Paddle Desolation Sound with a little advice

January 1, 2017


Elizabeth Kohler enjoys a close-up look at sea life in Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park.

Click on Flikr photo galley (home page) to view a portfolio of Louise Christie’s Desolation Sound images

Access: Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park lies 144 kilometres north of Vancouver on the Sunshine Coast. For details, visit the BC Parks website. In Lund, Terracentric Adventures offers kayak rentals, tours, and water-taxi service. Powell River Sea Kayak also offers kayak rentals and tours from locations in Lund and nearby Okeover Inlet. Detailed maps of the Desolation Sound region include a Sunshine Coast recreation map and activity guide on the Tourism Powell River website, the Desolation Sound and Discovery Island trip planner by Coast & Kayak Magazine and Desolation Sound & the Discovery Islands (Harbour). For information on transportation and accommodation on the Sunshine Coast, visit their website.

A sea-kayak trip to Desolation Sound engages all five senses at once: sniff ocean breezes perfumed by wild rose and salal blossoms; taste salt water on fingertips; listen as the sound of pure silence fills the air; touch granite walls curtained with seaweeds and oyster shells; and watch velvety mountain ridges rise resolutely through clouds to glaciers on high.

That’s just for starters.

Keep track of the bird life that catches your attention during an excursion and be astounded by the final tally: murrelets, kingfishers, hummingbirds, oystercatchers, eagles, mergansers, nighthawks, loons, and gulls framed against a backdrop of golden, moss-covered slopes forested with ramrod-straight shore pines and shimmying arbutus.

It’s enough to overload one’s central nervous system to the point of dizziness.

Whatever your skill level, floating on the Pacific in a sea kayak is always a giddy experience.

No matter how glassy the surface, paddling the inland sea that stretches between the mainland and Vancouver Island feels like resting on a quivering bowl of gelatin.

With practice, the sensation of imbalance gives way to one of gently swaying atop a slumbering giant.

On the rocking cradle off the northern Sunshine Coast, the only sounds that rise above the profound peace are snortings and sighings as an inquisitive group of harbour seals pops up for a better look at brightly coloured ocean craft.

A more magical place to explore while seated would be hard to imagine.

Tap your foot gently on a rudder pedal and glide among them.

With every paddle stroke, equilibrium comes more naturally.

Once you’ve completed a guided sea-kayak trip or two, confidence in setting out on your own grows.

That’s where Christine Hollmann, owner of Lund-based Terracentric Adventures, comes in.

Her water-taxi service offers just the sort of introductio needed by intermediate-level paddlers keen to explore Desolation Sound Marine Provincial Park’s 30 kilometres of rocky, oyster-encrusted shoreline.

It’s fair to say that 40-ish Hollmann, who grew up in nearby Powell River, knows every cove, bay, island, and freshwater lake in B.C.’s largest marine protected area.

“The park is hugely popular in summer. September into early fall is when you want to be here. The water is bathtub-warm, campsites free up, and the bugs vanish.”

Hollmann’s local knowledge, from when shellfish are in season to the ideal spot to catch sunrise from the door of a tent, is indispensable.

Just because Lund anchors road’s end on the Sunshine Coast Highway doesn’t mean that the fun stops there.

Quite the opposite, especially for those willing to trade wheels for waves.

Pockets of islands provide boaters with a chance to witness what life off the grid truly looks like.

That opportunity drew Elizabeth Kohler and partner Wendy Holmes to the area.

After the experienced freshwater paddlers kayaked in the Strait of Georgia during a visit to Vancouver Island, they vowed to return.

We journeyed into the park aboard Hollmann’s water taxi as the duo marvelled at the rain-forest scenery.

With less than a week at their disposal, the one-hour ride into the park from Lund circumvented what otherwise would have been a half-day’s challenging paddle each way.

With help from Hollmann in choosing a campsite, all that remained was settling in and day-tripping to a variety of scenic locales within the park.

Holmes was particularly intent on viewing Homfray Channel, the steep-sided fiord that curves into the folds of the surrounding peaks rising above Toba Inlet.

The best place to accomplish that turned out to be from the shelter of Prideaux Haven, characterized by sailor and author Laurence Yeadon-Jones as the crown jewel of easy anchorages.

Together with his wife, Anne, the couple returns regularly to Desolation Sound to update their series of Dreamspeaker cruising guides.

“Rocks don’t move, ” Yeadon-Jones commented. “Everything else damn well does.”

In the early 2000s, Yeadon-Jones said the Broughton Archipelago off the northern tip of Vancouver Island had become the place to sail.

However, with the rise in fuel prices, Desolation Sound has regained popularity, though it’s no longer the party place it once was.

Boaters seem more conscientious about noise, especially in places like Prideaux Haven, as equally special as it’s ever been since the pair first explored there in the early 1990s.

“Generally speaking, Desolation Sound is a peaceful and respectful destination.”

When viewed from the water-level vantage point of a kayak, the sound’s maze of islands blends seamlessly with the mainland.

To make sense of the landscape, detailed charts are a must.

In advance, consult as many sources as possible to prepare yourself for Desolation Sound’s dizzying natural impact.

And have an adventure!

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Backcountry Skiing Must Haves

March 28, 2011


A trustworthy map is essential when exploring B.C.’s snowy wonderlands, especially now that spring touring season is here.

Advance research, particularly if you’ve got backcountry adventure in mind, is just as critical.

In 1983, John Baldwin published his influential primer Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis.

Given that the 2009 edition weighs a kilo, it’s unlikely to find one in a rucksack.

Baldwin’s partner, mountaineer Linda Bily, quipped: “You could take the book with you, but then it would offset all that featherweight gear.”

