For the Love of the Adventure: “Snowshoeing” at “Garibaldi Lake”

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I am not what one would call a “peak bagger”.

Rather, I am a firm believer in the old cliche that the journey is the destination. In other words, if I have to amend or abort an adventure due to weather, injuries, time crunches, or other variables that are generally out of my control, I’m not really bothered.

I’m not concerned with reaching a summit; I’m more focused on getting outside and having a really nice time. So while a recent snowshoe trip to Garibaldi Lake ended up involving neither snowshoes nor lake, I still deem it a success. I got to play outside, enjoyed a rare and glorious sunny winter day to its fullest, spent some solid QT with friends, and capped my day off with (root) beer and snacks at Backcountry Brewing – by all objective measures, the adventure was a perfect one.

If you’ve ever done the Garibaldi Lake/Black Tusk/Panorama Ridge hike in the non-snowy season, you know that the first part of the hike involves a seemingly never ending series of switchbacks through the forest. However, in the snowy season, the hike starts one step earlier.

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The paved road to the trail head is not quite as easy to maneuver in the winter, when it is covered in snow, as it is in the summer, when it is not. Our first clue should have been the dozens of cars parked on the shoulder just past the turnoff. However, there were a few tough guy cars who had laid down some tracks along the road, and our Fearless Adventure Leader’s truck seemed as capable as any, so we happily bumped our way down the road to see how far we could get.

We got a decent way up, but the three point turn required to orient the vehicle properly for a smooth exit was a little trickier than anticipated. Luckily, our Fearless Adventure Leader had a sturdy avy shovel in his sturdy truck, so the rest of us got to feel useful as we dug and pushed it to a comfortable position on the shoulder of the road, out of the way of any other tough guy cars who dared make the trek.

Then, we were off. Though there was snow on the ground, it was fairly well packed and more easily tramped by foot than by snowshoe. We debated leaving our snowshoes in the car, but we ultimately decided to take them with us in case things got deeper and softer. Spoiler alert: we did not end up using them, though I am glad we took them because – as another hiker we bumped into with snowshoes strapped to her pack said – we got to take them out for a lovely walk. Snowshoes need fresh air and exercise too, right?

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Notably missing: snowshoes.

We lucked out on gorgeous, sunny weather, though under the canopy of trees in the switchbacks, we weren’t in much danger of getting a sunburn. The snow was a little sparse towards the bottom, but it covered most of the trail pretty solidly. I anticipate after some recent snowfall that the trails are even snowier – perhaps even requiring snowshoes?

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Cell phone cameras: taking poor quality selfies since the 2000s!

My biggest challenge with outdoor activities in the winter is temperature control. I have the attractive habit of sweating aggressively when doing any moderately strenuous activity (including hiking up switchbacks for hours). If I stop, say for lunch, the sweat cools instantly, chilling me to the bone. I’m usually able to reheat my core and my legs once I start moving again, but my extremities go yellow and lose circulation. (Google Raynaud’s if you want to gross yourself out a little.) I lose feeling, especially in my hands, and it is very uncomfortable and hard to regain feeling until I’m somewhere sheltered and warm and wearing something dry.

So, when we stopped around our pre-determined turnaround time to determine whether we wanted to keep going or call it a day – despite having not reached Garibaldi Lake – I was totally fine when we opted for the latter, knowing it meant I would regain feeling in my hands that much sooner.

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We came, we saw (some pretty trees, mostly), and although we didn’t conquer much, we had a great time, proving that one does not actually need snowshoes for an enjoyable snowshoe trip!

 

 

Cross-Country Skiing in the Callaghan

I am a BIG fan of the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan.

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Home to such Olympic events as the biathlon and the ski jump (and such non-Olympic events as the Red Bull 400 – seriously, check it out), the Whistler Olympic Park also has some pretty incredible – and impeccably groomed – cross country ski trails.

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I am a casual classic XC skier. I go often enough (i.e., a few times per year) to feel comfortable on the trails and I own my own pair of skis, but steeper downhills – especially ones that curve – still make me a little nervous and leave me laughing manically as I flail down them at Mach 50 (that’s what it feels like, at least). I find the trails at the Whistler Olympic Park to be the perfect mix of fun and challenging.

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Regular admission is not cheap, at $26.75 per person. However, they offer special deals on Wednesday evenings from 3 PM onward for only $7 per person (it used to be $5 – times, they are a-changing). As a bonus, rentals are also only $7 on Wednesday evenings.

There are pros and cons to going on Wednesday evenings. The trails are a little busy, but they’re not too bad – especially compared to any regular high-season day on Whistler Blackcomb. Watching the sky fade from day to night is pretty magical, especially when paired with a fresh dusting of snow falling from the sky (as was the case when I was there recently). Some of the main trails are lit, and other nearby trails are bright enough to see more-or-less clearly, though a headlamp is definitely a good idea.

