Wildflowers in the summer, powder snow in the fall and winter, gourmet meals waiting at the three story mountain lodge at 7200 feet. Yes that is paradise found, Purcell Mountain Lodge located near Golden, British Columbia.
Getting to paradise is half the fun. We started at the Golden Municipal Airport, which is home to several helicopter charter companies. We found our copter, piled in, and after a fifteen-minute ride we arrived. But what a ride it was! Dipping and weaving between dramatic cliff faces and mountain peaks, we flew to the lodge, which is only accessible by helicopter or a long uphill-all-the-way hike for a select few. The lodge is located in the Purcell Mountains, which is a sub range of the Columbia Mountains and located just west of the Canadian Rookies in the southeastern part of British Columbia.
Once we got off the helicopter we were stunned by the view of the 10,774 foot Mount Sir Donald. It seemed so close on this bright day. The staff gave us a warm greeting and invited us in for some light snacks before our first hike in the meadows.
Walking into the lodge, with its cozy sitting area and views of the countless mountain peaks I was tempted to just to relax and enjoy a book. However, when the two ACMG Certified guides announced it was time to go on a hike and explained to us that after the hike there would be happy hour appetizers, wine tasting and then dinner, I was convinced that a hike was in order.
We slowly wandered through the meadows, following guides Leah and Sarah. They were a constant wealth of information on the multitude of wildflowers. Of course they also briefed us on the wildlife in the area. We all listened intently to the lecture on what to do if we encountered a bear. But, no such luck (good luck or bad luck depending on the outcome) we did not see any bears during our stay.
The guides took us briefly off trail to a magical spot where Mount Sir Donald’s reflection can be seen in a small picturesque pond. I could have stayed there for hours, but it was time to march on another mile or two in the gentle rolling hills. The guides at Purcell are dedicated to creating the best experience for hikers. Most of the groups they get have a mix of hiking abilities and desires. When we arrived at a good place for a break, they made it easy for some of the hikers to return to the Lodge, while the others continued on. So half of us continued on to Copperstain Pass and the others followed guide Sarah back to the lodge. Of course those who were returning to the lodge were made to swear that the appetizers and wine would go untouched until the rest of the group arrived. And those continuing on pledged to be back by 4 PM so that the wine and appetizer pairing could start on schedule.
The view of one of the largest alpine meadows in North America was simply breathtaking. The meadow goes on for miles, with Mount Sir Donald and countless peaks and glaciers standing guard. Staying on the trail was very important so that none of the colorful wildflowers were stomped on.
Those of us who continued could see the lodge far below us and realized that we needed to head back for the treats that awaited us. Summiting Cooperstain will have to wait for another day. Back at the lodge I had time for a quick shower and then headed downstairs where Chef Patricia Bullock had an amazing spread of at least ten different appetizers, all to be accompanied by wines from Averill Creek Vineyard.
Well we were not mistaken in calling this story ‘Paradise Found’, but since Patricia’s cooking was so delightful a better title might have been ‘Purcell Mountain Lodge - Heavenly Food in Paradise’. We certainly never went hungry; and thanks to all the hiking, we didn’t feel too guilty about that.
Patricia first rolled out smoked trout pâté, paired deliciously the Chardonnay. The smoky flavors of the pâté really lit up the crispness of the Chardonnay. Next up was some spicy and tender beef curry. The Pinot Gris was a perfect match for the spicy flavors of the curry. Another of the offerings that stood out was chicken wrapped in prosciutto, paired flawlessly with the Pinot Noir.
Patricia was trained at Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute in the 1990’s and then worked as chef in restaurants in eastern Canada. She also has experience as food editor and food stylist. Along with her stints at Purcell she is currently a food consultant for other restaurants. Patricia resides in Edmonton and always enjoys the trips to the Purcell. The guests at Purcell also enjoy her trips there!
Purcell Lodge has several chefs on staff who rotate through. According to the staff, they are all excellent. One of the other chefs, Tara Sylvester has written Peak Adventures in Mountain Inspired Cooking so enthused guests can take some of the recipes home with them.
One of the challenges of mountain cooking is that it takes some expert planning to make sure the kitchen is fully stocked and ready. After all, the food is delivered here via helicopter, so there is no running out to the store for a forgotten ingredient. Not only do the chefs need to be prepared for what they plan on cooking, they need to take extra care to make sure the next chef has a good inventory of what is in the pantry. The lodge does have internet (although guests are encouraged to go off grid) so the chefs are able to communicate through email. All of the chefs are happy to work with guests prior to their stay in order to accommodate food restrictions and preferences.