Bily, a long-time telemark skier, now alternates with lighter alpine touring equipment.

“Every ounce counts when you’re ski touring. That’s what kept me from changing gear until now.”

(In 2005, Bily and a fellow skier saved the lives of two North Shore Rescue members pinned down by hurricane-force winds on Mount Logan, Canada’s tallest peak.)

“As well, safety concerns—the need for releasable bindings—is driving me to AT [alpine touring], but I still like feeling different on my teles.”

With less weight in mind, Baldwin’s three new offerings—topographic backcountry-route maps for the Duffey Lake corridor north of Pemberton, ski and hiking trails off Highway 5 around the Coquihalla Summit, and the Shames Mountain ski area near Terrace in northwestern B.C.—more than fill the bill.

“After I did my Whistler backcountry map 10 years ago, I always thought that Duffey Lake would be perfect.

A lot has changed about mapmaking since then.

Now you can download government topographic maps from National Resources Canada free of charge.

The catch is you still have to pay about $30 to print one.

My maps are a composite of as many as four overlaps from various topo maps.

They’re printed on a synthetic material called YUPO. I

t’s so waterproof, you can hold it over your head in the rain for protection if you need to.”

Saputo Burnaby 4 track-racing contests will make heads spin

December 30, 2010


Surrey road and track rider Cody Campbell hopes to wrap up a stellar season at the year-end Burnaby 4 races.

UPDATE: As racing wrapped up at the Burnaby Velodrome on December 30, Cody Campbell finished in the points with a respectable 9th place overall in the elite men’s standings, well ahead of better known and more experienced riders. Well done!

ACCESS: For details on the Saputo Burnaby 4, see The Burnaby Velodrome is located on the north side of Burnaby Mountain on the Barnet Highway (Highway 7A), 1.5 kilometres east of Vancouver. It can be reached by taking the 160 bus, which runs between Burrard Station and Port Coquitlam Station.

Round and round the cyclists go at the Burnaby Velodrome.

Frankly, it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, particularly when it comes to watching the year-end Saputo Burnaby 4 track-racing contests.

But this isn’t the usual weekly matchup.

From December 27 to 30, an international field of pro elite riders, including Olympians and world champions, will saddle up at the Harry Jerome Sports Centre’s velodrome, which has served as the Canadian national track-racing training centre since 2009.

The incentive?

Cash, of course, but just as importantly valuable International Cycling Union points, which determine riders’ rankings in their season-long quests for overall supremacy.

“Outside of the national championships, this is the first time in Canada in 20 years that there will be ICU points awarded for track races,” said event organizer Jeremy Storie, the person largely responsible for the success of the centre’s Learn to Ride program for youth and adult cyclists.

When we visited earlier this month, Storie was putting a dozen Burnaby Velodrome Club elite riders through their twice-weekly paces.

The sports centre’s ribbed white inflatable dome is a nostalgic reminder of similarly shaped B.C. Place’s roof prior to its industrial-strength make-over.

Once through the doors, the rumbling sound of rubber on wood filled the air.

Storie explained that the lower-than-average turnout was attributable to a world cup race in Cali, Colombia, that had lured many local riders, such as North Vancouver’s Zach Bell, who has already won two world cup races this year including November’s season-opening event in Australia.

“The reason we got funding from Heritage Canada for the Saputo Burnaby 4 is that we’re providing Canadian athletes a chance to race at home against a topnotch field,” Storie emphasized, “without having to travel.”

One of the club riders present was Cody Campbell, whom we first interviewed several years ago when the now-20-year-old was still attending North Surrey Secondary.

On hiatus from classes at SFU’s campus atop nearby Burnaby Mountain, Campbell said he’s currently focusing exclusively on his career as a member of Lance Armstrong’s Trek-LIVESTRONG under-23 continental road-racing team.

“I’ve met Lance at several of our training camps,” Campbell said. “He’s a real inspiration to my dream of representing Canada at the Olympics and riding in the Tour de France. It’s going to take a lot more hard work to get me there.”

Although Campbell has switched from track racing to road racing, time spent at the velodrome abets his loftier ambitions.

“Track riding makes me a better road racer. Because there are no brakes on these bikes, I learn handling techniques at high speeds. It’s as simple as bike racing gets and teaches you tactics. Plus, the track is covered, so it gives me a cozy place to train at this time of year.”

If you’ve ever watched a road race during the annual B.C. Superweek in July, such as the Tour de Gastown, you know the thrill of seeing riders whiz past before disappearing from sight.

As much as Storie said he admired the weeklong road-racing extravaganza, he claimed that Superweek couldn’t hold a candle to the talent that’s been attracted to the Burnaby 4 spectacle:

“No disrespect intended, but there’s so much buzz surrounding these four days. Unlike road racing, at the velodrome you’re never more than 50 metres from racers like our own Svein Tuft and Washington state’s Tyler Farrar, who are coming off outstanding road-race seasons. Sarah Hammer from California is the reigning world champion in pursuit, as well as the Pan American Games champion in the Omnium. Best of all, watch out for Tara Whitten from Edmonton, double gold medallist in the ICU points race and Omnium at the 2010 ICU World Championships.”

Just as ski cross competition has emerged as the new kid on the slopes at world cup venues over the past three years, Omnium racing has taken centre stage at track races leading up to its official Olympic debut at the 2012 Summer Games in London.

Storie described Omnium as “the decathlon of cycling. It comprises all the skills required on the track. Riders take part in five events in one day. It’s a mix of sprint and endurance races. The longest race is a 100 laps/20 kilometres for men and 80 laps/16 kilometres for women. The shortest is the flying 250-metre sprint.”

Three evenings of races precede the daylong Omnium that crowns the Burnaby 4.

