By Michael Wigley
Cathedral Provincial Park lies in the northern tip of the Cascade Mountains, just outside the small sleepy town of Keremeos in the Okanagan Valley. While thriving with an abundance of fruit in the summer time, it grows quiet there in the winter. The park boundary lies about 30km west of the town and east of Manning Park. Up in the park sets Cathedral Lake Lodge, which began in 1934 when Herb Clark purchased roughly 80km of land for $500 from the government of British Columbia. He ran a horseback guided service to two guesthouses up at Quiniscoe Lake at 2000m. In 1968 the BC government established the area as a Provincial Park. The lodge was grandfathered into the park, and later on the Padmos family bought the establishment, which they still currently own.
In May 2016, me and a few other splitboard hooligans were invited out by Tyler Bradley to join Jordan Padmos on a spring splitboard adventure. We went out to check out the potential terrain that we kept hearing about, staying up at Tom’s cabin, which is essentially a house in the mountains with a full kitchen, bathroom, shower, fireplace, couches, and beds to sleep 7. Chris Logan, Davis King and I saw just how much terrain there was to explore here and I believe a lot of it is still untapped.
To access Cathedral Lake Lodge requires crossing over the Ashnola River, which has a gated-off bridge operated by the lodge, and then using their access road, which climbs roughly 1600m over 16km. The lodge is only open during the months of June through the beginning of October. When it comes to accessing the lodge in the winter, you either have a long boring walk up a logging road or find a way to get past the gate…
The thing about me is I always have a secret agenda. I’m always plotting ways to get myself into the mountains more efficiently. Cue the summer of 2016. After that trip I knew I had to figure a way to get into this place to untap these lines. I chatted with Jordan about working up there, offering to do anything just to be up there and spend all summer figuring out the terrain, what couloirs went, and how to access them. I worked at the lodge serving breakfast and dinners, housekeeping, maintenance, prep cook, dishwashing, hiking guide, first aid attendant. Whatever had to be done. Then using my charisma and charm I became close to the owners and gained their trust. I chatted lots with Jordan about the ski touring potential and what could be done out there. We settled on a February trip to see what the terrain looks like in the heart of winter.
February 2017, I kept in contact with Jordan and began assembling a crew to head up in the terrain for an extended period of time. When it came to the date, Jordan was off in Mexico, but left me with the keys to head up to the lodge and instructions for the power, which runs off solar panels. I assembled the usual suspects of Chris Logan, Kevin Girouard, Gregor Graham, Chris Platt, Brad Ruszkowski and Davis King. We arrived at the gate and with the first key unlocked it, which gave us access to the kingdom that lies above. We loaded Logan and Kevin’s snowmobiles with food, camera gear, and what we needed for our expedition. They punched up ahead as Brad and I got a little magical and skinned up the access road.
But not everything was as easy as it seemed. The snow was rotten, facets to the ground with a temperature gradient crust. The sleds were becoming problematic as they were weighted down and kept punching down to the ground. After a day of work and some road clearing we made it up to the lodges. It was gray and eerie seeing this place in winter after spending a summer there.
The following day, we scouted out a close-by zone and found some displeasing results. The trees had a snowpack of facets with a slight crust on top and the alpine had been destroyed by wind, making it rock hard. Welcome to snowboarding in the desert. A few of our crew grew discouraged. What are we going to be able to pull off here? Are we actually going to ride anything, or just try and survive? Well, we did have a house to crash in and a fireplace to keep warm with.
If there’s any lesson I’ve ever learned about the mountains, it’s patience. You can’t always be in the right place at the right time. But you can be in the right place and wait for the right time. So we waited, eating some awesome meals, playing lots of crib, jibbing rock features around the lodge and really just dorking around. The other members of the crew rolled up a few days after, and then so did the snow.
Patience paid off and lines started to fill in, we were hungry for them too. As time went by we rode 2-4 new couloirs a day, some of them being first descents. We named so many lines that trip; we kind of got tired of thinking of new names for everything. Everyone got to name a line and put a line down. As time went by so did the crew. People either had to get back to their lives or just grew tired of the place. Logan, Brad and I weren’t finished till we rode everything we wanted.
The last day proved to be the best day, even though I felt terribly bad for Brad. I think cabin fever got the best of him. He was our photographer of the trip, but I don’t think he knew what he signed up for, not knowing how much Logan and I don’t stop giving it. We’re used to big missions, long days, long approaches, and hiking straight up couloirs. In the end we put down roughly a dozen or more new couloirs.
This place has a lot of potential, but is not for the faint of heart. The wind destroys it; the snow becomes rotten due to the dry climate. Yet, if you’re determined you can make anything happen. The views from the ridge are well worth it themselves. Looking south/southwest you can spy Baker and Rainier, knowing you’re still in a piece of the Cascades.