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Gerry Feehan

Heavenly Valhalla by Gerry Feehan


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In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the place where slain warriors dwell under the leadership of god Odin. The einherjar blissfully hang out in the netherworld, patiently awaiting the arrival of Doomsday. Not my idea of a fun place to winter. Luckily, the Valhalla we visited last March, a quaint mountain lodge tucked away in BC’s Selkirk Mountains, is rather less bleak—and a lot more heavenly. This was our first destination-vacation in over a year and we were giddy with excitement—with a touch of trepidation thrown in. A physically demanding three day ski touring adventure was on tap. From our home base in Kimberley we enjoyed the leisurely drive—and a peaceful ferry ride across Kootenay Lake—to New Denver on Slocan Lake where we checked into the hospitable and very unique Adventure Domes cottages.

In the morning, at our designated pick-up spot on the north end of Slocan, the March snow had deteriorated into that ugly freeze-thaw meringue typical of a strengthening spring sun. Hmmm, how would the skiing be? While we helped load gear into the snowcat, I wondered out loud if it were wise that we’d chosen a slot so late in the season. ‘Ha’, laughed the driver, ‘you’ll find it a little different 1000 meters up the mountain.’ And indeed, one very steep hour later, we emerged into deep soft snowy white winter. Heavenly Valhalla.

That Valhalla Mountain Touring ( was even operating is a testament to the perseverance of owner Jasmin Caton — and the dedication of the whole Valhalla staff, given the stringent conditions wrought by this rotten pandemic.

Every guided backcountry ski tour begins with terrain orientation, where the guests gather outside in the snow to practice avalanche training, mountain rescue techniques and the use of a transceiver beacon to rescue a dummy. We had packed all the necessary gear, but some were borrowed—and apparently outdated. Dan, our lead guide, politely asked me to hand over the ancient probe which I was ineptly attempting to assemble. ‘This is a good example of something not to use when attempting to locate a submerged body; probably more suitable for British mountaineering in low snow-pack.’ I nodded but failed to mention that I had indeed obtained the feeble tool from a British acquaintance who had proudly lauded its efficacy.


In her 10 years of backcountry ski guiding, Jasmin has never had a serious accident to contend with. (On the Kimberley ski hill the day before we left, we watched the ski patrol haul down three stretchers.) Jasmin jokingly complained that she’d never had to use the assortment of fancy gear she hauled up the mountain every day. That would change during our stay.

After orientation we tucked back into the cozy lodge and, as eyeglasses de-fogged, a feast of appetizers appeared, courtesy of chef Annie. These treats did not remain in view long. All 9 guests quickly gobbled up the delectables, storing up calories in anticipation of the weight-loss program which would commence in the morning: climbing 1500 meters up a snowy mountain for three straight days.

My wife Florence and I are relative newbies to ski touring and, although we had put in a respectable amount of pre-arrival training, we were pooped by the end of day one. So after another remarkable meal—Annie’s signature lamb-chops—it was early to bed, where we slept the sleep of the dead.

I assume you’re familiar with the adage, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Well, the maxim certainly applies to ski-touring. I pride myself (erroneously as is now apparent) on being in pretty good shape for my vintage. As we gathered gear, donned equipment and shot the breeze in the breezeway on day one, I noted the advanced age of some of my fellow guests and, inwardly smirking, thought, ‘I hope that old gal doesn’t hold us all up.’ And… no she did not. As it turns out, neither did I. Utterly exhausted, I had begged off the last climb of the day and trudged morosely back to the lodge, watching my geriatric friend tirelessly scurry uphill for another run down the pow.

Day two dawned with a mess of fresh snow. We devoured breakfast, packed our pre-made lunches, strapped on skins and strode out across frozen Shannon Lake. As we exited the lake and began a steep ascent to the mountain summit a kilometer above us, Dan stopped, shushed us all and steered off the intended track. A huge yellow-white mountain goat was demanding the right-of-way. The big billy regarded us for a moment, then diverted directly uphill, striding tirelessly through the deep untouched powder. We watched mouths agape as the mighty creature slowly became a speck far up mountain.

At every hard-earned turn, the view is spectacular.

