THE VALHALLAS – An Overview by Kirk Shave
Step inside, friend. Welcome. My name is Dag, Odin’s charioteer. Odin, the king of Norse gods, has asked me to accompany you on an epic journey through Valhalla, his hall for slain heroes and heroine. Though Odin’s vast Hall boasts five hundred and forty doors, we need only visit a dozen to get a glimpse of the grandeur of Valhalla’s corridors and gardens. It is, after all, the daily testing of courage and stamina on the rugged walls and routes, as well as, the healing beauty of the alpine gardens and water courses which attracts the Norse souls to this, Odin’s Palace.
It is not all as it should be here in Valhalla though. The Scandinavian gods are served by a class of priest-chieftains called godar who are having a difficult time maintaining Valhalla. With more and more souls entering the Palace and its park-like gardens, the godar, or Park Rangers as they are commonly referred, have had to limit and contain some of the recreational celebrations. It rests on the shoulders of three of these Rangers to ensure the “Hall of the slain” doesn’t end up looking like a battlefield. Here in Valhalla the heroes fight during the day, but their wounds heal miraculously before night, when they banquet with Odin. Unfortunately, alpine heather, perennial broadleaves and cryptogamic soils in the Palace do not recover overnight. Some of Odin’s gardens contain heather plants that are well over three hundred years old. One short month of boot steps on their woody stocks has left the plants lifeless for over twenty-five years.
As we fly through this 49,600 hectare Class A Palace (Park), I’ll point out some of the efforts the Rangers have had to make to ensure Valhalla stays as intact as possible. Hang on to the chariot. Watch out for Thor’s hammer, he’s the god of Thunder. We’re on our way to the south wings of the Palace. Because Odin created Valhalla with five hundred and forty doors, through each of which eight hundred heroes could walk abreast, a possible four hundred and thirty-two thousand slain hero/heroine could enter his great Hall. He later realized a horde that size could destroy the majesty and splendour of the fragile gardens herein. Therefore, in 1989 he wrote a Master Plan which targeted only fifteen thousand visitor soul days by 1996.
Unfortunately, the Master Plan projections have already been surpassed and the boot steps are taking their toll. Up the Drinnon/Gwillim corridor, an average of twenty alpine heroes camped each day through August 1994. To minimize the impacts that tents have on the delicate vegetation, tent pads were installed at Drinnon, Wicca (Drinnon Pass) and Gwillim Lakes. In addition, you can see metal wands have been placed to focus footsteps through Wicca Lake campground and up to Lucifer and Gwillim cols. Look down there, you can see fresh gravel on the Gwillim Lakes trail network. The Rangers capped the compacted soil paths in the campground last year. To curb the spreading vegetation loss around the tent pads in both alpine campgrounds, common cooking, food storage and cleaning centres were installed. The hope is to move random banqueting to specific “sacrifice areas” on order to minimize vegetation loss in Odin’s gardens. In 1995, a volunteer tent pad occupancy system will be initiated to disperse overcrowding from Gwillim to Wicca. Odin says that if more and more souls continue to be attracted to this part of Valhalla an overnight permit system may be initiated for the Drinnon/Gwillim corridor.
Let’s fly up to Drinnon Peak. If you look down to Valhalla Lake, you can see a cairned route that takes the more adventurous and courageous behind Mount Presley, along Presley Lakes and up to Asgaard (realm of all the Norse gods). The rock cairns have been attracting some ill equipped warriors, and heroes lacking the mountaineering experience necessary to handle the three pass traverse to Mulvey Basin. The Valkyries (Odin’s attendant warrior maidens) have intervened and requested the removal of all cairned traverse routes in Valhalla. Mountaineering routes are for those experienced and equipped to choose them. The rock piles will be pulled down in 1995 by Odin’s Rangers.
Onward. I want you to see a very powerful yet fragile spot. There is even a peak named after me – Mount Dag! It’s an outstanding hall ringed with such polished gneiss Norse peaks as Gladsheim (the glittering home), Gimli (the abode of New Iceland), Midgaard (planet earth) and of course, Asgaard. This spot, named Mulvey Basin, is drawing more than the veterans. An average of fifteen to twenty visited here daily through July and August last season. Many hero/heroine tested their skill and stamina on the walls while the majority were satisfied with the scenery outside the Basin.
