We have just returned from Northwest Territories to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The drive from the high-altitude Coquihalla Highway (also known as Highway 97C) into the valley is impressive and steep.
The summit of the Coquihalla Connector highway is 1800m (5900 ft) and you then drive down to the valley which is at an elevation of 344 m (1100 ft).
This is a significant drop of 1456 m (4800 ft). Some people aren’t comfortable with driving this highway for that reason, especially in winter. It is a long way down, and you do want to make sure your brakes are working!
The sign in the distance shows that we are about to come down from our lofty perch to join the highway along the lake.
M and I have travelled the Coquihalla Connector highway between Kamloops and Peachland while on our way to and from the Okanagan Valley and the Northwest Territories many times.
This four to six lane mountain superhighway at an elevation of 1240 m (4100 ft) is in many ways an engineering marvel. Its posted speed is 120 km (74 miles) per hour and access is extremely limited, so once you have set your cruise control, you are very efficiently traversing an area that was once the bane of early travellers. The railroads of the early 1900s failed frequently due to winter storms, avalanches and washouts and the population of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley was fairly isolated from the rest of the province with only lengthy and circuitous road routes at lower elevations.
Even now, it’s not all smooth driving, however. This highway experiences severe winter storms with low visibility and nasty icing conditions. “Runaway lanes” are available in case you lose control on the extreme downhill portions of it. In fact, a reality program called “Highway thru Hell,” detailing the challenges of operating tow trucks along the Coquihalla and Coquihalla Connector debuted in 2012 and is still very popular today.
When M and I travel this highway in December and January, we are careful to do our homework first and to only drive it in the daylight hours. Nevertheless, it’s an amazing highway and well worth the drive if you find yourself in the area; the views are spectacular, especially as you start nearing Okanagan Lake.