In yesterday's blog post, I started the story of my trip to Cathedral Provincial Park last weekend, including my experience hiking the Diamond trail, looping around Scout Mountain then coming back around on the Centennial Trail, as well as info about the camping options at Quiniscoe lake and Lake of the Woods. This week, I'll continue the story with my experiences hiking the Cathedral Rim and Glacier Lake Trails, as well as camping in unexpectedly challenging conditions.
Going Solo on Cathedral Rim Trail
The next morning, I got up at dawn to head off and hike the Cathedral Rim Trail by myself. My friend Kiri determined that the altitude sickness she was experiencing would likely make the journey too hard on her for her own safety. She knew that it was the one hike at the park that I most wanted to hike, so she decided to stay back and hike one of the other lower altitude hikes while I made my attempt at the rim trail, with plans to reconnect afterward to hike something else together. I greatly appreciated her understanding as I said my goodbyes, making sure to detail my hiking plan so that she was aware of where to look for me if something went awry while I was hiking on my own. I also packed extra warm layers, gear for emergency camping, as well as my ubiquitous hiker first aid kit, just in case.
I started off hiking up through the yellow pines of the Centennial trail with much better weather than we had had the day prior. They were so pretty and colourful, it really made the exertion of the uphill hike that much more tolerable.
And of course when I got above the treeline, everything just opened right up. I got a great view of Scout Lake from high up on the edge of a ridge before heading north at the turn-off for the rim trail.
Panoramic Views All Around
Everywhere I looked, the Cathedral Rim Trail offered a slightly different view of the same panorama looking at mountains in all directions. I kept stopping every twenty feet to take new photos after having had even more stunning views as I progressed. In additions to the views, I also noted that there was snow on the ground at these elevations. It wasn't a ton, but I could also see that the ridge of the taller mountains I was to travel across also had snow on them that wasn't there the day before. I noted this, but kept going as the snow where I was hiking wasn't prohibitively dangerous, even with me hiking solo. I forged onward.
There were two different routes on the rim trail, apparently. I hadn't seen the easier one and had taken the slightly harder one that had me scrambling a little up boulder fields that were a little wet from snow. It wasn't too slick, but I did become a lot more focused on my footing, acutely aware that I was alone up there. Of course, as I progressed, there was more and more snow, making it more challenging. At the same time, it was hard not to want to press on with the views being so gorgeous.
Summiting Quiniscoe Mountain and the Route Beyond
As I neared the summit of Quiniscoe Mountain, I had started a mental routine of evaluating the safety of my hike and the totality of the circumstances surrounding it. At that point, the snow was thicker, but the route had flattened out so it wasn't quite as dangerous. It had also started snowing, and the snow was picking up more and more as I hiked. I could still see the mountains that I was hiking toward, and kept on with my plan, fully aware that that high in the mountains, I had to accept the possibility that I might have to give up on my plan if the conditions worsened to the point that felt unsafe.
I started hiking down Quiniscoe picking my way down a steep boulder field, steeper, wetter, and unstable in some places. The rock cairns marking the trail were also becoming harder to find as the snow blanketed them, making them hard to distinguish from other surrounding rocks. If it had just been that, I might have kept going, but then I looked up toward the mountains that the ridge continued on toward and they had disappeared, whited out by the snow clouds that had formed. I stood there looking, being pelted with snow. I let out a sigh took a quick selfie, and made the choice to abort mission. That is the first photo below, showing what I could no longer see. The second photo is one of me at the Quiniscoe Mountain summit, proud of myself for making the safe choice to turn back. It is so hard to make that choice when you're facing a lot of sunk costs, money spent getting there, efforts made to hike up having faced many challenges, and then thought of whether or not I would ever make it back, but you have to be able to make those hard choices, especially if you want to hike solo as I do.
I briefly considered looping around the mountain and heading down on the trail toward Glacier Lake from where I was, but the trial looked quite steep and wet, and I really didn't know what the trail was like beyond that, so I played it safe and went back the way I came, tracking my footsteps in the snow. I did take the more level route going back instead of taking the boulder field route. My whole experience of the Cathedral Rim trail that day had only taken me 3.5 hours, start to finish, having hiked a little more than 10km up and down from our campsite.
Hiking Glacier Lake in Good Weather and Company
Once I got down to the part of the trail that didn't have snow, I raced down the mountain, hoping to reconnect with Kiri so we could go on a different hike together. There was plenty of time to hike the Glacier Lake trail together. Thankfully, she had just gotten back from hiking around Quiniscoe Lake and was sitting down for a snack at camp. We snacked together, then set off to hike Glacier Lake, with a side trip on the trail looping around Lake of the Woods and Pyramid Lake Campgrounds. Pyramid had been closed for the season, and with good reason. The pine beetle devastation of the trees in that area made it unsafe. With dead trees everywhere, they can topple at any moment potentially crushing people while they sleep unsuspectingly in their tents.