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The network of XC trails is quite expansive, though on the Wednesday night specials, I usually stick close to the lit trails near the lodge.

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Recently, they’ve had a pretty good Friday night special deal going on – $10 admission (and $10 rentals, for those so inclined). I went with a friend when it was still light out, and we ventured beyond the usual loops by the lodge. There are soooo many trails to explore and I seriously need to head out in proper daylight hours to get a solid day of skiing in.

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I like the Olympic Park because it’s not just about the skiing – it’s about the whole experience. I usually like to grab a dinner in the cozy lodge. The food is catered by Whistler Cooks and is better than your usual cafeteria fare. It’s also priced more reasonably than Whistler Blackcomb mountain food – think $8 for a bowl of chili with some baguette.

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The even have this cute little fire pit igloo zone set up. So very magical, am I right?

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It feels strange to admit this – especially since January was an EPIC month of snow – but I haven’t touched bmy snowboard since December. I definitely plan to head up soon, but I’ve been having such a nice time on my Nordic skis and snowshoes. Hooray for snow sports of all kinds!

 

Rain in the Valley = Snow Up Top

I’ve been putting my Sea to Sky Gondola season’s pass to good use – this week, I went up twice to try my hand (foot?) at snowshoeing.

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I recently acquiring my very own pair of snowshoes – I got a heck of a deal at one of my favourite secret websites, 33 OFF. They had a bonus 10% off snowshoe deal, and their prices are already pretty good. (I also get my road running shoes from here because I know which model fits my foot well – the Mizuno Wave Riders).

This time of year, when it is raining in town, it is often snowing up in the mountains where it’s a few degrees cooler. I checked the forecast and web cameras for the Sea to Sky Gondola, which affirmed what I had suspected: yep, there is snow up there, and lots of it.

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Pro Tip: If it looks like this outside, it may still be worth getting out of bed.

(Remember when I hiked the Sea to Summit Trail the other week in pretty much no snow? It’s safe to say that there is a lot of snow on the trail now.)

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This is how much snow was on one tree branch. Hand for size reference.

I headed in the same general direction both days I went up. One day I snowshoed towards the Skyline Ridge Trail, the other I went partway up the Sky Pilot Valley Trail. Both of these trails are machine groomed – it’s like getting fresh tracks on a cat track.

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I like this post’s hat

Actually, when I went up mid-week, I did get fresh tracks – I had the whole place to myself. The conditions make it easy (and fun) to get an hour or two of power snowshoeing in.

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Fresh corduroy, brah!

Even when I went up on the weekend, it was pretty quiet. I saw a few other parties here and there, but I was largely on my own. I didn’t see anyone else head up the slightly steeper (but still very manageable) Sky Pilot Valley Trail.

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This is where the grooming ends on the Skyline Ridge Trail – continue on if you dare, it’s deep (see next photo)

Way back in the day when I lived in Vancouver, I – like so many others – struggled through the dreary January-March season where it is often wet, grey, and just generally horrible. One year, I discovered that I could head up to Whistler during this season and enjoy copious amounts of snow. It was the perfect cure to the winter blahs.

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I stepped slightly to the side by the bridge and sank down to above my knee. Yeah – probably no off-roading for me right now.

(Of course, it’s not all gravy – shoveling your car out from several feet of snow mid-March while your friends in the city post pictures of blooming tulips can get old pretty quick.)

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Now that I live in Squamish, I kind of feel like I have the best of both worlds. There are plenty of grey days, but if the temperatures cooperate as they did this week, I can get my snow fix with minimal effort. I don’t have to brush snow off my car very often, but Whistler is only a short drive away (in good conditions, anyway).

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Snowshoeing is officially being added to my repertoire of wintertime activities. I like that you can make it hard or easy, and I like that I don’t have to devote an entire day to it – I can head out for a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon and still get a lot done. I’m a fan.

Sea to Summit, Winter Edition

A few months ago, I waxed poetic about the fantastic Sea to Summit trail that winds from the bottom of the Chief up to the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola.

I put in a good three or four solo autumnal Sea to Summits until the rainy season set in, the days got shorter, and the motivation dissipated. But this past weekend, it was so beautiful and perfectly sunny – in the middle on January, no less – that I felt I would be insulting the Squamish weather gods if I didn’t go outside and enjoy it while it lasted.

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January 14, folks!

(Sure enough, the forecast says rain, rain, and more rain for the next little while.)

Although we had a good chunk of snow over the holidays, sun and rain have washed away most of it. I spied a few Sea to Summit hikers on Instagram and determined that it was probably in fine shape for hiking, so I laced up my trail runners (and threw my spikes in my running vest) and headed up.

