Cathedral Park (or Cathedral Lakes) is a place that had been recommended to us many times. With much of its accessible terrain above the treeline, we were told of fabulous open views and endless flower meadows. We had arranged a trip going up with Merewyn and to be joined by Jennifer and Victor a day later. So on the Thursday evening (the 30th) we met up with Merewyn and drove along Highway 3, passing through Manning Park (which didn’t feel right!) and on into the beautiful Similkameen Valley (through which we’d driven on the way to the Okanagan a month or so earlier). We pulled in at the Stemwinder Provincial Park campground (right next to the road) and pitched our tents in the dark, guided by our headlamps and the bright moonlight.
We rose early the next morning (we hadn’t slept that well as we were right next to the road) and after a quick breakfast, headed further down the valley to the Ashnola area, a few km short of Keremeos. We took the road over the covered bridge and through the reservation land onto the gravel Ashnola Forest Service Road. The road wound its way up through a striking little gorge (thankfully there was no traffic coming the other direction), dodged a few cattle here and there and led us to the locked gate at the entrance to the Cathedral Lakes Lodge. We were due to travel up on the first shuttle of the day and were the first ones to arrive. We explored a bit further up the road, scouting out the trailhead had we wished to walk the 16 km in ourselves. Driving back to the entrance to the lodge, we were glad that we had paid the (not exactly inexpensive) shuttle fee, if only for the experience of riding up in one of the heavy-duty Unimog 4×4 vehicles.
The time arrived for the gate to be opened and we drove over the bridge into the parking area. By now, several other cars had arrived and we wondered just how busy it was going to be. We had a few more minutes of milling around before our gear (which went up separately from us) was loaded onto one truck, and all the passengers into two others. We got into a recent model Unimog and bagged some good seats, sharing the back with five others including an American couple with their son.
We were all really excited about the drive up (which takes about an hour) and were eager to get under way. We got maybe 100 m up the road before we screeched to a dusty halt and turned around to fill up the tank and check that no one had been left behind and that no other vehicles were coming down. Then we were off again. It soon became obvious why this road was closed to private vehicles. Barely one lane of dirt wide and with a gradient of 1-in-4 or steeper in places, most cars would simply not make it up the road in anything other than perfect conditions. And as for coming down again… well, let’s say there were a few eye-popping steep drop-offs that made us hope the driver really did know what he was doing!
After a very bumpy, noisy and even dustier hour we arrived at the lodge, located in the core area of the park. We collected our packs and headed off into the nearest campground. We had planned beforehand that we would head to Pyramid Lake campground first as it was the smallest and quietest. About 20 long minutes of walking (our packs felt really heavy) we reached the campground and set about exploring. We very quickly decided on our spots – a pair of tent pads close to the water with a bit of a view. One of these had a better view than the other, so we flipped a coin and Merewyn won. She ended up with the spot that we later found out was nicknamed the Honeymoon Suite, on account of its superb location. We’ll get that one next time…
We pitched our tents and sat down for some lunch, discussing what we could do with the afternoon (the entire reason for spending the $90 for the ride up). We opted to do a circuit which took in Scout and Red Mountains before returning via Glacier Lake. We set out on the trail, back towards the lodge (stopping to take photos of a deer picking its way through one of the other campgrounds) and out along the Scout Lake/Mountain trail. The first part followed the Lakeview Trail in from the trailhead, and suddenly we were extremely glad we hadn’t hiked in. We passed Scout Lake and took the turnoff around Scout Mountain. We passed old meadows, where the last of the flowers were hanging on and gained elevation passing over several boulder fields, accompanied by the squeak of numerous pikas.
Speaking of pikas, we had just crossed another set of boulders and managed to spot one of the furry critters (which sound just like squeaky toys). It was close enough for us to get a really good view, some nice photos and a little bit of video. Now one of the things I learned about being around people with video cameras is that you don’t open your mouth and say the first thing that comes to mind. But I guess Merewyn didn’t know I was filming and we now have the three words “It’s all ass” immortalized for all eternity. Or at least as long as our memories and computers will last. Poor Merewyn.
Well, from there we work our way around Scout Mountain and climbed up onto the plateau to get our first real look at where we were spending the next few days. And the views stretched for miles… Wide open (and quite bleak) landscape, the area really reminded us of a combination of the Pennine moors and the Lake District in the UK. Except here we were almost 2000 m above sea level, the air was thinner and the environment even more hostile to anything growing more than a few inches high. Here and there, tiny purple alpine lupines could be spotted, usually among the turning red and yellow-green leaves of the stunted berry bushes.
The trail wound its way over the open ground and turned up towards the next boulder field leading to Red Mountain. We lost the trail several times among the rocks, and several groups of people had put in helpful cairns, just not all marking the same trail. We often had to rely on our hands to steady ourselves on the rocks. We crested the boulder field onto the broad summit of Red Mountain and were hit by the howling wind. It had clouded over in the last few hours and had turned chilly and distinctly un-summer like. We paused at a sheltered spot overlooking Quiniscoe Lake and took in our surroundings.
Carrying on, we descended slightly into the pass which led down to Quiniscoe Lake and climbed again onto the lower flanks of Quiniscoe Mountain. The trail passed around the back, leaving us fully exposed to the wind which was now beginning to bring spots of rain. We paused long enough to don rain gear and hurried on across the open terrain to find the route down to Glacier Lake.
We soon reached our turnoff and scrambled down the steep slope out of the wind and rain. Now we could relax again, and no longer needed our waterproof jackets. We passed by the beautiful Glacier Lake and headed back into the trees, returning to Pyramid Lake in time to think about making dinner. We quickly found out one of the disadvantages of being up so high: by the time we had finished eating, we were desperately hanging on to our hot drinks for warmth. Brrr! We stowed our food and crawled into our tents. Before we knew it, we were warm and cozy, and ready for a good night’s sleep.