I was wrong about the weather. As we set off from Vancouver along the twisting turns of the Sea to Sky highway, the rain lashed down, blocking our view of one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The tail end of the Pineapple Express, a west coast storm system that had dropped what felt like a river of rain over the city in a few short days, was putting a decidedly damp start on our trip to Squamish’s Sea to Sky Gondola. I’d been excited to see far out across Howe Sound as we made our way up the Stawamus Chief, Squamish’s famous granite domed mountain. And from seeing photos, knew that it would be a knock out view when we got up there. But the rain and clouds had put paid to that. Or so I thought. We rose gently in the gondola, coming what felt close enough to touch the wet rock of the Chief, then we were plunged into a dense mist, like being wrapped in cotton wool, as we floated upwards, unable to see a thing. But then we broke through the clouds, weak rays of sun piercing through the dappled shades of grey and oh, what a sight! Continue reading →
I’d never imagined myself to be a birdwatching enthusiast before but like so many other things Canada has changed me completely. From my new-found love of leaf-peeping and attempts to develop ice skating skills to my enthusiastic embrace of drinking clamato juice cocktails – there is apparently no limit to what I won’t adore about Canada. So, now I’m a ‘twitcher’ – why else would I be floating down a river on a bluebird sky day in early February, gazing with delight into the leaf-less trees? My new rationale being that if the world bald eagle capital is just 45 minutes drive away, well – you hop into a car, right?
A little explanation: half-way between Whistler and Vancouver lies Squamish, known as the Outdoor Adventure Capital of North America. You can hike, mountain bike, kayak, whitewater raft – everything. Ten minutes drive from Squamish is Brackendale, and as well as being a huge draw for enthusiastic types in North Face-branded clothing, it’s also where you’ll find the world’s greatest concentration of bald eagles, if you visit between November-February.
I’d visited Sunwolf late last year en route to Whistler and eaten a spectacular breakfast at Fergie’s cafe there. As well as dishing up quality rib-sticker brekkies, Sunwolf’s British owners Jake and Jess also have cosy cabins to rent along the Cheakamus River and host guided whitewater rafting trips and eagle float adventures.
It was a perfect day for a float along the river; after what seemed like endless grey skies and non-stop rain, the soft warm touch of sunshine on skin felt like a long-forgotten magic. And the sun was blazing down that morning. But it was cold on the river, so we suited up in the Sunwolf lounge in waist-high waterproof trousers and bundled up in scarves, mittens and hats.
Hopping into the dinghy without A) falling in or B) embarrassing myself, was surprisingly easy – my kind of outdoor adventure – all I needed to do now was sit back, listen to the soft splash of paddles on water and watch for eagles as Jake told us stories of the river and the Chum salmon which brings the eagles here in their droves. It’s a circle-of-life thing; beautiful in its complexity and simplicity. Each year the salmon come to spawn in the pristine glacial-fed waters of the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers where they – in turn – were spawned.
It’s incredible that these fish who spend their lives out in the ocean return ‘home’ to start new lives – and it’s also where they come to end their life too. After spawning, the salmon die and in turn become a necessary life-giving food to another species. In some parts of the world bears feast on the salmon, but here it’s the eagles who thrive and survive. For a few months, the river is becomes an all-you-can-eat sashimi buffet and the eagles the stretchy pants-wearing regulars.
I lost count of the number of eagles that we saw; mostly perched, presumably digesting huge meals, in the branches. Whenever one took flight the awe of seeing their impossibly wide wing span hit me every time. I may not be a fully fledged bird-spotting enthusiast but damn, I’m enthusiastic whenever I see a beautiful wild creature – especially in such jaw-clanging surroundings. Only the prospect of another meal at Fergie’s could cheer me after our trip was over. I really loved it: so peaceful, so much beauty and so many new things to learn along the way.
I travelled as a guest of Sunwolf but as ever my words are 100% my own.
Sunwolf – Rafting, Cabins, Whitewater rafting and Eagle river floats – plus – Fergie’s delicious cafe!
They do music festivals differently here in beautiful British Columbia; surrounded by breathtaking mountains with blazing blue skies overhead. Half-way between Vancouver and Whistler, I’ve only ever driven through Squamish but now I’ve seen how beautiful it is, I think I may be making it a destination rather than a drive-through.
It was a line-up that batted well above its boutique festival status with big names like Macklemore & Lewis, Vampire Weekend and QOTSA headlining. One major difference between European festivals and BC ones seems to be the drinks licensing, unusually, if you wanted an alcoholic drink you had to have it in a fenced-off area. So – a queue to get into the beer area, then a queue to load up the smart-chip wristband as it was a cashless bar system and then – yup – another queue to buy the drink. I may be British but no one likes to queue that much! And I have to say that charging $2.50 each time you charge your wristband is not a ‘nominal amount’. It felt unfair and I’d really encourage the organisers to re-think this next year.
Price concerns aside, this was a magical festival: as the sun set over the mountains, watching Jurassic 5 go through their paces through a haze of smoke I loved the goofy good-natured atmosphere. There was a stylish Topshop area where you could stop by and get your hair and make-up made festival-fabulous, a definite Glastonbury-esque dress-up vibe with costumed stilt walkers and a glitzy gaggle of burlesque lawnmowers.
Plenty of kids had come dressed in Macklemore-esque thrift shop-style fake fur coats: I met a trio of good time-busting ‘Fun Police’ and best of all, had a huge hug from a guy dressed as a bear. You don’t get that in England! The festival next year is set to be the biggest in the Pacific North West with a 35,000 per day capacity. Keep an eye on their site for line-up announcements.