“This really is far more than just a series of races,” Storie said. “It’s an event modelled on similar multiday, wildly popular competitions in Europe that are more like watching Cirque du Soleil with a bike race going on at the same time. Entertainer Eugene Ripper kicks things off with a performance on the first night. We’ve got trials rider Ryan Leech from Port Moody putting on his show the next evening. There will be food and microbrew and lots of opportunity for local track racers to show their stuff, including an Alley Cat Scramble for bike couriers, along with two hours of pro elite races each night. A light show will transform the dome into a party atmosphere. Check out videos of the Gent 6 Day posted on YouTube to get an idea of what we’re aspiring to bring to the velodrome.”

Wrap your head around that.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

It’s getting easier to camp in B.C.’s provincial parks

August 10, 2010


One of the rewards of staying at the 'Ksan Campground in Hazelton is touring the adjacent historical village and museum.

Summertime, and the camping is easy—and it’s getting easier by the day.

In recognition of an aging homegrown population coupled with an increasing number of newly minted Canadians with no outdoor experience, this year B.C. Parks is bent on attracting more visitors to two Lower Mainland provincial campgrounds. Specifically on offer are sheltering roofs and soft beds.

In April, Sea to Sky Park Services, a Vancouver-based company contracted by B.C. Parks to administer 18 provincial campgrounds such as Alice Lake in Squamish, announced that two log cabins featured during the 2010 Winter Games had been relocated to Porteau Cove Provincial Park north of Horseshoe Bay.

When reached at his office in Mount Seymour Provincial Park in North Vancouver, where his family has run snow-sports facilities since the 1990s, general manager Eddie Wood said that the Olympic cabins are a great way to introduce people to the outdoors and to provincial parks. “There are three things I like about the new Porteau Cove options: the proximity to Vancouver and Squamish; the ocean at your doorstep; plus, cabins give us an opportunity to attract more people to the park, a demographic who don’t have camping gear or families with ageing parents who still want to come together in the outdoors.”

Wood pointed out that the cottages, which are already heavily booked, come fully equipped “with all the amenities of home”.

Rates for the winterized cabins, which have a maximum occupancy of four, run well above the $30 cost of a vehicle-access campsite at Porteau Cove: $219 per night during summer months and $139 in the off-season.

In May, Wood announced a similar initiative at Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park, where this summer a nine-metre, four-person RV trailer rents for $125 per night, linen not included.

In 2007, then–B.C. minister of parks Stan Hagen called for expanded choice of accommodation in a number of popular campgrounds.

Until this year, aside from a call for tenders, there was little evidence of what the government had in mind.

“We don’t want to take away from existing campsites,” Wood said, “especially as use over the past two years really picked up when fuel prices skyrocketed. We’re working with B.C. Parks to identify new areas of the parks for future sites or bringing in RVs at low season, such as May-June at Cultus Lake.”

Overall, Wood said, although camping got off to a slow start this spring, weekends were the exception.

“Victoria Day was the strongest we’ve ever seen. Due to the weather, there had been a real downturn in day visits, but on Thursday [July 8] we had to close the gate at Alice Lake by early afternoon because of the volume. For that to happen midweek is almost unheard-of.”

For reservations at Porteau Cove or Chilliwack Lake provincial parks, visit

Cabins and RV camping are one thing; overnighting in historic residences and locales offers an elevated experience infused with the spirit of the past.

Such is the case at Fort St. James National Historic Site in B.C.’s Interior, where Parks Canada has just announced that for the first time visitors can spend a night in the fort’s restored 1880s log home this summer.

Bring your jammies and the staff does the rest. Cost: $100 per person per night, dinner and breakfast included.

For Fort St. James National Historic Site, call 250-996-7191, ext 25.

The incomparable reward of camping is the chance to share the outdoors with the sounds of birdcalls and rushing rivers as a full moon rises above a snowcapped peak.

Such is the nature of another Interior site, the ’Ksan Campground in Hazelton, where Gitksan First Nations have lodged for millenniums.

Beneath the weathered face of Mount Rocher DeBoule, or Stii Kyo Din, once stood an ancient city-state, Tam Lax Aamid, where several tribes lived harmoniously beside the Skeena River.

A catastrophic series of events, including the massacre of warriors by supernatural one-horned goats, led to the abandonment of what may have been one of North America’s largest pre-contact societies.

’Ksan offers far more than a picture-perfect campground.

The past blurs with the present at the adjacent historical village made up of five longhouses.

Executive director Laurel Smith-Wilson explained that when opened in 1960, ’Ksan became the first aboriginal museum in Canada. “Our original structure, the Fireweed House, was moved here from historic downtown Hazelton. Despite ceremonies being outlawed for a time in the 20th century, our regalia and customs remain intact.”

Take a look for yourself.

An abundance of food allowed the Gitksan, or People of the River of Mists, to camp here year-round.

At the very least, treat yourself to a night too.

Camping details at ’Ksan are posted at

Unfortunately, travellers these days aren’t scrambling for space at ’Ksan—or elsewhere around the province, for that matter—which means bad news for Joss Penny, chairperson of the Camping and RVing B.C. Coalition.

Established in 2008 to promote rural, nature-based tourism, the nine-member group represents more than 1,100 public and private campgrounds. “In a recession, tourism is the first to feel the pinch,” Penny told me. “It’s tough out there right now.”

For maps and information on campgrounds throughout B.C., visit Camping and RVing B.C. Coalition’s Web site.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Seeking out new views of the Fraser River

October 16, 2009


Sea kayakers Jane McRae (foreground) and Sally Richardson explore the Fraser from Ladner Harbour.

Access: Ladner lies 30 kilometres/18 miles south and west of Vancouver in the Municipality of Delta.

