Harper Ridge

Harper Ridge is really just the east end of the ridge that starts with Mt. Paul to the west.   On the east end a lower ridge stands between Harper Ranch and the benchlands.   The challenge is that access from the west is on the Kamloops Indian Reserve and access from the east is on private property, Harper Ranch.   Access from the south is from Shuswap Road, but steep silt cliffs flank most of the road and there are some fencelines too.   A couple of the gullies offer some opportunities, but the gullies are deeply eroded and difficult.   Fortunately, there are a couple of routes up through the silt cliffs to the benchland above.  This is grazing lease land so if cattle are out, give them a wide berth.   This is also sage and grassland territory, the home of ticks in the spring.

There are many good views of the steep silt bluffs overlooking the South Thompson River.

pano1rThe steep-sided gullies run down toward the river right across the southern edge of the benchlands.   Some wandering along the rim provides some good views.

Harper Ridge 007rThe benchlands slope gently to the south.   They are extensively covered in sagebrush and bunchgrass with a few trees in the gullies.   Rising behind is Harper Ridge, 1100 vertical feet above.

Harper Ridge 016rOn this day I chose to go straight up, but there is an easier route to the west, a zigzagging track that stays east of the Reserve fenceline.  The views improve as you climb.

Harper Ridge 037rIn February, the faded grasses lack color, but the bare branches of saskatoons bring some color to the slopes above.

Harper Ridge 040rThe ridge above is grass-covered with trees on the steep north side.   Views east of Harper Ranch and the grasslands extending up into the Pinantan Hills are best seen from any of a series of hilltops along the ridge.

Harper Ridge 027rTucked away in the valley to the northwest is Harper Lake, still partly icebound in February.  Draining out of Harper Lake is Harper Creek which runs down through Harper Ranch and then down a gully to the river.

Harper Ridge 023rBelow the ridge is the benchland, deeply furrowed with erosion gullies.

Harper Ridge 018rThe double track down is a longer, but quicker route from the ridge to the gullied southern ridge.   The side road in the photo above goes to three transmission towers, offering another easy route to the rim.   From the first tower, I angled right, following a ramp to the edge, then a short descent on a game trail to the lowest slopes.   Castellated towers greet us on the edge of the benchland.

Harper Ridge 042rAnyone who chooses to try this route on foot should be respectful of grazing cattle, fences, and leave nothing but footprints.   Anyone going east or west should first obtain permission from the landowners.   On this last venture,  I went up solo, mindful of property lines, working out a route that was safe.   I encountered a small herd of horses and a small pack of rams on the ridge.   The ticks were out in force on these south-facing sunny slopes.   This is rugged terrain for those willing to work hard and navigate carefully.

Harper Ridge Route


Breakup Benchmarks

While hiking in the hills above Wallender Lake, there was still some lingering snow, but there were many signs of winter receding.   Breakup had begun.   Some lakes and ponds had already melted and were full of water.

Wallender Hills 053rOverwintering perennials like mullein remain green under the snow, ready to start growth in the spring.

Wallender Hills 004rSnow mold is uncovered as the snows melt, but will dry up and disappear as the ground dries.


Wallender Hills 021rLast year’s fall puffballs have released their spores.

Wallender Hills 054rScats left on the snow are left on the ground to dessicate as everything dries up.

Wallender Hills 019rAfter winter storms, old snags lose more of their bark and will eventually fall.

Wallender Hills 052rThe advance and retreat of glaciers resulted in potholes which fill with runoff.   Sheltered spots are slower to melt.

Wallender Hills 049rSoon, the first shoots of grasses will emerge, bringing a touch of green to the faded colors of winter.   Watch for it.



Thorns and Muck with the Lyles

Where does the desire to go into the backcountry come from?   When does it start?   I wonder if it came from hanging out with the Lyles?

