Category Archives: Vancouver

The Short and Curling

Popular in the chilly lands of Scotland, Sweden and Canada (and I’m sure many other places), curling was not on my list things I must do before I’m too old and scared to go sliding around on ice. But try it I did, one weekend afternoon with a couple of friends here in Vancouver.

Curling sheet

The curling sheet.

Four of us turned up to try, what appears to me at least, to be bowling on ice. We had our own instructor who gave us the basics and then led us through some warm up exercises (got to take this game seriously you know!). She then proceeded to demonstrate, with no apparent effort, how one slides the stone along the ice and then asked “Who wants to go first?”.

I always hate that moment, when you are the asker, and no one responds, so I (bravely) volunteered myself. I mean, how hard could it be right?

With my curling broom tucked under my arm, and the stone (darn heavy it was!) resting on the ice under my hand on my other side, I got into the start position and slid the stone back and forth a few times, weighing it up, before launching myself forward a few steps and gracefully sliding along the ice while watching the stone slide all the way to bulls eye at the end. Oh, no wait. That wasn’t me, that was everyone else. … launched myself forward, let go of the stone, and immediately toppled over sideways, where the wonderful broom tucked under my arm for balance hit the ice and cracked it. I shit you not. My far superior curling companions snickered and giggled. Smug bastards.

After a few more of these episodes, where my balance improved and I managed not to crack the ice any further, we had a little mock game. Do you ever feel the afternoon is dragging on? Yea, it was one of those…

Needless to say, I haven’t found my new niche sport. But kudos to those of you who spend hour after hour on the chilly ice, sliding around and hefting stones and brooms and enjoying yourselves. It takes far more skill than it appears.

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The stones for one team, all lined up and ready to go.

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Black Tusk

Continuing on the theme of hikes around Vancouver…

Early last autumn, 5 of us headed north of the city to do a hike called Black Tusk. We drove towards Whistler and headed into Garibaldi Provincial Park just south of Whistler itself (to see a map of where this is click here). We chose a stunning day for it, which was lucky as this was a 29km hike that we did in one day, including driving there and back. It’s rated on http://www.vancouvertrails.com/trails/black-tusk/ as difficult, with an elevation gain of 1740 m.

The first 5 – 6 km were uphill, however with all of us talking, they passed really quickly without it really being noticeable. Eventually we could see our destination – Black Tusk, aptly named due to its prominence on the sky line and colour. We passed through “typical” BC beautiful scenery, forests and meadows.

The ultimate goal for the day, although not even half way of the total distance covered.

The ultimate goal for the day, although not even half way of the total distance covered

Forest giving way to meadows.

Forest giving way to meadows.

We were also lucky to see some lovely autumn rust colours in the forests and meadows we passed through.

After a good few hours, we were approaching the tusk itself, and the going got tough. Sharp uphill onto the ridge just below the tusk, with shingle underfoot, so two steps forward and half a step back. But then there we were, in the shadow of the tusk. Only the two guys opted to actually climb to the peak, which involved scrambling on some fairly precarious looking drops. It is actually recommended to use some climbing equipment (ropes etc) as falling can be consequential – definitely serious injury, possibly worse – although a lot of the people who headed up there still opted to climb to the peak without equipment. I personally was quite satisfied with taking a seat at the base of the tusk, eating my lunch, having a rest and enjoying the view.  And the view was really worth it!

The view from the tusk

The view 2

After a well-deserved rest, we started to make our way back down. Going down the shingle slopes is almost as hard as climbing up, and one often feels as though your feet are going to slip away from under you, although they don’t. This next picture shows Black Tusk in the background. By this point we were already so far away that you can no longer see the people who were up there. So while it may appear that we were not so far from it, it was further than it seemed (as it always is when you are out hiking!).

Friends

Next destination on this mammoth day hike, Garibaldi Lake! So super stunning, gorgeous colour, but so very cold (glacier and snow fed lake). But one of our party, unsurprisingly, decided he had to hop in for a swim, much to the entertainment of the rest of us, who preferred to avoid hypothermia. Again, the views were stunning, although by the time we reached the lake in the mid-late afternoon, the sun was already dipping behind some of the peaks, casting parts of the lake into shadow.