To reach Ladner, drive Highway 99 to the south end of the George Massey Tunnel and take the first exit (#29) onto River Road or the next exit (#28) onto Highway 17 South, then turn right onto Ladner Trunk Road (48th Avenue) for the short drive into town. By taking the River Road exit, you approach Ladner on a back road rather than through the community’s newer neighbourhoods on Ladner Trunk.

For information on Kaymaran Adventure Tours, including tours and kayak and canoe rentals, as well as membership in the Ladner Paddling Club, call 604-946-7507 or 604-946-5070, check, or stop by Ladner’s Elliott Street Wharf.

Imagine living beside one of the world’s most ecologically significant waterways, one that can be reached within minutes of home, waiting to be discovered anew with each passing season.

This dream attraction—the Fraser River—lies at our doorstep.

Without giving the 1,375-kilometre/825-mil-long river more than a passing thought—sure looks muddy—many Vancouverites  regularly cross the Fraser for work, pleasure, or both.

New approaches, such as TransLink’s Golden Ears Bridge between Langley and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows and the Canada Line crossing between Vancouver and Richmond, have just opened.

It’s time to reward yourself for the turmoil inflicted by Canada Line construction.

Head to the south end of Ash Street, where panoramic river views unfold along the heel- and wheel-friendly concourse.

Behold the Fraser’s North Arm.

Given the changes that occurred around False Creek after Vancouver hosted Expo 86, ponder what this soon-to-be redeveloped stretch of shoreline will look like decades from now.

Large tracts of land where industrial activities once held sway currently lie vacant. Suddenly this stretch of the river is approachable again.

By far the most intimate manner in which to get acquainted with the Fraser is floating on its surface.

Only those aboard a motorized vessel should trifle with the strong tidal currents in the North and South Arms, though.

On the other hand, a kayak or canoe is the ideal craft in which to discover the superb natural beauty of the Fraser estuary around Ladner, where a group of low-slung, thickly vegetated islands beckon offshore.

With its tranquil, historic waterfront augmented by a fleet of eclectic float homes, Ladner shows how life was once lived in dozens of small river communities along the Fraser’s last leg to the ocean.

Tony Dales runs Kaymaran Adventure Tours on Ladner’s Elliot Street public dock.

Thanks to local volunteers who participated in “Operation Shoreline Cleanup” this summer, the long-time resident says the harbour looks better than it has in years.

From his watercraft rental office, Dales proudly describes how decrepit boats, half-sunken float homes, and mounds of marine debris were hauled away in order to beautify adjacent Ladner Harbour Park’s surroundings.

Clearly delighted by the sight of salmon leaping beside his dock as the fall run of pinks begins returning to the Fraser in their millions, Dales was equally thrilled by the impending winged migration that during the next two months will see millions of birds pass through the Fraser Estuary, one of the most important rest and feeding stops on the Pacific flyway.

Every autumn, a new group of kayakers is drawn to witness this natural abundance.

Dales notes the number of families that have recently signed on for a first-time paddle.

By far the biggest segment of his business comes from women in their 40s to late 60s, an age range that accounts for 80 percent of all new sea kayakers in North America.

Dales describes this cohort as having the time, money, and guts, and gumption to get out on the water.

Why do women, in particular, take to paddling?

At first blush, the sport offers the pleasure of a quiet atmosphere plus an opportunity to get back to nature.

But after women join the Kaymaran-affiliated Ladner Paddling Club for an outing or two, Dales has noticed, their perspective changes.

Sea-kayaking becomes even cooler because of its self-powered simplicity that can be mastered independently or with other like-minded adventurers on the river.

At the same time as Vancouverites take pride in living beside this great natural attraction, the Fraser has consistently ranked at or near the top of the annual Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.’s most-endangered rivers list.

In 1980, the council orchestrated the first B.C. Rivers Day. Thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of Burnaby’s Mark Angelo, the September celebration evolved into World Rivers Day in 2005.

Prior to this year’s events, Angelo spoke from his office at BCIT’s fish, wildlife, and recreation program.

He lauded the Ladner harbour facelift both for its positive results and for the tangible community benefit of bringing people together.

Angelo’s words echo the sentiment of all who discover this corner of the Fraser.

The estuary is a magical place.

Once you’ve spent time exploring there, you’ll better appreciate the value of where we live, which, in turn, makes life in Vancouver special.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Discover Garibaldi Provincial Park’s charms

September 29, 2009


Provincial park ranger Dominique Mossier tries to keep Garibaldi Lake's trails looking their best.

Access: The well-marked Garibaldi Lake–Black Tusk trailhead lies 100 kilometres north of Vancouver, just east of Highway 99. For a detailed description of the Garibaldi Lake-Black Tusk area, pick up a copy of my Whistler Book.

Current conditions in Garibaldi Provincial Park are posted at

A good perspective on the current state of B.C. Parks is posted at

Care to take a hike in the footsteps of pioneers? Follow the trail to Garibaldi Lake and the Black Tusk north of Squamish and you’ll be doing just that.

A decade or more before the creation of Garibaldi Provincial Park in the 1920s, climbers from Vancouver’s fledgling B.C. Mountaineering Club were already clearing a route to the glacier-fed, turquoise-hued lake and sombre volcanic pillar, one of the most iconic natural features in the Sea to Sky corridor.

With the exception of Stawamus Chief Mountain, no other rock formation in the surrounding fortress of coastal peaks is as noticeable or so readily identifiable in a region that’s a living lesson in geological history.

If that isn’t inducement enough, consider that in autumn the colour of Garibaldi Lake is at the apex of its intensity.

