British Columbia’s Cathedral Lakes
By Jane Cassie
Thirty kilometers from the town of Keremeos and two thousand meters skyward, awaits Cathedral Provincial Park and sixty kilometers of the most heavenly hiking that you’ll find in British Columbia.
The 33,000-hectare (80,000-acre) mountain wilderness is splashed with azure lakes, cloaked with alpine meadows, and backed by some mighty majestic jagged peaks.
“It’s like being on top of the world!” I had exclaimed, as we took our final steps onto the rim trail where our panoramic sights included distant summits of the Northern Cascades, and Coastal Range.
Although the vista was indeed a rewarding grand finale, the entertainment en route had been equally as uplifting. Moulting mountain goats, California bighorn sheep and large hoary marmots graced our rocky rubble trail. They united with cooing ptarmigans, chirping chickadees and the whistling sounds from timid picas.
Feast for the Senses
As well as exploring the massive rock formations of ‘Stone City,’ we were in awe of the geological profile known as Smokey the Bear, and with more than thirty-six bird species and five hundred kinds of plants, the adventurous ascent had been a feast for the senses.
Although you might think hoofing to such a heady elevation would be a quest considered by only serious mountaineers, thanks to the convenient location of Cathedral Lakes Lodge, at 2050m (6,800 ft), even novice trekkers are able to partake.
The journey to this divine destination actually commences at the park’s base camp where, after a twenty-two scenic kilometer drive through the Ashnola Valley, high country seekers rise up 1200m (3,900ft) via four wheel transporters to the shimmering oasis of Quiniscoe Lake.
Thick stands of spruce, fir and larch enshroud the glistening gem, and snow-tipped peaks provide a breathtaking backdrop. Varied accommodations that sprawl the shoreline include cozy log-hewn cottages, a modern-day Mongolian yurt for the meditation-minded, a horde of well groomed campsites and the grand focal point, a Bavarian-style lodge that hosts half a dozen guest rooms.
Here, a soothing hot tub waits to offer therapeutic reprieve for strained and mountain-worn muscles, a fireside lounge entices game lovers and bookworms, and three times a day the clanging dinner gong stimulates some serious salivation.
Inclusion of all meals can be arranged upon reservation and both the head chef, Surya Misra and pastry chef, Karin Leja, have the gastronomic knack of satisfying even the heartiest alpine appetite. Some of the buffet specialties during our stay included succulent lamb that was delicately spiced with herbs, tender strips of beef prepared with a full-bodied curry, and a lemon-garnished salmon, done to Epicurean perfection. As well as serving home-baked granola, fresh fruit and yogurt, Chef Misra entices with a full morning feast of pancakes, bacon, eggs…the works. Lunches are arranged on a dine-in or take-out-to-trek basis.
Before escalating to what we deemed as being the ‘top of the world’, we decided to build up our stamina by plodding the less arduous five-kilometer Diamond Trail, which showed an elevation gain of two hundred and twenty-five meters.
The green carpeted forest floor bordered our well-trod path, and the interspersing of Indian paintbrush and sunshine yellow buttercups in the alpine meadows created a picture postcard setting.A myriad of trails, well-marked by stone cairns, leads to a full range of hiking options and a chain of seven linked lakes that possess their individual allure.
While Lake of the Woods snuggles in the shade of subalpine greenery, the turquoise gem of Ladyslipper sparkles against its rugged granite embankments. Four of the wilderness wonders were well stocked with trout in the 1930’s, and today the natural spawning promises abundant angling rewards that vary from pan-sized cutthroat to trophy-sized rainbow.
Similar caliber climbs can be explored by taking the tundra trails that scoot off to Scout and Glacier Lake and the more advanced can be challenged by inclines like The Boxcar, Lakeview and Quiniscoe Mountain.
Biodiversity and Splendor
No matter what the route, all naturalists will be swept away by the biodiversity and splendor. The lower level terrain is lush with towering stands of Douglas fir that eventually thin out to outcroppings of Lodgepole pine. Englemann spruce and subalpine fir gather around the lodge site and the colorful alpine is attributed to the plethora of Lyall’s larch, heather and lupines.
The operating season runs from early June to mid October and ever-changing scenery evolves in each of its three stages. Early in the season the trails are dusted with snow and new buds are just emerging. In mid-season a blaze of wildflowers sweeps the alpine meadows, and late in the year the entire landscape glows in golden autumn hues.
It comes as no surprise that, as well as attracting nature lovers, the park draws photographers who are anxious to capture the beauty of the area. Renowned Vancouver photographer Jessica Taylor provides an advanced class each season as she shares her talent in capturing the area’s abundant wildlife and scenery. The three-day program is limited to twelve students.
When it came time to leave, we too lingered on our treasured memories collected over our two-day stay, and agreed that as well as feeling on top of the world, Cathedral Lakes Park was probably the closest place to heaven on earth.
Jane and Brent Cassie have been exploring travel destinations since 1996. They are the coauthors of “How To Create a Long-Lasting Relationship: A Practical Guide To Achieving Intimacy.” You can reach them at janecassie.com
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