With pouring rain in the Lower Mainland I headed to Manning Park for one of my "maintenance" hikes. This time my objective was the Windy Joe Fire Tower. The peak and fire tower were named after Joe Hilton, a local pioneer-trapper who often remarked that the top of this mountain was so windy that it was kept snow-free.
The trail commences at the Windy Joe/PCT/Canyon Nature Trailhead, located 1 km off Hwy 3 on the Gibson Pass (Lightning Lake) road. It heads southeast along the Similkameen trail for just over 2 km before intersecting the Windy Joe trail. (As you travel along the first part of the trail, keep your eyes open for birds. Many species can be seen along here, especially if you begin your hike early in the morning).
The summit of Windy Joe offers great views of the surrounding area, as well as a chance to see sub-alpine flowers during mid July. This is a great hike for families (children age 7 and up, or younger if they are good hikers). Boots are recommended during the June to mid-July run-off, however they are not necessary after that time.
The second part of the trail is an old access road that was previously used to transport people and goods to the fire lookout at the summit.
On the ground, watch for the large cones of Western White Pine, often up to 24 cm long, with 5-10 cm long needles in graceful bunches of five. Then look up into the trees and see them hanging in clusters, high above your head. You may also see small tufts of brilliant Chartreuse Wolf Lichen growing on the trees. The Lichens use the trees as a base for which to absorb sunlight and moisture from the air.
After an invigorating 2 hour hike, I reached the summit at an elevation of 1825 m. At the top there are numerous things to look for. The most obvious, is an old Forest Service fire lookout tower that has been refurbished with an interpretive display of the fire lookout and the surrounding features. .
The lookout has not been used since 1965, but still offers a magnificent panoramic view, from Frosty Mountain to Blackwall Mountain.
Alpine Fir and White-bark Pine abound; the firs have purplish cones which disintegrate on the tree during the winter, and leave only the central spires sticking straight up on the top branches. White-bark Pine have smooth, pale-grey bark and needles in bunches of five.
Just metres prior to the summit of Windy Joe, I noticed a large piece of rock at the side of the trail. These conglomerate rocks may be seen in several areas of the park, and were left by retreating glaciers during the last ice age
An outhouse is available just before the summit but it may be necessary for you to take your own toilet paper. If you eat lunch here, please be sure to pack out all garbage. The people who come after you will appreciate it.
1. 49:03'50.1" - 120:47'54.8" Elev 1205m - Trailhead
2. 49:02'37.0" - 120:45'16.7" Elev 1821m - Fire Tower
Roundtrip length: 16 km (10 miles)
Allow 5 hours
Elevation gain: 600 m (1968 ft)
Driving distance from Vancouver: 220 km (137.5 miles)