A Short History of Skookumchuck Hot Springs
As you sit back in one of the several ramshackle tubs that fill from the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, below you a mystifying process takes place. For every kilometre below you, the temperature rises an astonishing 30c. And under you there are a bewildering array of water channels snaking through this massively heated ground. Fissures and cracks in the rock below you. These pockets and channels of water are extremely hot, and if the geological circumstances are just right, as they are at Skookumchuck, they will be forced to the surface to become a surreal, natural phenomenon. A hot spring.
In British Columbia, hot springs appear quite predictably along fissures amongst the mountain ranges. Skookumchuck is of course in one of these fissures. An astonishing one at that.
Take a look at a map of BC. The Lillooet River cuts a remarkable swath through BC. It runs from Whistler, north, then east, then south, eventually ending in Vancouver. You could, as many have done, canoe from Whistler to Vancouver. And all the while follow the current. It’s quite incredible.
The Coast Mountain Range, in which engulfs you in Skookumchuck, is of course very geologically active. Geologically recent that is. Some mountains are old, some young. These ones are young. The Pacific Ring of Fire, which runs from New Zealand, through Indonesia, up along Asia through Japan, and across to Alaska, then down the coast of North America, through the notorious California, ending at the southern tip of South America. Where this Pacific Ring of Fire is, frightening geological activity is. And the Coast Mountain Range lies within this. It produces a ring of volcanoes that created, and creates some of BC highest mountains. The Coast Mountain Range is magnificent. And under it all, rumblings continue, both producing these wonderful hot springs and spectacular events such as the Meager Creek slide in 2010, which effectively closed the reigning, premier hot springs title of best hot springs near Whistler, now held by Skookumchuck.
In short, if you gouge deep into the Ring of Fire as the Lillooet River does, you create, really facilitate, an artesian to reach the surface. An artesian is simply where pressure far below pushes water up to the surface. Hot water. And this is the wonderful source of Skookumchuck Hot Springs. Really quite incredible. The Pacific Ring of Fire, which recently burst forth near Japan and Christchurch, New Zealand, found a shallow spot, a crack in the earth, in which to push hot water to the surface. More incredible still, this impossibly remote place in Canada was found thousands of years ago, and certainly cherished. Of course it was. Hot water flowing out of the ground. Wow.
The people that likely came across these springs first, are known today as the In-SHUCK-ch people. This is remarkable for several reasons. Let’s trade places for a few minutes. You sink back into this wonderful water of the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, and I’ll tell you a story.
These springs were taken into ownership in 1859 by a wealthy businessman from nowhere near here, William E. Stein after he applied for a pre-emption. This is a wonderfully spectacular phenomenon of mankind’s history. He saw it, wanted it, applied, and then owned it, legally. Take a moment to get your head around that. And after you shake your head it confusion, think of what the In-SHUCK-ch people thought of that. Anyone in fact. There was a time in our history where you could look at the ground, say, “ I want that”. Apply for it, and get it. A piece of the world, the ground, the trees, the hot springs. It’s yours. More accurately, William E. Stein’s. He owns the ground? The hot springs. It’s hard to fathom now, but imagine explaining it to an In-SHUCK-ch person back then.
This is obviously ridiculous. But common sense has somehow won in the end. Kind of. These hot springs should obviously be owned by no person or people. Of course common sense doesn’t prevail, even in the face of such obvious facts. Certainly this ownership by William E. Stein is ridiculous, but oddly it still holds. In fact it was still “owned” by his heirs, then sold on to other “owners” until 2007 when it was purchased by the Canadian Government. Finally, freed, though at quite an expense, to ownership by no one. But of course that’s not true. The childish, “me first” ownership mentality will eventually win out in the end. The Government of Canada bought Skookumchuck as a “Treaty Related Measure” for the In-SHUCK-ch treaty negotiations.
Though it’s true, at least in recorded history that people now known as the In-SHUCK-ch saw it first. It’s also, more so, a fact that the world of the In-SHUCK-ch people that first came across these wonderful hot springs, didn’t have a concept of ownership of the ground. You couldn’t own the ground, a tree, a river, a hot spring, any more than you could own the ocean. The ancestors of these people surely have been plunged into a world of petty land ownership quarrels, and they surely will enter into it with the same pettiness and fundamental absurdity as William E. Stein did. You almost can’t blame them.
