Big Chief Wobbly-knees

19 05 2012

So on balance I’d say today was a good day. We took a pleasant drive up the Sea to Sky highway – myself, Mrs E. and 2nd born. I got some exercise hiking up the Stawamus Chief near Squamish (2nd Peak, if you’re familiar with it). It was a gorgeous sunny day, which made for some very exciting views – some of them being the landscape.

“The Chief” is a local landmark, quite unmistakeable as you drive towards Whistler, and popular with both hikers and climbers. Supposedly it’s the 2nd largest granite monolith on the planet, but all I can say is it’s pretty steep, and a bit hurty on the elbows when the two are introduced suddenly.

It’s a long weekend in BC. We’re celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday, who being born very close to my humble self in the calendar tends to put a long weekend pretty conveniently close to my own day of celebration. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to hike the Chief ever since we drove past it the first month we came to Canada. It really is a jaw-dropping piece of scenery. We gambled with the weather and the crowds and figured today MIGHT be slightly quieter. That may yet prove correct in relative terms, but by no means was the Chief quiet today. By the time we drove there from White Rock, it was just after noon, and we had to park on the access road close to the highway. All the car-parks and most of the access road was already full of cars. After a packed lunch, we set off, and passed a not quite as full cycle rack.

It was pretty obvious, as we joined the madding crowd heading skyward, that I was significantly older than most of the people making the ascent. A good 80 percent were late 20s/early 30s I’d say. A couple of families with small children (some being carried in backpack-like contraptions), a scattering of exhausted looking dogs, and the odd endurance runner (we saw one guy do two laps!) Odd being the operative word in my view. Attire was usually pretty lightweight – shorts, trainers, T-shirts. A few people were more prepared for unexpected events and were wearing more sturdy hiking boots and carrying rucksacks. Most of the women though were sporting various colours of lycra, typically of the local Lululemon brand, and might as well have been carrying giant banners with “stare at this” pinned to their arses. Plainly this was a cool place to be seen by the hip and trendy of Greater Vancouver.

As we neared the top, the long stretches of steps – both wooden and of rock – gave way to minor climbing, assisted with chains screwed into the rock slab. This caused a few issues, as it’s basically a single direction flow kind of mechanism. Oddly though, once people had got to the top, they seemd to want to then come down again. One such area of traffic conflict was a narrow gully between two huge slabs of granite, and some very intimate shuffling was required. I went “3D”, and chimneyed up to remove myself as an obstacle. This had the side benefit of me being able to say that today I had several skimpily clad, sweaty young ladies between my legs. Oh, and one bloke, but he didn’t leave his name. There was even a tubular steel ladder at one point, to ascend one of the last pitches before the final gentle slope to the top.

I’d read in one of my personalised newsfeeds about chipmunks at the top, and sure enough there were a few very over-fed rodents there to help anyone struggling to finish their packed lunches. Having eaten my sarnies before we set off, I offered a nibble of my banana dessert to one of the cheeky little critters, but they were too fussy and I was rejected.

On the way down we once more heard a strange sound we’d encountered on the way up. Like someone blowing over the top of a milk bottle, and making a long , deep note. I’m pretty sure this was a Hoary marmot. They also whistle, and are common in them there parts. The Whistler mountain/resort was renamed after the little fellows to make the area more appealing to investers. Prior to that, Whistler had been “London mountain” because of all the rain and fog. True story. Probably.

Apart from one particular father, who spent many kilojoules of energy yelling at his errant kids to stop and wait (one passing wit said it was his weight rather than their speed that was the issue – very un-Canadian I thought!) the worst part of the hike was all the bloody steps. Not literally (though on the way down someone had donated their lunch as a colourful decoration). The Chief is a pretty steep climb, and the path has been groomed in many places with rock or wooden stairs. Unfortunately though, the builder of said enhancements was an 8′ giant. Must have been. I’m 6’2″, and I could barely climb the steps, the lift was so high and steep on them. A ladder would have been easier! Talking of impolite people  – I overheard two young lads (shirts off to display their washboard stomachs to the Lululemon customers) remarking that the locals must be able to tell they were American because they weren’t saying “sorry” enough when they passed people on the narrow steps. It gives me a warm glow to have chosen to be a citizen of a country that is known to be polite.

Having managed to descend all the steps on increasingly unstable legs (by the time I got to the bottom they were like Rowntrees jelly in need of custard!) we went for tea.

By tea I mean dinner. English with a twist of class and regional separation is such a complex beast. Anyway, we went into Squamish, and had fish and chips at “Wigan Pier“. Now this is particularly amusing to me, having been to Wigan Pier… in Wigan. It’s in Lancashire, but I’d had my inoculations. Wigan Pier isn’t actually anywhere near the sea. It’s a loading dock on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, originally for loading coal into barges. The connection with fish and chips is lost to me.

The trip home was largely uneventful except when we stopped at some lights just leaving Squamish, and a half inch ball bearing was thrown/shot at the car. Thankfully it didn’t break any windows and/or hurt anyone, but it did roll annoyingly back and forth across the bottom of the windscreen for a couple of miles.

Having driven through Vancouver and New Westminster on the way back across the Fraser, we stopped off at good ol’ Tim Hortons and I indulged in my first Iced Capp of the season. A perfect end to the day – brain freeze!

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One response

20 05 2012
misfits' miscellany

The road to Wigan Pier now has the added and intractable allure of Lycra-clad bottoms. Or Day of the Tripwithkids.

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