Squamish


8
Feb 15

High Above the Clouds, Fondue Dinner at the Sea to Sky Gondola

fondue2I 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! fondue3Walking from the gondola towards the viewing platform was breathtaking. Cobwebby clouds hung below us with tantalising glimpses of the world peeking through. And we had it almost all to ourselves, the rain driving less hardy folk indoors. We crossed the gently swaying suspension bridge, its rails strung with fairy lights, over a gorgeously mossy green ravine and headed out into the forest along the Spirit Trail. New last summer, the Gondola has opened up vast tracts of hikes to people like me who’d never have made it up the Chief on their own. I loved the First Nations information points that dotted the area, explaining the turbulent history of post-European contact in the area, and many of the myths and legends of the Coast Salish people. fondue4It was beautiful up there, as we walked the trail, past glossy rocks, glowing orange red cedars and soaring pines. We looped back round and made our way past the fire pits, roaring in the evening breeze out on the viewing decks, into the welcoming wood fire-warmed Summit Lodge for the main event,  a fondue dinner. Toasting our evening with a glass of local Summerhill Cipes sparkling wine, we dove into a piled-high plates of salad, whooping over the crispy capers which spangled through the Caesar and crunching through the herbacious kale and fennel. I adore fondue and it was great to have a range of crisp veggies and pickles, as well as charcuterie to dip into the smooth blend of Gruyère and Emmental along with the traditional bread cubes. Never usually a big chocolate fan, I couldn’t get enough of the Belgian chocolate fondue that came as dessert, served with a pile of fresh fruit and doughnut-like cakelets: not too sweet, not too dark, this was the Goldilocks of chocolate fondues. fondue1The trip back down to base camp was deliciously spooky, the smooth slide of the Gondola back down the mountain in total darkness. More shadowy shades of charcoal came into focus as we got closer to the ground, the lights of nearby Squamish glowing in the night and the passing sudden flash of lights from cars on the highway. I was so wrong about the weather, yes, it may have been rainy and grey, but how gorgeous it was high up above the clouds. fondue5Fondue Dinners are scheduled for February 14th and March 7th.  I was a guest of the Sea to Sky Gondola, but as ever, my words are 100% my own. Further Information: Sea to Sky Gondola. 


17
Feb 14

Welcome to the world’s eagle capital

EF5

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?

Jake from Sunwolf gets our craft ready

Jake from Sunwolf gets our craft ready

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.

Let the Eagle-Spotting begin

Let the Eagle-Spotting begin

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 would have been hard to pick a more perfect day

It would have been hard to pick a more perfect day

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.

Waters so pristine you could clearly see the rotting salmon aka eagle-dinner

Waters so pristine you could clearly see the eagle’s dinner

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.  

Also, thank you to BC Ford who loaned me a Ford Focus Titanium for my road trip. I’ve never driven a car that could actually park itself before! Genuinely amazing feature. 

More Info:

Sunwolf – Rafting, Cabins, Whitewater rafting and Eagle river floats – plus – Fergie’s delicious cafe!


16
Aug 13

Squamish Fest 2013: sunshine, queues and a visit from the fun police…

Gorgeous location

Gorgeous location

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.

Ah. Off putting queues

Ah. Off putting queues

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.

Enjoying Macklemore & Lewis from behind the beer garden fence

Enjoying Macklemore & Lewis from behind the beer garden fence

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.

Burlesque lawn mowers

Burlesque lawn mowers

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.

They want to take down your particulars

They want to take down your particulars

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