But for my part, they are beautiful. The hot springs that is, next to the Lillooet River, that no one seems to own. Water bodies have escaped this absurd human creation of drawing lines on a map and claiming ownership. How do they own it? By having enough other people agree that they do. Does someone own Lillooet Lake? Someone must have spotted it first. Why not? Because enough of us agreed that water cannot be owned. We don’t collectively think this through to the ground under us. Not really. We accede to what is established in the past is true. It must be. If someone today said that they own a star that they just “discovered” through a telescope. Despite the ridiculous irrelevance of their statement, we would not even accept a possibility of their claim being true. It’s absurd. “I saw it first, it’s mine.” This ridiculous thinking, though far beneath us, is still with us. Our past, our present. If Bill Gates bought Greenland, as theoretically he may have enough money to do. Wouldn’t I have a say? You wouldn’t? Who did he pay, to “own” it? How did the people that sold it to him own it?
What if, like the original In-CHUCK-ch people, we don’t perceive that the world could be “owned” or any part of it. Then how can it be “owned”?
It can’t. It simply can’t. Because the world lives in a different set of rules now. An evolution of humanity. A person with 500 billion dollars is just a person to me. They can’t “buy” our world. They can’t “own” a part of it. So on principle, in defense of what is right, Skookumchuck cannot be owned, traded, or used as a bargaining tool to placate the descendants of the ones that saw it first. If Bill Gates wanted to buy Skookumchuck for 500 billion dollars. Some privileged people would take the money. But I would say. Sorry. You can’t buy what can’t be sold. If the original claim to ownership is that someone saw it first and talked about it in legend. Then another person saw it and petitioned to own it, was granted ownership. You will certainly agree from a body that didn’t own it. Then it was passed down the generations, sold and then resold to the Canadian government. The fact that any ownership at all is confidently proclaimed is astonishing. Really astonishing.
But there we are.
As I lay back in the wonderful, steamy heat of the Skookumchuck Hot Springs. In the midst of the mighty Coast Mountain Range, part of the unfathomable Pacific Ring of Fire. I stop caring. The place is deserted. I sink into the water. I don’t own this little bit of Skookumchuck right now. Whoever thinks they own it. Whoever will ever own it. Fight over the inevitable, inevitability of having to “own” everything. At this moment I’m here. I don’t own it. I don’t want to. I wouldn’t want to. Somehow I can see that owning this is wrong, immoral, pathetic. The Canadian Government got it partly right. They bought it back from ownership. Now it belongs to us all, or more accurately, no one. I just hope that this moment. Right now. Sinking into the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, surging from part of the Ring of Fire far below, can be had again and again. There is something about this place. Something I can own forever. This moment.
Skookumchuck Hot Springs is one of four accessible hot springs near Whistler, BC. Though it's a bit shabby and institutionalized, it has an unmistakable charm and beauty. It lies within a very beautiful campground, which runs along the crashing Lillooet River deep in the Canadian wilderness, 96.5 kilometres from Whistler Village.
More Hot Springs Around Whistler
Sloquet Hot Springs is a wonderfully wild set of shallow, man-made pools fed by a small, all natural, and very hot, waterfall. The pools stretch from the waterfall to the large and crashing Sloquet River. The large, spread out campsite for the hot springs lies a short 5 minute walk from the springs. You have to follow a dark and quickly descending trail toward the crashing river. As you near, you can smell the unusual, but kind of nice hot springs scent, and you see steam rising all around you, some steam rising, bizarrely, out of the grass clearing on the edge of the river. On your left a rising cliff, on your right the crashing river. The path narrows and steepens, leading to a large fallen tree which the trail seems to run to. So huge though as to not worry you walking the length of. Then, there it is. The massive fallen tree flanks it. Nestled between the tree and a cliff, in a large triangular area, with the river forming the third side are the Sloquet Hot Springs.