Garibaldi Lake is often compared to Lake Louise for its splendour. Vicki Haberl, planner for B.C. Parks’ Lower Mainland regional office in Squamish, agrees with the comparison.

However, Haberl feels that Garibaldi appears even better than its Alberta counterpart because visitors have to earn the view by first undertaking a nine-kilometre (5 mile), three-hour hike to reach its subalpine shore rather than simply walk a short distance from a parking lot, as is the case with Banff National Park’s centrepiece.

During the ascent to the lake, one of the most arresting sights is the Barrier, an enormous lava-flow dam that blocked the valley to originally form the lake.

In the mid-1800s, a large portion of its red rock face calved off.

Remnants of the avalanche are easily spotted along the banks of aptly named Rubble Creek, which vents from the base of the Barrier, and in the debris fan on both sides of the Cheakamus River.

For the best perspective, pause at the six-kilometre viewpoint. Rocks dislodged from the sheer wall continually tumble down into Rubble’s percolating white water below.

Garibaldi Lake Trail is surprisingly smooth and welcoming, unlike other rocks-and-roots paths, such as the Helm Creek Trail, an alternate approach to the lake from the Whistler side.

Thanks to crews of hydrologists dispatched to the lake in the 1930s to investigate the energy-generating potential of the region, accompanied by wagonloads of summer hikers, today’s trail covers much the same gently switchbacked path.

Just as then, hikers are advised to carry emergency supplies to cope with ever-changing conditions in the backcountry. B.C. Parks still provides outhouses at Garibaldi Lake, but the Environment Ministry’s latest budget afforded no funds for toilet paper, so hikers must bring their own.

In 2002, Victoria instituted pay parking in provincial parks. Given the current deficit, pay toilets may be next.

In many ways, the summer of 2009 has been particularly taxing for B.C. Parks’ staff.

Among the new duties assigned the remaining three rangers who supervise Garibaldi Park’s massive 1,946-square-kilometre range is backpacking in maintenance equipment.

Due to cutbacks, annual helicopter supply flights were cancelled.

Staff visits to the park have been so fleeting that B.C. Parks didn’t bother opening the lake’s ranger cabin, part of a nest of shelters that housed youth work crews several decades ago.

Whistler-based photographer Paul Morrison, whose wife, Gail, cooked for the 25-member crews in the late 1970s and early 1980s, recalls that trail-building and maintenance once went on full-time in the summer.

The Morrisons, who annually camp at the lake, find that in recent years their pet peeve is that no day-to-day maintenance is done on the entire Garibaldi Lake Trail, just patchwork repairs where needed.

This is a surprising situation, given that every day hundreds of visitors hike the trail.

Indeed, Garibaldi Lake’s three campgrounds overflow on weekends between May and October with outdoor buffs drawn from the Lower Mainland, Europe, and Australasia.

At times, foot traffic to and from the lake is so busy it rivals vehicle congestion on nearby Highway 99.

Both the Morrisons and Haberl agree that Garibaldi Lake draws a crowd because of its predictable access coupled with majestic scenery.

Whether you sport a light backpack for a day’s visit, come more heavily laden to camp, or spiral around the Black Tusk in a paraglider, as some intrepid people do, the view of the lake from Panorama Ridge is a wonder to behold.

In the same breath, Paul Morrison can hardly find words to say how disgusted he is  to see a natural treasure being run into the ground.

Although Haberl asserts that Garibaldi is one park where the rules are more stringent, such as no dogs or campfires, she does admit that enforcement is problematic with so few staff.

From former ranger Dominique Monnier’s perspective, the best time to visit Garibaldi Lake is before snowflakes begin to fly at higher elevations.

A self-described “dirt-bag climber”, Monnier‘s summer work finances her mountaineering exploits the remainder of the year.

As she leans on a shovel in the silence, the voice of a creek below Sphinx Glacier on the wide lake’s far shore can be heard.

Her recommendation: set aside three days to ski or snowshoe the route between the Elfin Lakes hut in the park’s Diamond Head region and the Garibaldi Lake campground in late winter or early spring.

Like charity, that’s when snow can be counted on to cover up a multitude of sins.

Just don’t forget your toilet paper.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Coquitlam’s Colony Farm is a hidden oasis

August 22, 2009


Leroy Phillip was one of the first to plant in the community garden at Colony Farm Regional Park

Jewel-like regional parks garland Metro Vancouver like an evergreen necklace. From Bowen Island’s Crippen Park to Abbotsford’s Matsqui Trail, you can’t help but feel blessed, even overwhelmed, exploring one.

Not so at Colony Farm in Coquitlam. On first sight, all that greets the eye is a wide swath of fallow farmland on the south side of Lougheed Highway, just east of the Port Mann Bridge. Classified as “old field”, the former cow pasture and cropland was left to go wild when the provincially owned farm, once part of Riverview Hospital, closed in 1983. Although the property doesn’t jump out at you, the land is of special importance to wildlife, particularly birds such as the colourful lazuli buntings, Bullock’s orioles, and black-headed grosbeaks that nest here.

One person acutely aware of Colony Farm’s hidden values is Metro Vancouver parks’ central area manager, Frieda Schade. On the phone from her office, Schade told the Georgia Straight that drinking in the views from the open fields is something she looks forward to. “I love the dike trails, the river, the mountains, the wildlife—especially the birds. The level bike trails themselves are worth a million dollars!” she exclaimed.

