Kayaking’s easy on the calm Sunshine Coast

June 1, 2017


Powell River Sea Kayak guides Joel Baillargeon and Marianne Lafrance paddle Malaspina Strait.

You’ll find plenty of information on the Sunshine Coast in our best-selling guide book 52 Best Weekend Getaways from Vancouver.

Check out this article to see why heading there this month is a good idea before the summer holiday rush.

Access: Egmont lies 75 kilometres north of the Langdale ferry terminal on Highway 101 via Sechelt. For information on kayaking at West Coast Wilderness Lodge, call 1-877-988-3838 or visit www.wcwl.com/. Okeover Arm lies 48 kilometres north of Egmont near Lund on Highway 101 via a 50-minute ferry ride between Earls Cove and Saltery Bay. To contact Powell River Sea Kayak, call 1-604-483-2160 or visit www.bcseakayak.com/. Detailed information on transportation, accommodation, and recreation on the Sunshine Coast is posted at www.hellobc.com/.

Late spring is imbued with the expectancy of summer’s imminent appearance.

Nowhere can you experience that more keenly than in a sea kayak on the Sunshine Coast.

Mountains and sunlight reflect off the ocean in flashes of chrome as you drift along.

Beneath the surface, clarity reigns.

An orange sea urchin looks close enough to touch.

In truth, the globe of spines sits a paddle length below.

Reach down and your kayak will roll just enough to momentarily seem about to tip.

Pull back as you snap out of a spell cast by the scene’s overpowering magic.

Although the Sunshine Coast is visible from Vancouver’s western beaches, the Sechelt and Malaspina peninsulas, which dominate this semi-isolated stretch of the Lower Mainland, seem a world apart.

No need to pack a passport. All that’s required to experience the tangible essence of this rarefied cosmos is the will to travel an hour or so beyond your back yard.

How hard is that, especially when the rewards are guaranteed to send you home with a whole new peace of mind?

Before you begin to think that you’ll somehow have to rough it to achieve this sense of release, consider this: life is challenging enough when you’re coping with the pressures of urban living.

As soon as you disembark on the Sunshine Coast, you’ll sense a soothing difference.

There’s more room to breathe—not just between you and others with whom you share the road but in the whole realm of nature that spreads before you.

Take your time.

With the Coast Mountains rising sharply from the shoreline, the inclination here is not so much to explore vertically but to put out to sea in a small watercraft and explore the sheltered bays and inlets.

No boat? No experience?

With plenty of local outfitters and guides, sourcing equipment and directions is hardly an issue.

When reached by phone at his company’s sea-kayak base on Okeover Arm near Powell River, Vallance was buzzing about a recent appearance by several orcas.

“Even though historically orcas used to feed here on salmon before local rivers were dammed for hydroelectric generation, this is the first time in the 16 years I’ve been here that I recall them visiting. That stirs up optimism in me.”

In that same vein, Hansen reported that paddlers around Egmont have been sharing space with hundreds of surf scoters—large, black sea ducks given to ululating while struggling to get airborne—as well as inquisitive minke whales that enjoy people-watching just as much as the seafarers are bent on nature observation.

A distinguishing feature of the inland waters around small ports like  Okeover Arm is the abiding sense of tranquillity.

At this time of year, few sailboats or yachts appear.

Come summer, all that changes, particularly around Okeover Arm, which opens onto Desolation Sound.

As Vallance pointed out, the sound is one of the Sunshine Coast’s more popular destinations for fair-weather sailors.

“For starters, Desolation’s got a great name and warm water, which is rather special. Plus, it’s got the best intertidal marine life on the coast. Based on their experiences from around the world, our guides tell us there are some unique things going on here, which is why they’ve dubbed our day trips the ‘famous aquarium tour’.

Desolation is sheltered by towering Coast Mountains,” he continued, “and dotted with islands and islets. There are no strong currents. This creates what people are seeking in a kayak tour.”

Extreme currents are one of the chief attractions for visitors to Egmont.

Except at slack tide, the mighty Skookumchuck Narrows at the entrance to Sechelt Inlet south of the small village offers a playground for experienced kayak paddlers who pull stunts in their stubby play boats on the roiling white water within sight of those who journey to viewing spots on foot.

Currents of a decidedly less threatening nature characterize the waters around Paul Hansen’s West Coast Wilderness Lodge in Egmont.

“Compared to the Strait of Georgia that can be choppy, the waters offshore from us are always flat calm. You never feel like you’re in big, open water with winds pushing you around.”

As well, Hansen pointed out that in a kayak you’re not sitting as high above the water as in a canoe. “When it comes to paddling, canoeing is an art, kayaking a joy.”

Whether you’ve sea kayaked before or not, now is the time to spring to it.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Squamish estuary bliss is blowing in the wind

May 1, 2017

Here’s an update on a spring day-trip destination featured in both our 52 Day Trips from Vancouver and The Whistler Book

Acess: Squamish lies 60 kilometres north of Vancouver on Highway 99. To explore the Squamish River estuary trails, including the Great Blue Heron Trail, turn left off Highway 99 at the town’s main entrance at Cleveland Avenue, then follow Cleveland through downtown to Vancouver Street. Turn right, drive three blocks, and then park beside the gated entrance to the Squamish estuary dike trail system. The entrance to the Nature Trust of B.C.’s Cattermole Creek property and the Great Blue Heron Trail appears on the left side just past an unfinished condo site. To reach the Malamute Bluffs, from Highway 99 follow the turnoff to the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park parking area, then cross the pedestrian bridge to reach the trailhead.

Spring’s here: time to air out your mind.

Set a course north along the Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish.

Chicago may be known as the Windy City, but Squamish could qualify just as easily.

On an outing there recently, stalls at the Saturday summer farmers market were caught up in gusts that threatened to carry vendors as high as the kiteboarders who soared above the nearby Squamish River estuary.

