As everyone here in British Columbia knows, there have been numerous hot summer days to go around this year. More accurately, the midsummer weather began early in May, and southwestern British Columbia has had one of its most active forest fire seasons.
For several weeks, Doug and I had been planning a trip to the mountains, but the smoke from the fires had been consistently altering our plans. Finally, I came up with an idea! Seven years ago, on a cold, clear, and windblown day, I’d had the chance to visit a sweeping alpine plateau in the Bedded Range and hiked up Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain with a new group of friends. I had wanted to return for another look in warmer weather, and this July seemed the perfect opportunity.
The promise of a decent trail with relatively reasonable elevation gain to an ideal basecamp was enough to convince Doug of the possibilities. So it was that we set off early on a Friday morning, headed for Hope. Doug grabbed a coffee at The Blue Moose, and we made our way to the Britton Creek Rest Area on the Coquihalla Highway. There we stopped to organize our gear and eat an early lunch. Half an hour later we were driving up the Tulameen Forest Service Road, and, after crossing Illal Creek, we rocked and rolled our way up a rough logging spur to an excellent parking spot around three kilometres uphill. This was the maiden logging road voyage for Doug’s new Toyota Tacoma and it passed the test with flying colours!
All that settled, it was time for the hike in. Our packs were heavy with overnight gear and refreshments, and the temperature, though hot, was offset initially by adequate shade and brisk winds. Insects, sometimes more than notorious there, were few and far between, as we steadily trekked up to the plateau. Most of the wildflowers had already bloomed, which is unusual for mid July, but the meadows were still quite lush and green.
Soon enough, we arrived at a shining tarn beneath Jim Kelly Peak, and stashed our overnight gear. It was a relief to doff the heavy packs and relax for a while. There was at least some, no, wait, plenty of temptation to sprawl out and take a nap, but we’d come there to hike and so instead began analyzing our options for the route up Coquihalla Mountain.
Conditions were ideal , and contrasted sharply with the frigid day on which I’d climbed Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain.
The route we had chosen was the south flank, which involved a long traverse around the mountain, over half of a circumnavigation, one way. There were limited reports about the route but rumour had it that at one time, in the boom days of Coalmont, there was even a once popular trail there that had now fallen into disuse. To begin, we needed to drop from the Illal Meadows into the col between Jim Kelly Peak and Coquihalla Mountain and follow a well worn path that supposedly accesses a popular lake below the pass. Here, on the way in, we spotted several of the biggest marmots we’d ever seen, and on the way back also saw a weasel hunting among the rocks. The next series of photos illustrate the approach step by step…
That traverse proved to be as endless as its reputation, and you had to be creative in order to avoid difficult terrain. We did that by losing elevation and following easier ground through bands of stunted trees, also known as krummholz. It was a lot like finding one’s way through a maze, and on more than one occasion we did find remnants of that old trail, albeit accidentally. There was plenty of scenery to enjoy, especially as the towers of the Coquihalla massif loomed high above us.
With more than a little persistence, we just kept on scuffling, and finally the south flank came into view. It was a welcome sight, to be sure!
We knew that the summit was close at hand now, and that all we needed to do was find a way up the flank. This we managed to do by walking an obvious path through fields of scree right to left in second photo below, then clawing our way almost directly up several partially loose sections of rock, including a chimney or two, and then struggling through a lot more krummholz.
Finally, we broke through and topped out on yet another band of rock, but from this one the summit cairn could be seen off to our right. Success was near!
Immediately, however, my eyes were drawn to to the left, where the slopes dropped sharply off the other side of the mountain. You can never really relax in the mountains! This hazard was easily avoided, of course, but it sure captured our attention!
As we walked to the summit cairn I felt compelled to holler “Oh yeah! Earned!” Normally, I’m not given to that kind of expression the mountains, but on that day we were both pretty stoked to be there. It had been almost seven years since I had seen this mountain, and it was compelling to see the other side of that view ( see the first picture in this tale).
Scanning about, one could now see the other summits of Coquihalla as well. Views of the Hidden Creek Valley, Tulameen, Needle and Markhor Peaks were especially rewarding.
Taking more than our usual twenty minutes on the summit, at 2157 metres in elevation, we snacked for a while and then left for camp, almost reluctantly.
The way back was almost as lengthy, but we were able to make somewhat quicker work of it.
We did, as on the hike in, have to gain and lose elevation frequently but before long we were grinding up to the col we had left a couple of hours before.
All that was left then was a somewhat tired ramble to the meadows, dinner, and icing down some beer in a snow cooler we had built. About as good as it gets, if you’re asking me.
The evening hours featured fine sunset vistas in all directions, and on the plateau below we could see the tents of several other campers who had arrived to enjoy the meadows. Here are some of my favourite photos from sunset time…
Soon darkness fell, and we turned in for the evening at last. it had been one fine day!
The night turned out to be reasonably warm, and we slept well. I was even happier, in retrospect, that I had not tried camping here on that first excursion some seven years back!
Inevitably, I’m an early riser on most mountain trips, and I was up before five in the morning wandering around the plateau. Here are a few shots of the sunrise, which was well worth waking up for!
Fun fact: If you don’t know what krummholz is, it’s stunted groves of tightly growing conifer typical to cold alpine regions. Growing low and densely helps it to thrive in snows, wind, and other such harsh conditions
Soon enough, Doug emerged from his tent. All that remained was to break camp, enjoy some coffee and breakfast, and talk about our return to a place where one visit is simply not enough!
The walk back was leisurely, with plenty of time for more photography and to closely examine the geology of the region as well as the plant life.
Back at the truck, we decided to drive out immediately, as we were concerned there might be a lot of vehicles driving the narrow road in on a weekend. That turned out to be very true, it was a veritable thoroughfare on this Saturday morning! As we exited the logging road there was a group of backpackers milling about, and I later found out that one of them was someone I knew, though not until later on. Small world, as they say!
Credit the 1966 song ” California Dreamin’ ” by The Mamas and The Papas, for the borrowed title of this tale. All day that tune had happened to be running through my mind, for whatever reason. This was, to sum it up, one the more enjoyable trips I’ve been on the last few years, and highly recommended.
Thanks also to my good friend Gerry, whose indomitable spirit and determination to get people into the mountains to discover new friends and experiences was largely responsible for my introduction to this part of the world seven years ago. This one’s for you, buddy!