Tom Littlewood, project manager for the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s fledgling bike tour and rental company, couldn’t agree more. When reached by phone at one of the band’s two reserves, which border the regional park, Littlewood had just returned from a lengthy pedal. “I have a 50-kilometre loop I do that makes everything all right, if you know what I mean,” he said. “Bikes keep you young forever.” Littlewood was hired in 2008 to help set up the bicycle business, train Kwikwetlem residents as mechanics and tour guides, and handle the marketing. “I’m retired and only allowed to do fun things,” the 58-year-old said with a laugh. This fall, he and his staff of five will work full-time with as many as 120 young students a day. “When we opened last September, we hosted 41 field trips with the local Coquitlam school district, although we’d only forecast six. This spring, we did 15 pilot projects for schools in Richmond, Vancouver, and three other municipalities. We put half the kids on bikes for tours while the rest attend classroom workshops on First Nations history and wildlife. Then they trade off.” If there’s one image Littlewood treasures, it’s that of Kwikwetlem elders’ eyes as streams of youngsters roll by on bikes. “The elders consider themselves caretakers of the Coquitlam River. They’ve lived for this day.”

Indeed, the intertidal Coquitlam flows through the park and accompanies part of the nearby 25-kilometre Traboulay PoCo Trail. Dikes that hold the shallow waterway in check are topped with welcoming crushed-gravel trails that make for smooth, almost effortless pedaling. Shade cast by a predominantly black cottonwood and western red cedar forest provides welcome relief from both the sun and the din of traffic. The dikes also protect an extensive community garden that thrives on almost three hectares of verdant soil. That’s where the Georgia Straight encountered two of the park’s founding growers on a recent visit. Lena Jenson and Leroy Phillip have been reaping the rewards of their 23-square-metre plots almost since the community garden—unique in the regional park system—opened in 1997. While Jenson proudly showed off her flower garden, a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies, Phillip held up a volunteer zucchini that he was taking back to New Westminster to cook up with a neighbour. “Just like my gardening friends here share with each other,” he said, beaming. With row on row of plots up against each other, many featuring protective coverings, the garden looks like an armada of houseboats moored together.

Colony Farm Community Garden’s Ginny Wilson is typical of the plot holders, drawn mainly from the Tri-Cities: Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody. As treasurer of the all-volunteer group, she began cultivating at the farm in 1998 after relocating from Edmonton. Speaking by phone, Wilson said she became interested in community gardening after reading about a backyard garden-box project in inner-city Portland, Oregon. “Fifteen years ago, this seemed bizarre,” she said. “Back then, the local-food movement was in its infancy. Although the benefits are enormous, no one saw the potential to improve health. That’s what fired my imagination, especially as my new home in Coquitlam was too shaded to grow much. What luck to arrive at just the right moment!”

Finding such an oasis is good fortune indeed, particularly at early morning and evening times when a cooling breeze wafts off the nearby Fraser River where the Coquitlam joins it. Stillness envelops the hillsides and hazy peaks. Clusters of crimson berries hang heavy from the branches of red elderberry and black hawthorn bushes. Drifts of fireweed pattern the fields at the foot of Mary Hill. This is where you’ll want to be. Enjoy a picnic supper beside the community garden gazebo. Then, best of all, stroll the lanes to admire the bounty erupting from the little jewel boxes.

ACCESS: Colony Farm Regional Park lies 25 kilometres east of Vancouver on Highway 7 in Coquitlam. For information, visit For details on Colony Farm Bike Tours and Rentals, call 604-520-0090. Nature Vancouver’s new guide, Parks and Nature Places Around Vancouver (Alison Parkinson, Harbour Press), features an informative chapter on Colony Farm.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Nisga’a land woos Nass Valley tourists with parks, art

July 21, 2009


Nisga'a hereditary chief and master carver Alver Tait is creating four house poles to be installed at the new Nisga'a Museum taking shape near the village of Laxgalts'ap. Louise Christie photo.

Imagine celebrating Canada Day in an independent nation surrounded on all sides by, well, Canada. If your guess is la belle province, think again. In 2000, after more than a century of negotiations, the Nisga’a signed the first modern-day treaty—the Nisga’a Final Agreement—negotiated with the federal government. Since then, the Nisga’a Lisims government based in New Aiyansh, about 150 kilometres north of Terrace, has overseen four traditional villages whose 2,500 inhabitants occupy the heart of the Nass Valley. Welcome to Nisga’a Land.

The mighty Nass River flows through the valley as smoothly as molten lava did about 270 years ago in a fiery volcanic eruption. We spent much of Canada Day exploring the Nass—the anglicized version of Lisims—in the company of Kim Morrison, chief operating officer for Nisga’a Commercial Group Tourism, now in its second year of operation. Morrison, of Mohawk ancestry, was pleasantly surprised by the 150-percent visitor increase over the past year, spurred in large part by school groups from as far afield as Toronto. “Our staff have been working full-time since May, even though I thought they’d only be needed on weekends,” the dynamo admitted. “Last year was stepping off the edge for the Nisga’a after years of tourism feasibility studies. This job suits me because I’m all about living on the edge.”

Presently, most visitors are drawn to the area to explore Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park—also tongue-twistingly named Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a Provincial Park—on a 12-stop, self-guided auto tour. For Morrison, that’s just the beginning. “We’re building three backcountry fly-in lodges on the Cambria Icefields in Nisga’a traditional territory near Stewart, with a 36-kilometre trail system that leads through four different environments with bikers, hikers, paddlers, snowshoers, and backcountry skiers in mind. The first will open by the end of next year with an all-Nisga’a staff.” In a frank admission, Morrison said she herself doesn’t plan to be around in five years. “I want to work my way out of a job and have a Nisga’a in my place.”