Squamish is a happening place these days.

As home designer Jim Harvey outlined, the town at the top of Howe Sound has transitioned from a working-class, mill-dependent community to a commuter hub with a focus on outdoor lifestyles.

“According to the most recent census, we’ve got the youngest median-age group in the province living here,” said the 57-year-old, who was one of the chief proponents of branding Squamish as the outdoor-recreation capital of Canada.

In his spare time, Harvey and his brother, John, work as volunteer trail builders on regional hiking and cycling routes.

“There’s a simple relationship between our young demographic and trails, something that our current council, unlike previous administrations, is supporting. After living here for 17 years, that’s why I still build trails.”

One historic pathway that invites inspection year-round is the Squamish River estuary’s Great Blue Heron Trail, a rough rock-and-roots affair, much of which traverses a century-old dike built by Chinese workers for pasturage.

In 2000, the Nature Trust of B.C. acquired the ecologically significant Cattermole Creek property, a 5.3-hectare wetland that was once the site of hay fields.

Along with hops for brewing, hay was the principal cash crop grown by non-Native settlers, who first arrived in the late 19th century.

These days, wild roses and thimbleberry bushes wave in the breeze, while sturdy, solitary Sitka spruces anchor the trail.

Squamish Environment Society volunteer Meg Fellowes walks estuary trails on a regular basis, both to observe wildlife and to watch the seasons change.

“I like just sitting and listening to the wind in the sedge marshes while I contemplate what this place will look like in another few centuries. Five hundred years ago, the estuary was in Brackendale [seven kilometres upstream on the Squamish River]. The river is an amazing conveyor belt of rocks and silt. The whole front of the estuary is marching downstream at the rate of about five metres a year.”

Given that Squamish’s most renowned features—granite monoliths— haven’t budged in about 100 million years, such rapid and ongoing geological change nearby is astonishing.

Stand out on the estuary to take measure of the two extremes.

Aside from hydro transmission towers, no other human-made features intrude on a panorama that sweeps from the peaks in the neighbouring Diamond Head region of Garibaldi Provincial Park to the tumbling white water of Shannon Falls, with the largest monolith, Stawamus Chief Mountain, rising front and centre in all its stony glory.

The Great Blue Heron Trail sputters along and finally peters out entirely with waving grassland on one side and the intertidal waters of the central channel on the other.

Several places here suggest themselves as rough picnic spots or shelters from the relentless wind.

To the west, vehicles line a training wall built in the 1970s to divert the Squamish River’s flow away from the waterfront.

Commonly called the Spit, this launch zone is renowned globally among windsurfers and kiteboarders.

Bring binoculars.

Winged critters of both feathery and fabric species fly by.

Of the two, kiteboarders are distinctly more colourful, both in shape and for their aerobatic antics.

Train your sights on the Chief as well.

Although at this distance it’s challenging to spot climbers on the mountain’s Grand Wall, stick figures are easily discerned directly below on a smooth rock face at the ocean’s edge.

These are the Malamute Bluffs.

Head there for a panoramic perspective on the estuary.

Access is considerably easier since the construction of a pedestrian bridge that links the Stawamus Chief with the bluffs.

Author and seasoned climber Kevin McLane considers the Malamute Bluffs a hidden gem.

“I first climbed there 40 years ago. The rim looks down on about 60 routes. It’s breathtaking. The catalyst that’s begun to bring others beside climbers here was the Ministry of Highway’s decision to build that lovely blue bridge.”

Although not well marked, the main trail to the top of the bluffs leads uphill from the bridge past drifts of blue lupine blooms into a shore pine forest.

Once on top, nothing is hidden, everything is revealed, including the caress of the wind as it airs out your mind.

Time to tackle a portion of the Matsqui Trail

April 8, 2017

A Trans Canada Trail kiosk anchors Matsqui Trail Regional Park’s new path along the Fraser River

Here’s one of our favourite destinations for an early spring day trip

Matsqui Trail Regional Park lies 40 kilometres east of Vancouver.

To get there, take Highway 1 to Abbotsford, then Highway 11 north toward Mission. Watch for the green Metro Vancouver Parks signs that point the way to the park, the main entrance for which lies beneath the south end of the Mission Bridge on Riverside Road. For information, visit http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/parks_lscr/regionalparks/Pages/MatsquiTrail.aspx

Have you ever stopped and shivered just because you were looking at a river?

The Fraser River makes that kind of impression on people such as Doug Petersen, park-operations supervisor of Matsqui Trail Regional Park in Abbotsford.

On the phone from Metro Vancouver Parks’ East Area office, Petersen explained that exploring the Fraser between Yale and Fort Langley has been one of his paddling passions.

“Do it in bite-sized pieces,” he counselled, “probably spread over three days, with stops in Hope, Agassiz, and Brae Island. It’s not for novice flat-water paddlers. The river has strong eddy lines that can easily catch up a canoe.”

The thought of being caught in the grasp of a river as mighty as the Fraser is enough to make anyone’s adrenal glands flutter.

Conversely, walking, wheeling, or horseback-riding beside the river as the spring season freshens is enough to arouse shivers of delight in the dourest of souls.

Spring has a way of doing that, especially when you detect its scent on the wind where the Fraser Valley begins to widen and flatten around Abbotsford.

This month, breezes bear a decidedly floral fragrance as they waft down from the daffodil fields surrounding nearby Bradner, a welcome counterpoint to the odours from local farmyards.

European settlers on both sides of the Fraser used to tremble when the river began to rise.

High-water markers at the Dyke Crest Gauge mounted beside Matsqui’s main trailhead illustrate the heights that flood waters reached over the past two centuries, including the record eight-metre mark in 1894, as well as lesser inundations in 1948 and 1972, and, most recently, in 1999, all of which prompted refortification of the dike system.

