So you want to get away from it all. You crave the incomparable satisfaction of eye-popping mountain views won by sweat and muscle power. You’re eager to hoist a pack and go where wildflowers litter the slopes and mountain goats vastly outnumber humans. And you dream of a gourmet meal, a glass of wine, a shower, a wood-heated sauna and a good bed under a roof at the end of each delicious day. Welcome to hut-hiking. A couple from Kaslo, B.C., have expanded the service of their wildly popular high-mountain winter backcountry skiing destinations to accommodate hikers in summer and fall. Skiers are familiar with the fabled winter getaways to slash alpine powder from the Valhalla Lodge and the newer Carlyle Lodge. Now hikers can trek the same slopes and peaks through heather and wildflowers that are just emerging this week from the receding snow pack. The lodges in the Valhalla Range and the Selkirk Mountains near Slocan follow in the Canadian and European affinity for offering luxury in remote places. And the word is getting out — all over the world. In September, Robert Bolleurs of the Netherlands was one of the first trekking guests to visit the Carlyle Hut after learning about the new opportunity via the DiscoveryCanada Web site. He and his wife had temporarily split ways on their North American vacation. “She’s riding horses with a group near Banff, but I’d prefer to hike,” he said. He began his adventure by meeting mountain guide Leni Neumeier, 39, in Kaslo and letting her do the driving west and up a very rugged Jeep road beyond the historic mining town of Sandon. When the brush got too thick on the road, they donned backpacks and started hiking up a creek, snagging huckleberries here and there, until they merged into the only trail in
the area — a century-old miner’s pack route that zigzags up a talus slope through the Motherlode Basin to a pass. The stunning view south toward Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park was a reward in itself.
They sat, snacked, snapped photos and gaped at the sights before heading over the pass and down a slope of wildflowers and scattered mountain larch that were just edging toward the glowing gold of autumn.
Soon the Carlyle Hut appeared as though it were dropped out of nowhere. In a sense it was. All the materials were flown in by helicopter.
Mountain ski guide and hut pioneer Jeff Gfroerer, 44, was doing chores at the lodge when the two hikers arrived. Gfroerer and Neumeier live in the mountains virtually year-round, either guiding or working on the huts.
“Swinging a hammer surrounded with scenery like this can hardly be considered work,” said Neumeier, who grew up in Germany’s Bavarian Alps.
She’s been a mountain guide in North America since 1993. Her backcountry navigation skills and durability, not to mention the capacity to smile through worst-case mountain scenarios, pegged her as the lone female member of a Canadian Eco-Challenge adventure race team for the 2001 event in Fiji and on to Borneo in 2002.
Gfroerer is edging on legendary in these Canadian mountains after founding the Kootenai Mountain Holidays, starting with the Valhalla Hut in 1987 and continuing with the Carlyle Hut built in 2001.
Gfroerer became a ski instructor at the age of 16 in the Austrian Alps and has worked in the ski industry in numerous capacities, including avalanche forecasting and heli-guiding.
However, he’s best known, perhaps, for providing comfortable refuge in remarkably well designed eight-bed lodges that have withstood harsh alpine winters and enough annual snowfall to bury a castle.
The Mount Carlyle Lodge is perched on a small, sunny treeline plateau at the lofty elevation of 7,200 feet in a panorama of summits and distant glaciers.
Brilliantly clear, cold mountain water runs by gravity from a creek and through pipes to the kitchen and sauna.
Bolleurs relaxed after his two-hour hike into the Carlyle, sitting on the deck, enjoying a millionaire’s view and sipping a glass of wine.
“What else could one possibly want?” he said.
But while the evenings were relaxing, Bolleurs had come to leave his boot prints on every ridge and soak in every view in the area.
That’s the sort of high order on which Neumeier thrives.
From the lodge, he and Neumeier scrambled up nearby Mount Carlyle at 8,688 feet, Misty Mountain at 8,100 feet and Prospector Peak at 8,300 feet.
Each summit left him strangely hungry for more.
“You cannot climb a peak in these mountains and sit long enough to contemplate what’s around you,” he said from Prospector, scanning vistas that included Kokanee and Woodbury glaciers and the Devils Range to the south, Macbeth Icefields and Mount Loki in the Purcells, Mount Gladsheim and the Valhallas to the west.
Yet the mountains were full of little pleasures, too.
They hiked cross-country and came across a bear track, spotted deer and mountain goats, whistled back at pikas and flirted with whiskey jacks.
As the pair soaked in the view from one peak, they noticed the rocks were swarming with ladybugs, a protein-rich fall feast that often lures grizzlies out of the huckleberries and onto the talus slopes.
In the lodge, with the aid of solar-powerd lamps, Bolleurs had read stories about some of the area’s mining history, ranging from the euphoria of striking it rich to the humor of riding ore-loaded toboggans out of the mountains in the winter and to the horror of lonesome deaths far from any hope of rescue.
Neumeier later led her guest to a couple of decaying miners cabins and the Mountain Con Mine, the highest productive mine in the region at 7,000 feet.
“In the early 1900s, one of the summer recreational activities for the people down in Sandon was to ride horses up and poke around the bushes looking for the bones of miners who had been killed in avalanches the previous winter,” Neumeier said.
“For us, life is a lot easier even though we still respect the many moods of the mountains.”
The trailless open slopes above the Carlyle have something for everybody, from those with mountain goat in their lineage to people who might want to pay an additional charge and fly in by helicopter and simply stroll in the basin.
“We are kind of like the glacier lilies and mountain anemones that burst in to action up here even before the snow totally recedes,” Neumeier said.
The alpine hiking season starts as wildflowers erupt and bloom in July and it flames out with almost blinding color in October.
“Some people would never experience this without the refuge of our lodges,” Neumeir said, noting a range of prices and services averaging about $750 a person for four days. “We’re honored to be here and welcome them to the place we love.”