Other than the satellite Internet connection (which has a pretty small bandwidth – no streaming or uploading), the lodge itself is entirely off the grid. They use propane (also delivered by helicopter) and get much of their power from a small hydropower generator from a nearby creek, and their water comes from glacier fed streams. It all works great.
It was our good fortune to be sharing our experience at Purcell with Andy Johnston, owner and winemaker of Averill Creek Vineyard. It was a weekend long winemaker’s dinner! As the wine was being poured, Andy gave a complete discussion on wines of his region, just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island.
Andy Johnston is a retired doctor but I think his retirement didn’t last long before the wine bug got a hold of him. To learn from the best, Andy studied winemaking in Italy, France, Australia; and New Zealand. After his worldwide apprenticeship Andy was ready to start his own vineyard in 2001.
One might think that it is unusual that a doctor turns into a winemaker and farmer. However, in this case it makes sense because Andy’s roots are in agriculture, having grown up on a Welsh farm. He worked the farm until he was in his teens. Now, along with his wife Wendy Johnston, Andy produces some of the finest wine (especially the Pinot Noir) that we have tasted.
Patricia went back to the kitchen to get ready for dinner while the rest of us adjoined to the family room to relax. Reading a new mountaineer book was my choice while others worked a puzzle or chatted.
Between the hiking and the eating, there is plenty of time for relaxing. The living room downstairs is set up to encourage teaming up for the games and puzzles available or just some conversation. Getting to know our fellow guests was definitely part of the experience. Upstairs is a ‘quiet room’ for those who want to put their feet up with a good book. Both common rooms have comfy furniture and stunning views.
Before we knew it, dinner time arrived and we were hungry again (!) for Patricia’s delights. Our first night dinner was Sockeye Salmon sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and served with quinoa. The seared salmon was tasty and moist. Dessert was a delightful and refreshing Lemon Berry Parfait.
To settle in after this wonderful feast, some of us wandered outside for photos of the sunset while others chatted. What was neat after spending time with the group of twenty other visitors we all quickly bonded and had a great time getting to know each other. Then bedtime came and we were all ready for a peaceful night sleep.
The next day we woke up to the smells of fresh coffee and muffins baking. This was the daily routine: coffee, hardy breakfast, and then time to prepare a bag lunch from a huge selection of meats, cheeses, salads and freshly baked treats. Then a day of hiking, again designed for those who wanted a few miles, or ten miles. Then return to appetizers, wine and dinner. Tough schedule! The following are just some of the unique and scrumptious offerings. The Elk Meatballs, served with cranberries and seasoned to highlight the taste of the elk meat were one of the favorites of the group. Something that I had never before come across was arancini – an Italian delicacy of rice balls filled with ground beef, coated in bread crumbs and then lightly fried. We also enjoyed beet crackers, which were a beautiful color, served with roasted garlic bean dip.
Dinner on the last night featured succulent roast beef, sourced in Alberta and served with chanterelle mushrooms and gravy. The side dish was beet salad with sweet potatoes and maple vinaigrette – a great combination of flavors. Saving the best for last – dessert was chocolate cake topped with fresh cherries soaked in port.
There are many ways for groups to enjoy the Lodge, families can organize their own trips and have part of the lodge or the separate chalet to themselves. And – for experienced and hardy hikers, groups can hike in to stay in the private chalet but spaces for this are limited. They then have the choice of self-catering or dining at the lodge.
We also noticed some wedding pictures with couples exchanging vows in this pristine mountain area. What a great way to have a wedding and honeymoon rolled into one, complete with great hiking or skiing, gourmet food, and a beautiful setting.
The Lodge is great for summer hikers but in the winter one can roll out of bed and have some of the best alpine snow in North American. Mellow rolling hills wait for you to carve out some turns or snowshoe in this winter wonderland. Just thinking about waking up to the bright snow-covered meadows with the sun glistering and a guide ready to take you on your adventure makes me realize that a return visit is definitely in my future.
Sadly, all amazing vacations must end. Monday morning came and it was time to say goodbye to our new friends and more-than-gracious hosts. However, looking forward to the helicopter ride back to civilization actually lightened the pangs of sadness. That, and the knowledge that we will be returning.