One person who has already worked his way into a leadership role within the new nation is hereditary chief and carver Alver Tait. When we visited Tait at his studio in the village of Laxgalts’ap, or Greenville, he was in the midst of preparing the first of four dugout canoes to be launched by summer’s end. “My home is in New Aiyansh, but this village hired me to train eight apprentices in traditional carving techniques,” the Order of British Columbia recipient said. Alver, younger brother of noted carver Norman Tait, recently journeyed to Austria to raise a ceremonial pole the Canadian government had commissioned to honour the Vienna Zoo’s 250th anniversary. “These canoes represent a revival of one of the most important symbols to our people, who journeyed between winter and summer camps for gathering food like oolichan, cockles, sea lions, and salmon.” In the future, Tait’s eight apprentices will take their place as the principal canoe carvers. “Norman taught me how to design and shape a canoe in 1980, which we eventually paddled from Prince Rupert to Gingolx, or Kinkolith. It’s been a long time coming. We were working on our own then, nothing like today, where we have apprentices.”

According to Tait, fortunes changed with the founding of Nisga’a Land. “It takes a lot of money to find the trees, fell them, and move them to the carving shed. The old growth is getting harder to source.” In addition to the canoes, Alver is also carving four house poles to be installed at the new Nisga’a Museum taking shape nearby, where longhouses will honour the nation’s four principal clans: raven, wolf, eagle, and whale.

In B.C.’s northwest region, travellers seek out carvers in the same way they tour wineries in the Okanagan. The effects are similar: well-executed carvings can have as heady an impact on the central nervous system as wine. Bear this in mind as you work your way around the park and beyond. Although the carving shed in Laxgalts’ap, which is open to the public daily, is the ideal place to witness the creative process, take time to also view the four ceremonial poles that dominate the entrance to the municipal hall in New Aiyansh, as well as a similarly sized pole topped by a human figure holding a rainbow that fronts the Nisga’a Lisims government building farther uphill. Festooned to an almost baroque degree with swirling designs, the poles’ impacts are heightened to mind-altering degrees by their outdoor settings on terraces at the feet of glaciated peaks that wall the valley. And although exploring the lava fields that spread in a wide swath through the park is the main attraction, an equally attractive activity is paddling the freshwater lakes on whose surfaces the peaks are reflected to an even higher degree of impressiveness.

In total, Nisga’a Land encompasses 2,000 square kilometres of territory. Don’t be intimidated. No passports are required. Set aside at least a full day just to explore the park and adjacent villages. You’ll never look at Canada the same way again.

Access: The Nass Valley, including Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park, is located 1,525 kilometres north of Vancouver via Terrace. Detailed information is available from the Nisga’a Commercial Group Tourism, 1-866-633-2696 or For information on surrounding communities, including Terrace, call 1-866-615-7205 or visit

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Tossup between two lakes along the Sea to Sky corridor

June 20, 2009


All is calm on Birkenhead Lake (above), a good place for camping but a bit farther than Alice Lake.

Just as grass is always greener in neighbouring back yards, lake water is always bluer the next valley over. At least that seems to be the case along the Sea to Sky corridor. With the advent of hot weather, droves of city dwellers turn their backs on the Salish Sea and head north to picnic and camp on the shores of Alice Lake north of Squamish. In turn, local residents there, as well as from Whistler and Pemberton, pack picnic hampers and journey farther up the highway to Birkenhead Lake, north of Pemberton and Garibaldi Provincial Park.

It’s a tough call as to which of the two lakes makes a better choice. Alice Lake’s waterfront is certainly more urban, in a manicured kind of way, with the added advantages of warmer swimming plus an expansive network of footpaths and cycling trails. On the other hand, Birkenhead Lake is far larger with more rugged surroundings to charm paddlers and anglers alike. And for the first time this year, running water is available at its campsites, marking the end of the hand-pump era. As for popularity, it’s a tossup. Reservations at each provincial park are strongly recommended. Trust me. When the Georgia Straight visited Birkenhead Lake at the start of the Victoria Day weekend, the park was full; only a few spots remained in the tightly spaced overflow section.

Although Alice Lake offers the convenience of proximity to Metro Vancouver, if travel time is not an issue, the three-hour drive to Birkenhead Lake beyond Squamish offers a wealth of rewards along the way. Minutes north of Alice Lake, spectacular views of the Tantalus Range, a massive wall of glaciated peaks, unfold to the west of the highway above the Squamish Valley. Beyond Whistler, traffic thins noticeably. Nothing tops the release of making your way out of the mountains through Pemberton before following the historic Gold Rush Trail route—now a paved road—as it winds and climbs alongside the Birkenhead River toward D’Arcy.

In contrast to Alice, where little of the circular lake is concealed, Birkenhead is far more outstretched. Much of its southern half is hidden from view of the park’s sandy beach at the north end. By land, the best way to see the lake and surrounding peaks unfold is to follow a six-kilometre portion of the Sea to Sky Trail that leads above the north shore. The trail lends itself just as readily to cycling as walking, though be prepared to shoulder your bike when rock-hopping across a creek or two. Either coming or going, those on foot would do well to loop along the two-kilometre Lakeside Trail that links the campground with a grove of old-growth Douglas fir and the Sea to Sky Trail above. Encouraged by the wind, trunks of sagging snags rub together, eliciting deep groans from the forest canopy. Find a sheltered spot on the beach in front of the grove where you can admire Birkenhead Mountain’s three peaks, which rise in graceful ascendancy. Other than here and at the park’s beach—replete with picnic tables, an off-leash dog area, and a boat launch—access points to the lake are scarce for those on foot.

Far more numerous vantage points await those who explore the lake by water. Set out early in the day to paddle to the southern end before a predictable breeze disturbs the glassy surface. Pull in to picnic and sunbathe where avalanche chutes have created gravel bars. From these, you can admire the spires of Sun God Mountain dominant to the south and mounts Gandalf and Shadowfax to the north. Even better, come ashore on the sandbar where Sockeye Creek flows into the lake’s midpoint. Competition for these prime spots is as avid as that for the Dolly Varden char sought by anglers bobbing off the mouth of the creek.