Garibaldi Lake

From here it was all downhill back to the car, approximately 9km if memory serves me correctly (which it doesn’t always!). The last 5 – 6 km, which were a return on the same path we came in on, had my engines running on low and my speed reflected this. Although I was bringing up the tail end of the group, everyone was feeling well-exercised after the day.

On the way home we stopped in Squamish as the Watershed restaurant, on the edge of Squamish River – again, great views! As I chose not to drink, I was the nominated driver to get us all home safely (cheers guys for all falling asleep in the car). This was an awesome hike, and I’d love to do it again, maybe even a bit later in the year to see more snow on the mountains, but you really do need a good level of fitness to be able to enjoy it.


A Day Hike From Vancouver – Cheam Peak

From Vancouver there are multiple accessible day hikes you can do, from heading over to the North Shore mountains to driving for a few hours north, east, or even south. It is, of course, easier to reach a lot of these if you have a vehicle, but many of the North Shore hikes can be relatively easily reached via public transport, you just need to factor in a bit of extra time to get there and home. If you are interested in any local hikes check out Vancouver hiking trails. This website has some good information on it, from elevation gain and difficulty rating, to whether or not the hike is accessible by public transport.

This day we chose to drive inland (east) from Vancouver in the direction of Chilliwack (said ChillAwack, not ChillYwack, as my friend and I were corrected by a local). See this Vancouver to Chilliwack map showing the location. It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours depending on traffic and then you head off the main roads and onto some back roads. You end up on an old unused logging road that has deep ditches dug across it to facilitate water run off and also to deter people driving up there – not that it stops anyone. You do need an AWD or a 4WD to get up this road, and even in my AWD, we stopped part way up as these ditches became so steep one was scraping the back end of the car as you drove up the far side of the ditch (but it was fun doing a wee bit of 4WD style driving!). Luckily a super nice local (the one who corrected our “poor” pronunciation) picked us up in his 4WD truck with much better clearance and gave us a lift the rest of the way (and coincidentally, back down again after too).

The start of the trail featuring a loo! The peak you see is not Cheam Peak, that was off to the left of this shot.

The start of the trail featuring a loo! The peak you see is not Cheam Peak, that was off to the left of this shot.

This picture mostly shows the zig zag of a logging road winding its way up the mountain.

The zig zag of the logging road winding its way up the mountain.

The hike is approximately 9.5 km return with an elevation gain of 665 m. Doesn’t sound so much, but when you are walking uphill and don’t have much of a “slow” speed, it’s quite some gain! The first part of the track was relatively flat and in a bit of wooded forest before passing Spoon Lake, and then heading sharply uphill out in the open with no shade.

Spoon Lake - it was so pretty I wanted to jump in for a swim!

Spoon Lake – it was so pretty I wanted to jump in for a swim!

Although we did this hike mid-September, there was still a surprising amount of snow around the mountain. Granted it’s not a lot, but I was surprised to see any given the temperatures we had over summer.

This is Lady Peak. You can see there was still a wee bit of snow around even though it was mid-September.

This is Lady Peak. You can see there was still a wee bit of snow around even though it was mid-September.

We finally got to Cheam Peak (along with a couple of dozen others who were on the track before us), where we sat and ate our lunch. As always, the wind was chilly up so high, so the puffa jacket I had lugged up with me came in handy for keeping me nice and toasty while we ate and enjoyed the views.

The Fraser River, looking worse for wear due to silt, and Chilliwack in the background.

The Fraser River, looking worse for wear due to silt, and Chilliwack in the background.

The view from the peak back to Vancouver. As happens in summer, it becomes hazy because of the air pollution drifting down from inland. However this is nothing compared to the current smoky conditions we have this year from wild fires!

The view from the peak back to Vancouver. As happens in summer, it becomes hazy because of air pollution drifting from inland. However this is nothing compared to the current smoky conditions we have this year from wild fires!

Overall I would say this was a nice full day hike, including the driving. I would rate it as easy/intermediate – the trail was easy, super visible, non-technical, but there was a constant uphill grind that did require some fitness, otherwise it would not have been pleasant at all. A lovely day out getting some fresh air and exercise and seeing another part of the greater Vancouver area.


A Few More Pictures From My Sister’s Visit

Gosh it really was quite a few months ago that my sister visited me! I’ve been terribly slack about posting to my blog since then, whoops! I took a lot of photos while she was over, and just want to share a few of them.