As you explore the main trail, look down to see evidence of modest, earlier levee-building endeavours that predate the existing barricade.

When queried about an extension to the riverside trail below the dike, Petersen explained that Metro Parks had acquired more access to the Fraser, thanks to a land purchase.

A one-kilometre trail now links with the main route to form a loop.

In particular, parents of young children will appreciate the improved path, as it provides easy access to sandy stretches of the riverbank, where kids can toddle or practise their casting.

Cyclists will also enjoy the riverside stretch, especially on breezy days when the dike trail acts as a windbreak.

Matsqui Trail appears deceptively short, but there’s more here than meets the eye.

Decide at the outset how much of its 14-kilometre length you’re game to tackle.

The park’s main jumping-off point beside the Mission Bridge lies midway between the Fraser Valley Regional District’s Sumas Mountain Park to the east and the City of Abbotsford’s Douglas Taylor Park on the western perimeter.

There are advantages to exploring in either direction.

Petersen’s favourite portion is a 4.5-kilometre wilderness corridor that leads west from rolling farmland through Matsqui First Nation territory into a forested setting above the river before dropping down into a marshy area bisected by a small creek.

“This is a spectacular transition with a little bit of everything,” he enthused, “created during an expansion done in 2000. Do this section on one visit; next time, head east to Page Road at the foot of Sumas Mountain. As a benefit to runners, we put up kilometre markers along the way.”

Petersen has witnessed sturgeon breach a metre above water offshore of the trail’s eastern extremity, where the Fraser bends around Strawberry Island and a sense of wild, natural rhythms governs the landscape.

“Depending on the time of year, there are snow geese in the fields and eagles in the cottonwoods. There are lots of First Nations connections along this stretch for traditional fishing rights as well.”

A plaque affixed to Matsqui Trail’s info board acknowledges the influence of the Fraser Basin Council on shaping the park’s current identity.

Bob Purdy, external relations and corporate development director with the Vancouver-based council, pointed to a report his group published in 2000 that detailed how park planners, Matsqui First Nation members, and a myriad of local citizens’ groups began the process of creating a greenway beside the Fraser from Sumas Mountain to Fort Langley.

“Valley bottoms are where 85 percent of species live,” Purdy said. “You build environmental resiliency by creating connections. You minimize fragmentation by maximizing the ‘connectiveness’ of green fragments. When climate change hits, these corridors will be critical for survival.”

Many people who visit here are cycling the Trans Canada Trail, of which Matsqui Trail is a well-forged, spirit-shivering link, indeed.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

VanDusen and Butchart Gardens bring light to Yuletide celebrations

December 1, 2016


Life-size storybook-themed mannequins like Little Miss Muffet twirl around a stage in Victoria’s Butchart Gardens’ holiday display.

ACCESS: The VanDusen Botanical Garden’s Festival of Lights runs from December 1 to January 2 and is open daily except December 25 from 4:30 to 9 p.m. The Butchart Gardens are located in Brentwood Bay, 23 kilometres north of Victoria and 20 kilometres south of B.C. Ferries’ Swartz Bay terminal. The Magic of Christmas runs through January 6. More information on Butchart Gardens is included in our travel guide Best Weekend Getaways from Vancouver.

The calendar may be divided into four seasons, but as most celebrants know, Christmas is a fifth season all its own—a time of inner reflection that basks in the uplifting prospect of renewal.

Although nature may be throttling back on growth for the next few months, at least the sun begins to strengthen and days lengthen in response.

As a way of celebrating the winter solstice, former VanDusen Botanical Garden director Harry Jongerden gloried in the annual Festival of Lights mounted by his staff.

“People look at me quizzically when I say lighting up plants is a good way to enhance nature,” he told us. “Yet this is the time of year when plants tend to get ignored. To decorate them with lights is to be reminded of their abiding presence.”

After an eight-year stint as head gardener at the Stratford Festival in Ontario earlier in his career, Jongerden admitted he has a background of sorts in show business.

Yet VanDusen was his first experience with light shows.

“I arrived to discover this is a big event that brings in sufficient revenue to support the garden year-round.”

Jongerden pointed out that Stanley Park’s yearly Bright Nights event is put on by members of the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association Burn Fund, and VanDusen’s festival is the only such civic affair entirely staged by Vancouver park board employees.

“It gives staff the chance to display the artistic talent of gardeners while at the same time heightening the garden’s reputation with the public.”

As much as the Festival of Lights appeals primarily to families, Jongerden observed that the month-long gala is just as much a couples’ activity.

“It’s a date night. I saw an awful lot of visitors strolling hand in hand.”

With the wintry romance of Christmas in the air, VanDusen’s team of garden elves lobbied Jongerden to add more variety to the festival’s Dancing Lights musical presentation.

To that end, tunes with “a jazzy, dreamy feel” now accompany one of the twice-hourly performances of choreographed lights centred on Livingstone Lake.

And such lights!

The saturation of colours is an enchanting display that not only enrobes bushes and tree branches but also fires up drifts of ornamental glass tulips that glow defiantly with the prospect of spring.

The cumulative effect is magical enough to cleanse even the most die-hard skeptic of humbug.

Once the high-octane advent of Christmas crescendoes, take time to bask in the afterglow.

Tradition prescribes a well-earned break.

In the Middle Ages, the 12 days of Christmastide were ones of continuous feasting and merrymaking.

Much like VanDusen, Victoria’s Butchart Gardens do their best to sustain the Yuletide enchantment as long as possible.

Over the past two decades, the privately owned, family-operated garden has mounted the Magic of Christmas, with displays of storybook-themed mannequins throughout much of the 22-hectare property.