Meager Creek Hot Springs is located 93k northwest of , was beautifully developed into gorgeous pools, with a caretaker and usage charge. At its height of popularity, Meager Creek Hot Springs had 30,000 yearly visitors. Unfortunately, due to two recent avalanches it seems unlikely to ever officially reopen. After several years of being closed, access reopened on 2009 with a nice, expensive, new bridge. Only to be dramatically obliterated from another slide in 2010. The access bridge over the Upper Lillooet River which cost nearly a million dollars was wrecked in seconds in 2010. There was considerable wrangling and negotiating to get it built in in 2009, however nothing came of it. Now it will almost certainly never be rebuilt, the area is just far too active. For the foreseeable future Meager Creek Hot Springs will only be visited by the brave and determined via the new Harrison Hut Trail. This involves following the new Harrison Hut Trail for 6 kilometres then following an old logging road for 3.5k down to the springs.
Keyhole Hot Springs are in a beautiful setting with two small pools cemented into the rock, perched on the edge of Lillooet River. These are the most scenic, however there is a pretty amazing sandy area between the cliff and the river where hot spring water bubbles from the ground. There is a shovel here to dig yourself a beautiful pool and channel river water in as needed to moderate the temperature. There is also a small fire pit as well as several log seats. Keyhole Hot Springs are very popular which can be seen by the elaborate hot springs layout as well as the huge campground area in the deep forest. The main drawback to Keyhole Hot Springs is the very steep 20 minute hike from the parking area as well as the tenancy for the river to flood the pools with cold water when it rises in the summer.
Alexander Falls is a very impressive 43 metre/141foot waterfall just 30 minutes south of Whistler in the Callaghan Valley. Open year-round and located just before Whistler Olympic Park where several of the 2010 Olympic events were held. There is a nice viewing platform on the edge of the cliff across from the falls which crash fantastically into the valley below. The parking area and viewing platform at Alexander Falls is one big area just 40 metres from the main road (to Whistler Olympic Park). The adventurous can find the obscure trail that leads to both the top of the falls as well as, with great difficulty, to the base of the falls. For a unique and breathtaking spot to share a beer on the outskirts of Whistler, Alexander Falls surely ranks quite high. Of impressive waterfalls in the Whistler area, Alexander Falls is one of several spectacular ones. Others in the area include the amazing Brandywine Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Nairn Falls. Along very difficult hike to Wedgemount Lake you will see the incredible Wedgemount Falls. Down in Squamish, 45 minutes south of Whistler, you will find Shannon Falls.
Northair Mine is a surreal little world of colourful murals on abandoned cement foundations, surrounded by an astoundingly tranquil little lake in a secluded forest. Just a short logging road off of the Callaghan Valley Road takes you to this unusual little abandoned mine. You would have driven by the turnoff if you have been to Whistler Olympic Park, which is just a couple kilometres away. Northair Mine gets its name from the Vancouver based mining company Northair Group. The mine was in production from 1976 and extracted 5 tons of gold before being abandoned in 1982. Northair Mine is tricky to find and even when you near it, the turnoff is not obvious. However, once you find it, it is quite a sight. The area that encompasses Northair Mine is huge. About 2 kilometres long, edged by a cliff on one side and a beautiful lake on the other. A nice, smooth gravel road runs through the area, along the edge of the lake toward Whistler Olympic Park. Another gravel road runs through the massive cement foundations of what must have been quite a large building. Beautiful graffiti art covers some of the cement pilings and scattered remnants indicate that this skeleton of a building has been home to its share of gatherings since being abandoned.
The North Arm Farm in Pemberton, just a 40 minute drive north of Whistler is startlingly beautiful in a wonderfully charming and unexpected way. And even more unexpectedly... it's free. Free to wander through the fields of strikingly colourful and organized crops laying seemingly at the foot of the wildly spectacular Mount Currie. Along with the beautiful setting and views there is an area surrounded by animals. Chickens, pigs and geese crowd around you hoping for scraps from the farm shop. The Farm Shop and Cafe are fantastic as well. A surprising variety of bakery and lunch items crowd the counters. Along with shelves and bins of farm fresh produce. You suddenly realize that you just came through what could be called Pemberton Farm Experience. All for free, except of course for all the amazing food you are inevitably going buy before leaving. North Arm Farm stretches over 60 acres along the Lillooet River and boasts a wide array of organically grown produce. From asparagus in April, to beans, peas, corn, squash, carrots, beets and their celebrated pumpkins in October. They even have seasonal You Pick berries, flowers and pumpkins.