This year, the godar constructed access half way up the dry, grizzly habitat-free, south ridge below Gimli – Odin’s preferred route. Entrance into the pristine lake and meadowed Basin is through the Gimil/Niselheim (Norse fog home) col. Again, the Valkryies are tired of rescuing fallen heroes, and only those with experience and equipment to ensure personal safety should enter the Basin.
In 1995, Odin’s servants will be surveying a variety of alpine warriors (including K.M.C. members) to determine how many go where, and do what in this area of Valhalla. Information will also be gathered and analyzed regarding preferences to the development in or out of the Basin and what social, recreational and environmental limits should be initiated to ensure its natural integrity.
It pains me to leave the majesty of Mulvey so quickly, but we have a lot of Odin’s palatial Hall to see. Salute Helgi Three-Born over there clinging to the Wolves Ears, and we’re off to Beatrice. This verdant corridor, being the third most popular, attracts between twelve to fifteen souls a day. As we soar up the valley, notice the tent pads, food cache and toilets at Emerald, Cahill and Beatrice Lakes. The developed campgrounds were placed over old vegetative battle scars and seem to be containing current recreational damage in these forested sites. Though the majority of visiting warrior souls come to wrestle fish – there is a growing number who test their route finding skills by traversing from Beatrice Lake to Evans Lake.
Let’s go look at the cabin where some say Sigurd the Dragon-slayer dwells below the Devil’s Couch. Behold! What’s the flash of silver flying in from the west end of Evans Lake? This is the only area that Odin allows flights into his Palace from the outside. Throughout the rest of Valhalla only the Valkyrie warrioresses delivering a recently fallen Norse hero’s soul, me in my chariot or the godar in one of those giant dragonflies have air travel fights. There have been reports recently though of Loki (Norse trickster god) sending illegal flights into Beatrice and Wee Sandy Lakes. Did you know he was banished from Valhalla centuries ago by Odin? Some say he still seeks revenge from his abode in the West Purcells. Odin has requested that if any of you warriors spot a silver winged craft, outside of Evans Lake, to pass its number on to the godar (Park Rangers). Lokis’s efforts must be arrested. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to share some mead with Sigurd the Dragon-slayer and his brother, Balder the Fish-bonker down at Evans Cabin. Let me tell you, as we fly north, that the cabin is in need of repair. The roof needs replacing and Odin’s coffers are low, and there are many costly priorities within his realm. He is requesting donations of time and materials from supportive souls like yourself in order to thwart collapse. If you can help, let one of Odin’s Rangers know.
There they are, the towering Nemo Battlements. In just the last year or two, they have been attracting an increasing number of wall climbers. In 1995, the godar will be investigating preferred ascent and descent routes, bivy sites and possible impacts to the moss covered valley bottom. The influx of warriors who would rather climb than fight (the number of day hikers) will have an effect on this delicate corridor. Currently the beach, waterfalls and rock castles are attracting an average of three tents a night and as many as four to ten day hikers. Odin would like all adventurous warrior spirits to know that upper Nemo (above the cabin) is reserved for grizzly, and route finding up to Nemo Lakes is not recommended.
As I steer the chariot towards Iron Peak, look back over your shoulder to catch Hela Peak (goddess of the underworld). It’s into her cheerless underground world (Hel) that cowardly warriors are received. Listen! It must be Thor’s hammer ringing off of Iron Peak. Yonder, there is a flash of what you mortals call lightning. I have to be honest with you though, it’s not just Thor and his foundry man, Harald Wartooth, that have kept the godar from maintaining access to Iron Peak and New Denver Glacier. With so few of Odin’s godar to look after the increasing use in Valhalla, the Sharp Creek corridor has been forsaken for the last few years. This coming season, however, Odin has asked them to clear fallen debris and explore a route from Iron Peak to the Iron Creek (Holt) Cabin on to the Wee Sandy access.
Let’s go have a look at Valhalla’s northern most chamber. This beautiful thirteen kilometre hallway has and will continue to receive improvements by the Rangers. The access to Wee Sandy Lake is complete, though still recommended for the more adventurous hero/heroine. The first crossing over Wee Sandy will be replaced, the rerouted slide path sections below the cabin will be improved, bisected wet areas through grizzly habitat will be rerouted and a toilet will be installed at the cabin/campground at Iron Creek in 1995. Odin has decreed that the two rough camping areas on Wee Sandy Lake will not be improved or linked until increased recreational use warrants it.
