The 34th annual Mt. Kobau Star Party will begin at dusk July 22, 2017 and will end at dawn July 30, 2017

Southeastern view

Overlooking Lake Osoyoos

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MKSP 2016 is just two weeks away!

The astronomical faithful from across the west are gearing up for the annual trek to the sage and fir scented summit of Mt. Kobau. This magnificent 1800 metre-plus peak has hosted our star party every summer since 1984, and traces its astronomical heritage more than two decades earlier to the planned Mt. Kobau Observatory.

Will you be returning to Kobau this year? The trip to the top is a dramatically new experience in the wake of 2015’s Testalinden Creek Wildfire, with the Kobau Rd. snaking in and out of charred forests over its entire 20 km ascent. Amazingly, the fire stopped right on the doorstep of MKSP’s camping area, and did not burn through. The only changes to the star party site are the removal of some trees just below the Tower Flats to the east. (We should also point out that much of the Kobau Rd. was graded during the firefighting effort; though it’s still a long way from highway driving, you can expect to find the rough spots considerably less rough this year.)

Unsettled weather in early summer has kept the fire threat down so far. This is the nearest thing to ideal conditions, as protracted hot weather increases the odds of fire and smoke. If the current mix of sun, cloud, and showers turns to stable clear sky at the end of the month, we’ll claim we planned it that way. You’re welcome to try keeping an eye on the forecasts, but as Kobau devotees know, it’s difficult to predict how a given night will be on the mountain even a few hours ahead of time, let alone days or weeks. Just trust the statistics. An overwhelming majority of nights on Kobau have at least partially observable skies, and when the dusk-to-dawn clear nights settle in, it’s astro-heaven!

MKSP returns with all the usual features this year. Talks will be held Wednesday through Friday. Murray and Lee are scheduled for the traditional Binocular Star Walk and Mt. Kobau Skies this Week, plus we have a professional ecologist speaking on fire and the local ecosystem. Contests, Observing Challenges, Door Prizes – all are on the program, as ever… and all are secondary to the wonders of the dark sky.

See you on the mountain!

Pre-Registraion Letter for 2016 Star Party

Dear Mt. Kobau Star Party Supporter,

This summer’s star party will be unlike any previous MKSP. As you likely know (perhaps from harrowing personal experience), last year’s event came to a sudden conclusion two days early when a wildfire broke out on the lower slopes of the mountain and spread rapidly – threatening to cut off our exit road. The efficient evacuation called by MKSP staff got everyone to safety with almost no loss of property, but this happy ending might have been much less so. As the absentee President during this crisis, I can only say how grateful and proud I am of our on-the-mountain staff and the helpful attendees who handled this stressful situation so admirably well.

Ultimately, the fire burned much of Kobau’s eastern flank, right up to the summit. Those of you who are familiar with the knoll where a fire lookout stood several years ago – a five minute hike from MKSP central – would be shocked to see it now, thoroughly bared and blackened by the fire. Astonishingly, however, the flames stopped just metres short of the star party site itself. From much of our traditional camping area, a quick look around shows nothing out of the ordinary.

Therefore…MKSP 2016 will be held. We’re grateful for the many messages of encouragement we’ve received in this regard, but the decision nonetheless demanded considerable attention to the ongoing threat of fire. Is that risk too great? Or might it actually be less due to the 2015 fire? Can we get out more quickly if we need to? What measures can we take to improve our preparedness?

If you come to MKSP 2016 – and I hope you do – you’ll see a few changes. But overall, we feel we’ve been on the right track for some time: maintaining a firm ban on open fires, having an evacuation plan, keeping extinguishers on site, as well as encouraging fire awareness and communications among our guests. We’ll try to improve on all these this year.

At the same time, Mt. Kobau Star Party will continue to feature the things we’re famous for; exceptional clear-sky prospects, dark nights, warm fellowship, fine guest talks, and much more. Murray Paulson and Lee Johnson will be back as speakers, and we’ll have a timely talk from a local naturalist on wildfires and how Kobau can be expected to recover. (BTW, you’ll effectively get a “tour” of the fire-damaged hillsides on your drive up the mountain. You may even notice some improvement to the road surface, which was extensively graded during the fire-fighting effort last year.) We’ll have imaging and instrument-making contests, shirts and caps for sale, plus a terrific selection of gifts at the door prize draw held on the final afternoon.

Please take this opportunity to pre-register! By doing so, you will provide the Star Party with some important seed money and give us a better idea of how many people will attend. Pre-registration is not required, but it is very helpful. You can still register upon arrival at the mountain.

We greatly appreciate your continued support of Mt. Kobau Star Party. I hope you’ll take the time to complete the enclosed registration form and send it, along with your payment, to the address provided below.

See you on the mountain!

Jim Failes, Secretary, MKAS

Mount Koboau - Spring 2016

Hello Kobau Friends!

For those of us in south central British Columbia, winter has begun to remove its fluffy white cloak, our mountains growing browner week-by-week, from the bottom up. Mt. Kobau itself got a good blanketing of snow this year -- the better to water new growth as spring comes to east-facing slopes charred by last summer’s wildfire. We’re anxious to see how quickly new life rises from the ashes, and just as eager to bring the indomitable MKSP spirit back with it!

Here’s a quick update for those of you who have been left wondering about the effects of the Testalinden Creek Fire, the cause of which (though lightning is a likely candidate) is still officially listed as “undetermined”.

Most importantly, all star partiers and staff were evacuated without injury, with no significant loss of property. We’re very proud and grateful for the quick action of our on-site officials in executing a successful evac under very stressful conditions.

In the days following the August 14 outbreak, the fire moved upslope and northward, burning right up to – but, happily, not through – the star party site. It took nearly a full month for firefighting crews to completely subdue the blaze.

When the Kobau Rd. opened in mid-September, some of us who live nearby took the opportunity to assess the damage. The trip to the summit courses in and out of burnt areas – some wooded hillsides looking as vigorous and green as ever, while many others are stark stands of stick-trees in an ashy bed. The great sage-covered knoll at the summit was almost entirely scorched, but in other directions, the view from the MKSP site is unaltered.

The transformation of “our mountain” is sobering, but nevertheless part of nature’s cycle. There must have been hundreds of blazes over thousands of years since these slopes were molded by volcanic fire and glacial ice. There will be more. For now, remnants of rejuvenating fire provide one more wonder to marvel at on your way to Mt. Kobau Star Party. We hope to see you here this summer!


This is a special place. The great rampart of Mt. Kobau separates two ancient river valleys. From either side, the mountain’s grassland slopes rise quickly, conceding first to scattered pines, then to steep, thick forests of fir.

A kilometre and a half above the rivers, the woods yield to a sub-alpine ridge.

Here, wildflowers bloom between hardy conifers and sagebrush. By day, the vista seems endless. After sunset, it may be so.

Mt. Kobau Star Party is for those whose hearts swell at the sight of faint starlight; it is not for the faint of heart. The bumpy road to the summit can de-collimate more than your telescope. At night, while good seeing tests your scope’s resolution, cold temperatures will test your personal resolve.

But as the saying goes, nothing worth doing is easy. And - we think you’ll agree - nothing compares with the exhausted exhilaration you’ll feel packing away scope and charts as the spectral hues of dawn tempt away the night’s last stars.

Mt. Kobau has a reputation as a star party for serious observers. That doesn’t mean “no fun allowed.” Nor does it mean you have to be a grizzled sky-veteran to enjoy the experience. The fresh enthusiasm of a fired-up beginner fits right in. Just give proper consideration to the trials Kobau may put you through...and when you come, come prepared!

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