Lyle L. was an overweight, quiet boy who lived down the lane when we were about 9 years old.   In those days, kids just played anywhere, so he and I would meet in the laneway and look for things to do.   Between us was a large vacant lot overrun by blackberry bushes.   The canes were old and had a long run of growth so they completely engulfed the 100 foot wide lot.   It seemed impenetrable.   Even when we climbed on top of my parents’ garage we still couldn’t fully see into the heart of the bramble jungle.   We walked all around it, and tried to push through, but the tall, tough vines had big thorns and we were cowed by the prospect of the fight, believing it to be impossible to explore the heart of the thorn kingdom.   We enjoyed the late summer blackberry harvest though.   Our mouths and hands would get blackerry-stained as we picked and ate berries, heedless of dinner time or too many berries in a single snacking-time.

One one of these berry harvesting days, a neighborhood black cat entered the brambles over in an alcove and then disappeared.   Curious, we looked over there and saw that if we lifted the front vines carefully, there was a sort-of-tunnel going deep into the brambles.   There was still thorns on the sides and above, but the ground was only littered with old leaves and debris.   We dropped onto all fours and worked our way down the tunnel.   Looking back, this was probably an informal trail used by raccoons, cats, and other “urban roamers” into the greenspace, but we didn’t know that.   We were just intrigued by the possibility of an adventure into an unknown territory.   It took several visits to explore, getting lots of thorn tears so each time we brought better tools (machetes were best) with us to enlarge the opening enough to get right into the heart of the brambles.   We found a semi-open spot around a large boulder and this became our wilderness base for that summer and next.   From that spot, we couldn’t see the houses around us.   We kept this spot a secret from our families and other friends.   We would just go in make up a game or activity, sometimes bringing a stick, some food, or whatever item interested us for that day.   It was our getaway, a green world guarded by thorns.

Our parents weren’t campers or hikers.   At nine, this was our adventure exploring our own special spot, “backcountry” to us.    In the spring that followed, I heard machinery out back one day and was dismayed to see the lot being cleared for a new house. The house was built and a surrounding tall fence completed the destruction and disappearance of our special spot.  Lyle and I seemed to drift apart after that and later he moved away.

Lyle Mc lived about two blocks away in North Vancouver.   I would go to his house to play and sometimes he took me down his u-shaped street to the bottom where the road passed between two parts of a swamp.   All the streams off Mt. Fromme in North Van run down creek valleys to Burrard Inlet, but a few of the smaller streams also flowed down gullies and then trickled into swamps in flatter areas or depressions.   That stream runs through concrete culverts and pipes today and homes have been built above, but when we were 9 years old this swamp was all muck, slime, moss, and skunk cabbage.   Heedless of getting mud all over ourselves, we would work our way into the swamp, jumping from tussocks to moss-covered logs or stumps, holding on to branches, testing spots, plunging walking sticks into the muck, leaping over black ooze to a “dry” spot, and generally daring each other to go further.   A few slimy trees and shrubs and lots of skunk cabbage stood in the swampy ooze.

Clearwater Lake Hikes 016rWe liked the southside swamp the best because we could get to a large clump of trees in the middle and we found a special spot where we could sit on horizontal sturdy branches that lay between mossy trunks, our feet dangling above the water.   This was our destination, our special place, unknown to our friends and family.   We never took Lyle L. there because he just wasn’t agile enough.   We should have given him the chance, probably, but we knew that most kids couldn’t make the jumps let alone the spunk to explore a “no-go zone.”

Looking back now, I realize that we never took Lyle Mc to the Bramble Kingdom either.   He was just too hard on the other Lyle, sarcastic about his weight.

With the two Lyles, I started a connection to the “backcountry”, albeit nearby locations we could get to after school and still get home for dinner.   It was a start.

Terrace Bench Silt Cliffs

At the end of the last Ice Age a dam of ice blocked the flow of the Thompson River and Glacial Lake Thompson was formed.   Sediments were carried by steams and rivers into the lake valley and built up over a long period of time.   The floor of this glacial lake was higher than the current river valley bottom.   The terrace benches on both sides of the river east of town was the lakebed floor.  As the ice melted, the lake was drained and the South Thompson River began to flow west again, eroding a channel below the terraces.

