What makes a place special? For myself, I know it when I feel it: when I am present in a place that is not only wild, but also beautiful and rare. That’s what I felt exploring Athelney Pass, a seldom-visited valley in British Columbia.
I first heard about Athelney Pass online. While the photos initially piqued my attention, it was the trip reports that sealed my interest: the roads in to the trailhead were rugged and long; the hike read like quite an undertaking. Previous parties had gotten lost, dealt with exhaustion, and encountered grizzlies, cougars, and clouds of mosquitos. In a word: Adventure with a capital A.
I pulled together a group of friends, and after a few long email chains about divvying up the gear and food, it was time to finally put our boots to the trail and discover what lay ahead for us.
At first, the trail wove through dense forest before leading out onto the polished river rocks along Salal Creek. These rocks proved to be the crux of the trip. They moved and rolled underfoot, like walking on a bed of golf balls and baseballs—every step needed critical attention, lest one of us roll an ankle. After navigating these rocks for over 6 miles, our faces showed the mental and physical fatigue of watching our every step.
Leaving the creek behind, we found better footing and began to ascend towards Athelney Pass, hiking the spine of a moraine before setting foot in the grassy meadows of the pass.
Exhausted, we reached our campsite shortly before nightfall, setting up camp on some sandy flats near an old, dilapidated mining cabin. Sleep came easily.
On the second day, our group split up, with some of us hiking up and out of the pass to explore nearby peaks with names like “The Elephant”, “Salal Peak” and “Red Tail”. On the appropriately named “Ochre Peak”, we walked over rocks colored with hues of whites, reds, purples, oranges, and yellows. We passed cougar and grizzly tracks in the beach-like pumice slopes along the way.
We returned to camp tired but excited to share the stories of our day, and to hear the stories of our friend’s adventures. That night, the Milky Way arched above us and we watched the green hues of the northern lights flicker in the distance.
We slept soundly, away from the distractions of electronics or the background hum of engines and cities. While our bodies woke up tired, our minds awoke rejuvenated and rested. Shortly after breakfast, we began our hike out and left Athelney Pass behind.
Talk during our trek out centered around the feeling that Athelney Pass was not just another mountain valley with a river running through it. We had all come to the same conclusion: the place was special. The sight of mining detritus scattered about was a hot topic, and we wondered what it would take to get the land protected as a Canadian Park so that future generations could enjoy its wild, rare beauty.
We knew one thing for sure: we’d all be back again.