I had spent the morning wondering if I would be riding on pavement or gravel.
My map showed a yellow line for the Coalmont Road. Yellow indicates a secondary road. Sometimes that’s the asphalt less travelled and sometimes it’s offroad. I was about to find out as I visited one of British Columbia’s most interesting not-quite-a-ghost-town towns.
Coalmont is nineteen kilometres north west of Princeton. British Columbia. It’s by the Tulameen River, traditionally a placer mining hotspot. There aren’t many rich deposits left though. A hundred years ago or more you’d find prospectors pulling their packhorses or donkeys across wooden bridges spanning the river. Many would be spending their days panning for gold. Coalmont was also near a significant resting place for coal. And as a result, when the railway came through town starting in 1911, it became the equivalent of a fuel stop.
As I snaked my way along the Tulameen on the Coalmont Road, ponderosa pine and modest homes made way for open scrub as I descended the curves into the Tulameen Valley on cracked pavement. My introduction to Coalmont was via two aging and eccentric signs warning against undesirables coming into town, especially magazine and encyclopedia salesmen.
I met a man with shock white hair, full white beard and sporting sunglasses who was minding two Chihuahuas and holding a kitten. He welcomed me to Coalmont, full-time population of twenty souls. This is where the Kettle Valley Railway, otherwise called the Coast to Kootenay Railway, rumbled through on its way to Hope or Midway.
Further down the dusty road I came to the intersection of Coalmont & Parrish, where I found, almost looking like it did on opening day, the CPR-red Coalmont Hotel. It opened in 1912 with the expectation it would service rail travellers for decades to come. The hotel was closed on my visit. It is now sporadically operated it would seem.
I heard a familiar engine’s rumble. I was soon shaking hands with the driver of an all-terrain vehicle, Ralph. He was enjoying camping at the Granite Creek Recreation Site with family. It would seem many come from the Metro Vancouver area to camp along the Tulameen or a kilometre north of Coalmont at Otter Lake Provincial Park.
It would seem Coalmont’s locomotive travellers have been replaced with the outdoor adventure kind. The local Mozey-On-Inn boasts panning trips along the Tulameen and campers can find canoeing opportunities and rainbow trout fishing at Otter Lake.
I rode out along the dusty, twisty and broken pavement of Coalmont Road and climbed out of the Tulameen Valley in the bright noonday sun, keen to see the Othello Tunnels in Coquihalla Canyon.