Last month I was lucky enough to travel to Victoria (British Columbia), to attend and present at the annual meeting of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Despite common misconceptions, academics do have to work hard to create such opportunities, but when they do arise we have it good. Indeed beside work, it was also a chance to squeeze in a ‘micro adventure’ and catch up with an old friend.
Flying into Vancouver you are met with wonderfully modern architecture juxtaposed with the nearby snow capped coastal mountains. In addition the 3286m Mount Baker, found over the boarder in the North Cascades national park, dominates the south eastern skyline. For lovers of the outdoors, it’s quite a striking first impression. Once through the airport I was headed due north to Squamish, a small town billed as the outdoor capital of Canada.
Hopping on the bus headed to Whistler, the famous ski resort a little further north of Squamish, we contoured along the coast, until the Garibaldi national park came into view and it was time to hop off. The scale of the backcountry out here is pretty overwhelming to a British hillwalker – it’s big! I was met by my old university mate and climbing/hillwalking partner Jo. My home for the night was to be Jo’s van, which he lives in close to his workplace in the town. We said our greetings and swung out onto the open road, headed for a small ‘spit’ jutting out into the surrounding estuary. This was just what I needed to counter the jet lag. Fresh air, sunlight and an early night.
The plan was to have a wander up the Stawamus Chief, a 700m granite monolith which dominates the nearby waters of Howe sound where we were parked up for the night. Jo told me it’s often used as a training ground before folks head off to Yosemite to target bigger fish such as half dome and El cap. My rock climbing days were over, so it was to be a simple hike. We had some food and settled in for the night. From grey London to the backcountry of British Columbia, it had been a whirlwind few hours.
With no sign of jet lag the next morning we were up and about early, feeding a local kite surfers dog some scraps of our fried breakfast, and soaking up views of the early morning sun kissed Howe Sound. We were headed to the chief, and to take in all three of it’s slightly spread out summit’s, uninspiringly named peak one, two and three…
We headed for the tourist track which winds it way steeply up the side of the granite dome. We passed through a wooded area, which reminded me of the famous camp four in Yosemite, with lots of slacklines and climbing ‘hobos’ about. I quickly learnt that not only was the path steep and unrelenting from the outset, but my lowland fitness, forged in a comfortable and heated office, was not quite up to scratch. Jo sped off at a demon pace, perhaps unaware that over the last decade that whilst he had spent his time skiing and climbing in Chamonix, I had spent the large part sitting at a desk trying to forge a career in academia. A stark reminder of which path I should have chosen.
Over the next hour I hauled myself ever upwards, pulling on the in-situ chains for the scrambley parts when required, until we strode onto the summit to spectacular views of the surrounding Garibaldi national park and coastal mountains. My first north American peak, and my first time up a free-standing ‘El Cap’ style granite dome. After a quick lunch on the summit we headed towards peak two. Jo tried to convince me to take an old ‘guide’s route, which looked decidedly exposed to large drops, and made use of in situ ladders, to which I rather ashamedly chickened out. As I haven’t rock climbed regularly since around 2008, my head for heights has got progressively worse. Exposure nowadays leads to wobbly legs, as I also found out in the Alps last summer. The second humbling of the day had taken place.
With my pride somewhat dented we made our way down to the tree line and up again via the long way to the top of peak two. After that we decided to miss out peak three and head back down so that I could make it back to Vancouver in time for the evening ferry over to Vancouver island and the conference. Despite my poor fitness I’d packed a huge amount into less than 24 hours in the backcountry of British Columbia. It’s an amazing place and the sheer scale, number and quality of vast woodland areas and mountains makes it a must visit destination for the outdoor lover. My time there was short and sweet, but I importantly caught up with a great old friend, and received a good reality check on my current fitness and risk taking skills. We all need a good kicking from time to time…