Whether you find yourself at Alice or Birkenhead lakes, one thing is certain: the implicit reward of exploring either is the discovery that, yes, the greens of the forest and the blues of the lakes surpass anything on offer in your back yard.

Access: Alice Lake Provincial Park lies 72 kilometres north of Vancouver, just east of Highway 99 in Squamish. Birkenhead Lake lies a farther 153 kilometres north, 219 kilometres from Vancouver. A fee of $24 per night is charged for each of Alice Lake’s 108 campsites and $15 per night for Birkenhead’s 79 spaces. To make campsite reservations, call 604-689-9025.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

Deer Lake Park offers an escape to city dwellers

June 12, 2009


At a good pace, you can circle Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park in half an hour and then enjoy a look-see at the lakeside Arthur Erickson–designed heritage home available for rent.

As quiet refuges go, Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park defies the odds. Traffic on nearby thoroughfares conspires against tranquility, or so one might think. Thankfully, a forested buffer zone mitigates all but the distant hum of rubber tires. At this time of year, bird calls—such as a varied thrush’s single, sustained note—predominate. So, too, do sounds of human hilarity as novice paddlers struggle to synchronize their strokes to avoid colliding with other watercraft clustered offshore of the park’s boat rental facility.

No kayak or canoe experience? No problem. Deer Lake is the ideal learning environment. If you come with a boat in tow, so much the better. The shallow beach beside the parking lot at the lake’s eastern end is the perfect place to hand launch one. With the exception of model speedboats, only nonmotorized craft are sanctioned. Just mind the gaggle of Canada geese, interspersed with colourfully-coiffed red-breasted mergansers, who jostle for handouts. The diminutive lake spreads before you with little hidden from view. Modest sandbars extend from the open fields that rise above the western shore and beckon for closer inspection. If you set a good pace, you can circle the lake in little more than a half-hour. But what’s the rush? Make like the anglers who, having set their lines, sit back and quietly bide their time between nibbles and strikes.

As seen from the lake, North Shore peaks dominate the horizon above the trees. Even finer mountain views appear if you walk the recently opened pathway along the lake’s southern bank. In fact, to fully enjoy this nature sanctuary, combine the two approaches. Once you’ve paddled the perimeter, come ashore and explore two of the attractive homes glimpsed from the water.

Over the past half-century, as part of a long-term community vision to acquire all the private properties around the lake, the park has expanded from 10 hectares in the mid-1940s to more than 10 times that size now. Burnaby’s heritage planner, Jim Wolf, explained that in the process of transitioning Deer Lake into a public waterfront park, the city acquired the largest precinct of heritage properties of any urban centre in Canada. “The city now owns 35 heritage sites around the lake, from small cottages to an Arthur Erickson–designed home, with only four or five private properties left in the acquisition plan,” he said. “This all started as a dream in 1912 after the Oakalla lands were turned into a prison. The idea really coalesced in the 1960s among citizens and the municipality. In future, this will be Burnaby’s Stanley Park.”

When appraising Erickson’s two-storey, post-and-beam Baldwin House, tucked into the woods beside Deer Lake, the Hermetic dictum, “As above, so below,” likely will take on an entirely new interpretation. Completed in 1965, the pavilion-style home is a world removed from Erickson’s concrete magnum opus atop Burnaby Mountain, Simon Fraser University, which opened that same year. In order to preserve the house, as well as the nearby Eagles Estate, Wolf detailed how Burnaby partnered with the Victoria-based Land Conservancy. “Getting [the conservancy] to establish their regional office here has given us so much more scope to share the park with everyone.”

After one look at Baldwin House, who wouldn’t want to spend a few days relaxing there? As it turns out, that’s entirely possible. At the neighbouring Eagles Estate heritage garden, the Land Conservancy’s regional director, Tamsin Baker, described how the nonprofit land trust had been looking for office space when approached by the City of Burnaby. In 2003, conservancy staff moved into the 1930s-era home built for Violet and Blythe Eagles. In 2005, a similar arrangement to acquire the Baldwin House followed suit. “Renting special places like the Baldwin House is the way we connect people with the work we do. We now own five properties spread around the province with a new one in Tofino slated to become available by year’s end.”

Whether you simply take a day trip or enjoy a weekend getaway at Baldwin House in Deer Lake Park, make sure to stop by Eagles Estate. Interpretive tours of the home’s interior are offered during weekday office hours. No matter when you visit, savour the tranquility that pervades the heritage garden, recently restored to its former glory. “When we moved in, the yard was covered with ivy and blackberry bushes,” Baker said. “It was a mess.” With patient tending from local volunteers, the garden has reemerged from the overgrowth to once again display its original elegance. To fully appreciate the renaissance, simply sit beneath one of the blossoming trees where the hillside falls away to the lake below and revel in this tranquil legacy.

Access: Deer Lake Park lies six kilometres east of Vancouver in Burnaby. The main entrance to the park is located just south of the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). Take the Canada Way exit (#33). Turn left on Canada Way and immediately right on Sperling Avenue to Deer Lake Park. An alternative approach leads east from a parking area on Royal Oak Avenue between Kingsway and Canada Way. For bus information, phone TransLink at 604-953-3333 or visit TransLink’s Web site. The park is wheelchair accessible. For a map and further information, call the Burnaby Parks and Recreation office at 604-294-7450. To learn more about heritage preservation in Burnaby, visit For details on the Land Conservancy, including rental rates on the Baldwin House, call 604-733-2313. For details on boat rentals at Deer Lake, phone 604-839-3949.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie.
Original Article

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