When you're looking for a little sanctuary, a wilderness hot spring does it every time. And there's nothing like bathing in the most geologically active corner of Canada to up the adventure ante.
Such is the case at Meager Creek, where raincoast weather often adds even more frisson to the hot springs north of Pemberton. In October 2003, heavy rains triggered massive flooding in the Pemberton Valley. Fed by swollen tributaries such as Meager Creek, the Lillooet River, which charts a crooked course through the heart of the valley, jumped its banks. From the air, the scene looked more like the Gulf Islands than prime agricultural land.
The force of rapidly flowing water overwhelmed a 70-metre-long wooden bridge that spanned Meager Creek, cutting off road access to the hot springs located a short distance upstream on the west side of the creek. Thanks to an injection of $900,000 from the Provincial Emergency Program, which covers damage to high-value recreation sites such as the hot springs, a new steel-and-concrete structure was eventually installed. On August 1, the Meager Creek hot springs officially reopened, to the acclaim of local residents and Pemberton tourism officials alike.
In early September, the Georgia Straight visited the springs to assess changes in the frequently volatile region. The bridge washout was only the most recent in a long history of cataclysmic events there that stretches back to 400 BC, the date of Mount Meager's most recent volcanic eruption. That earth-shattering episode spewed ash as far as the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. An inventory of similar incidents includes an avalanche on Mount Meager's companion, Pylon Peak, that covered a glacier over which Pylon Creek continues to bubble. Nearby stands the jagged remnant of another volcano, Devastator Peak. In 1975, a substantial rockslide on Devastator buried a party of geologists and partly blocked the flow of Meager Creek. The creek's waters backed up, creating a small lake that took several years to drain. Geologists predict that a resumption of volcanic activity is likely to occur within the next several centuries. With these events in mind, sobering roadside markers were just installed along the Meager Creek Forestry Road. They direct travellers to refuge areas in case of emergency.
The sweeping grandeur of the peaks is enough to momentarily take a visitor's mind off the prospect of suddenly finding oneself in the midst of chaos. The upside of all this geothermal activity is the presence of B.C.'s hottest and most voluminous hot springs, which percolate on an open terrace above Meager Creek's silt-grey waters.
"Creek" doesn't do justice to Meager. Even at its lowest annual level, this is not a stream to be trifled with. Still, as you soak beside it in a near-scalding thermal pool with the wild sounds of cascading white water in your ears, there's no more relaxing place to be. Just ask Dave Edgington, chief administrative officer of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. On the telephone from his office in Pemberton, Edgington told the Straight that having bathed in the springs himself, he believes there is no finer restorative, holistic experience to be found within the SLRD's purview. He was quick to credit not only financing from PEP for the restoration but also the Ministry of Forests crews who rebuilt the bridge, as well as funds from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts that paid for a complete cleanup of the pools, change house, and pathways at the recreation site.
Although the hot springs are situated on provincial land, the site and nearby campground are managed by the local Lil'wat Nation, with the Lil'wat Business Corporation's Creekside Resources in partnership with the Tourism Ministry. When contacted by telephone at his office in Mount Currie, the corporation's general manager, Larry Miller, told the Straight that work crews spent months rehabbing the site prior to its reopening. "We cleared blow-downs and installed picnic tables as well as put in culverts and ditches to prevent Hot Springs Creek from undermining the access trail."
Creekside Resources, which manages a network of recreation sites within Lil'wat traditional territory, has no elaborate plans to develop the hot springs beyond their current "rustic" status, but Miller hopes that a series of interpretive signs will be installed next year to explain the site's geological and cultural history. "The Lil'wat have millennia of legends about the use of the springs, from poaching fish in the hot water to revering the springs for their natural healing qualities. We look after the place to demonstrate our ownership."
Over the decades since a road to Meager Creek was built by B.C. Hydro in pursuit of geothermal-power production, the springs have been a magnet for both families and party animals. To preserve the peace and ensure that yahoos and dogs are kept away from the springs, a Creekside Resources caretaker monitors activity, including weather conditions, at the site. With good reason, "if in doubt, bail out" is the operative motto there.
Access: The Meager Creek hot springs lie 205 kilometres north of Vancouver via 52 kilometres of paved and gravel roads from Pemberton. Opening hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A day-use fee of $5 is collected at the springs from those 12 or older; a night at the pleasant campground on the Lillooet River Forestry Road is $10 per site. The hot springs officially close for the season on October 31. From then until snowfall shuts the Lillooet River Road, access to the springs is on foot or by bike from the gated entrance to the Meager Creek road, seven kilometres west.