He has, however, received a growing number of requests for information on the challenging north/south traverse through Valhalla linking Wee Sandy to Drinnon/Gwillim. The godar have been finding an increasing amount of environmental degradation to this outstanding four to five day route. Fire scars and litter are accumulating at Nemo, Avis, Demers, Hird and Rocky Lakes. The lesser gods Urs and Bor who reside along this wing of the Palace have vowed to report any unethical backcountry activities to Hela, where upon she has Odin’s permission to banish their souls to the underworld.
It’s time to return, my friend. Let us venture back via the pristine thirty kilometres of lake front -Valhalla’s moat. Keep your eyes open for ghost Viking ships. Last August over seven hundred and sixty-two boats were seen playing off the beaches. Odin has nine campgrounds here for his water warriors, each with toilet, food cache and some tent pads. Odin’s Rangers have been complaining about two issues. First, there are more campfires than they are able to supply with firewood. Some of the godar feel that those souls who overindulge in campfires or who hack Odin’s sacred tree spirits for fuel should be condemned to exile in Muspellsheim (the realm of heat). Odin may have to intervene with an order that fires only be permitted fed with driftwood alone.
The other problem on the moat is the introduction of jet-powered personal watercraft (no oars – nor sails). Warriors commandeering those boats will be asked to keep them outside of Valhalla’s one hundred meter boundary with the exception of beach landing. The godar will be enforcing this decree.
Our final stop is Pebble Beach. Odin’s godar will be improving the alternate trail around the new owners’ Tipi Camp and improving the part of the beach within Odin’s realm. Let’s have a swim while my winged steeds rest. Tell me, have you ever swam in anything so sublime? There are a variety of opinions regarding which aspect of Valhalla provides conquest weary bodies with their necessary healing. I believe it’s the lake water; some of the goddesses say Odin’s secret is in the blend of subtle scents emitted from the flower meadows. The Valkryies swear it comes from the blended shades in an alpine sunset, while the godar hear it in the waterfalls. Odin trusts you have found your own specific connection to Valhalla and, as an ambassador, will share it with other mortals. He trusts that in doing so, you will encourage them to see that it is more than a place “to die for” -it’s a Palace to care for. May Ular (god of winter) smile upon you.
MAJOR THREATS to WILDERNESS in VALHALLA PARK by Anne Sherrod
Those who have hiked in Valhalla Park know that people in this area have a little piece of heaven on earth in their own backyards. Just how little it is turns out to be a key factor in how long the “heaven” part of it will survive. Compared to other wilderness parks in BC, Valhalla is tiny.
Soaring use figures indicate that a horde of recreationists, far beyond anything we’ve had yet, is scheduled to descend upon this tiny park in the years ahead. Huge numbers of visitors is one of the largest threats to wilderness values in Valhalla Park.
In spite of the clear proof that Valhalla Park serves a genuine need of thousands of people, and despite the new tourism businesses it has spawned, anti-park factions have never stopped resenting its preservation. The forest industry believes it should be able to log wherever there’s forest. The mining industry thinks its prospectors have the inalienable fight to prospect and mine anywhere they choose. Motorized recreationists feel the same way – they should be able to use their vehicles anywhere they want. To these groups, our park system is a veritable police state depriving them of their God-given rights. Never mind the rights of the thousands of people who come to Valhalla to enjoy the wholeness of nature.
But are park users free of this human malady that wants to pursue one’s pleasure, comfort and profit without regard to the consequences on others or on the land itself? The coming years in Valhalla Park will test whether that is so. The small size of the park and the large number of people who want to use it asks us to accept restraints. It is sad but true that some people going to the wilderness have the same frontier attitude as many of their adversaries: a view that a wilderness park gives them the right to walk and camp wherever they want, and to do whatever they want to do, regardless of the impact on the land; a view that their thing should be upheld as a right regardless of how it deducts from the experience of others. This is one thing in a wilderness area where few people travel, but it is quite another in a small park like Valhalla, where the damage done by one traveller is multiplied by the thousands every year.