It was toward the end of day three—our last—when Dan’s radio crackled an urgent message. Someone in the group below had been hurt. We were only a few hundred meters from the notch where we were to perform our final transition: strip off skins, buckle boots, set heels, point skis downhill, hoot with pleasure.

Dan instructed us to stop immediately, huddle up and prepare to descend. ‘Stick together and ski carefully,’ he said, ‘the last thing we need now is another problem.’ 20 minutes later we came upon the other crew. Jasmin’s mother Lynda had had a nasty spill. Her leg was badly broken. Jasmin had assembled her mom’s skis into a makeshift toboggan, used poles as a splint, wrapped her in the insulating warmth of some spare coats and hauled the bundle up to an access spot where a VMT snowmobile and sled met us.

Jasmin jumped aboard and disappeared down the bumpy logging road to rendezvous with an ambulance on the highway far below. The lodge is isolated from the world. There is no margin for error when an emergency arises. The professionalism and expert training demonstrated by the whole VMT team in this serious situation was remarkable.

Later that evening, as we finished dinner and reposed by the roaring fire, Jasmin stepped into the lodge to reassure us that her mom was doing fine. She provided an update on the weather and outlined the plan for the following day. She smiled, non-plussed and said, ‘Well, at least I finally got to use all that stuff I pack.’ Then she ducked out the door. Her two-year-old twins, Spruce and Indigo, were waiting in the staff quarters, ready to spend some quality time with their mom. Just another amazing day in Valhalla.

Jasmin enjoys a well-deserved break.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

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Gerry Feehan

Abu Simbel

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Abu Simbel is a marvel of ancient and modern engineering

I love looking out the window of an airplane at the earth far below, seeing where coast meets water or observing the eroded remains of some ancient formation in the changing light. Alas, the grimy desert sand hadn’t been cleaned from the windows of our EgyptAir jet, so we couldn’t see a thing as we flew over Lake Nasser en route to Abu Simbel. I was hopeful that this lack of attention to detail would not extend to other minor maintenance items, such as ensuring the cabin was pressurized or the fuel tank full.

We had just spent a week on a dahabiya sailboat cruising the Nile River, and after disembarking at Aswan, were headed further south to see one of Egypt’s great
monuments. There are a couple of ways to get to Abu Simbel from Aswan. You can ride a bus for 4 hours through the scorched Sahara Desert, or you can take a plane for the short 45-minute flight.

Opaque windows notwithstanding, I was glad we had chosen travel by air. Abu Simbel is spectacular, but there’s really not much to see except the monument itself and a small adjacent museum. So most tourists, us included, make the return trip in a day. And fortunately we had Sayed Mansour, an Egyptologist, on board. Sayed was there to explain all and clear our pained expressions.

Although it was early November, the intense Nubian sun was almost directly overhead, so Sayed led us to a quiet, shady spot where he began our introduction to
Egyptian history. Abu Simbel is a marvel of engineering — both modern and ancient. The temples were constructed during the reign of Ramses II. Carved from solid rock in a sandstone cliff overlooking the mighty river, these massive twin temples stood sentinel at a menacing bend in the Nile — and served as an intimidating obstacle to would-be invaders — for over 3000 years. But eventually Abu Simbel fell into disuse and succumbed to the inevitable, unrelenting Sahara. The site was nearly swallowed by sand when it was “rediscovered” by European adventurers in the early 19 th century. After years of excavation and restoration, the monuments resumed their original glory.

Then, in the 1960’s, Egyptian president Abdel Nasser decided to construct a new “High Dam” at Aswan. Doing so would create the largest man-made lake in the
world, 5250 sq km of backed-up Nile River. This ambitious project would bring economic benefit to parched Egypt, control the unpredictable annual Nile flood and also supply hydroelectric power to a poor, under-developed country. With the dam, the lights would go on in most Egyptian villages for the first time. But there were also a couple of drawbacks, which were conveniently swept under the water carpet by the government. The new reservoir would displace the local Nubian population whose forbearers had farmed the fertile banks of the Nile River for millennia. And many of Egypt’s greatest monuments and tombs would be forever submerged beneath the deep new basin — Abu Simbel included. But the government proceeded with the dam, monuments be damned.

