Martin Johnston braves snow and ice to get stuck into a hot soak
Wilderness or undeveloped hot springs, like those at Hot Water Beach and near Lake Sumner in North Canterbury, are a treat for travellers and weary trampers.
But getting to soak in them can often involve a struggle of some sort, with water temperature, sandflies — and now ice.
My first experience of ice at hot springs came in the depths of winter during a road trip in Canada, on the Powder Highway of southeastern British Columbia.
About halfway between the alpine resorts of Kimberley and Panorama on Highway 93/95, we turned east on to Whiteswan Lake Forestry Rd, where, after about 17km on the gravel logging road (give way to trucks) we arrived at the Lussier Hot Springs.
The springs are in Whiteswan Provincial Park, which also contains two mountain lakes.
The British Columbia parks service says of Whiteswan: "Visitors may watch a moose
feeding in the fog-shrouded water of Alces Lake, admire spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains and enjoy angling in some of the most productive lakes in the region for trophy rainbow trout. After a day in the backcountry or on the lake, relax in the soothing waters of Lussier Hot Springs located near the park entrance".
It was a cloudless, windless morning when we arrived at Lussier and in the shady, forested valley the air temperature was -19C. The chill was quickly eating through my dense layers of insulation, so a hot soak held irresistible allure, but the transitions from cold air to hot water and back again — what a challenge.
There is a nice flight of steps leading about 50m from the carpark and changing shelter down to the springs, which comprise two gravel-floor pools surrounded by large rocks on the bank of a partially iced-up stream.
The steps, however, were plastered with compacted, iced-up snow and, for safety's sake, an ice-axe and crampons would have been handy.
I'd have been lost without the handrail, which, at one distracted moment, I found myself hanging from, feet flailing skywards.
Having survived the steps, I stripped down to my togs, carefully preparing my clothes for rapid re-entry, and slipped into the hotter of the two pools, instantly relaxing into its steamy embrace.
After soaking for 20 minutes and wrinkling up my toes and fingers, I felt warmly brave enough for a momentary dip in the cooler pool before dashing back for a top-up of hot; I couldn't bring myself to test out the icy stream.
The only flaw in my re-dressing plan was that I left my wet togs on a rock, to which they promptly froze.
HOT SPRINGS HOLIDAY
There are eight hot springs accessible for the public in the Kootenay Rockies region in southeastern British Columbia. Five are resorts. Three, including Lussier, are undeveloped.
For details and a map, see kootenayrockies.com.