Terrace BenchAs we drive east from Kamloops we can see the silt cliffs on either side.   Seasonal creeks and streams have cut gullies between the silt cliffs, some of which can be used as exploration routes to see the more interesting erosion features.

Some of the most accessible parts of the silt cliffs are found on the south side of the river, using Valleyview Nature Park, Lower Rose Hill Trails, or Dallas-Barnharvale Park.   The north side of the river has fewer access points and some private lands.   Nevertheless, with a bit of exploration, we can find routes in the erosion gullies up to some impressive silt cliffs and erosion features.

Harper Silt Cliffs 016rSince the retreat of Glacial Lake Thompson, river erosion of the soft silts has scoured out the river valley of the South Thompson River.   On the sides, gullies have been eroded by meltwaters from the hills.   When two parallel gullies erode a short distance away, a point is created, the top of which is the terrace formed by the lake’s silty floor.

Go up any of the gullies and we can see the layers of silt from where we are standing up to the terrace bench.

Harper Silt Cliffs 007brThe day I scrambled up this gully, erosion was clearly in progress as the melting snow caused muddy slumps down toward the lowest point of the seasonal creek valley.

Harper Silt Cliffs 012brThe sloping sides covered in grasses and sagebrush are just silt layers that have slumped over thousands of years.

Harper Silt Cliffs 004rCastellated structures are formed by the effects of creeks scouring deepening gullies to each side, but also seasonal erosion by snowmelt, rain, and wind.

Occasionally silt-clay pillars can be found on the silt cliff ridges.

Harper Silt Cliffs 014rExploration of these erosion gullies can be a challenge.   It is much easier to find a route to up to the terrace bench in dry conditions.   If you want to see the silt cliffs, start with the trailhead near Valleyview Arena.   There are many days of further exploration on the terrace benches, where you can find terrace spines, ridges, bridges, sinkholes, grasslands, sagebrush slopes, and erosion features.

While struggling up an erosion gully, I was being carefully observed…

Harper Silt Cliffs 021r



Lodgepole Loop

This route is really a snowshoe route, but with the warmer weather, all the tracks turned hard and the backroads became icy.   Once snowmobiles have ridden along a route or a few snowshoers have stomped in a track, it is possible to walk/hike on tops of the tracks.   So, this route can be snowshoed in winter conditions or hiked on top of the snow if the conditions are right.

Lodgepole Ice LoopThe road to Lodgepole Lake is normally plowed all winter so most vehicles can drive right to the parking area by the Recreation Site at 4600 feet.

Tracks may lead south for a bit before dropping down to the pond to the west or we can walk up the Chuwhels Mountain Forest Service Road for a short distance before going to the end of the pond.   This is a favorite spot for both snowmobiles and snowshoers so tracks are usually there to follow.   Follow the frozen pond southwest.

Chuwhels Sunshine 002rThe pond narrows to a streambed at the south and a trail can be found on the right side.   It had recently been flagged, but lots of tracks had made a clear path through the forest.   The route emerges into a replanted cutblock.   The small trees are not yet tall enough to fliter/block the winter sun.

Chuwhels Sunshine 010rAt the far edge of the cutblock is a logging branch road which can (with some traversing) connect the Chuwhels Mountain Road to the Melba Creek Forest Service Roads to the south, but there is a marked snowmobile track that follows the edge of another large pond just to the west.

Chuwhels Sunshine 013rAfter a short tour of the pond, follow the road north until it meets the Chuwhels Mountain Road.

Chuwhels Sunshine 018rThe Chuwhels Mountain Road is driven all winter so it is either hard-packed or icy.   Microspikes are recommended when walking down an icy road.  The loop is about 5km.   On the way out, the low winter sun was not far above the hills above Lodgepole Lake.

Chuwhels Sunshine 021rThis route is a “keeper”, one to return to each winter for a snowshoe or hike.   Some trail marking is already in place and we will add more over time.