Tag Archives: tarns

Coquihalla Dreamin’

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.

IMG_3421 copy
Coquihalla Mountain, an old strato volcano, as I saw it for the first time in 2008 from Jim Kelly Peak

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!

19829696022_36d0073862_z
Illal Meadows and Illal Mountain, as you reach the meadows

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.

19247152063_7216e9fb68_z copy
Near camp, below Jim Kelly Peak

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.

IMG_3435 copy
Illal Mountain, 2020 m, in October 2008. That’s Yak peak n the Coquihalla highway in the background

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…

19648807590_c05f75e1d2_z copy
Coquihalla Mountain. We would be going around to the left and into the valley beyond. Why? Probably because we thought it was the hardest way….
19650348219_7a027981fe_z copy
Dropping into the Jim Kelly/Coquihalla col, shoulder of Coquihalla at left and swinging toward the left here…
19648843658_89fd28550e_z copy
Looking up at Coquihalla from the pass, at the beginning of the “Endless Traverse”
19214275604_5cc44734fb_z copy
You must then lose elevation from the pass. No worries, it’ll just hurt more on the way back!
19656414720_3358e35347_z copy
Getting closer. Travel is deceptively tough beyond here and it’s best to lose elevation and travel just beneath unstable rock fields
19844762115_db1e4fd255_z copy
Looking back from where we came. That’s Jim Kelly Peak and the col/pass. Easiest line to follow here on the way back is at the base of this rockfall then through krummholz, which was roughly what we did
19223820973_0f75f3f21e_z copy
When you see this aspect you can begin to gain all the elevation back and head for the south flank, out of shot at left…

 

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.

19818479776_0488b332d8_z copy
What you need to do now is find your way onto the low end of the rock at left then pass through the shoulder where you will see your next obstacle….

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.

19656425198_5738f1f4a1_z copy

 

19221949814_8046e5d426_z copy
Our view as we ascended, just below the last 100 metres of climbing
19818312816_e6c76747bd_z copy
Final countdown!
19849456851_8a6a2e8e1a_z copy
But not before we check the summit waypoint, which showed that we were only fifty metres away….

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!

19659649148_1e18e519cb_z copy

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).

19226564453_02e94feda2_z copy

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.

19821247226_580db8bd4e_k copy
Needle and Markhor Peaks, with Yak Peak in the background and Highway 5 to its right
19852579721_eb7136bde5_k copy
Looking over at all the other subpeaks of Coquihalla. Friends of mine have traversed this route, highly recommended
19840022472_ec7e72e61e_z copy
Charming summit shot, all smiles and no pain, brother! Perfect for social media post
19660984279_0effbcd740_z copy
Me, with reality setting in, as the beer is hours away still. This hasn’t donned on Doug just yet!
19821309416_f12a4e2c21_z copy
Bedded Lake
19847579635_58d9146551_k copy
A view of what I call the Illal Plateau, with Illal Mountain at centre and Spiral Peak in behind

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.

19661020399_31b933eb60_z copy
Starting back for camp, bring it on!

The way back was almost as lengthy, but we were able to make somewhat quicker work of it.

19679895260_9821d01ead_k copy
Doug descending toward the boulder field, where the traverse home will begin

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.

19223820973_0f75f3f21e_z copy
Oh yeah, i posted this one already, but now we have to do it all over again, so…
19719536269_dbd387b3ab_z copy
Lupines

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.

19873134361_ff2df8e2f4_z copy
Back at camp, under Jim Kelly Peak again!

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…

19680480968_64d6bf8059_z copy

19842395576_653f47233f_k copy
Illal mountain looking like something out of Utah

19868292285_0d42454e58_z

19868445535_0cc4cccf31_k copy
Coquihalla, just plain showing off now!

Soon darkness fell, and we turned in for the evening at last. it had been one fine day!

19680545558_0edb773474_k copy
Sun sets over the tents

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!

IMG_3458 copy
This would have been a bit chillier, from October 2008

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!

19892632991_1e472c536e_k copy
Toward Merritt and Nicola Valley in the distance
19699679668_91dd54036c_k copy
Morning glow on Coquihalla

19699715350_941cbca859_k copy

19898582992_392a858031_k copy

19861450666_a6a9cc715c_k copy

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

19906173155_cb68c15213_z copy
Krummholz

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!

19906084595_67df429983_z copy
Paintbrush

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.

19718117608_fcca1dde9e_z copy
Not sure what this is, but it thrives near water

19718526058_bd5206a517_k copy

19718584670_dbd8c2bfb9_k copy
Aster!

19283834804_4a62d334cc_k copy

19648989678_aec63fcc8b_z copy
Conglomerate
19650171369_3860f5465c_z copy
One last glance at the meadows and this cool boulder

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.

2955642477_19d0c28abd_b
My first visit to Illal Mountain, and Jim Kelly Peak in October 2008… Photo by Silvia B

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!

 

Advertisements