The garden’s recently-retired public-relations director, Graham Bell,  said that “next to the late-spring-to-early-fall season, the month-long celebration is the second-biggest blip on our radar. The amount of preparation is massive. In June, we start making the bows that we use to dress up the trees. By October, while the gardeners are planting bulbs, we’re stringing lights and suspending the big glass balls at the entrance.”

Given that many of the displays are mounted in the garden’s lakes and ponds, an early start to preparations before ice forms is a must.

When it comes to lights, few displays outperform VanDusen’s intensity.

By the same token, Butchart’s amusing decorations are presented on a scale unmatched elsewhere.

As visitors stroll along pathways that lead through sheltering forests and old quarries similar to those in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park, larger-than-life tableaux modelled on images from the carol

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” appear.

The more familiar you are with the lyrics, the quicker you’ll pick up on the humour.

For example, three French hens sip espresso in a café.

Farther along, four toucans perched on spreading branches make calls on mobile phones.

You get the picture.

Entirely unexpected are the nine life-size—and lifelike—dancing feminine figurines lifted from the pages of children’s storybooks, such as Cinderella, Little Miss Muffet, and Snow White, who twirl around an outdoor stage mounted beside a towering sequoia grove.

In the midst of the seasonal displays is an equally enthralling menagerie of 30 carved wooden animals mounted on the Rose Carousel.

Watching bears, horses, orcas, and ostriches circle inside the domed Children’s Pavilion is enough to trigger a dizzy spell.

Step outside for some fresh air, where the aromatic scent of cedars further enhances the esprit de Noël.

Yet after making the rounds of the garden, don’t be surprised if you have a nagging sense of having missed something.

Where are the 12 drummers drumming?

As you head home from this land of make-believe, look up.

There stand a dozen toy soldiers beating out a mute tattoo among the stars.

And to all a good night.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

South Langley Cyclists Stop for a Sip or Two

September 5, 2016


South Langley cyclists stop for a sip or two around Campbell Valley Regional Park

Here’s a perfect fall day trip lifted straight from the pages of our best-selling 52 Best day Trips from Vancouver. Not only is the route around Campbell Valley Regional Park quiet, quaint, and easily ridable, it’s dotted with three wineries.

Access: Campbell Valley Regional Park lies 55 kilometres east of Vancouver in South Langley. Follow Highway 1 southeast to the 200th or 232nd Street exit and drive 14.5 kilometres south to the park’s 16th Avenue or 8th Avenue entrance. Or from Highway 99 South, take the 8th Avenue East exit and travel 7.5 kilometres to the south-valley entrance on 200th Street. For details, visit www.metrovancouver.org/services/parks_lscr/regionalparks/Pages/CampbellValley.aspx or call 604-530-4983604-530-4983. The park is wheelchair-accessible.

In the countryside around Vancouver, autumn is all about rich smells: fallen leaves and freshly sprung mushrooms give off earthy aromas; beds of late-blooming marigolds cloud the air with perfume; and trellises of ripe grapes emit telltale sweet notes as clusters cry out to be crushed for jelly or wine.

Want to experience this for yourself?

Head to South Langley with bikes onboard.

Leave your vehicle at Campbell Valley Regional Park and head out for an hour or three’s ride while the sun still warms your face.

Not that cyclists are welcome inside the park.

Far from it: this is horse country.

Trails that network through the heritage farmland close to the Canada–U.S. border are reserved for equestrians and pedestrians.

When the time comes to poke your nose into Campbell Valley, use the bike racks at the north- and south-valley entrances, or simply tuck your bikes away in the woods at any of a dozen approaches around the 550-hectare perimeter. (One is at the vintage Lochiel schoolhouse, where a portrait of George VI still adorns one wall with the words to “God Save the King” written on the blackboard below. To peer inside is to step back in time.)

If you can’t take bikes into the park, why bring them along?

Campbell Valley, more than 20 percent larger than Stanley Park, is contained within a rough rectangle of lightly trafficked back roads.

Stately groves of maples and cottonwoods, vibrantly coloured by the changing seasons, demarcate property lines.

Breezes waft across rolling hills, open meadows, and wetlands.

Although the city may be close at hand, this part of South Langley is as quiet and quaint as countrysides come.

In case you need further inducement to explore these laneways, three wineries dot the route.

Now through November is an ideal time to drop in for a taste of both new and old vintages, either from the bottle or straight off the vine, though you’ll have to hurry to sample fresh grapes.

According to Township 7 Vineyards’ manager, Phil Vallely, this year’s cool spring followed by an unusually hot summer meant that most grape varieties at both the winery’s Langley and Okanagan properties were ready for harvesting earlier than usual.

By the time you park your bike in front of the tasting room, as plenty of cyclists do on sunny weekends, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any plump, purple table grapes left on the trellises originally planted 60 years ago by the former farm owners.

Still, buy a glass of wine, sit out at one of the picnic tables spread among the rows of chardonnay and pinot noir, and toast your good fortune at finding your way here.

Until recently, locals scoffed at the idea of cultivating grapes for anything grander than jelly.

Claude and Inge Violet, whose French winemaking pedigree stretches back to the 17th century, challenged that perception when they founded the Fraser Valley’s first winery in the 1980s.

By the time they retired earlier this decade, Domaine de Chaberton had become one of the largest estate wineries in B.C., with an annual production of more than 40,000 cases.

Inge Violet still supplies some of the winery’s trademark white wine variety—Bacchus—from her nearby property.

With  more than 20 years in the food-and-beverage industry, Domaine de Chaberton’s retail manager Margo Klassen finds a trend lately toward white wine as the drink of choice among visitors, whom she characterized as more open-minded and adventuresome than those in previous years.

If that description matches your self-image, here’s a suggestion: save any wine-tasting for the tail end of your ramble.

Hop aboard your bike and start circling the park in a clockwise direction to make the most efficient use of energy as you pedal the contoured hillside.