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A quarter of the way – dry, dry, dry.

The trail was actually busier than I expected. Not only was it a weekend (and a stunning one at that), but it was “Social Sunday” on the Sea to Sky Gondola – meaning live tunes, board games, and pancakes (I think. I didn’t actually go into the lodge at the top on this trip, but I get the promotional emails.)

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Still, it was relatively quiet. Though I passed a few groups of happy hikers, I felt like I had the trail to myself most of the time.

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I didn’t need the spikes for a long, long time. For the bulk of the way, the trail ranged from completely clear to pretty clear. Any snowy bits were sparse and easy to plod through. The lower three quarters of the trail were maybe a little wetter than usual, and there were streams where I hadn’t noticed them in the summer.

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Things started to get snowier where the trail splits into the logging road portion towards the top. I popped on my spikes, though it is debatable whether or not I really needed them.

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There were some slippery spots where I was glad to have them, but there were also rocky bits were I had to tread lightly, trying not to wear out the metal. There were also lots of wet sections – some you could detour around, others that required you to walk right through. My feet got pretty wet, but it was close enough to the top that I didn’t really mind.

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I leapfrogged with another solo hiker for the final stretch of the trail, who had been out with friends but opted to run ahead of them to burn some energy. I can relate – while I love heading outside with buddies, sometimes it’s nice to just power up solo to clear your head and get your heart rate up.

So, there you go. This isn’t a groundbreaking post, but I thought that there may be a few people out there contemplating hiking the Sea to Summit who might like a trail condition update. Of course, things are likely to get a lot wetter with the rain coming our way – and if it’s cold enough, we could get more snow, especially at higher elevations. In fact, I would be perfectly fine with some snow higher up – I’m dying to do some snowshoeing this winter.

The Official 2017 Magee Running Awards

My goal is really to get outside, explore the local trails, stay healthy and injury-free, and gain a little confidence on running trails.

This is a self-quote from a blog post I wrote nearly a year ago, where I laid out my running plans for 2017. I mostly succeeded in my overall goal, though I failed a little on the “stay healthy and injury-free” side of things – but I’m exiting 2017 in one piece with seven races under my belt (or, more accurately, my running vest). I’d call that a win.

To cap off a season of running, races, and physio visits, I thought I’d get a head start on award show season and celebrate some of my greatest (and not so greatest) running moments of the year.

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Best Race Swag

Overall, this was a positive year for race swag. There was good swag (hats!) and less good swag (so many – too many – drawstring bags), but one race’s swag really stands out: 5 Peaks Alice Lake.

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I didn’t even run this race, but as a volunteer, I got to take home a pair of the neon orange running glove/mitten combos that has become a staple of my winter running wardrobe. Two mittened thumbs up for 5 Peaks Alice Lake!

Best Event to Volunteer At

I volunteered at several races this year (even a mountain biking one!), but the Squamish 50 takes the cake. I volunteered at the package pick up for the 50k, and it was unbelievably well organized. There vibe is positively electric and it was fun matching race bibs with IDs from around the country, continent, and indeed, world. A+ experience.

Best Runner’s High Moment

My spirits were never higher than they were as I finished the Comfortably Numb race in June. I’m not sure why I loved this race so much – I wasn’t particularly fast and there was nothing really out of the ordinary, but I loved running point-to-point on unfamiliar trails, and cruising downhill for the second part of the race was just so, so fun.

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I loved this race and I hope to run in again in the future.

Most Humbling Race

The Squamish 50 23k KICKED MY BUTT. The horrible extra hill detour I took from accidentally veering off course certainly didn’t help.

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This was just a tough race for me – the toughest I’ve ever run. I still can’t figure out if it was because I undertrained or was just having an off day (it happens), or if it is due to the tricky terrain and unforgiving uphills towards the end. I finished the race feeling extremely humbled.

Most Satisfying Race

The Squamish Days 8K was a personal favourite. I love this small local race – it’s a straightforward out-and-back road race and I squeaked in under the 40 minute mark.

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For someone who tends to sit comfortably on the slower side of the middle-of-the-pack in trail runs, it’s fun to be able to run a fast race on the roads. I’m proud of this one!

2017 Trail of Distinction Award

After exploring many of the trails around Alice Lake and Garibaldi Highlands, I proclaim Roller Coaster the recipient of my favourite trail award. I don’t know what it is – it winds so perfectly, meandering up and down (but mostly down) through the beautiful woods without too many death traps to trip over. I love it!

