Jesse Kessler at a summit in the Chilcotin - Photo Credit Submitted
A Kelowna local who has been hiking in the Okanagan for as long as he can remember is more than a little passionate about the topic.
Jesse Kessler went from camping in the mountains with his father as a kid, to marrying his wife on the top of one and getting his six-year-old daughter involved in climbing too. It’s safe to say hiking is a big part of Kessler’s life and he’s ready to convince you why it should be part of yours too.
For Kessler, it’s all about reaching the top.
"I'm very goal oriented,” he said. “I like climbing mountain peaks, that's kind of my favourite thing.”
Well-known hiking website called the Peakery named August 1-7 “Peak Week” and Kessler took the time to share a list of top 12 hikes in the Kelowna area, which he called the Kelowna Classic Peaks Challenge, with KelownaNow for the occasion.
According to Kessler, 24, these are the most popular peaks in the region among both tourists and locals.
All of them are easily accessible (no "bushwhacking" required). Whether you’re an avid hiker or just starting out, there is likely something for you.
"They all have trails to the top and they're all popular and well known and not too obscure."
Kessler was excited about Peak Week, which was started to encourage people to get out and go hiking.
"Any excuse to get people out climbing mountains is a good excuse to me.”
Mount Dillworth - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
Every hike on the list can be done in one day, but the easiest one is Dilworth. That's the one Kessler recommends for beginners to start with.
"But they're all pretty accessible to a wide audience,” he said.
Even though Kessler has never actually been to the summit of Mount Dilworth, he loves Dilworth Mountain Park which has well-defined trails that take you out to the cliffs on the mountain.
Blue Grouse Mountain summit - Credit KelownaNow
This 8 km hike in West Kelowna gives you a view of the Okanagan valley that nearly extends from Vernon to Penticton.
If you make it to the top, Kessler said the remnants of a once active gold mine are hidden out of the way, not far below the summit.
Mount Hayman - Photo Credit KelownaNow
Kessler grew up in New Brunswick, but moved to the Okanagan when his father, a Kelowna-native, decided to return to his roots.
It was quite the departure from what he was used to at the time.
“I closely connect my early fond memories of the Okanagan to the bluffs on Mount Hayman which are prominently visible across the lake from Downtown Kelowna.”
View from Mount Hayman bluffs - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
Sunset From Terrace Mountain - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
After meeting his future wife Caitlin Hansum at a jazz show in Kelowna, Kessler started introducing her to hiking.
“Me, believing mountains were the most romantic thing around started taking her to some of my favourite places,” Kessler explained. “We chatted by moonlight on Mount Dilworth, announced we were for real dating looking out over the city lights from Mount Hayman and had our first kiss on Mount Baldy.”
When it came time to pick a spot to propose, Kessler decided on Terrace Mountain, one of the three tallest in the Central Okanagan that gives you a 360 degree view from the summit.
“We dated for about a year and I just went for it. It was pretty spontaneous I guess.”
She grabbed the ring and was pretty speechless. Through her apparent excitement, she eventually said "yes."
Caitlin and Jesse at their wedding - Photo Credit Barnett Photography
On February 7, 2016, they got married on a mountain, keeping with the theme they’ve grown to love together.
"It was really fun introducing her to (hiking). That's one of my other passions. I love taking people out to those places, who don't normally do that, and just seeing their reactions. That's special to me too.”
Black Mountain behind Mine Hill - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
The official name is Black Knight Mountain, but Kessler said he has a hard time calling it because it’s very commonly known as Black Mountain.
“I have an old history book on the area that belonged to my great grandfather, in the book the author complains about a cartographer making up the name on the map by whimsically adding Knight to the title.”
Little White Mountain - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
Kessler said Little White is his favourite mountain in the Okanagan because the hike is a little more work than others.
"It's a bit of an accomplishment when you get to the top,” he said. “You also have a great view, and it's that gorgeous Okanagan rolling alpine that you just see forever from.”
Little White Mountain - Photo Credit Carlee Kish
In 2014, he climbed it with his daughter Lonnie on his back, which took about eight hours.
“It’s one thing having a 45 pound pack, quite another to have one with a mind of its own,” he wrote on Peakery.
Lonnie is now six and Kessler said she loves getting out and is fascinated with cliffs.
He calls her “a rock climber in the making.”
Kessler and his daughter hiking on Big White - Photo Credit Submitted
On hikes she still likes being carried, but is quick to get down and say hi to any dogs they pass by.
“If you take kids out and show them what is available to them around their own cities, then they get hooked on exploring pretty easily.”
Summit of Little White Mountain - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
The view from Spion Kop - Photo Credit Kristy Draginda
Resident KelownaNow hiking columnist Kristy Draginda calls Spion Kop a hiker’s paradise. There are four different trailhead locations to choose from and although the hike is steep, she said reaching the summit this February was very rewarding.
“As the trail gets steeper, the views extend overlooking Ellison Lake and the Okanagan Lake. Coming around the tower to the summit, the view is just incredible!” Draginda said.
Spion Kopp - Photo Credit KelownaNow
View from the top of Spion Kop - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
The view from sugarloaf mountain - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
This short and steep hike isn’t far from Vernon and offers a great view of Okanagan Lake.
Although the side visible from the lake is completely forested, Kessler said the back side drops off as a cliff once you get to the summit.
The trail head at Sugarloaf Mountain - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
A trail sign at Sugarloaf Mountain - Photo Credit Kristy Draginda
Mount Boucherie in the spring - Photo Credit Kristy Dragidna
Boucherie Mountain, in West Kelowna, is actually a dormant volcano that last erupted over 50 million years ago. Once as high as 2,000 metres, the highest elevation point now is just 758 m.
West Kelowna recently built and upgraded the trails on the southwest side of the mountain, and Draginda has praised the job well done in a recent column.
If you reach the top, you can enjoy panoramic views of West Kelowna, Okanagan Mountain Park and Okanagan Lake.
According to Kessler, there is an old local story of gold buried somewhere on Mount Boucherie. Treasure hunt anyone?
Mount Boucherie - Photo Credit Kristy Draginda
The view from Mount Boucherie in the winter - Photo Credit Kristy Draginda
Mount Baldy - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
Climbing Mount Baldy gives an interesting view of the more industrial side of Kelowna, according to Kessler.
“It’s surprising how much green space is tucked away around Kelowna, and this is a good vantage point to where Mill Creek runs through this part of the city.”
Mount Knox overlooking the Okanagan Lake - Photo Credit Kristy Draginda
Knox is a popular destination among locals and can be found right in downtown Kelowna.
Besides hiking, you can also enjoy biking, disc golf, tennis, swimming, picnicking, an off-leash dog park and the Knox Mountain Hill Climb.
The Apex Trail is an uphill climb that you can do over and over again, according to Draginda.
“If you are unable to take on the climb, or don't feel like hiking, there is a road that allows you to drive to both lookouts. It is a perfect place to get the whole family out and enjoy the Okanagan sunshine!”
Although it’s commonly referred to as Knox Mountain, Kessler explained the official name is actually Mount Knox, as the word Mount usually precedes the person’s surname the mountain is named after.
Mount Knox - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
The view from Mount Knox - Photo Credit Kristy Draginda
Pincushion Mountain - Photo Credit Kristy Draginda
Located in Peachland, the four kilometre trail takes less than three hours to complete.
“Pincushion Mountain is one of my favorite trails here in the Okanagan,” said Draginda. “The panoramic views overlooking Peachland and the Okanagan Lake are amazing.”
Pincushion Mountain - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler
A view of Okanagan Mountain from Pincushion Mountain - Photo Credit Jesse Kessler