McIntyre Bluff

McIntyre Bluff is named for old-timer “Uncle Pete” McIntyre, who lived at the foot of the cliffs; but the face in the rock isn’t Uncle Pete, it’s known as “The Chief.”

Whenever I drive along Highway 97 between Vaseux Lake and Oliver, I hope the light will be just right to bring out his enormous features. I’ve never found a specific connection between the monolithic chief and local First Nations, although the bluffs themselves figure in a ghost story. 

Ghostly Legend

McIntyre Bluff, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Said to be an old Aboriginal legend, the tale goes that the bluffs are haunted by a small band of hunters from the south who ventured into the Valley because it was still teaming with abundance in spite of famine in the surrounding territory. The hunt was successful and after feasting on fresh fish and venison, they settled down to rest. When Okanagan warriors suddenly attacked, the interlopers were forced to retreat until they found themselves trapped on the lip of the bluff. It seemed like salvation when they spotted a little ledge and, quietly in the dark, they followed it one-by-one. The last of the hunters, who was old and blind, felt his way behind the rest until he reached the end of the ledge and realized the others had fallen silently to their deaths. In a final act of defiance he returned to face his pursuers and, shouting the war cry of his band, flung himself from the cliff. That’s why McIntyre Bluff is haunted.

Looking up from highway level it’s easy to imagine the hunters falling from the bluff, hard to figure out how they got up there. Turns out it’s not a tough climb at all. Like the Okanagan war party, we had to sneak up from behind, accessing the trail from Covert Farms.

On the Trail

Derek Uhlemann, Covert Farms

The folks there are extremely accommodating. On the mid-May morning when we arrived, sales manager and farm chef Derek Uhlemann was just opening the farm market/wine tasting room. He told us where we could park; asked that we check in before we left, so they’d know we were safely off the mountain; and provided directions to the trailhead.

A friendly farm dog (black lab and something) trotted with us along a flat dirt road between the grapevines and past the sign to the U-pick berry patch, bitterly disappointed when we had to leave him on the farm side of the gate. From there the trail paralleled an electrified fence before switching back to a short, steepish pitch to broad benchland. A pair of quail burst from the brush then tip, tip, tipped down the trail in front of us, dodging in and out of the bushes; an eagle made lazy circles overhead. Rabbit brush bloomed extravagant yellow and random bouquets of blue, pink and white wildflowers waved among the green sage. The air smelled of Old Spice.

A signpost marked the trail to Rattlesnake Lake, not exactly my idea of a must-do destination name, but when we arrived, the herd of cattle there seemed more than happy. Calves ran, kicked up their heels and play-butted while the cows milled around the lakeside keeping an eye on the young ones. It was like a bunch of human moms watching over their preschoolers at the park.

Summit

McIntyre Bluff Lookout

A huge promontory loomed over us as we crossed the benchlands, descended into the green gully by the lake and climbed to the dry saddle beyond. For a brief (panicky) time I thought it must be another face of McIntyre Bluff. What a relief when my partner told me it was Mount Keogan and our path led away to the south. One last rocky climb and we were on top of the bluff, a surprisingly broad area, not scary at all unless you step right to the edge. I didn’t. The fabulous view from a couple of metres back suited me fine.

Tips

Difficulty. Moderate; round-trip hike about 7 km; elevation gain 260 m; steady climb. Use care at the bluff, sheer drop off.

Best time. Spring is ideal, with wildflowers in profusion. Hike early to avoid extreme heat. Pack plenty of water.

Trailhead. Park at Covert Farms and check in to let them know you’re on the trail. Stop for wine tasting on the way out.

McIntyre Bluff on YouTube

This story was first published in the October 2014 issue of Okanagan Life.

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