Florencia Bay, Vancouver Island, another one of these beautiful long and wild beaches found on the west coast.

Florencia Bay, Vancouver Island, another one of these beautiful long and wild beaches found on the west coast.

Grice Bay boat launch, not far from Tofino. Very few boats here, but this single boat on thecalm water made a great picture.

Grice Bay boat launch, not far from Tofino. Very few boats here, but this single boat on the calm water made a great picture.

The roots on this tree were pretty amazing. Seen here beside the track at Schooner Cove, Vancouver Island.

The roots on this tree were pretty amazing. Seen here beside the track at Schooner Cove, Vancouver Island.

This walking track is known as the Shoreline Bog Walk. As the name suggests, it is a boggy marsh area - great for nature and birds - but not so great for walking on, hence the raised wooden platform, to protect the fragile nature.

This walking track is known as the Shoreline Bog Walk. As the name suggests, it is a boggy marsh area – great for nature and birds – but not so great for walking on, hence the raised wooden platform, to protect the fragile nature.

Tonquin Beach, Tofino. We didn't always have bright sunny weather, but the different moods conveyed by the weather just gave us a different view of some of the beautiful surroundings.

Tonquin Beach, Tofino. We didn’t always have bright sunny weather, but the different moods conveyed by the weather just gave us a different view of some of the beautiful surroundings.

North of Vancouver city, is the town of Squamish. It has a river that has a bit of a beach beside it. We stopped here after a trip to Whistler one day and watched the sun set.

North of Vancouver city, is the town of Squamish. It has a river that has a bit of a beach beside it. We stopped here after a trip to Whistler one day and watched the sun set.


Bears Bears Everywhere

I think I have mentioned (maybe more than once!) in previous posts about my great bear phobia. Well, in total contrast to this phobia, I engaged in a bear watching tour last autumn. My sister was over visiting me for a couple of weeks, and we headed across to Tofino on Vancouver Island. One of the many touristy things you can choose to do there is bear watching. M had been over there with his parents a few weeks prior, and they had done a bear watching tour, which even he had to admit (great hater of all things touristy that he is) was a pretty awesome experience. So my sister and I decided that was definitely on our list of things we wanted to do.

We headed to the Whale Centre (see their website here) for our tour. Why did I choose these guys? A couple of good reasons (and no they are not paying me to write this, in fact they have no clue I am writing this!). First up, you may remember I wrote a post about “A day (or two) in my life“, where I was out off the coast from Tofino sampling seabirds – well we chartered the guys from the Whale Centre to take us out. They were really nice people and even when the conditions started to cut up, I felt safe with them. Secondly, they use open boats (a 24 foot Boston Whaler to be precise!) which many of the other companies doing bear tours don’t, so you are still stuck behind glass staring out. Third, because of the small size of their boat, they don’t take more than 12 people (I think?) – a far cry from the bigger tour companies who have large enclosed boats and can take up to about 50 people at a time, which also means they can get in closer to shore and in places where the bigger boats can’t fit. And lastly, their prices seemed really reasonable to me – Tofino is a tourism-based village, so prices get jacked up on nearly everything, but for the fact these guys aren’t taking loads of people each trip, their prices were still pretty good. Just beware, one of the skippers (owner?) John likes to tell a pretty awesome story about rescuing a bear cub inadvertently trapped under a rock turned over by momma bear – I heard it when we chartered these guys for work and he managed to naturally get the conversation around to it on our tour too (but I must admit, if I had a cool story like that to share I’d milk it too!).

Anyway, I digress.

We suited up (bright orange mustang survival suits, I’ve posted a pic of myself in one before, same deal again here) and hopped on board. Now, for once in her life, my sister’s relative lack of height worked to her (our) advantage! She was the shortest on the trip so she got to sit in the very front seat of the boat at the bow – me being her buddy on the trip, I got to sit there too. So we had the best seats in the house.

All suited up and seated at the front of the boat.

All suited up and seated at the front of the boat.

Off we went, zipping over the water. These tours can only be done at low tide, as the bears we observe are on the low intertidal zone flipping rocks over and eating the big crabs they find underneath. Hence, the tours run in accordance with when low tide is, which for us meant a 7am start, never easy when you are on holiday! It wasn’t a brilliant sunny day, but rather we started out in damp foggy weather, which soon lifted to give us a low overcast grey sheen. Probably better for taking photos however!