The landscape rolls gently along with little loss or gain in elevation.

The one exception is a steep notch where North Bluff Road, also called 16th Avenue, plummets into the narrow Campbell Valley.

Be prepared for a short section of pumping no matter which approach you take.

As a reward, one of the best views of this circumnavigation appears from the bridge that spans the Campbell River.

At this brief opening, the spires in Golden Ears Provincial Park dominate the northern skyline.

This is one of South Langley’s most picturesquely forested microclimates, which receives more sun and less rain than anywhere else in the Fraser Valley.

Imagine you’re biking in Europe, particularly beneath a stand of towering Lombardy poplars adjacent to Township 7 Vineyards.

Add vino to heighten the sensation and cap your tour.

Going to the country doesn’t get better than this.

Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery is located at 1064 216th Street. For information, call 604-530-1736604-530-1736.

Township 7 Vineyards and Winery is located one kilometre west of Domain de Chaberton at 21152 16th Avenue, a short distance from Campbell Valley Park’s north entrance. For information, call 604-532-1766604-532-1766.

Get your green on at a Golden Ears Provincial Park trail

April 1, 2016


Golden Ears Provincial Park in Maple Ridge was created with both day-trippers and campers in mind.

Here’s a spring day trip taken right out of our 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver

ACCESS: Golden Ears Park lies 11 kilometres north of Highway 7 in Maple Ridge, about 50 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Think you’ve seen every colour of green imaginable?

Think again.

The verdant hues on display in Golden Ears Provincial Park challenge the most panoptic palettes.

Hurry out to Maple Ridge while the spring spectacle lasts—specifically, along the twin trails that follow Gold Creek’s course.

Take your time.

Though still soggy in places, the hour-long stroll along Lower Falls Trail or its companion, East Canyon Trail, is a marvel and suited to all ability levels.

That’s where the likes of Eiichiro and Katsuko Ochiai head.

Since returning to Vancouver after 25 years in Pennsylvania, the retired chemistry professor and his wife have journeyed to the park time and again.

“We had to come back to Vancouver, no question,” they said. “This is our fifth visit to Golden Ears and the first time we’ve been here in spring. The greens are really marvelous. We don’t travel as much as we once did, when we took our kids to Banff each year,” said the hot spring–loving duo. “Now we prefer to go on day trips.”

Golden Ears was created with both day-trippers and campers in mind.

Logged and flooded in the 1920s, devastated by a fire in the 1930s, levelled by a typhoon in the 1960s, and on life support since B.C. Parks’ budget was gutted in the 2000s, the park continues to put up a brave face, a tribute to its incomparable wilderness attributes.

Jade-hued liverworts and mosses cloak massive cedar stumps and carpet a forest floor jackstrawed with blowdowns. Grassy witch’s-hair lichens drape the boughs and trunks of evergreens like fishnets.

Most striking of all is the creek’s deep-emerald tint, a reminder of what makes both gems and wild spaces precious.

Locally, groups such as West Vancouver’s Friends of Cypress Provincial Park have attempted to counter the double whammy of increased public-land responsibilities—B.C. Parks currently has an inventory of almost 1,000 parks, protected areas, ecological reserves and conservancies, from one hectare to almost one million hectares in size—coupled with decreased government spending.

In its spring newsletter, the FCPP estimates the system is currently running on 25 percent less funding and 30 percent less staff with 35 percent more parks and protected areas to administer than a decade ago.

Insufficient funds to maintain trails in Golden Ears is a case in point.

A notice posted at B.C. Parks’ website states that there is currently no time frame to replace a bridge on the Golden Ears Trail and that hikers should be prepared to wade in order to reach the twin peaks.

Given the current depth of the alpine snow pack, that’s a chilling summer prospect, indeed.

Better to put such thoughts aside and visit the park’s Lower and Upper Falls while the spring freshet is in full force.

Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie
Original Article

Advice from the fittest: exercise is a lifestyle

January 1, 2016


Whistler Blackcomb ski patrollers keep fit for their demanding job by training several hours a day with rescue dogs as their workout buddies.

Here’s a little advice to start the New Year, including a day trip to YVR.

Whether you surf, ski, cycle, run, or blend a snack pack of exercises into a unique fitness menu all your own, southwestern B.C. offers just about every option to foster well-being while revelling in fresh air.

Sports physiotherapist Carl Petersen, author of three fitness guides for skiers, tennis players, and expectant mothers, has made a career of helping active Vancouverites stay in shape.

When contacted at his City Sports and Physiotherapy Clinic, Petersen defined fitness as “having the physical qualities of flexibility, stamina, stability, strength, speed, and skill to comfortably carry out the activities of daily living and recreation without undue strain and stress to the body’s systems”.

That doesn’t sound like too hard an assignment, especially if the emphasis falls firmly on the side of comfort.

Do professionals like Petersen work to stay fit or does their work keep them fit?

Look no further than Gwen Milley, a ski patroller at Whistler Blackcomb since 1991.

During winter months, the mother of two pre-teen boys spends four days a week hiking ridges, throwing avalanche bombs, performing rope rescues, and putting her avalanche rescue dog, a golden retriever named Spicy Chili Pepper, through his paces.

“You’ve got to be in good physical and mental shape to be a patroller,” she said when we met atop Blackcomb Mountain in late December. “There are a lot of daily stresses on the mind and body. I lift weights; I have a strengthening program to prevent injuries to my knees and back. It’s important to stay fit just to feel better, plus I have way more energy to keep up with my super-active kids. Another reason I exercise is that as women approach menopause, fitness is crucial to maintaining good bones. We need to stay strong.”

Milley was quick to affirm Petersen’s message: don’t ski to get fit; get fit to ski.

Among her recommendations: before heading for the slopes, start with a few spinning, stretching, or swimming sessions. “A lot of people do yoga for core conditioning. I’m lucky. I train with Chili several hours a day, which keeps us both fit.”