2017 Trail of Terror Award

The first few months of 2017 consisted of awful icy patches, but no section terrified me as much as the bridge by the waterfall on Covenant. On one bitterly cold run, we almost wiped out as the slanted wooden slats were transformed into a wipe-out zone of black ice death. Even in perfect conditions, I STILL cross this bridge with great caution and hesitation.

Best Food

Hands down, the tastiest and most random finish line food were the Hot Buns Cinnamon Buns at Comfortably Numb. Hey – maybe they had something to do with my runner’s high?

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Most Satisfying Impulse Race

I initially only had 3 races on my agenda for 2017, but I signed up for another 4 races on relatively short notice. My last race of 2017 was the Boundary Bay Half Marathon. Just shy of two months out, I decided to take a break from trail running to focus on roads for a bit.

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My training wasn’t pretty (see: injuries and more gym time than running time), but the race ended up being a lot of fun and gave me the extra push I needed to end the year on a good note.


As 2017 comes to a close, I’ve started thinking about my running goals for 2018. I haven’t solidified anything yet, but I already know it’s going to be a tricky year. I’ll be away for some of the big races of the year (including Comfortably Numb and the Squamish 50), but my goals include trying a few new races, running a road race in another province, and enjoying many sunny days on the trails enjoying the smell of hot trees (my favourite smell ever).

Happy trails!

On Running and Changing Plans

When I planned out my race calendar earlier this year, the Squamish 50 23k was supposed to be my last one of the year – but when we returned from the Yukon, I felt like I probably had one more race in me.

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(This photo is 2 years old but seemed suitable enough for this post)

I felt a little burned out from trail running (weird, I know), so I decided to sign up for a road race. I wasn’t exactly smart about it; I hadn’t run on roads in awhile, so I decided to lace up my shoes on a lovely early fall day to see if I could manage to run roughly a half marathon distance (even if it took me forever to do).

I could! It wasn’t easy – I ran at a 6:23 km/h pace – but at least I knew I could handle the distance.

I signed up for a half marathon about 7 weeks out, and I thought that if I worked hard at training, I could probably break 2 hours (which I’ve only done once) and could maybe even snag a PB.

The first month of training – and I use that term lightly, because although I had a rough structure, I wasn’t following a proper plan – went swimmingly. I got progressively faster on my long runs and a 5:45 km/h pace (needed for a 2 hour half) seemed challenging, but doable. Also, my long runs continued to fall on days where the weather was just perfect. Life was good.

Except for one thing: I felt a nagging soreness in my lower left leg – kind of behind the shin, by my inner ankle bone – which was annoying, but ignore-able. I ran through the soreness, but it only got worse. Eventually, I wasn’t able to ignore it anymore. Running was starting to seriously hurt.

The foot on the opposite leg also had a weird shooting pain when I stepped on something uneven (like a small pine cone or a pebble), which wasn’t good either.

I got a solid massage and upped my stretching game, but I was hurting hard only three weeks out from the race. I wasn’t able to put in many miles and my long run was excruciating – and I felt much slower than I’d been in recent weeks. As you can probably imagine, this was not exactly motivating.

Fast forward to today: the race is in a week and a half, and I’m not doing a whole lot of running. Instead, I’m doing lots of long, slow stretching. I’m foam rolling and yoga-ing, too. This morning, I went for a short run and didn’t feel any soreness. I contemplated extending my run, but decided it was better to stop while I didn’t feel any pain rather than pushing it too much.

Of course, running healthy is the most important thing – but I can’t help feel discouraged that the crucial couple of weeks before the race have gone to waste. The good news is that I think I’ll be able to tackle 21.1 k on race day – and if not, I can always drop down a distance.

The bad news is that I worry I’ll feel slow and sluggish and awful. I’m coming to realize that my sub-2 hour goal probably isn’t realistic for me for this race; rather, I should aim to have a healthy, pleasant race, even if I’m going at a snail’s pace. The nasty weather we’ve had as of late hasn’t done much to lift my spirits, but luckily, we’re heading into a stretch of sunshine now.

I’m hoping for a mini miracle on race day – one of those perfect weather days where you feel like you can fly. Either way, I’m getting nachos after, so it’ll be a good day no matter what.

Oh – and now I’m getting sick of road running and can’t wait to get back into the trails. Running, you fickle, fickle beast.

Thanksgiving Weekend Finale: Capra’s Turkey and Trails Run

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Despite what my previous two Thanksgiving weekend recap posts might suggest (pumpkin pie and butter rolls), I did more than just eat over the long weekend.

Capra, the local trail running store and the hub of Squamish’s trail running community, put on a fun, family-oriented trail run this past Saturday, October 7. The run is called Capra Turkey & Trails, and it was the second year in a row that they put on the event (not bad, considering they recently celebrated their first anniversary).