First up, we didn’t see just bears – and as a nature lover I was totally into that. Sea lions, various birds, herons, juvenile bald eagles (and later an adult bald eagle posed beautifully for us) plus a pod of 3 harbour porpoises were all on the menu. And all of this only served to raise anticipation about getting to see bears.

Sea lions, which brk like dogs and smell like poop-of-fish.

Sea lions, which bark like dogs and smell like poop-of-fish.

Some type of birds skimming the surface as they fled in front of the boat.

Some type of birds skimming the surface as they fled in front of the boat.

A heron (I think a blue heron) caught mid-flight.

A heron (I think a blue heron) caught mid-flight.

An adult bald eagle posing so nicely for us on our way back to the Whale Centre.

An adult bald eagle posing so nicely for us on our way back to the Whale Centre.

The bears we saw were black bears – smaller than their grizzly cousins. They were totally unphased by us coming in to view them. I can’t actually convey how close we got to them – typically, John could nudge the bow of the boat in to shore and be only 2 metres out (the benefits of a smaller boat), while the bears were maybe 1 or 2 metres away (and yet somehow I felt totally safe – maybe because we could back out of there quickly, maybe because the bears seriously did not even glance in our direction). You could hear them  crunching on the crabs, the sounds as the rocks were flipped over, the water lapping against the boat and the shore (clearly everyone was really quiet as we were all just entranced by the spectacle in front of us). They could flip these big rocks over as though it was just a small pebble in their way – their strength was incredible. These guys may not look so big, but when they stand on their hind legs they are 6 feet plus from nose to toe – and I wouldn’t want to run into one. Anyway, a few photos to give you a taster of what we were so lucky to see.

Our first black bear of the tour.

Our first black bear of the tour.

Nom nom crab!

Nom nom crab!

They look so innocent...

They look so innocent…

This bear had enough of crabs and headed up to the forest edge to forage for berries. Stretched out, you can see how big they really are.

This bear had enough of crabs and headed up to the forest edge to forage for berries. Stretched out, you can see how big they really are.


Paddle Steamer SS Moyie

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In the litte BC town of Kaslo (click here to see a map), population approx. 1000, an old retired paddle steamer, the SS Moyie, has been slowly restored and turned into a museum through no small feat of devotion and care. M and I were waylaid by a chatty woman when we camped out one night not far from Kaslo. She insisted we must visit this boat museum, and told us tales of how it used to paddle up and down the Kootenay lakes system (click the link to the map above to see this lake system) as one of the only forms of transport (way back when the roads were not readily formed). It was first put into use in 1898 and was retired in 1957. I wasn’t so excited about the prospect of seeing a dusty old paddle ship, but M was convinced it would be the bees knees, so we went.

SS Moyie

SS Moyie from shore. The paddle is at the back of the boat and I didn’t get a good photo showing the whole length.

So my first impression – yip it’s a boat.

But as we walked on board, I became fascinated by the details that were there. They have restored the boat to the condition it was in when it was taken out of circulation (or however you say a boat has been retired). They have put cargo on board the same as what would have been taken on board when it was actively steaming up and down the lake system. Obviously, some of the cargo is fake, but the details, down to the labels on the boxes, was incredible.

A 1927 Model T Ford.

A 1927 Model T Ford.

A 1919 Model TT.

A 1919 Model TT.

Various produce and grocery items transported up and down the lakes.

Various produce and grocery items transported up and down the lakes.

How the laundry used to be done - backbreaking! No thank you!

How the laundry used to be done – backbreaking! No thank you!

A torture device, or an old style wheel chair?

A torture device, or an old style wheel chair?

Bells and whistles, or dials and gadgets.

Bells and whistles, or dials and gadgets.

Original brass dials!

Original brass dials!

And these were pictures I took only from the first cargo deck! As I made my way up to the passenger decks, I slowly became more and more impressed and drawn into the history of this boat. There was a smoking room (clearly for the gents only – sexist old farts), card tables, a dining room, a piano so live music could be played for entertainment, a bunk room and so on and so forth. You could really imagine the people dressed up, treating it like an evening out as they paddled the lakes from one place to the next.