Although adventure racer Jen Segger scoffs at the suggestion that she is the fittest woman in Canada, there’s no denying that the Squamish-based endurance athlete is driven by an urge to combine her natural athleticism with a passion for the outdoors.

When asked about her favourite way to stay fit, Segger said she enjoys a variety of body-challenging activities.

“Being active every day is a lifestyle, not a chore. The key to fitness is to find something you enjoy and keep doing it. I love adventure racing, and the drive to be a top athlete keeps me in shape.”

Segger’s definition of fitness is based on one’s ability to do things demanded of the body for a set amount of time.

“Once you’re fit, you can enjoy recreational activities without feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack.”

The secret to getting fit? Consistency.

“After you’ve pushed through the first weeks of training, things become easier as you develop the ability to recover quicker,” she said.

Segger draws a line between the level of fitness she has achieved as an athlete and the average person. “There are so many types of fitness out there. Try a variety of activities, but make sure you’re always challenging your body. Keep it fun and interesting, depending on the weather.”

West Coast wisdom dictates that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

Judging by the larger numbers of cyclists on city bike routes in winter, waterproof shells are the new umbrellas.

No matter how you choose to exercise, getting dressed and out the door are always the hardest steps.

The key is not feeling like you have to rough it while keeping fit. Life is rough enough already. Treat yourself to some quality clothing and reflective gear.

Too expensive? Look at it this way: wearing well-stitched, lightweight gear is motivation to stay in gear.

When you consider the alternative—anchoring the couch as indulgences wear you down—it’s an easy call.

Think of fitness an investment, like saving spare change. Put a little aside every day and watch it grow. Then splurge by treating yourself to a special outing once you’ve achieved a goal or two.

Need further incentive? Here’s a suggestion.

Try cycling out to YVR.

At first glance, the airport may seem like an odd destination.

In fact, once you’re across the Canada Line Bridge that links Ash Street in south Vancouver with Richmond’s Bridgeport neighbourhood, the flatness of Lulu and Sea islands makes for a remarkably easy westward spin.

Check out the totem poles in Chester Arthur Park outside the international terminal building, then the dozens of art installations inside, drawn largely from First Nations communities.

If you arrive on a Friday afternoon, visit the Airport Chaplaincy Thrift Shop on nearby Miller Road, the repository of prohibited goods, such as knives and tools, confiscated during pre-boarding security checks and resold at bargain-basement prices for charity.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Make tracks to city beaches in Vancouver

February 2, 2015

Yan Li (left) and Gang Xiao reached Wreck Beach from Pacific Spirit Regional Park’s Trail 4.

Yan Li (left) and Gang Xiao reached Wreck Beach from Pacific Spirit Regional Park’s Trail 4.

If there’s one sight visitors to Vancouver seek on arrival, it’s the Pacific Ocean.

For neophytes, that initial encounter often proves underwhelming.

They can be excused for asking what time the surf comes up.

The rhythm of the world’s largest body of water is decidedly more muted around the city’s shoreline than farther afield on the wave-thumped west coast of Vancouver Island.

However, once expectations have been rejigged to match reality, there’s a magical world to discover during an outing along the inland sea.

Here are three easily reached spots to dip a finger in the brine.

One salty lick will confirm the truth that here lies a vast marine frontier whose borders define the shorelines of four continents.

Come along and sample one for yourself, each of which displays a unique identity of its own.

The strands that ring Point Grey on the city’s West Side offer a variety of approaches, from the easy-to-reach Arcadia Beach on Vancouver’s outer harbour adjacent Spanish Banks to the slippery slopes of Trail 7, which winds downhill from a viewpoint on Southwest Marine Drive.

If the tides permit, you could spend a day traversing the five kilometres of shoreline between the two.

Of the five main access points, Trail 4, which begins on the north side of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, offers the most variety, both ecological and cultural.

Traditional welcoming figures carved by Musqueam artist Susan Point and ceremonial poles hewn by master Haida artist Bill Reid, among others, define the approach.

Behind the larger of two longhouses, a sturdily built trail leads down from the lip of a sandstone cliff almost 400 steps to the beach below.

As Trail 4 descends, its staircases pass through Pacific Spirit Regional Park’s lush forest of ferns, alders, and evergreens.

Where the path ushers out onto Wreck Beach, massive driftwood logs and root balls lie mired in the sand.

Barring a major storm, it’s unlikely the jumble will drift away soon.

This suits beach regulars, who shelter behind them just fine.

In warm weather, this is one of the more discreet clothing-optional sections of the park, the flip side of the carnival atmosphere found farther west at the foot of Trail 6.

Scan the surroundings from this serene vantage point.

To the east, most of the city’s skyline lies hidden from view, while to the west lies horizon on ocean.

Islands in the Strait of Georgia lie shrouded in haze; to the north, the Tantalus Range’s wall of peaks at the head of Howe Sound rise white and formidable.

Closer at hand, across the mouth of Burrard Inlet, trails on three of Cypress Provincial Park’s peaks herald where skiers and snowboarders play.

A rocky breakwater demarcates the beach into sand on one side and cobble-sized gravel on the other.

Unlike city beaches elsewhere, only here do you begin to sense a vastness of oceanic proportions.

Depending on the level of the tide, either scramble west below the weathered cliff’s smooth face or pick your way east toward two concrete Second World War artillery towers emblazoned with a crazy patchwork of spray-painted images, such as a tawny mutant whose face gleams out at the foot of Trail 3.

Find a log to perch on and let the lapping of the waves go to work on your mind.

For detailed information, contact Metro Vancouver Park’s West Area office, 604-224-5739604-224-5739, or visit www.metrovancouver.org/ and do a search for Pacific Spirit Park.

