Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Othello Tunnels (Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park)

Today some friends and I drove out to Hope to see the Othello Tunnels. The tunnels are in Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, just east of downtown Hope. The trail in this park used to be a railroad and it passes through four tunnels carved out of the rock. The Kettle Valley Railway was built across southern BC from the Kootenays to the coast. It was a challenging and expensive rail line to build, and the section here through the tunnels is the most expensive mile or railway track in the world. It cost $300,000 in 1914. Up to this point, they built the track on the slope above the Coquihalla River since there wasn't anyplace else where they could put it with all these mountains everywhere. But at this spot, the river winds through a gorge and there is no slope to cut a trackbed into, just sheer rock walls. So with no other options, they blasted through the rock creating four tunnels.

A washout to the north in 1959 forced the permanent closure of the rail line and this section eventually became a park. Now you can walk through the tunnels, and if you want, keep going. Most of the KVR is now part of the Trans-Canada Trail. The tunnels are really cool.

Entering the first tunnel

The tunnels are pretty dark inside, but the light coming in from either end is enough for you to see your way. My friends and I had two small flashlights, but they were pretty much useless inside the high-ceilinged darkness of the tunnels.

Exiting the first tunnel, with a view through to the upcoming tunnels

There is a short distance between the first and second tunnels and you can look down the slope to the Coquihalla River below.

Looking down at the Coquihalla River, between the first and second tunnels

The second tunnel is short, and on the other side is a footbridge crossing the river and depositing walkers at the entrance to the third tunnel.

Entrance to second tunnel

Bridge between second and third tunnels

From the bridge, you can look upstream and downstream through the curvy canyon carved by the river.

View of river from bridge

Between the third and fourth bridges, a walkway has been built on the original trestle bridge.

Exiting the third tunnel onto the trestle bridge

View of the trestle bridge

In 109 Walks in British Columbia's Lower Mainland, there is a picture of the trestle from below. Looking over the left side of the bridge, we could see the area of boulders below where the picture must have been taken from.

Looking downstream from the bridge

So we found a steep rugged path down to the river. The loose dirt made the going a little tricky, but no one fell! We made our way to the boulders where we got a good view of the trestle.

View of trestle from the river

Just downstream from that, we found a small rocky beach where we relaxed and enjoyed the beauty of the river on this glorious sunny day.

Coquihalla River just downstream from trestle

Eventually, we climbed back up and continued on through the fourth and final tunnel. Beyond that, the trail continues along the old rail bed.

Trans-Canada Trail beyond the tunnels

To make our walk into a loop, we took a cut-off to the right, the Hope-Nicola Valley Trail, which used to be a cattle trail in the late 1800s. We got a few views to the south, Hope Mountain emerging from the morning clouds.

Hope Mountain

The trail kept going up and up and up. The book said it was 600 feet elevation gain. We stopped for lunch at a spot that turned out to be about ten minutes from the pass, where the trail started going back down again. Yay for going down! A plaque at the pass tells about the history of the trail.

Informational plaque at the pass

After descending for awhile and taking several turn-offs as directed by the book, we found ourselves on Othello Road. We had meant to end up on Tunnels Road, but within 20 minutes, we had walked back to the car, so all's well that ends well. In any case, we did get some good views of the mountains across Othello Road.

Mountains above Othello Road

This is a really fun destination. It's only about a two-hour drive from Vancouver, so it's a great day trip. Even if you don't do the loop on the Hope-Nicola Valley Trail, just walking through the tunnels is fun and informative. And if you need to keep stretching your legs, you can walk as long as you want on the trail past the tunnels.