Sooner or later, the situation requires BC Parks to take protective action. At Drinnon Pass and Gwillim Lakes there are now tent pads, gravelled paths, outhouses, central cooking areas and, at Wicca Lake, a structure to house volunteers to patrol the campgrounds – all a significant deterioration of wilderness values. But who is to blame for this? Can we blame the Parks Branch for wanting to clean up a situation in which there was human waste under every rock, 500-year-old heather getting destroyed, soil compacted and paths braided? If we want to minimize the protective measures needed, then park users have to act to limit the damage themselves.
Imagine a future in which local park users work together with the Parks Branch to maintain wilderness values in the Park. The author believes such a thing can happen. In the summer of 1994, the Valhalla Society invited a group of people who were knowledgeable about the backcountry in Valhalla Park to offer their personal views about management directions. In addition to Valhalla Society directors, there were two people present from the Kootenay Mountaineering Club, two from the Wilderness Sector of the Slocan Valley CORE Table, and a teacher of wilderness management courses at Selkirk College. Kirk Shave, the Parks Branch manager for the park, was there to inform us of management problems the Parks Branch is encountering, and the solutions they are undertaking, and to listen to our opinions. The feeling was unanimous that a very conservative approach to management must be taken in the future, since more development brings more people. We discussed the fine line that must be drawn between too much trail development- which will quickly erase the wilderness beyond-the-trail in Valhalla Park- and too little trail development, which can lead to damage to fragile ecosystems where a significant number of people are hiking anyway, with or without a trail. Developments such as huts and lodges were seen to be out of the question.
One of the largest encroaching threats to the backcountry wilderness experience in the park is motorized recreation. Yes – motorized recreation currently allowed by the Park Branch and slated to undergo a rapid acceleration in the near future! I am referring to air access. The funny thing about air access is that neither the people using it, nor the parks Branch that allows it, think of it as a motorized recreation. But to people toiling up the trail with sweat running down their brow, when their nerves and sense of wilderness are shattered by the sound of a helicopter or float plane, that is very definitely motorized recreation. We hear reports from people who are outraged against the Parks Branch, because they had such an experience when they were in the backcountry. Over the years, we’ve heard of a float plane party bringing in a generator and running off backpackers with the incessant loud noise. More recently, we’ve heard of two helicopters and one float plane landing in one location. There are stories of huge heaps of garbage being left behind in some cases. Aircraft users can, on a whim, put backcountry travellers to considerable risk and inconvenience, as there are many of us who would spare no effort to avoid them when caught in backcountry situations. We’re faced with a Parks Branch that, while troubling itself over every piece of heather the hikers step on, doesn’t care that hikers who have sensitive lines of contact with the wilderness can have their experience shattered by aircraft. We’re faced with a permit system to limit people coming into the backcountry, while air access makes even the most remote areas easily accessible to large parties of people. We concede the necessity to do without trails into wonderful wilderness places, which for many of us means not going there for the rest of our lives, only to see that other people, with less feeling for the wilderness, are allowed to fly there in comfort.
The Parks Branch gets good marks for managing the tangible values in Valhalla Park – a good trail bed, healthy vegetation, sanitary facilities – but the bureaucrats who allow air access remain insensitive and virtually ignorant of the intangible values that compose the wilderness experience of the vast majority of their clientele. Silence, filled only by the sounds of nature, is a critical part of that experience. So is the sense of being in remote places that are accessible only by physical effort. Some mountain climbers use air access to get to backcountry climbing destinations, just as fishermen use float plane access to get to Evans Lake, and this was going on before the Park was created.
But soon climbers who traditionally used aircraft simply as a means of access will have to reckon with people who go heli-sightseeing. Across BC, a growing number of mountaineers are finding themselves among the outraged – because helicopters with their sightseeing passengers buzz them when they’re on rock faces where their lives are at stake. Some harried climbers are trying to figure out ways that they can continue to use aircraft to access climbing sites within parks, but keep other people from using them. In the end, there is no way to escape the fact that if some people must give up air access for recreation in parks, all must do so. The plain fact is that air access is not sustainable in tiny Valhalla Park without seriously compromising wilderness values – the very thing the Park was created to protect. Air access should be maintained for emergency rescue purposes and, where absolutely necessary, for park maintenance. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of mountain peaks, mountain lakes and meadows in BC outside of parks that are accessible by air access and only in that way.
