McIntyre Bluff is a prominent geological feature located about halfway between Okanagan Falls and Oliver, BC. It looms in the background of Vaseaux lake with its impressive three hundred metre (300 m) wall and marks the narrowest point in the Okanagan valley.
When my sister comes to visit us I make a point to plan some challenging adventures. My sister is one strong woman who hikes through remote mountains and completes triathlons, so challenge is all a matter of perspective of course. After completing our forty-three kilometer bike from Chute Lake to Penticton we chose to hike up McIntyre Bluff on a hot 29°C day. The trail is about ten-and-a-half kilometers (10.5 km) round trip with a three hundred and eighty-two metre (382 m) elevation gain. There are several trail markers along the way but no trail map which would have been helpful.
To access the trail head we drove to Covert Farms. There is a reserved parking area near the wine lounge for bluff trail hikers and clear signage directing hikers towards the hike entrance. It is about one kilometer (1 km) walk from the parking lot to the trail head gate. The outside perimeter of Covert Farm is lined with electric fencing and on our last adventure here a good friend’s child accidentally touched the wire a receive a nasty jolt. My children remembered this event clearly and were very cautious along the fence. There are some healthy patches of poison ivy along the beginning of the trail so beware!
As we hiked away from the fence the trail began to climb and was more exposed. Soon we found ourselves surrounded by heady sagebrush and the sweet surprise of spring flowers everywhere (in early May). The most astounding flower we discovered was the low lying Bitteroot blooms. We were drawn by its delicate beauty. As we climbed the hill the view of Covert Farms was lovely and my children were astounded by “all the grape plants!”. We reached Rattlesnake Lake with relative ease and stopped to admire the birds and rest. From this point onward the hiking became more challenging because of the increasing heat and steeper climbs. Right after the lake we encountered a herd of cattle grazing and then hiked a short descent before climbing upward again. On the final upward ascent there are few trees and it felt very hot. Eventually we hid in the shade of a tree while my sister walked ahead to determine how close we were to the end. At this point in the hike our group (my sister, myself and three children (8, 6 and 4)) were fatigued and running low on water and nutrition.
We were only a short ways to the top and so we pushed onward for a little longer. The view from the top is vast and I wish we could have enjoyed it longer. After taking stock of our supplies and the state of everyone I had a moment of panic. We had only half a litre of water left (we started with five!), a couple cups trail mix and melting cheese. With the heat increasing and three tired children we knew we had to keep moving. My sister beamed confidence, dished out encouragement to all (even myself!) and strapped my youngest back on her back and my daughter on her shoulders and off we went. The climb down went much faster but it wasn’t easy. When we saw the herd of cattle we felt hopeful and not long afterwards we reached the bottom of the trail safely. Everyone worked hard and did well and I learned some important lessons along the way.
The lack of trail information led to poor decision making on our part. It took us five hours to complete to make the round trip which felt long under the hot sun! Hiking with children in hot weather requires a lot of breaks because they can dehydrate quickly. It is crucial to bring plenty of water and supplies and to take stock of how everyone is faring on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to stop and turn back if necessary. I would recommend hiking to Rattlesnake Lake and back with young children on a warmer day instead of trekking the entire hike.