To view a selection of images of Pacific Spirit Park’s Wreck Beach between Trails 4 and 3, visit www.flickr.com/photos/24806767@N03/sets/72157623418751477/

Of all the waterfront approaches in Stanley Park, Third Beach offers the most serenity.

Perhaps it’s the calming influence of poet Pauline Johnson, credited with naming Lost Lagoon, whose memorial sits tucked away in a shaded grotto above the beach.

From this crescent-shaped strand tucked midway between Second Beach and Siwash Rock, look west toward the snowcapped Vancouver Island mountain ranges.

Like blinders, the forested slopes of the peninsula surrounding the beach shield most else from view, including English Bay and the North Shore.

Even though passersby on the seawall overlook the beach, seclusion can be found by tucking into one of the upturned corners of the beach’s smile.

The copper-hued colour of the sand is unique to Third Beach, the product of relentless wave action on a sandstone reef offshore.

Crimson of a different tone is displayed above the beach, where one of the largest red alders in Canada anchors the grassy hillside just west of a concession stand.

To further enhance a visit, follow the pathway that leads uphill through a formidable grove of western red cedar, western hemlock, and broadleaf maple. Rainforest and oceanfront combine here in a classic West Coast environment.

For a detailed map of Stanley Park, visit www.vancouver.ca/parks/parks/stanley/.

Finally, Portside at Crab Park offers one of the best views of the working harbour from one of Vancouver’s tiniest beaches.

This site was once called Luckylucky, or Grove of Beautiful Trees, by local First Nations paddlers.

A sand-and-pebble beach adjoins a viewing pier.

Seek out several sculpture installations placed in the pocket park that has been landscaped with grace.

Don’t miss the brace of Chinese lions mounted on either side of the overpass that leads into the park from the north foot of Main Street. The duo perfectly frames the Sisters, Vancouver’s iconic twin peaks, more commonly known today as the Lions.

There’s more to entertain the eye here than it seems possible to squeeze into one encounter with the Pacific.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Snowshoers make tracks in ancient forest

February 4, 2014


Laurella Gabert guides visitors through the towering stands of old cedar near Prince George.


Access: For details on snowshoe tours in the ancient forest, visit tht Outdoor Life Adventure website. Find tourism information on Prince George and northern B.C. at the Hello BC website.

Prince George is B.C.’s bull’s-eye.

Not only does the timber capital anchor the centre of the province, it’s also a point of convergence for winter adventure in the north.

On offer is a smorgasbord of recreational options: speed skating, dogsledding, Nordic and alpine skiing, and snowshoeing.

Small wonder that “PG” will host the 2015 Canada Winter Games.

In January, the Outdoor Life Adventure Co. guided us on a snowshoe trip through an ancient forest.

In a region with forests devastated by mountain pine beetles, it was wonderful to discover pockets of ancient cedars that rival those on Cougar Mountain in Whistler – as described in our guide The Whistler Book – or the slopes surrounding Chilliwack Lake in the Fraser Valley, an integral chapter in our best-selling 52 Best Day Trips from Vancouver.

Neither of the latter offers quick access from a major thoroughfare, as does the grove east of Prince George adjacent to the Yellowhead Highway.

“We’re just discovering the significance of this area,” David Connell said while tramping beneath cedar boughs heavily laden with fresh powder snow.

Since 2007, the professor in the University of Northern British Columbia’s school of environmental planning has studied the community and economic benefits of non-timber use of this former cut block in the inland rain forest.

“There’s a sense of ‘being’ here that you won’t find elsewhere—the sense of appreciation for who we are as human beings,” he observed. “Tourists tell us that one of the highlights of a trip here is the sense of discovering a place that’s not very well known or publicized. This is one of a dozen such unique sites in the world.”

Numbers tell the tale.

Since its official opening in 2006, the Ancient Forest Trail has grown hugely in popularity, from an initial visitor count of hundreds to over 10,000.

As Outdoor Life Adventure Co. owner-operator Laurella Gabert sees it, there’s a good reason for that: “There aren’t that many places for tourists to stop along Highway 16 [Yellowhead Highway] in the Robson Valley, so a lot of them pull in here to break up their journey.”

Unlike many recent arrivals who offer similar reasons for having settled locally—blaming the SDG, or Some Damn Guy/Girl, syndrome—Gabert lays claim to deep roots.

“In the early 1900s, my great-grandparents got off the train in the middle of nowhere, cleared bush, and started a mill.”

Today, Via Rail service between Jasper and Prince George still drops visitors at her family’s doorstep in what are now the twin hamlets of Loos and Crescent Spur.

“The railway runs right through the middle,” she said. “It [Crescent Spur] is a strange little community of perhaps 37 people. My husband, Trevor, and I moved here with our kids seven years ago after the forest industry shut down.”

With Prince George and McBride just an hour or so away, Gabert insisted that she enjoys the best of both worlds.

“Trevor and I have been in the outdoors forever. When we arrived in Crescent Spur, one of our neighbours was a long-time member of the Caledonia Ramblers, a Prince George hiking club. Talking with him led us to explore the rough footpath that the club had cleared through the so-called ancient forest, which at that time was designated a cut block and slated for logging.”

Thanks in large part to lobbying efforts by club members and local biologists like Connell—abetted by a provincial government reassessment of the tourism benefits of maintaining a visually pleasing landscape along Highway 16—the Ancient Forest Trail, then in McBride-based TRC Cedar’s timber licence, and an accompanying route on nearby Driscoll Ridge were set aside as a recreation trail and interpretive site.

“Lots of old-growth cedar in the Robson Valley is still designated as cut blocks,” Gabert related. “We lucked out that all this change was happening while we were starting our business.”

The Robson Valley spreads roughly east-west between Prince George and Valemont, and is home to endangered herds of mountain caribou.