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There was also a display of things that people had dropped down the window sills over the years – playing cards (maybe someone was cheating in a game?), candy wrappers, post cards, a book (to prop the window open?). These pieces of “rubbish” had been fished out and put on display – paltry little bits of nothing which I’m sure the original owners would laugh at to see them now on display in the boat museum. The windows had magnificent detail in them – they were originally inlaid with photographs of scenes from along the lakes, which have now faded, but are being restored a bit at a time.

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We then moved from the passenger sections of the boat to the wheel house, where if you paid an extra $5 you were allowed to pull the steam horn. Someone did it just before we went in there, so we opted not to. The views of the lake were magnificent, but my favourite thing, just outside the wheel house, was the “fire extinguisher” system. Here’s hoping they never had to use it!

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And then we rented paddle boards and went out exploring the lake ourselves – such a calm, sunny amazing sunny day, and definitely worth a stop if you are ever heading that way.


Kokanee Glacier Park

A mere 700 and something kms east of Vancouver, or 9 hours and 45 minutes driving according to Google, you find Kokanee Glacier Park. This is one of the oldest provincial parks in BC, covering just over 320 square km. We stopped here and decided to do a bit of a hike. To find out the best place to go, we first stopped into a nearby visitor centre to get an idea of conditions. Elevation in this park is quite high, so conditions can change quickly and unexpectedly and catch you unawares. We knew (or rather M knew) there was a hut located not so many hours hike in from the road, and we were interested in heading in there. However, the information at the visitor centre was scanty at best. It seems locals who head there know what the deal is, but no one passes that information on to the visitor centre on a regular basis, so our best and most up-to-date information told us that most of the walks were still closed due to snow cover and we certainly wouldn’t be able to make it into the hut. We decided to drive up the road to the parking area and see how far we could get, although we were a bit disappointed to not be able to get in to the hut.

This is the road where I think I mentioned earlier we saw grizzly bear marks on a tree, at a height about M’s head. Fun… We drove up the kinky, bumpy, windy old dirt “road” and made it to the car park area, and I have to say I was surprised to find some quite reasonably maintained toilets up there, as well as a bunch of other cars – but no one in sight. There was a notice board (again advertising the fact that we were in the backcountry and there was wild life about so take all precautions you should) and also a stash of walking poles left by people, a really nice touch. So we geared ourselves up with walking poles, our day pack and water, and headed up hill on a nice looking path.

The path up.

The path up.

The bush on the side of the path was very overgrown and given the bear sign we had seen earlier and the fact the little critters – squirrels and birds and so on – didn’t seem in the slightest bit scared of us, it made us (and certainly me) a bit nervous about the bigger animals – if the little ones didn’t care that we were hiking along, why would the big ones care? I took to clapping my hands and hollering out every now and then, and although it cracked M up, he was soon joining me. Later we sunk into some interesting renditions of various songs, including Hotel California – I’m sure our singing was the best bear deterrent we could use!

After maybe 1.5 or 2 hours walking, we did encounter some snow and ice, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what we were led to believe back at the visitor centre, and it didn’t go on for long. We were quite able to walk over the top of it, and it wasn’t on difficult or dangerous terrain. We found a suitable turnaround point, and from there, could actually see it wouldn’t have been much further to the hut (another hour or so), and while there would have been some snow cover, we would have been totally adequately equipped in our hiking boots, so a bit disappointing on that account. Nonetheless, definitely not disappointing in regards to the scenery and beauty around us.

Looking back at the mountains behind us as we hiked up.

Looking back at the mountains behind us as we hiked up.

The valley ahead of us that we would have had to hike along the side of to reach the hut. If you look very closely you can see the path on the left hand side. Clearly not the dramatic snowy impenetrable path we were led to believe.

The valley ahead of us that we would have had to hike along the side of to reach the hut. If you look very closely you can see the path on the left hand side. Clearly not the dramatic snowy impenetrable path we were led to believe.

A chubby little marmot who was not in the least scared of us and decided to check us out.

A chubby little marmot who was not in the least scared of us and decided to check us out.

My singing companion.

My singing companion.

On a side note, as it is now more than 6 months since we walked here, M just did a ski touring trip in the Kokanee Park over the week of New Years, staying at the hut we wanted to go to. The snow was so deep and the area so impassable that they had to be choppered in. Quite an impressive change between seasons.