From Vancouver, it’s about four hours east via Manning Park on Route 3 (also known as the Crow’s Nest Highway) past Hedley and before Keremeos, you exit on to the Ashnola Highway, Thompson-Okanagan. From Penticton, it’s about an hour southwest and we had the opportunity this summer to be guests of the Lodge. When you make that turn to follow the Ashnola River, you cross through a bright red covered bridge and follow the river to the muster point.
Here at the Base Camp you’ll be greeted by Lodge staff and be guided across another gated bridge to a parking area where you’ll leave your car. Transportation, whether you’re camping or staying in the Lodge must be booked in advance for both the trip up and back. In the high season it costs $100 return. You’ll climb into huge antique Mercedes four-by-fours and if you haven’t shaken off the stress of the city you left behind you will after the scenic and rough 40 minute climb upward over tough terrain. It’s a rough and tumble trip and on the day we ascended, a young family travelling with us said a scrambler ride in a midway would never seem extreme again. (You can choose to hike up, however, the lift takes you right into the core of Cathedral Provincial Park from which the most scenic trails radiate.)
The deep cobalt colours of Quiniscoe Lake and the serenity of the setting captures your attention first as you wobbly disembark. First cabins built in 1934 still stand and harken back to a simpler time. Cathedral Lakes Resort Ltd. was formed in 1964 with the jeep road built over the next year and the provincial park established in 1968. Now, the main lodge speaks of a time when alpine entrepreneurs sought to emulate Bavarian influences. If it was human, it would remind you of an elderly aunt still gracious while a bit worn.
Once on all outdoor enthusiasts’ bucket lists and requiring booking far in advance often with a stint on a waiting list, it is victim of the North American economic downturn of 2008. She is showing her age without ongoing income of full reservations for full maintenance and renovations. She survives due to the ingenuity of her owners in frugal budgeting and leveraging Help Exchange (HelpX). HelpX is primarily a cultural exchange for working holidays where helpers wanting to travel abroad stay with locals to gain practical experience. For example, an arrangement where the helper works an agreed number of hours daily receiving benefits such as free accommodation, meals and perhaps Internet access and other activities.
Newer accommodation such as the log cabins along the lake are well appointed. We stayed in an older bungalow in one of four bedrooms that shared a common room and two bathrooms with showers. Like the aforementioned elderly aunt it could use a makeover and thorough grooming if finances allowed and staff had the luxury of time to train helpers in cleaning protocols witnessed in comparable settings. That aside, you don’t plan a trip to a remote outdoor adventure setting to focus on the room. The food included as part of the lodging package is plentiful and scrumptious home cuisine influenced by the bounty of fresh and local organic produce available in the Similkameen.
The staff are incredibly knowledgeable about the trails and lots of information is provided on details such as level of difficulty, estimated time required, elevation gains and other highlights. Well-fortified by the kitchen, in just a few steps you will be transposed to a magical land of twists, turns, alpine forests and meadows accentuated by flowers and low berry bushes. Despite the evident damage by the spruce bark beetles, the scenery is truly spectacular. You’ll need to pace yourself because you’ll want to tackle them all and quite frankly, the food is so good you won’t want to be late for dinner! You are given the option to pack a lunch in the morning or make it back in time for noon.
Cathedral Lakes Lodge strives to engage local winemakers and growers and we were fortunate to be there when proprietors of Harker’s Organics and delectable Rustic Roots Winery of Cawston were on site. Before dinner, Sara and Troy Harker led guests through a wine tasting of the fruit-based wines. Many a guest commented that they had their perception of fruit wine turned on its head and would be now adding those from the Rustic Roots Winery collection to their home cellars. The menu that night was an ode to Harker’s Organics with wines Of Rustic Roots Winery used in many dishes to complement the flavour profiles. Guests were treated to pick a favourite selection from the tasting to enjoy another pouring with their meal.
By the way, even if you camp you can opt into some meals at the Lodge and it is licensed with a good, while limited given the transportation issues, stock of libations. I can’t think of a better way to combine roughing with some indulgence.
We were early to bed anxious to conquer more trails the next day. There is something exciting about hiking a path and finding it marked for the Fat Dog 100 Trail Race. Exhilarated by the view and with hearts pounding due to the elevation gain, we couldn’t help but marvel at the fitness level of those who enter such a race. Listed as in the top nine toughest Ultra marathons by Outside magazine, Fat Dog 100 Trail Race, starts in Cathedral Provincial Park with participants negotiating challenging and stunning trails there as well as in E.C. Manning Provincial Park and Skagit Valley Provincial Park. Fat Dog 120 is a qualifier and earns four points toward Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc while the Fat Dog 70-mile and 50-mile events earn three and two points respectively. Not a race for beginners, you’ll want to plan far ahead if you plan to join the challenge, August 15 to 17, 2014, and registration is now open. Outside Online likened the 28,453-foot climb required in the race to “running from sea level to the summit of Mount Everest”.
We were thrilled to encounter deer, mountain goat, marmots and other alpine creatures throughout our ramblings. In addition to hiking, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. All guests are welcome to relax in the main floor fireplace room at the Lodge where you can enjoy a crackling fire, play a few games or select from the eclectic collection of books to read.
Many people make the trek for the fishing alone. Next time we’ll add fishing to our own itinerary. The Lodge provides complimentary rowboats with all the safety equipment. We watched that same family we rode up to the Lodge introduce their children to all the glories of the great outdoors. It was fun to watch the Dad coach his daughter in learning how to use a rowboat and Mom and daughter work together to try to capture a photograph of a marmot. I’m thinking there’ll be precious memories planted that’ll have this family returning again and again into future generations.
As for me, I have to get back to Cathedral Lakes Lodge because there’s so much more to explore. Opening and closing dates for the season are weather dependent and if you plan to visit during the high season from mid-July to the end of August, it’s best to book well in advance.
Hiking in BC’s Thompson Okanagan region
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