The valley’s prime characteristic, along with the Fraser River, is its lush interior cedar-hemlock forest.

Much of the valley is classified as rain-forest wetland, which accounts for the numerous stands of western red cedar.

Whether you’re making tracks on foot or by snowshoe, no matter how many times you stand beside one of these behemoths, the scale of so much biomass on display brings you up short.

In winter, the silence that imbues the stand, aside from the occasional branches creaking in the cold, is rare refreshment indeed.

Time and again, Connell and Gabert stopped to examine distinguishing features, such as cedar trunks patterned with gold-dust lichen, which they said indicated the trees were at least 250 years old, the benchmark for ancient-forest designation.

In the years since the Caledonia Ramblers first brushed out the trail, a multitude of improvements have been added, including wooden bridges, staircases, and boardwalks, plus interpretive signs that make a snowshoe trek there not only a pleasant physical workout but a highly rewarding introduction to the intricacies of the forest environment.

“The valley is more than a location or destination,” Gabert said. “It’s a place steeped in history, rich in wildlife, rivers, mountains, and lakes that B.C. is so famous for. We’ve been exploring for years and have yet to find an equal match to its unique beauty in any of our other travels.”

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Historic Yale Warrants One-Tank Trip

June 24, 2013

Access: Yale lies 176 kilometres/106 miles east of Vancouver via Hope.

One-tank trips.

These are the buzz words for summer travellers bent on explorations closer to home than in past years.

Chalk it up to triple-digit gas prices.

One stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway that is guaranteed to satisfy runs for 170-kilometres/102 miles between Yale and Cache Creek as it traces the historic Cariboo Road.

A prime reason for making this journey through the Fraser Canyon onto the Thompson Plateau is watching the landscape transition from lush rainforest to arid sagebrush against a splendorous and ever-changing backdrop.

When reached at his Vancouver studio, artist Michael Kluckner admitted to a long-standing fascination with this region north of Hope.

The area is documented in his 2005 book, Vanishing British Columbia (UBC Press), which features watercolours of weathered buildings.

“I’m attracted to travel painting by these roadside dots that are, in many cases, the only physical evidence of people having been there,” he said.

“In the city, you can see layers of habitation, the old next to the new. In the countryside, unless you’re a total natural-history freak, there are only tenuous layers that tell the story of who’s been there. These signs enrich the reasons for being outdoors.”

Kluckner pointed out that First Nations people didn’t leave much evidence of their presence.

Instead, they encoded the landscape by identifying natural features such as “transformer” rocks.

“Knowing these things greatly informs the story of how they lived. It’s a different story with homesteaders. As you travel along the Fraser and Thompson rivers, watch for fence lines that lead down to groves of introduced species such as acacia that imbue the landscape with meaning even though all other evidence of pioneer presence has disappeared.”

Along with abandoned farmhouses and orchards, Kluckner also expressed an appreciation for withered signs of faith, such as the shuttered St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church beside Highway 1 in Spences Bridge, and a kindred chapel, St. Aiden’s, in the isolated settlement of Pokhaist that is visible on the far side of the Thompson River as the Trans-Canada heads farther north toward Cache Creek.

“With a shingled steeple like a little brown helmet, St. Michael and All Angels is a very eccentric design,” he related.

“Built around 1905, it apparently replaced an earlier church that was destroyed in a horrific landslide, which also wiped out the Indian village on the other side of the river.”

Of all the roadside dots on this stretch of highway, none experienced a more meteoric rise and fall than Yale.

For millennia a Sto:lo First Nations waterfront community, Xwoxewla:lhp (“willow trees”), thrived at the mouth of the Fraser Canyon.

When Hudson’s Bay Co. fur traders showed up in the 1840s, they were welcomed to set up camp, even if they did rechristen the site in honour of James Murray Yale, the HBC officer in charge of Fort Langley.

Nothing, though, prepared locals for the tsunami of 30,000 gold seekers who swept ashore and staked claims during the summer of 1858.

Then, just as abruptly, the mob swarmed north toward the next El Dorado, centred in Barkerville.

Little now remains of the saloons, hotels, rooming houses, and boardwalks that once lined the shoreline.

Since 1977, however, a slice has been preserved in the Yale Historic Site that opened for this season on May 12.

Supervisor Deb Zervini is excited to kick off the summer with the debut of a new on-site exhibit, the Sasquatch Mystery.

“It’s been in the works since I arrived last year,” she said, adding that the display takes up more than half the showcases in the Victorian-era Creighton House.

As to what attracts travellers to visit, Zervini said it was a tossup between sheer curiosity and historical interest.

“Most people have no idea what’s in store. They don’t realize how important Yale was in deciding to become part of Canada. Things could have turned out much differently if it weren’t for the Yale Convention, held here in 1868, that led to B.C. joining confederation in 1871.”

In the wrong hands, history can be terribly dry.

Thankfully, that’s not the case at Yale, one of 11 provincial historic sites dotted across B.C.

Much of the credit goes to student interpreters such as Dean Friesen, who tour visitors around the grassy, shaded grounds of Yale Historic Site.

Midsummer temperatures in the Fraser Canyon soar to the hottest daily averages in Canada.

A break in Yale is just the antidote as breezes waft off the nearby Fraser River.

Mercifully, Creighton House is air-conditioned, tempting visitors to linger longer than they might otherwise.

And that’s a good thing, because the site’s collection of well-preserved antiquities, both aboriginal and colonial, are worthy of extended admiration.

Outside, Friesen and two cohorts attired in gold rush–era duds painted a verbal picture of frontier living conditions against a backdrop of artfully furnished canvas tents.

With such enthusiastic help, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots between then and now.

Details on Yale Historic Site are on their website.

For a complete listing of B.C. historic sites, visit the Government B.C website.

For examples of Michael Kluckner’s watercolours, visit his website.


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