Sunday, March 17, 2013

Squishing and Squelching in Squamish – Day 1: Up the Chief

My three-day getaway to Squamish, the drive-through town on the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler, didn’t turn out quite as I planned. Clouds and mist blanketed the mountains. Water cascaded from the heavens. It was wet, humid and grey.

But I was committed. After checking in, I headed off to settle a score with an old acquaintance. Every time I drove through Squamish, passing under the shadow of the great hulking mass of granite called the Chief, I promised him I would return and hike to the summit. Today was the day.

Within minutes of starting up the trail, I was soaked. And then it became hard work, very hard. The path seemed almost vertical. Lactic acid bubbled in my thighs and my soggy hiking boots felt like anvils. I settled into a slow, sodden slog and after a while, surprise, I discovered the climb had its own ethereal beauty. I was surrounded by lush, dripping primordial forest, granite walls glistened with water, roots lay ominously on the path like tangles of snakes and rough-hewn granite boulders formed steps that led endlessly higher.

Water was the dominant theme, dripping from branches, lying in spattered puddles under every footstep and pouring in sheets down sheer granite walls. And whenever the path approached a stream, there was an urgent roar of white cascading power, thundering down the steep mountain side.

As I approached the summit, snow patches appeared. My fingers clutched the wet, fixed, metal ladders and chains that provided passage over the steepest, slippery portions. Then I was at the top and, amazingly, the rain stopped for a minute. Everything was shrouded in clouds and mist, like a mysterious funeral wake for spirits and ghosts. It was dramatic, edgy and awe-inspiring.

I descended under protesting, fatigue-laden legs, careful, ever so careful, not to tumble on the slippery granite slabs.

After a long, languorous shower, I left my hiking clothes spinning in the dryer and joined friends in the comfort of the Howe Sound Brew Pub. My weary muscles relaxed, and I recounted my adventures as we sampled MegaDestroyer Licorice Stout (10% alcohol!), Wee Beastie Scotch Ale, Three Beavers Red Ale and Devils Elbow IPA. Great names, great beer and a great day!

If You Go
- The Chief trailhead is off Highway 99 at the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.
- More info at the Adventure Centre (corner of #99 and Cleveland) &
- Howe Sound Brew Pub, 37,801 Cleveland Avenue:
- Executive Suites Hotel, 40900 Tantalus Road:

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