Basking in Cathedral Park's golden glow

Picture this classic Canadian scene: a rustic lodge set beside a shimmering lake with a majestic mountain poised high above. We recognized it instantly on our arrival last fall at Cathedral Park’s Quiniscoe Lake. The image was calendar-perfect and appeared as if out of nowhere at the end of a long journey.

We’d left Vancouver four hours earlier and headed east to Keremeos, a small farming community in the southwest corner of the Okanagan that, with justification, bills itself as the Fruit Stand Capital of Canada. On its western outskirts, where displays of squashes and pumpkins loomed large, we turned south across the Ashnola River. As we followed the river southwest towards Cathedral Park the ground grew thick with mahonia nervosa , or Oregon grape, heavy with clusters of blue berries.

Just inside the provincial park we rendezvoused with Richard Padmos, owner of Cathedral Lakes Lodge. We tossed our packs into his truck, then set off on a dizzying 1,300-metre ascent up the private road in ultra-low gear. If we’d had more time – and gumption – we might have hiked the 16-kilometre-long Lakeview Trail, which intersected with the road in several places, to reach the lodge and adjacent provincial campground on Quiniscoe Lake. In this case, the truck-fare seemed like money well spent, especially as we later learned that rewarding viewpoints along the trail are few and far between.

It’s a rare road that so conveniently connects semi-desert and alpine environments. Fewer still deliver as rewarding a vista as awaited us on this late September afternoon. Nothing we had witnessed on the journey prepared us for the scene. It felt as if we were suddenly looking at the world through gold-tinted spectacles. An alpine larch forest encircled the lake and carried on above in waves of saffron. Our visit unexpectedly coincided with the annual colour change that alpine larches undergo each fall. Larches differ from all other evergreens in not retaining their foliage over the winter. Golden needles carpeted the forest floor. They dropped of their own accord and with the steady encouragement of the chill wind which, here at 2,000-metres elevation, promised snow if provoked by precipitation.

We were dumbstruck, fixed to the spot as if awakening into a dreamscape. True, we’d come predisposed to enchantment. Cathedral Park’s reputation for beauty proceeds it. That image is almost entirely based on the rock formations that dominate the skyline. Soon enough we’d be wandering among them. To begin, however, we’d have to shake off the spell cast by the larches. We wandered along filigree-covered trails beneath the wizened boughs of larches that led to Glacier and Pyramid Lakes, as well as Lake of the Woods where two loons serenely floated. We watched as the sun played shadow tricks on Grimface Mountain and the gap-toothed columns of Denture Ridge. Only when the persistent breeze began to numb us did we retreat to the lodge for the night. Next door, a light shone in the ranger’s cabin, the campground’s lone occupant. In a matter of days she would be pulling out for the season.

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