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As advertised: the weather looked exactly like their promo pic (above)

I haven’t been doing a ton of trail running lately, but recent runs have included running up 50 Shades and running down Credit Line. I was relieved when I found out that the 6k trail run consisted of running halfway around Alice Lake, out on Jack’s, up 50 Shades,  down Credit Line, and back to Alice Lake via Jack’s. These aren’t necessarily easy trails, but at least I was very familiar with them.

The race was right up my alley: small and informal, but well executed. I had signed up online (the $35 fee includes a donation to the food bank), so I just had to pick up my bib before the race and I was good to go. Though the forecast looked iffy, the weather ended up being prime for a fall run: cool and overcast.

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I watched the tail end of the kids races (a 1k – the Gobble Wobble – and a 3k youth trail race), then I set out alongside 38 other runners to take on the trails. I started towards the back-ish but ended up passing a few people on the 50 Shades ascent. I ran the majority of the trail – something I definitely don’t do when I’m running it on my own.

The technical descent down Credit Line made for tricky passing. Luckily, we were pretty well spaced out by then. One dude passed me, and I passed a couple more people (mostly because they had to pull over to take off an outer layer or re-tie shoelaces – but hey, I’ll take it).

Arguably the toughest part of the course is “gentle” ascent back to Alice Lake on Jack’s Trail. This darned trail doesn’t look very daunting, but the up is just enough to be annoying – especially after having conquered the ups on 50 Shades. I made it back to the finish line in 45:15, which put me in 23rd place out of 39 runners. (Technically the last runner was the sweep guy so I’m not sure he should count…)

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Although Turkey & Trails is one of the smaller races I’ve done, they seem to have had the largest prize table of any race I’ve attended – and the best part is that prizes were drawn, not earned. That’s always good news for a middle (er… back) of the packer like myself. I didn’t walk away with either of the grand prizes (Altra shoes or La Sportiva shoes – I wish!), but I did get a snazzy, squishy Capra cup.

Will I be back next year? Heck yes! Will I be running Credit Line anytime soon? Heck no – apparently, a cougar has made it his local hang out, and he’s not that keen on sharing it with the rest of us.

Turkey & Trails – make it part of your Thanksgiving weekend traditions!

The Sea to Summit Trail – Better than the Chief?

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I have a confession to make: I don’t love the Chief.

That’s not quite true – I love looking at it a lot, but I don’t love hiking it. I get the appeal: it’s a good workout, it’s relatively quick (especially if you’re only after one peak), and the views are highly rewarding. But I find the climb to be a bit of a mind-numbing slog and the exposed parts at the top always make me nervous – I get a feeling of vertigo looking down over Squamish and the Howe Sound. So, I do the Chief from time to time, but I don’t love it.

A hike that I do love is the Sea to Summit trail. And now that I have a Sea to Sky Gondola pass (rejoice!), I can do it whenever I want and catch a ride back down for free. Here’s what I love about it:

  • It’s just the right amount of hard. There’s lots of climbing, but there are plenty of flat bits (and even a few dips) to break it up.
  • Hiking it is like playing in a jungle gym. Swinging through trees, clambering up rocks, skipping through sections of roots – there’s lots of variety, and it’s all fun.
  • The timing is just right. I walk/ran it (walked up the steeps, ran through the flats) in about 2 hours. That’s long enough for me to feel like I got a solid dose of nature, but short enough that I can still put in a full day of work.
  • The reward factor is extreme. Your prize for getting to the top: awesome views, food and beverages if you please, and an easy (and scenic) ride back down the gondola.

If you haven’t done the hike yet, read on for a brief recap.

The first part of the hike consists of the first 15 or 20 minutes of the Chief climb (hence my comparison of the two trails). This is my least favourite part – it mainly consists of stepping up wood stairs, stone stairs, even stairs, and uneven stairs. It’s not unlike the Grouse Grind.

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After a little while, a little sign points you towards the gondola. This is where you leave the Chief trail behind – and, in my opinion, the trail becomes a lot more fun. Instead of going straight up, it starts to meander a little bit.

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Getting lost on the Sea to Summit trail is not an issue. I like to imagine the trail marking meeting: “How many trail markers do you think we’ll need, Bob? A hundred?” “Double it. And double it again. You can never have too many trail markers.” Seriously – there are so many trail markers on this trail that it’s alllllmost ridiculous. If you don’t see one within three seconds of seeing the last, you start to feel a little panicky. But I have to admit it makes it easy and very tourist friendly.

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Relatively early on in the hike, an ominous sign warns you that the trail is about to get really real – so steep you’ll need ropes to help you shimmy your way up. While it is true that there are a few rope assisted sections to contend with, I’d argue that the first 20 minutes is the hardest part. The rope sections are short and not exposed in the least (yay for me) – they’re more fun than anything else.