Only after the water began to rise did an international team of archaeologists, scientists — and an army of labourers — begin the process of preserving these
colossal wonders. In an urgent race against the rising tide, the temples of Abu Simbel were surgically sliced into gigantic pieces, transported up the bank to safety and reassembled. The process was remarkable, a feat of engineering genius. And today the twin edifices, honouring Ramses and his wife Nefertari remain, gigantic, imperious and intact. But instead of overlooking a daunting corner of the Nile, this UNESCO World Heritage site now stands guard over a vast shimmering lake.

Sayed led us into the courtyard from our shady refuge and pointed to the four giant Colossi that decorate the exterior façade of the main temple. These statues of
Ramses were sculpted directly from Nile bedrock and sat stonily observing the river for 33 centuries. It was brutally hot under the direct sun. I was grateful for the new hat I had just acquired from a gullible street merchant. Poor fellow didn’t know what hit him. He started out demanding $40, but after a prolonged and brilliant negotiating session, I closed the deal for a trifling $36. It was difficult to hold back a grin as I sauntered away sporting my new fedora — although the thing did fall apart a couple of days later.

Sayed walked us toward the sacred heart of the shrine and lowered his voice. Like all Egyptians, Sayed’s native tongue is Arabic. But, oddly, his otherwise perfect English betrayed a slight cockney accent. (Sayed later disclosed that he had spent a couple of years working in an East London parts factory.) He showed us how the great hypostyle hall of the temple’s interior is supported by eight enormous pillars honouring Osiris, god of the underworld.

Exploring the inner temple


Sayed then left us to our devices. There were no other tourists. We had this incredible place to ourselves. In the dim light, we scampered amongst the sculptures
and sarcophagi, wandering, hiding and giggling as we explored the interior and its side chambers. At the far end lay the “the holiest of holies” a room whose walls were adorned with ornate carvings honouring the great Pharaoh’s victories — and offering tribute to the gods that made Ramses’ triumphs possible.

Exterior photographs of Abu Simbel are permitted, but pictures from within the sanctuary are verboten — a rule strictly enforced by the vigilant temple guardians — unless you offer a little baksheesh… in which case you can snap away to your heart’s content. Palms suitably greased, the caretakers are happy to pose with you in front of a hidden hieroglyph or a forbidden frieze, notwithstanding the stern glare of Ramses looking down from above.

A little baksheesh is key to holding the key

After our brief few hours at Abu Simbel, we hopped back on the plane. The panes weren’t any clearer but, acknowledging that there really wasn’t much to see in the Sahara — and that dirty airplane windows are not really a bona fide safety concern — I took time on the short flight to relax and bone up on Ramses the Great, whose mummified body awaited us at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Exodus Travel skilfully handled every detail of our Egypt adventure:‎

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.


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Gerry Feehan

Cairo – Al-Qahirah

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The Pyramids of Giza

The first thing one notices upon arrival in Egypt is the intense level of security. I was screened once, scanned twice and patted down thrice between the time we landed at the airport and when we finally stepped out into the muggy Cairo evening. At our hotel the scrutiny continued with one last investigation of our luggage in the lobby. Although Egyptian security is abundant in quantity, the quality is questionable. The airport x-ray fellow, examining the egg shaker in my ukulele case, sternly demanded, “This, this, open this.” When I innocently shook the little plastic thing to demonstrate its impermeability he recoiled in horror, but then observed it with fascination and called over his supervisor. Thus began an animated, impromptu percussion session. As for the ukulele, it was confiscated at hotel check-in and imprisoned in the coat check for the duration of our Cairo stay. The reasons proffered for the seizure of this innocuous little instrument ranged from “safety purposes” to “forbidden entertainment”. When, after a very long day, we finally collapsed exhausted into bed, I was shaken — but did not stir.

Al-Qahirah has 20 million inhabitants, all squeezed into a thin green strip along the Nile River. Fading infrastructure and an exponential growth in vehicles have contributed to its well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most traffic-congested cities. The 20km trip from our hotel in the city center, to the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza across the river, took nearly two hours. The driver smiled, “Very good, not rush hour.”

