I didn’t do much hiking in the Fall last year, but as soon as winter hit I’ve been out exploring in full force! I only did one snow camp last year and was really keen to try and fit 2 in this year. It’s always a challenge because I like to ski a lot too and the snow season is so short.
Fortunately, the weather aligned for us to make a trip out to the Coquihalla in early February. After a very snowy December, it’s been a pretty warm start to the year and all the local mountains were above zero degrees. The Coquihalla can get cold, but it reliably has snow, so it’s one of my favourite places to go in the winter. To date, we’ve been to Falls Lake and Zoa Peak.
It rained most of our drive up the Coquihalla, but it switched to snow just before we got to the Summit Rec Area, which was very lucky. I’d never even heard of Ottomite Peak, but Carolyn came across it somewhere and it’s a pretty low risk trail, so we decided to check it out. You park in the lot at the base of Yak Peak (across the road from the Needle Peak parking lot) where there is a really nice rest stop bathroom. The trail starts around the edge of the bathroom and runs slightly parallel the highway as you ascend up towards the peak.
I tracked just over 4km from the parking lot to Ottomite Peak. The trail is mostly in the trees and is all simple avalanche terrain until Ottomite. It’s also popular for ski touring and most of the skiers were continuing past Ottomite to Iago Peak. We considered it, but the trails goes into challenging terrain near Iago Peak and the avalanche risk was considerable in the alpine at the time, so we opted not to. There was a beaten track until the branch to Ottomite Peak, which has a really beautiful view and would also be great for camping.
The trail continued on towards Iago, but we had to break the trail to Ottomite Peak. It’s pretty rare to have to break trail in Southwest BC, the only other time I’ve done it was when we snow camped at Poland Lake last winter. It’s a lot more work, but fortunately it’s not too far to the peak of Ottomite Peak. Overall it took us about 2 hours from bottom to top. There’s a great view of the north mountains from Ottomite Peak, so we decided to camp at the top.
As usual, there were 4 of us on the trip, but Steve couldn’t make it, so our friend Marie accompanied Carolyn instead! Brandon and I shared his big 4 season orange tent as usual, and Carolyn experimented with her summer tent. She typically uses her 3 season MSR Elixir, but she has a non-freestanding 2p Durston tent that she wanted to try out. It took her a while to get it set up properly as it’s a bit tricky since it relies on using your hiking poles and tension to stand. But she managed to get a good pitch and said it worked fine for the night.
The weather was surprisingly nice on Saturday. We were expecting it to be overcast and snowy, but it cleared up a lot while we were hiking in and we actually got some blue sky and sun while we were setting up. Eventually the clouds moved back it, but we got some really lovely views from the peak, which we easily could have missed.
We built a nice big snow kitchen where we hung out for the better part of 4 hours while melting snow and preparing supper. Marie made hot lemon whisky and I made Kahlua hot chocolate bombs for happy hour and Brandon made our favourite thai chicken curry for supper. Then we had Marie’s apple crumble for dessert, so it was quite a spread! If you think me and Carolyn got off easy, I made lunch sandwiches and she made us homemade egg mcmuffins for breakfast!
The temperature was really hovering around zero, so it was one of our warmer snow camps and we were lucky it didn’t rain to be honest. We stayed up until around 8:30pm, which is pretty late for snow camping, before hitting the sack for a long night’s sleep. I slept pretty good early in the night, but then I was treated to the symphony of Brandon’s snores later in the night. The moon came up overnight and I enjoyed a beautiful view when I got up to pee, with the moonlight reflecting off the snow, it was super bright and I didn’t even need my headlamp.
Otherwise it was a low key morning and we packed up our gear and headed back to the parking lot. It was a lot faster hiking out and we stopped in Hope on the way back for the Blue Moose Café. Considering how little known this trail is – I really liked it! It is in avalanche terrain, but it’s pretty low risk terrain, so I think it’s good for beginners. I’d definitely like to go back some day and go all the way to Iago Peak, or maybe revisit in the summer, when you can hike several peaks back into the wilderness! Overall, another successful trip!