 

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There are a few noteworthy points of interest along the way. Passing under the gondola lines is novel (be sure to wave if you see anyone floating by). Getting to the falls is a treat, and there’s a nice slabby lookout as you get closer to the top. But really, if you take the time to look around, the whole thing is pretty gorgeous. The trees are tall and lush and green and it just smells so darn delicious – it’s the kind of sight that you can start to take for granted if you’ve lived in Squamish for awhile.

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In my opinion, the closer you get to the top, the easier the trail feels. At one point, it widens to an old logging road – there’s a longer, but easier option that continues along this road if you’re feeling it, or else you can go the shorter (and steeper) regular route. The trail picks up a bit and once again becomes steep right at the end, but that’s when you know you’re almost there.

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Suddenly, the trail opens up and you can see the gondola up ahead – shining like a sweet little beacon. You’ve made it! If you don’t have a pass, you can pick up a download ticket for $15. You can make it worth your while by taking your time to explore at the top.

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I imagine this trail can get a little crowded, but I got an early start on a weekday and I saw exactly two other people: a couple in the first 10 minutes of the hike (on the Chief portion). Otherwise, I had the place to myself – not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

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Squamish Staycation: Sea to Sky Gondola, Hiking, and a Stay at the Executive Suites Hotel

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Back in February, I entered a Valentine’s Day contest with the local paper (The Squamish Chief). I guess our compelling love story pulled a heart string or two, because we won THE most epic prize: two passes up the Sea to Sky gondola, a night at the Executive Suites Hotel, and a few bonuses like free breakfast, sparkling wine, and a snack pack.

(I was maybe most excited about the snack pack.)

Half a year later, we finally redeemed our package and enjoyed a bona fide staycation. Allow me walk you through it.

The Sea to Sky Gondola – Hiking

Cedric and I are two of the few Squamptonites who don’t have passes to the Sea to Sky Gondola. I’ve only been up three times, and I’ve never had the chance to do some proper exploring.

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We wanted to do a hike, so we chose Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail with the Neverland Loop addition. The trail is an out-and-back, with a relatively steady climb on the way up (and down on the way back, obviously). We picked a perfect day – a little on the cool side, barely any wind, and clear skies to make the most of the views. There are a few beautiful viewpoints along the way – but then again, the killer views start the moment you step onto the gondola. You don’t necessarily have to work to earn the views at the Sea to Sky Gondola, but it sure is fun to do it that way anyway.

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The best part was the bountiful blueberry bushes towards the end of the trail and on the Neverland Loop (which, frankly, aside from the blueberries wasn’t super enthralling – though it is a nice way to extend the hike a little). We spent a lot of time snacking.

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The Sea to Sky Gondola website estimates 3 – 6 hours for a round trip of Al’s Habrich trail and 1 – 2 hours of the Neverland Loop. We hiked at a steady pace and took a quick snack break (well, a few snack breaks if you count the blueberry picking) and it took us 3 hours total. I think the website errs on the conservative side, which is probably wise.

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The Sea to Sky Gondola – Dinner and a Show

I chose this particular day to redeem our prize because I wanted to check out the last of the Sea to Sky Gondola’s summer performance series. On Friday evenings throughout the summer, they keep the gondola open late and have musical acts perform up top. On this particular night, the Sea to Sky symphony performed. It was lovely.

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While we waited for the show to start, we grabbed some dinner: a cheeseburger with poutine for Cedric (because who can refuse poutine when it’s offered as a side?) and beef chili for me. The chili was on the small side, but it came with a heaping portion of homemade chips which were sooooo good. The total came to around $30 (no drinks or anything), which is a little on the high side but not unexpected for touristy food.

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Cedric customized the ketchup art.

On the way down, we paid the difference to upgrade our day passes to annual passes – woohoo!

The Executive Suites Hotel

Our prize landed us in a *~fancy~* one bedroom suite at the Executive Suites Hotel. It had a kitchen equipped with the basics, a living area with a fireplace, a separate bedroom, a full bathroom with washer/dryer, and a big balcony with stellar views. In Anna Kendrick’s book, she talks about the hotel they stayed at in Squamish while filming Twilight – and I’m pretty sure it was this hotel. There’s a fun fact for you.

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Now, I’m sure you’re all wondering about the snack pack. It was delivered to us in a festive yellow paper bag – very loot-bag-like, which made the whole thing even better. It came with one of those orange San Pellegrino sodas (which I looooove), Smarties, Turtles, Ferrero Rochers, and peanuts. We were also given a bottle of pink bubbly.

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Views from the balcony.

