Map of events
Joe’s Diner Logo

Home » Adventures » British Columbia » Okanagan Mountain » Falling Trees

Thursday — Falling Trees

Route I Hiked This Day

Route I Hiked This Day

The lazy mornings characterizing the past several days were over, now with places to go and people to see. Well, not so much the latter, as I still had not talked to anyone in a while. Still, the time had come to bid adieu to Okanagan Mountain as I had an appointment with Cathedral Provincial Park in the afternoon. In order to be punctual for the date and not offend that mistress, I awoke before the sun and began hiking in the dim morning light. At least since I had more or less ate all my food (that was safe), my pack was as light as possible.

Beating the sun also beat the heat, which benefited me through the first thirty minutes up the steady climb away from Good’s Creek. Although I would later discover the sun would make only a limited appearance that morning, so the early start was inconsequential to avoiding a sweaty hike.

After the initial surge away from the water’s edge, Wild Horse Canyon Trail continued to climb, albeit not as steep, the entire way to its intersection with Fredrick Creek Trail.

A Dangerous Wind Storm

As I vacated Okanagan Mountain the morning remained cool and cloudy, which provided a nice environment in which to hike. That was, until the wind picked up. With the approaching gale, a little warning in the corner of my map at which I originally chuckled now sprung to the forefront of my mind. It read in part:

Wildfire in the Park has produced many hazards…You can reduce your level of risk by:

Park management’s warnings were not idle chatter, as the wind transformed the dead, burned tree trunks from innocent charred sticks into deadly falling missiles. Being no match for the increasing storm, the weakened wood readily snapped against the pressure. A cascade of trees crashed to the forest floor as I hiked through a large expanse of dead wood. Although observing a tree fall naturally is usually an extremely rare occurrence, I saw at least a dozen collapse within half an hour and heard twice as many crash to the ground (a tree falling in the woods definitely makes a sound).

Blowing in the Wind

This portion of trail continued through burned trees as far as I could see. There was no escaping the dangerous logs. Neither clearings nor unburnt foliage in which to take refuge were neigh. The predicament resembled a cartoon scene with a cat creeping through a room of sleeping bulldogs. With danger all around, one small misstep would wake the dogs and set off the powdered keg.

The burned trees when they were not falling on me

The burned trees when they were not falling on me

The attacks were unpredictable as well, with no way to anticipate which tree would fall next. And once one started to fall, it was short order until a violent impact with the ground ensued, crushing anything underneath. The crashes created wide swaths of destruction too, as many of the dead trunks towered over a hundred feet thirty meters into the air and used their entire length to flatten their prey.

As a result, while moving through this deathtrap of cracking matchsticks, I had to constantly keep watch over a wide circular berth to try to avert my doom. Even if just the branches from a collapsing tree stuck me, things would turn out very badly. Whether from behind, in front, or a flanking maneuver, any of the numerous trees could inflict a very big headache. This jaunt was about the only time through my travels I have been genuinely scared while hiking. Being turned around in the mountains, wandering through bear country (assuming a grizzly is not starting you down), or crossing a raging river was a relaxing, stress free afternoon compared to a forest collapsing around me.

Since I was in the middle of a very large expanse of deadwood, my only option was to high tail it to the mythological land where fire had not touched. I hurried through the angry forest, constantly mindful of the deadly trees stalking me, but also careful to avoid in my haste a stupid mistake that would make an already bad situation worse.

As I kept a vigil for falling trees, the wind was quickly pushing a large rain cloud over Okanagan Lake my way. With that approaching downpour, getting soaked was inevitable, just hopefully not as a corpse pinned under a large woodpile. My Gortex would offer protection though, and even if it failed, getting flattened concerned me more than a little dampness.

I kept pushing, trying to vacate this treacherous arena. With God watching over me, I eventually emerged from the most severely burned section into scarred, but still living trees. The number collapsing subsided, and I relaxed slightly, feeling safer — whether or not that was true. In this haven the wind also thankfully diminished, being replaced with a soaking rain. Falling water was a much welcome relief from falling trees though.

At My Car

The precipitation remained steady on my way to the south parking lot, but an almost entire outer layer of Gortex kept me dry. My death defying ordeal through dominoing trees ended uneventfully when I arrived back at my car, at the hour hiking had only just commenced the previous days. I shook out my wet items like a damp dog and drove out the bumpy access road.

Within short order, however, I encountered another tree the storm fell — this one inconveniently blocking the road. My rental car had not included a chainsaw, so I instead utilized some American ingenuity against the impasse (i.e. manhandle the thing until it did what I wanted), but the relatively small tree was still too heavy to move. I doubted anyone would travel on this out of the way dead end anytime soon, so I was on my own to remove the impasse. I broke branches, large and small, off the tree, hoping to lighten it enough to move or at least stall long enough to have a bright idea. Option “other” was the winner though, as the cleared branches opened a hole barely large enough for my car to squeeze through. By crushing some small brushes immediately on the roadside, the automobile gingerly snuck under the trunk without inflicting any expensive scratches on my rental. Free from this entrapment, I quickly reach paved roads and motored to Cathedral Provincial Park.