There is more evidence to ring the alarm bells for Valhalla Park than could properly be presented in one article. First, let’s look at what has happened in Europe, because it provides a model by which we can measure where we are with the Park. According to the International Commission for Protection of the Alps (CIPRA), the growth in air tourism followed the same course all over Europe. Huge profits raked in by one helicopter company drew competitors, and helicopters multiplied. Soon there was an overcapacity in the business and prices came down to where they were affordable to middle income people, and the number of users increased significantly. With lowered prices, companies were unable to meet high overhead expenses. One way to make additional money was to train new pilots for a high fee. The consequences were not only additional helicopter use, but dozens of unemployed pilots, who then sought to form their own companies and to teach others. Although noise impacts on communities and hikers became intolerable, the wilderness character of the land was destroyed, and wildlife was terrorized, by now the industry had political clout, and used pressures and arguments similar to those used by logging companies in BC to resist restraints. Nothing could be done because “jobs would be lost”. Profits were used for marketing campaigns that created ever greater demand. Efforts made to restrict where the machines could land were useless because pilots simply broke the laws and enforcement was difficult. The fines for breaking the law were too trivial to have an effect. When the impacts became truly unbearable, public and legislative efforts and vast amounts of taxpayer dollars were consumed to solve the conflicts. Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, Germany, and Liechtenstein have all taken measures to ban these flights to one degree or another.
So where are we in all this? There is explosive growth in air tourism in BC. People from Germany who come to the Slocan Valley tell us Germans are coming here in considerable numbers for air recreation because they are not allowed to do it in their own country. Some years ago, BC Parks had a list of parks it wanted to close to air access, but the BC Aviation Council objected, on the grounds that there had been no public input. A high levelled park manager interviewed by the author acknowledged that some parks were subsequently removed from the list, though I was not able to obtain it. Hugely inflated claims for the joys of air access are being made in advertisements. People who fly from mountain peak to mountain peak are being flattered to believe they are mountain climbers.
And last, but not least, last summer a local air tourism company began advertising sightseeing tours over the Valhallas for only $29.95 per person per half hour. Training sessions for new pilots are being advertised. Climbers, tighten your helmets. Backpackers may want to carry tranquilizers. The flight corridors designated in Valhalla Park by the 1987 Master Plan, and the permit system, are a joke. There are a growing number of observations of aircraft flying outside these corridors and landing in places where they are not allowed, or in designated places without permits. Aircraft noise does not stay on the lines of the air corridors shown on the map; it travels for miles, resounding up and down the steep-walled valleys of the Park. It also disturbs the local communities. This summer, four float planes flew abreast down Slocan Lake with an ear-splitting noise; it was only a harbinger of things to come.
Valhalla Park will quickly become a liability to local communities if air tourism continues to grow. The designated aircraft landing sites in the Park are all in the places that should be the inner sanctum of climbers, backpackers and wildlife. This includes Avis and Demers Lakes, though these areas are becoming a very popular linear trek with hikers. More and more people are hiking from Beatrice Lake to Evans Lake, or using the Devil’s Range traverse to get to Evans. This should be a pristine wilderness experience – the best of what the Park has to offer.
Parks managers may tell themselves that a real wilderness experience can be squeezed in between areas on the perimeter like Drinnon and Gwillim Lakes, where large crowds are degrading wilderness values, and areas in the core – where aircraft are degrading wilderness values. But the real truth is that in tiny Valhalla Park, there is no in between. And that’s why some wilderness lovers I know are starting to say their goodbyes to the Park now. It would be tragic to let events take a course that will continue to turn people away. Some of it, we can’t help; but some of it we can help. When it comes to air access, wc can make our own wilderness by walking to it, or we can unmake it by flying, and opening the door for every sightseer any helicopter company can snag.
It’s time to see that a park is a bill of rights and responsibilities. Our rights include a high degree of naturalness, our responsibilities include the personal forebearances needed to keep it that way. Local people must be the leaders in this shift. Our meeting in New Denver last summer indicated that there may be a large degree of consensus among local park users on some of these issues. Among our small group, there was unanimous agreement that air access was a large future threat to the Park and should be banned.
Many other issues need our consideration. The Valhalla Society is hoping to work towards building a definitive common ground among local park users in the coming year, and we hope the reader of the Karabiner will join us. We also hope that climbers will think deeply about these issues and decide not to use air access inside parks in the future