We loved lounging around the hotel room and had a great sleep, thanks to the blackout curtains. The bed sheets felt a little starchy, but the bed itself was good. I woke up before Cedric did, so I made myself a tea and sat outside on the balcony, listening to the girls next door swapping stories about a wedding the night prior. (The bridesmaid slayed her speech, in case you were wondering).

Norman Rudy’s

The Gibbons Group – mastermind behind Whistler hot spots include The Longhorn, Buffalo Bill’s, the Fire Rock, and Moe Joe’s – recently migrated its way to Squamish with Norman Rudy’s, the restaurant located in the hotel. We visited on two occasions: once for a late-night snack, then again for the free breakfast that came with our room.

The late-night snack was fine. We ordered a charcuterie board, which was good but nowhere near the level of, say, the customizable board at Basalt in Whistler, and a salad with seared tuna, which was good in an Earls/Cactus Club kind of way. Our server was nice and we left feeling full, so in all, it was a reasonable success.

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Oatmeal!

Breakfast was so-so. Whoever wrote the menu did a great job at making it sound very appetizing, but the meals themselves were just okay. I’m that person who likes to order oatmeal at restaurants (the best I’ve ever had: Enigma in Vancouver, which makes its oatmeal in apple juice – brilliant!). This oatmeal was tantalizingly described as follows: “Barley oats with seasonal fruit and chai yogurt”. CHAI YOGURT? I love yogurt and I love chai tea – this sounded amazing.

What I actually got was barley oatmeal (cooked perfectly, mind you), with a sliced strawberry and a very light swirl of the yogurt – not enough to taste any of the chai. Too bad.

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No bacon : (

Cedric ordered the classic two eggs and bacon. The only problem: when it arrived, there was no bacon! Cedric was not stoked.

When we mentioned it to the server, she told us she’d bring back extra bacon. I half expected a pile, but there were only 3 pieces. Cedric gave me one, so I was happy.

The “roasted campari tomatoes” described in the menu was, in fact, a lightly cooked single tomato (you can see it in the corner in the picture above). Though that was a little disappointing, the fingerling potatoes coated in parmesan were a hit.

Overall, my review of Norman Rudy’s is that it was fine and a convenient option if you’re staying at the hotel, but there are way better places to eat in Squamish.


All in all, it was a lot of fun playing tourist in our own town. We enjoyed every second of our little getaway. Shout out to the Squamish Chief for picking our entry and to the Sea to Sky Gondola and Executive Suites who sponsored the prize. Every person that we interacted with along the way was extremely nice. Oh, and get ready for a ton of Sea to Sky Gondola posts – I’m going to make the most of my new pass.


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Yukon Ho! Tombstone, Kluane, Alaska, Oh My!

In case you missed Part I of our Yukon Adventures, let me catch you up: we went to the Yukon, and it was awesome.

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Photo by Cedric

As much as I enjoyed our time in Whitehorse and Dawson City, the real reason we’d come to the Yukon was to explore the great outdoors. I’d heard Tombstone Territorial Park was incredible, and y’all – it did not disappoint.

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Photo by Cedric. See that winding road down below by the lake? That’s the Dempster.

Tombstone Territorial Park stretches along the Dempster Highway, its mountains flanking the infamous road that eventually leads to the Arctic Circle. We unknowingly timed our visit just right – early September meant that we’d caught the first days of fall foliage. It was pretty spectacular.

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Photo by Cedric.

However, our visit also coincided with Labour Day weekend. We had hoped to hike up to Grizzly Lake and spend a night camping out there, but you had to book the campsites online ahead of time – and they were already sold out by the time we looked. We’d heard that they save a few walk-on sites that you can nab the day of, so we made sure to head to the park’s information centre before it opened. Another guy had the same idea (he’d actually been working on getting the single coveted spot since the day before). He got the site – but in the end, it worked out just fine.

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Photo by Cedric.

We grabbed a drive-in “front country” campsite, then set out to hike the Grizzly Lake trail – or at least part of it. When I’d researched trails in the park, it looked like the options were somewhat limited. After speaking with the park rangers, we realized the opposite was true. Although there are few marked trails (similar to what we’re used to in Sea to Sky country), the potential for hiking is virtually limitless. You basically pick a mountain – of which there are many – and walk up it. Since you’re above the treeline, there isn’t much in your way. You basically choose your line and walk up. It’s steep, the ground is squishy, and the whole thing feels very Wild West.

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I was trying to hold hands but we couldn’t time it right with the self-timer feature…

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Photo by Cedric.

In the morning, we hiked about 3/5ths of the Grizzly Lake trail. It was beautiful – the climb was steady, but the views provided plenty of distraction.

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There’s an inspirational quote here somewhere… Photo by Cedric.

