Regions - Okanagan - Cougar Canyon

This area is mainly in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. A pit toilet, donated and flown in by B.C. Parks, was installed in spring 2005 in the middle of the climbing area by local climber volunteers. A notice board was also built, at the start of the trail, and contains park and access information. The guidebook is available at Vernon area climbing stores.

There are now nearly 200 routes at Cougar Canyon, with potential for many more, although some cliffs are in an ecological reserve and climbing is prohibited there. (Some of the cliffs climbing is permitted on are in the park, and some between the park and the ecological reserve.) The rock is gneiss, similar to that at Skaha. Access is via a narrow road that passes through the park; climbers formerly used a 4WD spur road that branches off back into the park. The parking area became something of a party spot for locals, and the spur road has been closed by B.C. Parks due to fire risk. There is now a new parking area, just off the main road under the power lines.

Until 1996 the main road was gated before it entered the park, but in that year a court case decided that it was legally a public road. (The lawsuit was brought by owners of lakeside cottages who wanted road access.) The gate was then opened. This eliminated a four km walk/bicycle ride to the start of the access trail. There were six routes in the area in 1996; removal of the gate has considerably eased access.

Since the road through the park was opened, there have been problems with off-road vehicles – much of the area is sensitive grassland, though it was once an artillery range, and until recently was used for cattle grazing. There has also been rowdyism, vandalism and partying by locals, claims of more serious misbehaviour, and concerns about fire. A group calling itself the Advocates for KAL Park ("AFKP") started a petition in spring 2004 to have the road re-gated, nominally to protect the environment of the park. The cottage owners largely prefer that the road remain open, and the petition seems driven by nearby landowners who want to return to pre-1996 traffic levels. Once a road legally becomes a public road, there is a right to use it, and it is unusual for this to be limited. The AFKP gathered many signatures, after a public presentation that dominated the local news media for several days. The petition was submitted to the local MLA, to North Okanagan Regional District, and to the District of Coldstream. It is the Access Society's view that the AFKP campaign did not adequately inform the public as to the issues, and the broader implications of a gate, and that many who signed the petition did not realize the effect any closure would have on climbers and others.

Lyle Knight, on behalf of the Access Society and Vernon climbers, has done tremendous work on this matter, including discussing it with local politicians, writing letters to the local paper, preparing a position paper, and meeting with representatives of the AFKP. The issue has been extensively covered in local media. The Access Society opposes closing or gating of the road. However, we're in favour of anything reasonable (e.g. barriers, speed bumps, patrols, signage) that would help protect the park, reduce rowdyism, or help the residents. The Access Society has also supported the work of local climbers.

The AFKP formed the Friends of Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park Society, which advocates working with the MWLAP to protect the ecology of the Park. Lyle Knight became a director of this group, in hopes of enabling open communication between the various groups, and co-operative discussion. The president of the new society says that the AFKP will now be phased out. However, the AFKP seems to still be in existence, and still advocates closing the road.

A provincial government review concluded that the road cannot legally be gated, and the various governments are looking at other solutions. B.C. Parks are now surveying the cliffs and climbing area, in particular for rare birds such as white throated swifts. Quite separately, Vernon Search & Rescue has been surveying the rim of Cougar Canyon for possible heli-pads. All these developments are of interest if not concern to climbers, who have met with B.C. Parks staff and others.

Climbers who live in the Vernon area, or who climb at Cougar Canyon, are encouraged to become involved in the local climbers' group. Contact Lyle Knight at (250) 545-8855 or llknight(at)shaw.ca, or Ted Lange at tedtiger(at)hotmail.com.

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