Cross owns and operates the Mount Carlyle Backcountry Lodge in the mountainous West Kootenays region. Here, he's pictured in the Valhalla Ranges.

Photograph by Brian Cross

When did you fall in love with the mountains?
Well, I come from a big skiing family. For as long as I can remember, we’d pile into the station wagon every weekend and head up into the mountains. Back in the 1960s, a lot of the access roads were rugged dirt roads, and it was like an adventure every day. One summer, I got a job in the hills working with a prospector. It really left an impression on me. I couldn’t believe I was being paid to work in some of the places we went to. Just seeing the remoteness of it all, it was like a huge playground to explore — I ended up doing that for 25 years.

Sounds like the Kootenays still have a hold on you.
You bet. Out here I still feel like I can get away from everything, all the everyday distractions and stresses. As soon as I get on a hiking trail and breathe that cool, crisp morning air, all those other troubles that can weigh you down just disappear. You’re focusing on what surrounds you — the wildlife, the flowers, the mountains, the skies. It makes me feel so happy to be alive.

What advice would you give to those coming to hike BC's mountains?
Take time to smell the roses. I often see hikers in a rush because they feel they’ve got to get to a certain place at a certain time. To me, it’s not so much about the goal, it’s the journey along the way. Take your time, slow down, look around. You’re going to see a lot more than if you’ve got your head down just rushing from one place to the next.

Hikers at Gillim Lakes in Valhalla Provincial Park, a natural playground encompassing 49,893 hectares of raw wilderness.

Photograph by Destination BC/Kari Medig

Have you had many memorable wildlife encounters?
Definitely! Over the years, working and playing in the backcountry, I’ve run into numerous grizzly bears. Usually, they’ll take one look at you and head off, but being able to see them up close, their power and muscles and beautiful coats, it’s pretty impressive. One time, I was walking up a creek in a forest. I reached the top, and on the edge of the trees was a cougar in a clearing, sunning itself, having a nap. I stood there behind a tree, just watching it. That was special. But you know, if you’re walking quietly, you’ll see wildlife — martens, grizzled old marmots, mountain goats, golden eagles soaring above the passes. 

Is there a multi-day hike you’d recommend?
We have one from the lodge that we call the Sourdough Traverse. It’s a three-day ridge walk with incredible views of five different mountain ranges, and we have remote campsites set up along the way with food caches, so all you have to do is bring a sleeping bag and your personal gear. Each campsite is beside a little alpine lake. It’s glamping, Kootenays style!

According to Brian Cross, British Columbia's peaks, as well as mountain lakes like Emerald Lake, are places to explore, feel rejuvenated, get inspired and appreciate the value of nature.

Photograph by Destination BC/Dave Heath

And a day hike?
One that’s really iconic is the Emerald Lake Trail. It’s easily accessible, with lots of facilities. It’s kind of civilised, but it takes you into really beautiful country, and the lake itself is just spectacular. It’s nicely set up for people who aren’t that experienced.

Finally, what does British Columbia mean to you?
Everything. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. When I was younger, I travelled around to different countries, but I just feel comfortable here. I’m always seeing something new — the mountains are my happy spot. For me, they’re a place to explore, to feel rejuvenated, to get inspired and to appreciate the value of nature. We don’t have to cut it all down and dam it all up. It has a value.

Essentials
 

Getting there & around
Vancouver International Airport is the obvious arrival point from the UK, and Air Canada and British Airways fly direct to Vancouver from Heathrow. Prices start from around £467 return.

British Columbia was made for road trips. It's best to reserve car hires and any required BC Ferries sailings ahead of time, especially in summer. When heading out into the backcountry or remote places, ensure to prepare a trip plan in advance or hire a local guide. 

How to do it
Mount Carlyle Backcountry Lodge has been offering winter cross-country skiing and summer hiking experiences since 1987. Accommodation is booked by the week.

When to go
British Columbia is beautiful year-round. While it rains a lot in the valleys in winter, if you head up into the mountains, this means there will be snow on the peaks. To really make the most of the province's natural bounty, however, come in the late spring (if you're visiting sub-alpine areas) and summer (for alpine terrains) when the temperatures rise and more of BC's wilderness is accessible to visitors.

Nature has a lasting effect on us and experts say that the bigger the nature, the better. Take a moment and connect with British Columbia's great wilderness, even before you travel. Call the Wild at HelloBC.com

Call the wild

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