We headed back down, ate our usual camp fare in the car (PB & banana sandwiches), then drove up to a mountain on the opposite side of the highway. This one had a short trail, which provided access to countless choose-your-own-adventure lines. Cedric continued on to explore a ridge, while I hung back.

Fun fact about hiking with Magee: I loathe ridges.

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Photo by Cedric.

We spent the night back at our campsite, which had a river running alongside it – it made for a very peaceful backdrop. The campsite was pretty low frills (outhouses, fire pit, picnic table), but it had one major perk: free firewood! We hadn’t planned on making a campfire – I guess we had just accepted our local fire ban as permanent in our lives – so we didn’t have a hatchet or anything, but Cedric Macguyvered his way through a stack of wood and we enjoyed a cozy evening by the fire.

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I was worried that it would be freezing in the night, but we were well-equipped and it wasn’t so bad. I checked outside a couple of times in the night to see if I could catch the Northern Lights, but it was too cloudy. It ended up raining a bit overnight, and we woke up to see a dusting of snow on some of the surrounding mountaintops.

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Photo by Cedric.

After breakfast (PB & banana sandwiches… again), we drove all the way to the top edge of the park. We scoped out a potential hike, but it required a fairly wide river crossing, and though the water was pretty low, it was a little more effort than we were after. That might sound silly, but there were so many accessible mountains all around us – and they were virtually empty. There really was no need to make it harder than it was – although if you wanted to, you could certainly explore well beyond the highway. The mountains go on forever.

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Photo by Cedric. Squishy, squishy, squishy. Up, up, up.

We opted to walk up Angel Comb Mountain. The ground was squishy and bouncy and surprisingly delightful, but it was a steep ascent up the mountain – no switch backs through the trees here. We made it to one ridge, then I stayed put while Cedric continued on to explore another (sketchier, in my wussy opinion) ridge zone.

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Photo by Cedric.

In all, our time in Tombstone was short, but we definitely made the most of it. It’s one of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever witnessed – it definitely earned a place on my personal list of most impressive scenery in Canada.


The next morning, we continued our counter-clockwise tour of the Yukon. We hopped on the (free) ferry out of Dawson City and made our merry way through the segment of the highway they call the Top of the World. It is a mostly dirt road, and it is incredibly scenic – which is saying a lot, considering the whole darned territory is rather picture perfect. Regrettably, we didn’t take any photos along this stretch – but if you ever get the chance to drive it, do it!

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We crossed the border into Alaska, which meant two things: 1) the dirt road morphed into a perfectly paved road for a little while, and 2) we had our best wildlife encounter: a big old moose. My passenger seat snaps may not quite be worthy of a National Geographic spread, but oh well.

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We made a few stops in Alaska – such as checking out Chicken, AK to buy a chicken key chain and some fudge (at a store that boasted having the only flush toilets in town!), and having lunch in Tok – then after a long day of driving, we pulled into our destination for the night: Beaver Creek.

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Chicken, Alaska

Beaver Creek was not my favourite Yukon destination, so I’m just going to go ahead a gloss over it. If you can drive straight through it, you won’t be missing out on a whole lot (in my opinion) – but you will be missing out if you don’t stop at the Pine Valley creperie just past town. With a few exceptions, I found the food in Yukon to be just okay – but the creperie was a notable exception. It’s like somebody dropped a tiny French countryside bakery into the middle of the Yukon. We savoured every bite of our breakfasts (a quiche and a Nutella crepe), then bought a couple of tarts (apple and blueberry) for later. I also grabbed a jar of their homemade blueberry jam, and my only regret is not getting more.

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This was precisely the fuel we needed to power a visit to Kluane National Park. The views here are spectacular, and they feel radically different from Tombstone.

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Photo by Cedric.

We spied on mountain sheep with binoculars, then headed out to do a pretty and relatively mellow hike called Goat Creek (or something like that).

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Not a mountain goat, but I liked these little guys that we spotted around Kluane. Photo by Cedric.

It looks like many of Kluane’s most spectacular hikes are multi-day affairs, which didn’t jive with our schedule – but I have no doubt they’d be well worth doing. We’d contemplated hiking the King’s Throne at the south end of the park, which is meant to be wonderful, but were advised that the weather in that area was quite cloudy and windy, so we decided to take advantage of the clear skies where we could find them.

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The hike itself was pretty sheltered, but it was very windy when we got back down to the road. Observe Exhibits A and B: that’s all dust, baby!

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Exhibit A: Photo by Cedric.

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Exhibit B: Did somebody say SELFIE!

Eventually, we made our way back to Whitehorse, where we enjoyed another day (and another cinnamon pullapart pastry) until our late evening flight back to Squamish. Yukon, you were something else – I will be back!

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Photo by Cedric.