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Thursday — Cathedral Provincial Park

Route I Hiked This Day

Route I Hiked This Day

Although training for Ironman Canada consumed the majority of my year, Cathedral Provincial Park was the most anticipated destination of my vacation. My reconnaissance uncovered great reviews of this land and pictures only fueled my desires. The views, hiking, remoteness, and challenge drew me to this outpost. Although Okanagan Mountain had been a good place to explore (with possible the exception of my heart pounding exodus), severe forest fires had temporarily claimed much of that park’s beauty. Cathedral had suffered no such damage and contained even more magnificent mountains anyway.

The approach along the Ashnola River only confirmed my research, as a strong mountain river cut along side the road. The rapids cascaded for miles kilometers, flanked by endless pine trees covering the magnificent slopes arising from the valley.

My departure point into Eden was the Lake View Trailhead, the most popular route into the park’s core area. Popular is relative though, as Cathedral’s ruggedness prevents the immense traffic more accessible areas receive. That, combined with my early afternoon departure, meant that once again I hiked alone.

All my expectations for this natural beauty were immediately fulfilled. Perhaps the sever juxtaposition to the charred trees from Okanagan Mountain overpowered my senses, but this park was a gem. Luscious green pines were everywhere, abundant undergrowth filled in the forest floor, and pine needles carpeted much of the trail. And I had not even seen mountains in the park yet. It seemed almost too good to be true.

The Core’s mountains, viewed on the approach from Lake View Trailhead

The Core’s mountains, viewed on the approach from Lake View Trailhead

It was blessedly true, but however, not free. The Canadian government did not collect tolls, but the exquisite experience came with a price — conquering the challenging path snaking into the core. The trail’s description advertised 1300m of “elevation change.” Without consulting my topo map I naively assumed that indicated around 650m up and 650m down. Nope. It was all up, with the lion’s share in the first three miles five kilometers. I huffed and puffed up the inclines, wondering if they would end. Most of the trail was not absurdly steep (with a couple notable exceptions), but the steady climb never relented.

The park, however, did accept another form of payment to partake in its great beauty, if your body or will could not overcome the terrain. Cathedral Lakes Lodge ran a private shuttle (WWI surplus transport vehicle) into the core and even provided a lodge in which to slumber and dine. That mode of transport appeals or is necessary for some, but why pay money to avoid the fun, beauty, and accomplishment of hiking in yourself?

My ascent into Cathedral proceeded through a very cool afternoon. Even donning a long sleeve shirt and climbing the copious, unending uphills, I never sweated much. The natural air conditioning sufficed to keep my temperature under control. My elevation was slightly higher than the upper reaches of Okanagan Mountain, but a cold front brought in by the morning’s storm caused the cooler weather, rather than a greater height above sea level.

The Core

The inviting trail

The inviting trail

The trail was exceedingly well maintained its entire length. The wide, well worn path had easy footings and was simple to follow. In the core area, the park also thoroughly spanned every possible water hazard with well built bridges, to reduce the relatively high number of backcountry hikers’ impact. Kilometer markers lined the entire trail, indicating exactly how far was left. I would have preferred these signs to have been absent though, which would have more easily let my mind wander to blissfully enjoying my time in the woods, rather than contemplating the insignificant information of how far I had traveled.

I reached the lodge and campground in about four and a half hours but continued towards Twin Buttes. Any halfway intelligent visitor camps in the nicely established sites conveniently placed in the core area, paying the pittance the park demanded. I desired a more remote experience though (and was out of Canadian money), so my home would be at the camp at Twin Buttes. In my usual thorough planning though, I somehow failed to notice quite how far this other campground was from the core area, and that one huge valley with an 8,000 ft pass on the other side separated the two. Since I did not have any Loonies on me though (yeah, another smart move), there was little choice but to continue out of the core area, unless I was to commit more crimes in a foreign country than I preferred.

Small mountain meadow

At least with my ill-conceived lodging plans, my hike had a few more miles kilometers in the spectacular woods. As I would soon be painfully taught though, Twin Buttes was NOT a good base camp for exploring Cathedral. Powering ignorantly forward, I climbed from Goat’s Creek, my weary legs moving slowly up the steep incline as darkness descended quickly. Approaching the tree line, the trail entered a meadow, revealing just how far was left merely to cover the ridge, much less get to Twin Buttes. With reality slapping me in the face, I realized reaching Twin Buttes in the daylight would be impossible. Although I hiked in the dark already once this vacation, this area was much more remote with a less defined trail, making it a bad candidate for a repeat, nighttime performance.

Common sense finally kicked in, telling me not to continue. So although it was not ideal for many reasons, I setup camp far off the path near the edge of the tree line. I did not want to squat in the backcountry, but figured that was a better alternative than the park sending search and rescue after I became lost and injured wandering through the darkness. (Especially since I would later become turned around on the path to Twin Buttes even in the daylight.) Ending up in this predicament was entirely my fault, as I should have more carefully done my homework on this latter part of my hike.

In total I hiked for over ten hours this day (including that stuff in the morning, yeah, remember that?). Guess I am recovered from that Ironman.

The night was very cold huddled inside my lonely tent, and dragging my long johns all the way from Iowa finally paid off.