Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park and Conservation Area is extremely popular with local and international climbers, but it’s also a great nearby place to hike. The network of trails is fairly well marked, and there’s less chance of getting lost because the park is perched just above Skaha Lake, offering a 16km-long reference point.
For this morning’s hike, we’re exploring the Rock Oven & WARD1 trails, which head off to the southeast from the upper parking lot. (Access from Lakeside Rd.)
As we start off, I’m focused on my issues; going over them in my head – consumed with finding a resolution. But as the trail begins to climb, my attention shifts from mental anxiety to real physical work. Present and alert, one foot in front of the other. Over the next hour, my mind relaxes as I concentrate on getting to the top of the hill. Huffing and puffing, chatting and dodging branches and bees – I temporarily forget my troubles. This is when clarity happens. Fresh air, exercise and sunlight work wonders.
After about an hour and a half of climbing, we stop for lunch on a rocky clearing overlooking Skaha Lake. Ahead in the distance I see the ski runs at Apex Resort – still covered in snow. To the northwest, I hear the mid-week buzz of Penticton and to the south the quieter town of OK Falls. It sounds cliche but watching the world from above always reminds me there’s so much I can’t control. Instead of being “in it” – climbing a mountain allows you to see things from a different perspective – both literally and figuratively. I take a couple deep breaths, close my eyes and open them with a sense of ease.
For our route back we explore a lower trail – stopping to take photos of wild flowers, trees and TICKS. These creepy crawly bloodthirsty insects thrive in the Okanagan in the spring. They lurk in tall grasses and hang off branches, waiting for their next victim. In this case, it’s our friend Dino (no wonder - his abundance of lush leg hair is perfect for tick climbing.) Dino spots it quickly and flicks it off. Kidding aside, some ticks carry Lyme disease, and it’s important to check yourself, your clothing and your backpack after a hike. If you find a tick, you can usually remove it with no problem, but if it’s already dug itself in, there’s a special technique. “Google it” for instructions. (Did I mention I love Google for answering all life’s questions?)
After checking ourselves thoroughly, we continue on, skipping along a downward section of the trail – when Dino (in lead) suddenly lets out an uncharacteristic yelp. Behind him, like a chain reaction, we all slam into each other – screaming like a bunch of three-year-olds. Using his hiking pole, Dino points to a massive rattlesnake that's a good three inches thick. We can just make out its body, curled up and camouflaged next to the trail. Its rattle is loud and aggressive. Now, it’s on. We’re now engaged in a full-on standoff with a snake. For the next few minutes we debate what to do: run past it quickly or take a detour? What if it strikes out, wraps itself around one of us and eats us alive? We opt for the thorny-bush detour. Ensuring a respectable five-metre gap between it and us, we tiptoe our way around it. The snake wins and I’m okay with that. See what I mean about clarity and perspective? There’s nothing like a run-in with a large, potentially poisonous reptile to clear your thoughts. It’s fight, flight or bite!
As our adrenaline subsides, we quickly head back to the parking lot. Humbled and somewhat delighted by our snaky encounter, we remind ourselves we’re not the only ones out here.
Getting outside doesn’t solve your problems, but it gives you something else to focus on, something bigger than you. It’s a temporary diversion that’s adventurous, authentic and calming all at the same time. Now go – stop worrying and take a hike. For more information visit BC Parks.