I gasped for air and wind gusts tugged my shirt sleeves as we slowly approached the rocky summit of Mount Quiniscoe at 8,400 feet, quite high for this sea-level denizen.
My friend Mark Fraker and I had begun our hike on the afternoon of July 22nd from Cathedral Lakes Lodge in the Cascade mountains, about 235 miles east of Vancouver, B.C.
Situated within the 80,000-acre Cathedral Lakes Provincial Park and Protected Area, the lodge is at 6,800 feet and comprises Canada’s highest full-service hiking and fishing wilderness. With about 37 miles of trails leading to alpine lakes and meadows, the area is by all accounts a hiker’s paradise.
Along the five-mile route, we passed Glacier Lake, surrounded by snow-clad mountains and bordered by alpine meadows and Lodgepole pine trees. High in a bowl on the opposite side of the lake we spotted eight goats—four nannies with four kids that were friskily playing close to the snow patches.
There were scores of people staying at the lodge and others were tent-camping around the lake, but on this and other hikes, we seldom saw many people. Above the meadows we worked our way across a rock and talus field, skirted around some snow and finally attained the ridge at about 8,000 feet. From there it was a relatively easy hike up to the summit…except for my breathing.
“If I can’t take 8,000 feet I’d never be able to climb Kilimanjaro at more than 19,000 feet,” I muttered to Mark. (Kilimanjaro is one of my bucket-list dreams).
“Kilimanjaro is a gradual acclimatization,” Mark replied. “I think it’s a five-day climb.”
“I don’t know,” I huffed. “I was up on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea once at 13,000 feet and my head felt like it was going to explode. I think I’m destined to remain in the Chugach Mountains’ 5,000-6,000 footers.”
The wind was cool so we donned jackets, popped a few photos by the large rock cairn and soon began our descent. We found a nice line of alpine tundra and grass all the way down to the main trail around Glacier Lake and avoided the rock field.
That night in the lodge’s dining room we enjoyed a delicious dinner with people we had met on the first day of our four-day trip.
Despite rigorous hiking throughout our stay, I might have gained a couple of pounds because of the delicious food.
In addition to comfortable rooms in the lodge, or cabins; other amenities are a hot tub and sauna, with water heated by wood. Boats are available for fishing, and the lake supports a healthy population of Cutthroat Trout. Electrical power for all of the facilities is generated by solar panels.
The atmosphere around the lodge and with the staff is warm, friendly and informal. To reach the lodge, visitors ride in four-wheel-drive vehicles up a steep, 12-mile road that climbs up more than a mile through a dense conifer forest.
The current owner, Richard Padmos, says while operating the lodge in its remote location is challenging, he has enjoyed his many years there.
“I was once a forestry contractor and in one way or another I’ve always worked in the mountains,” he says. “And we have a great staff.”To learn more about Cathedral Lakes Lodge and how to get there, go to: http://cathedrallakes.ca
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired Birchwood ABC Elementary School teacher.