Our entrance fee for the Giza site was prepaid but we elected to fork out the extra Egyptian pounds to gain access to the interior of the Great Pyramid. Despite the up-charge — and the narrow, dark, claustrophobic climb – the reward, standing in Cheop’s eternal resting place, a crypt hidden deep inside the pyramid, was well worth it. We also chose to stay after sunset, dine al fresco in the warm Egyptian evening, and watch the celebrated ‘sound and light’ performance. The show was good. The food was marginal. Our waiter’s name was Fahid. Like many devout Muslim men, he sported a zabiba, or prayer bump, a callus developed on the forehead from years of prostration. Unfortunately throughout the event Fahid hovered over us, attentive to the point of irritation, blocking our view of the spectacle while constantly snapping fingers at his nervous underlings. The ‘son et lumière’ show was a little corny, but it’s pretty cool to see a trio of 4500-year-old pyramids – and the adjoining Great Sphinx — illuminated by 21 st century technology.

The Great Sphinx

Giza at nightThe next night our group of six Canucks attended an Egyptian cooking class. Our ebullient hostess was Anhar, (‘the River’ in Arabic). Encouraged by her contagious enthusiasm, we whipped up a nice tabouli salad, spicy chicken orzo soup and eggplant moussaka. We finished up with homemade baklava. Throughout the evening, Anhar quizzed us about the ingredients, the herbs and spices, their origins and proper method of preparation. Anyone who answered correctly was rewarded with her approving nod and a polite clap. Soon a contest ensued. Incorrect answers resulted in a loud communal ‘bzzzt’ — like the sound ending a hockey game. It’s not polite to blow one’s own horn, but the Feehan contingent acquitted themselves quite nicely. If I still had her email, Anhar could confirm this.

Cairo was not the highlight of our three-week Egyptian holiday, but a visit to the capital is mandatory. First there’s the incredible Pyramids. But as well there’s the Egyptian Museum that houses the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities including the golden finery of King Tutankhamen and the mummified remains of Ramses the Great. Ramses’ hair is rust coloured and thinning a little, but overall he looks pretty good for a guy entering his 34 th century.

Ramses the Great

Then there’s Khan el-Khalili, the old souk or Islamic bazaar. We strolled its ancient streets and narrow meandering alleyways, continually set upon by indefatigable street hawkers. “La shukraan, no thanks,” we repeated ineffectually a thousand times. The souk’s cafes were jammed. A soccer match was on. The ‘beautiful game’ is huge in Egypt. Men and women sat, eyes glued to the screen, sipping tea and inhaling hubbly bubbly.

The Old Souk Bazaar

Selfies, Souk style

An aside. When traveling in Egypt, be sure to carry some loose change for the hammam (el baño for those of you who’ve been to Mexico). At every hotel, restaurant, museum and temple — even at the humblest rural commode — an attendant vigilantly guards the lavatory. And have small bills for the requisite baksheesh. You’re not getting change.

After our evening in the souk we had an early call. Our guide Sayed Mansour met us at 6am in the hotel lobby. “Yella, yella. Hurry, let’s go,” he said. “Ana mish bahasir – I’m not joking.” “Afwan,” we said. “No problem,” and jumped into the van. As we pulled away from the curb Sayed began the day’s tutorial, reciting a poem by Percy Blythe Shelly:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

And we were off, through the desert, to Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, Egypt’s ancient capital was built on the Nile delta, where the world’s longest river meets the Mediterranean Sea. The day was a bit of a bust. The city was once renowned for its magnificent library and the famed Lighthouse of Alexandria. But the former burnt down shortly after Christ was born and the latter — one of the original seven wonders of the ancient world – toppled into the sea a thousand years ago. Absent some interesting architecture, a nice view of the sea from the Citadel — and Sayed’s entertaining commentary — Alexandria wasn’t really worth the long day trip. Besides, we needed to get back to Cairo and pack our swimwear. Sharm el Sheikh and the warm waters of the Red Sea were next up on the Egyptian agenda.

Gerry with some Egyptian admirers

Exodus Travel skilfully handled every detail of our trip: And, if you’re thinking of visiting Egypt, I can suggest a nice itinerary. No sense reinventing the pyramid: [email protected]

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.


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