After rounding the Pyramid Lake campground, we turned off on the Glacier Lake trail, and headed upward. It was still a little more challenging than usual for Kiri with her altitude sickness, but nowhere near as bad as it was the day prior when it necessitated regular breaks to recover from heart palpitations. For those of you who are unaware, it can be quite random who suffers from altitude sickness and how badly, and it has little to do with how good of shape you're in. Some people's bodies aren't able to adapt as quickly, so if you're using a shuttle service to speed your way up a mountain, it's important to note that you may need a day to adapt before attempting higher altitude hikes.
The route revealed stellar views of the surrounding mountains which loomed all around us. Every few steps showed us something new, and I found myself taking tons of photos to capture it all. The weather improved substantially as we hiked as the sun came out and lit up the landscapes surrounding us.
At one point, I looked at the same mountains that I had decided not to hike and it appeared as though the snow had disappeared. Then from another angle, I thought I could see plenty of snow. I wondered if it was an optical illusion. I wondered if maybe I had waited till later in the day, I might have been able to finish the trail. As we arrived at Glacier Lake though, we spotted some people high above descending on the Glacier Lake approach trail to the rim trail. It looked like they had taken the route that I had taken earlier, but also chose to abandon any notion of going further. I nodded, reassuring myself that I made the right choice.
Glacier Lake in All Its Glory
We were not in the least bit disappointed with our experience of Glacier Lake. With the sun high in the sky and the Cathedral mountains all around, we were treated to the most incredible views. The lake seemed to perfectly underscore the majesty of those mountains. After taking our photos, we headed on our way, looping back toward the Quiniscoe Lake and our campsite there. It was around a 6km hike, that took us a little under 2.5 hours, even with all the stops to take photos.
A Quick Jaunt to Scout Lake
Since we made such good time on the Glacier Lake trail and it was only 4pm, we decided to make one last hike to do the Scout Lake trail we had passed the day before. The lake itself was cute, and it was neat to see the surrounding mountains we had hiked the previous day from the lower vantage point. It took us 1.5 hours, being just shy of 7km, there and back from our campsite.
On the way back, I made a point of looking for the fireweed blooms we had seen when we had first arrived, to see if anything had changed to indicate developments in the shifting seasons. The blooms had shrunk away to nothing when there had been a few left only the day before. That's mountain weather for you. It can change in a heartbeat. After we got back to camp, we prepped dinner, watching a squirrel frantically scurry back and forth across our campsite, towing pinecones to his personal cache. Little did we know how soon his efforts would pay off.
One Last Trial/Treat... Snow?!?
What is one person's treat is often another person's trial. As the evening progressed, it became notably colder. We ate all our food, and headed into the tent to stay warm. We fell asleep listening to podcasts. In the middle of the night, I woke up to different sounds, that of snow pelting our tent. I said a quiet thank-you to myself for having been prepared for colder weather camping, having seen the possibility of snow in the forecast and fell back asleep. When I woke up, there was a blanket of snow over everything.
Snow/winter camping is not for everyone, but Chris and I both love it. Someone once said to me that there's no such thing as bad camping weather, only bad gear. I would add to the saying, "bad choices" as well. Even with the right gear, you can make bad choices in terms of where you set up camp or how you use it, leading to unpleasant camping experiences. Fortunately, Kiri and I were well-prepared and were able to appreciate the beauty of it all. We got up and warmed up over coffee as the snow continued to fall all around us.
After packing up our camp, we headed to the pick-up spot where we were to board the shuttle to head back down the mountain. Before boarding, I had a little time, so I went and hiked a little around Quiniscoe Lake to snap a few photos of it in the snow.
Catherdral Lake Lodge vs Camping
On our shuttle ride down the mountain, we enjoyed chatting with others who were along for the ride, people who had stayed at the lodge and enjoyed all its comforts. They sang the praises of buffets with tons of options for everyone, lunches you could enjoy at the lodge or the alternative sandwich bar that allowed you to pack an amazing lunch with your own homemade sandwiches as you headed off on hikes. They told us of their experience in the outdoor hot baths where they sipped on wine and watched the snow falling gently. It sounded amazing, but I can't say that I was disappointed with our experience of park. Perhaps if I go again, I might book one night at the highly expensive lodge, or perhaps maybe just one big meal. It's nice to know there are options for everyone, making Cathedral Provincial Park a highly accessible mountain adventure for all to enjoy.
Now over to you. Have you gone to Cathedral Provincial Park? If so, what was your experience like? Perhaps you got to hike the entirely of the Cathedral Rim Trail? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments so that we can all benefit from them. :)