Monday, March 18, 2013

Squishing & Squelching in Squamish – Day 3: Mining History

After breakfast I went for a walk down memory lane, well, OK, along the Waterfront Trail on the southwest side of Squamish. A few other people were strolling along under umbrellas or hoodies, most with cavorting canine companions.

The trail runs alongside an inlet that enters from Howe Sound and is a reminder that Squamish offers an array of ocean activities including kayaking, fishing and sailing. The trail also offers moody views into the past when a pulp mill and saw mill operated here and the town was booming. Dark, hulking pylons from a former pier ran forlornly from the tidal flat into the sea and made me think of how the town has transformed from a resource-based past into a modern outdoor-activity centre. Clouds and mist hung like shrouds over the Chief and the mountains across the bay.

Heading out of town, I had one last stop, the Britannia Mine Museum, a National Historic Site, which, like the Chief, beckoned to me every time I hastened past. I donned a miner’s hard hat, boarded a train and we chugged into a dank, dripping tunnel where bright blue stains on the rocks showed the copper minerals that were once mined here. We dismounted at a larger cavern and the guide explained how miners drilled and blasted the rock using noisy, heavy drills. We shivered as he explained how miners worked in the early years under appalling conditions by candlelight.

Then we went to an enormous building, which covered half the hillside and once was the largest mill in world. Inside we stood in a huge open area with pipes and conveyer belts running everywhere. While the guide explained the intricacies of crushing and chemically treating the ore to make concentrate, my mind wandered. I had heard that occasionally performances are held in this most unusual space and imagined the pounding reverberations of the recent Japanese drumming band filling this enormous space.

Wandering amongst the many historic buildings, I discovered the gold panning area and excitedly grabbed a pan and swished and swished. Alas, only fools’ gold appeared.

I left reluctantly, for the Britannia Mine is a totally under-appreciated attraction, which offers wonderful historical insights not only into mining but also into the development of coastal British Columbia.

Heading homeward, I realized that Squamish was far more than a drive-through town, but a top-notch destination in itself. I couldn’t wait to return under an azure sky and beaming sun.

If You Go
- Waterfront Trail:
- More info: & Adventure Centre (corner of #99 and Cleveland Ave, Squamish)

Squishing and Squelching in Squamish – Day 2: Cross-Country Skiing with Olympian Ghosts

I was up early and on the road, heading north, climbing steadily, immersed in steep rock faces and deep dramatic valleys. Of course, a constant patter of rain beat down, which, every time a car or truck passed, transformed into a whirling cloud of mist that blotted out everything except my excitement. I was heading to the Callaghan Valley and Whistler Olympic Park for a day of cross-country skiing.
In Squamish the landscape was bare, but as I drove more and more snow appeared until at the end, the snow banks beside the road towered over the car.

I met my instructor, Gary Baker, who looked and acted about two decades younger than his 75 years of age. He was amazingly fit and truly inspirational. We toured the biathlon shooting course, which was now empty, but I imagined the crowds roaring during the Olympics as the athletes skied furiously in and then had to settle their pounding hearts to squeeze off shots at the tiny targets. Large green Olympic rings gazed down benevolently from the slope above. Next, Gary gave me a lesson in cross-country skiing using the skating technique, which I had never tried before. I felt shaky and wobbly but he was a patient and excellent teacher. We ‘skated’ past the two Olympic ski jumps, which seemed to reach forever into the sky and were far more frightening than when I had seen them on television.

Then came the cherry on the sundae: I went off alone along the Mountain View trail using classic skis and technique. The rhythmic whoosh-whoosh of my skis kept cadence with the thump-thump of my heart as I glided along a sinuous trail in solitude. I could feel the ghosts of the svelte 2010-Winter-Olympic athletes racing past, and tried to increase my puffing senior’s pace.

Delicate snow sculptures hung in ravines and on trees. Everything was simple, silent and elegant. Even with the light rain and low glowering clouds, I found it incredibly beautiful, very relaxing and, well, spiritual. I was gliding along in the midst of nature’s ethereal art gallery.

Driving back to Squamish, with the car’s heat cranked up and windshield wipers beating steadily, I was in a pleasantly tired bliss. The Callaghan Valley was stunning and the Whistler Olympic Park an incredible legacy. I vowed to return … perhaps even under sunny skies.

If You Go
- More info: Adventure Centre (corner of #99 and Cleveland Ave, Squamish) &

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Squishing and Squelching in Squamish – Day 1: Up the Chief

My three-day getaway to Squamish, the drive-through town on the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler, didn’t turn out quite as I planned. Clouds and mist blanketed the mountains. Water cascaded from the heavens. It was wet, humid and grey.

But I was committed. After checking in, I headed off to settle a score with an old acquaintance. Every time I drove through Squamish, passing under the shadow of the great hulking mass of granite called the Chief, I promised him I would return and hike to the summit. Today was the day.

Within minutes of starting up the trail, I was soaked. And then it became hard work, very hard. The path seemed almost vertical. Lactic acid bubbled in my thighs and my soggy hiking boots felt like anvils. I settled into a slow, sodden slog and after a while, surprise, I discovered the climb had its own ethereal beauty. I was surrounded by lush, dripping primordial forest, granite walls glistened with water, roots lay ominously on the path like tangles of snakes and rough-hewn granite boulders formed steps that led endlessly higher.

Water was the dominant theme, dripping from branches, lying in spattered puddles under every footstep and pouring in sheets down sheer granite walls. And whenever the path approached a stream, there was an urgent roar of white cascading power, thundering down the steep mountain side.

As I approached the summit, snow patches appeared. My fingers clutched the wet, fixed, metal ladders and chains that provided passage over the steepest, slippery portions. Then I was at the top and, amazingly, the rain stopped for a minute. Everything was shrouded in clouds and mist, like a mysterious funeral wake for spirits and ghosts. It was dramatic, edgy and awe-inspiring.

I descended under protesting, fatigue-laden legs, careful, ever so careful, not to tumble on the slippery granite slabs.

After a long, languorous shower, I left my hiking clothes spinning in the dryer and joined friends in the comfort of the Howe Sound Brew Pub. My weary muscles relaxed, and I recounted my adventures as we sampled MegaDestroyer Licorice Stout (10% alcohol!), Wee Beastie Scotch Ale, Three Beavers Red Ale and Devils Elbow IPA. Great names, great beer and a great day!

If You Go
- The Chief trailhead is off Highway 99 at the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.
- More info at the Adventure Centre (corner of #99 and Cleveland) &
- Howe Sound Brew Pub, 37,801 Cleveland Avenue:
- Executive Suites Hotel, 40900 Tantalus Road: