Spion Kop trails

The series on the best Okanagan trails continues with the unusual and unusually named Spion Kop Mountain in Lake Country.

This massive 350-hectare ridge located between Okanagan Lake and Wood Lake is unusual because it remains Crown land in spite of lobbying to make it a public park — in whatever form that takes — local, regional or provincial.

It is also unusual because when you reach the triangular peak, you are rewarded with a stunning 270-degree panorama of the Central Okanagan including unsurpassed views of four lakes: Okanagan, Duck (Ellison), Wood and Kalamalka, plus Knox, Terrace, Bear and Little White mountains.

This natural treasure actually has two peaks or humps at the top; one has an intrusive microwave tower so we go the other hump for lunch. Plus the summit now has a carved bench and picnic table. The final climb has a beautiful work of Mother Nature’s art: a basalt wall of fanned dacite pipes (igneous volcanic rock) similar to those on Mount Boucherie.

Spion Kop is unusual because it has an outstanding trail system with absolutely the best trail map, signs, colour-coded markers and flags of any Okanagan trail. Thanks go to volunteers with Walk Around Lake Country (WALC).

As for that unusual name, Spion Kop is Dutch for ‘spy hill’ or “lookout hill” and it resembles the original Spion Kop hill in South Africa near the city of Emnambithi-Ladysmith. It was likely named by Boer War veteran and Okanagan settler, Leslie Caesar.

According to the internet, the original Spion Kop was “the site of a bloody and futile (Second) Boer War battle waged on Jan. 23-24, 1900, one of those pointless battles where men on both sides die for nothing as the British snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, abandoning their gains to the astonished Boers.”

Spion Kop is also unusual in that you can exert almost as much energy as you want because there are four trailheads offering different levels of climbing exercise (you are mounting a ridge after all).

If you want a real workout, park on Pelmewash Parkway and head up the hill on the red Summit Trail to the summit. If you are feeling energetic, you can throw in the white Raptor Loop Trail. The Summit Trail passes the Old Mission Road trailhead so you can avoid the first climb by starting there.

The Upper Lakes Trailhead is located at the end of a gravel road/parking lot off Apex Drive in The Lakes residential development where you can take the yellow Arrowleaf Trail and yellow/red Connector to join the Summit Trail.

The Raven Ridge Trailhead is located on the west side of the ridge and isn’t easy to find via Carr’s Landing Road, then back and forth on Forest Hills, Townsend and Northstar.

At Raven Ridge Trailhead, you have your choice of the brown-orange Paintbrush or Ridge Line trails to The Grand Overlook, a panorama looking south, then the Tower Trail to the summit.

Detailed trail maps are available in boxes at each trailhead, at Lake Country municipal hall and can be downloaded/printed from the District of Lake Country website, lakecountry.bc.ca.

“WALC is comprised of an amazing group of volunteers who for 21 years have been fulfilling their vision: ‘To create hiking trails and safe pathways connecting Lake Country neighbourhoods, public amenities and adjacent communities,’” says president Dev Fraser.

In 2010, these volunteers decided Spion Kop wasn’t being fully utilized as there were too many trails and people were getting lost. A trail network was needed to offer interesting hiking trails away from roads and other trails used by motorized vehicles.

After many scouting trips to locate private property boundaries, main trail routes and loops were identified and flagged with coloured markers, directional signs and maps, he said. As a result, there are now more than 17 kilometres of trails, varying from easy to difficult with a possible 485-metre elevation gain to the summit.

WALC designed and printed trailhead maps. In partnership with Lake Country Rotarians and the municipality, signs were installed at all four trailheads.

“WALC members continue to do regular trail scouting and have been assisted from time to time by other community groups, including Lake Country Rotary and students from George Elliot Secondary School. Many regular users, including families with children, help maintain the trails, remove invasive weeds and do garbage pick-up,” said Fraser.

“It has been rewarding for WALC members to see how many people now use the trail system they developed. There are regular locals and visitors from around the world who enjoy these trails. WALC hopes that people will take the time to get out and enjoy this treasure, especially in these difficult times. And we really want some level of government to step up and make this beautiful area into a public park.”

Fraser’s favourite is Summit Trail since “along the way, it offers lots of variety and connects with all of the trails on the east slope: Raptor, Arrowleaf, Lupine and then finally connecting with Tower Trail near the top. “Summit Trail offers unique views of the Okanagan and a special spot where it passes through a quiet, cool fir forest beneath the basalt cliffs just below the peak.”

J.P. Squire, aka the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff, is a retired reporter. Email: jp.squire@telus.net