BC Hot Springs Tour: Lake Louise to Golden
In early June 2015, we road tested our new-to-us 2007 Lexus RX-400H Hybrid SUV, driving from Calgary to Parksville, Vancouver Island.
After leaving Lake Louise, the Trans-Canada Highway 1 plummets from Summit Lake at over 5,500 ft (1700 m) to about 2,700 ft (800 m) in Golden.
This very large drop in elevation revealed the effectiveness of a very important feature of the RX400H: regenerative braking.
The fast, steep descent on this route demands constant braking and speed adjustment, and in a conventional vehicle the kinetic energy would normally be lost, converted to heat.
Conventional brakes would be heating up, reducing their effectiveness, and if the brake pads failed, you might even have to use one of the many runaway lanes that are installed along the highway.
Lexi has only 2 forward shift selections, D (normal Drive mode) and B (Battery or Brake mode). If you are going downhill, using the B mode is very similar to shifting down on a regular transmission.
But what it actually does is very different from a conventional vehicle: instead of wasting the energy by converting it to heat, the B mode instantly switches the electric motors to generator mode, slowing the vehicle.
If you have the energy management screen on, the animated display will change to reflect the flow of recovered power back into the battery.
The B mode simply increases the generator loading of the vehicle, converting the kinetic energy of the forward motion back into electricity.
The same thing happens when you step on the brake pedal, it just further increases the generator load on the vehicle, and the brakes are not actually deployed.
The dashboard watt meter consumption display (where the tachometer is normally located) will also register a negative value while this is happening. Note: the data is in metric units on our Canadian model.
If you press the 'Consumption' link on the screen, it will switch the display to consumption mode, which shows in detail what your fuel consumption over time looks like.
You get an 'E' for Eco mode on the bar graph every time you recover 50 wh (watt hours) of energy. The 'Current' bar at the right hand side of the screen provides instantaneous real-time feedback of fuel consumption.
The Lexus has massive 4 wheel disk brakes on all 4 of the 17" wheels, which provide terrific stopping power if you really need it, but under normal driving conditions they are barely used at all.
This is a nice safety feature because your brakes are already cool, with max stopping power. I have experienced (in our motorhome) the horror of finding that my overheated brakes have lost any semblance of stopping power, and it's not fun!
In fact, one of the most common mechanical failures of the RX400H is that the rear brakes will corrode and seize due to lack of use (front brakes usually provide about 75% of normal stopping power). So it's a good idea to make a hard stop now and then.
Golden: Entering the Columbia Valley
We dropped out of the Rockies into our home Province of British Columbia, into the town of Golden. It is a nice town, even though there are no hot springs there, and at this point we were also on the official BC Hot Springs Circle Tour. It sits at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Kicking Horse River, and these rivers have shaped the destiny of the area ever since people have lived there.
Here the Columbia is still gaining strength in its flow, having originated in Columbia Lake a few miles south. It seems very odd that it flows north through this valley, considering that it eventually ends up draining into the Pacific at the Oregon/Washington border, but the lay of the land dictates that it takes its twisting, winding course to the ocean.
We found a reasonably quiet motel (Mary's Motel) on the river, with very comfortable beds and probably the lowest rate we saw on the entire trip. After a reasonable meal at a local restaurant, The Island Restaurant, which sits on an island in the Kicking Horse River, we had a good rest in preparation for seeing the wolves the next day.
The motel was also adjacent to some pleasant outdoor bistros located by a town park where a very large covered pedestrian bridge of significant historical interest has been constructed over the river. There are also good walking trails on both sides of the river.
The river levels were quite high during our trip, although nowhere near flood stage as they have been in previous years. In fact this year's drought was actually already in full swing, as we saw from the low lake levels further into our trip, and the lack of snow pack on the mountains.
The entire Columbia valley is broad and scenic, with the Rockies on one side and the Purcell range on the other.
You could spend a few very pleasant weeks just in this area (the East Kootenays) if you want a great holiday - it has much to offer. I have been skiing here in the winter and on another visit floated down the Columbia on a raft - another one of those unforgettable experiences.
We had diverted from our intended route and were very excited about seeing the wolves, at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre the next day.
This is a place where you can go for a wilderness hike with a real pack of wolves - an unforgettable experience!
Map of the BC Hot Springs Circle Tour
1 - Cranbrook
2 - Kimberley
3 - Fairmont Hot Springs and Lussier Hot Springs
4 - Invermere and Windemere Lake
5 - Radium Hot Springs
6 - Golden
7 - Rogers Pass and Canyon Hot Springs
8 - Revelstoke
9 - Halcyon and Nakusp Hot Springs
10 - New Denver
11 - Kaslo
12 - Ainsworth Hot Springs and Kootenay Lake Ferry
13 - Creston
details can be found here: Hello BC Website