Monday, July 15, 2013

Where Eccentrics Abound: 3 of 3

Crazy, odd-ball characters are drawn to Squamish like sailers to a bordello. My three-day stay was brightened by encounters with the most unusual and delightful types. There was Crosby Johnston, a mountain guide, who climbs with his dog Suzie on his back. John Furneaux, who has scaled Mount Everest three times, hitchhiked from Newfoundland to Squamish at age 15 and then lived in caves, storage containers, cars and tents while training to become a mountain guide. (These two are described two posts ago.)

I bumped into Hevy, a local eccentric and a lifelong climber, as he was cycling to the local café. He was easily recognizable by his pink ponytail. He explained how he introduced slacklining, like walking a tightrope, to Squamish and every year hosts a slackline festival for this burgeoning sport.

But one character stood out above the rest: internationally renowned extreme sportsman, Tim Emmett. A formidable athlete, he is a daredevil
climber, BASE jumper, wing-suit flyer and ice climber. Oh, and he also excels at solo deep diving, surfing, kite boarding and much more. Over dinner, he bubbled with enthusiasm as he explained why Squamish is the world’s best place to live. “The Chief and mountains are terrific and I can pursue all my favourite activities here.” He avoided direct answers but the rumour mill says he’s  jumped off the Chief with his wingsuit and a parachute … several times. My jaw dropped as he described his next project: to paddleboard down the Little Nahani River in the Northwest Territories. One section consists of a narrow 18-km canyon with grade 3-4 rapids. En route he plans to climb and BASE jump from the Vampire Spires and the Cirque of Unclimbables. When asked about his training, he smiled and responded, “I went paddleboarding for the first time yesterday.”

I heard about Will Standhope, a young star climber who is so talented — and confident — that he often climbs solo. A climbing party was scaling a difficult wall using the usual ropes and protective devices when Standhope casually climbed past them without any rope, harness or protection. The climbers just about fell off in astonishment.

Jim Sinclair is a Squamish legend who put up many first routes on the Chief. Two years ago, at age 78, he suffered a heart attack while climbing and had to be rescued. Unperturbed, he continues to climb today.

Squamish is one crazy place. I love it!

Great Places to Nosh in Squamish
Pepe and Gringo's
Watershed  Grill
Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company:

Hiking the Chief: 2 of 3

I was a man on a mission. With the sun glistening from a cloudless sky, conditions were perfect to tackle the famous Stawamus Chief, which towers over the town of Squamish, and offers one of the most popular — and strenuous — hikes in BC.

To warm up, I visited neighbouring Shannon Falls, the third tallest in BC. Rounding a bend, a view of the entire 335-m waterfall appeared with massive cascades of water tumbling down the cliff. The viewing area reverberated from the immense power of the seething water and an enormous roar rolled over the forest. I felt very small.

Next, the Chief. Within minutes, I was soaked in sweat. It was hard work. The path seemed almost vertical. Lactic acid bubbled in my thighs and my boots felt like anvils. I settled into a slow, rhythmic pace and after a while, surprise, I discovered my aging body was adjusting. With gasping breath I began to enjoy the primordial west-coast rain forest as I headed for the second of three peaks. Rough-hewn granite steps and wooden stairs led endlessly higher, past cliffs and boulders and gullies, all immersed in towering cedars and pines. Here and there, roots lay ominously on the path like tangles of snakes. Whenever the path approached a stream, an urgent roar filled the air. Frequently, I passed groups heading downhill.

At one spot, a giant isolated boulder perched in a clearing with magnificent views onto snow-capped mountains. I chatted with a couple from Switzerland. “The mountains here are so much more rugged and wild than back home,” they enthused. A rocky gully led to the final approach. My legs were like mush. On a series of steep pitches my fingers clutched and strained on the fixed, metal chains.

Finally, I was at the top and my aching thighs were instantly forgotten. In the clear azure sky I could see forever. Log booms floated in the estuary far below. Tiny people perched on peak one. Squamish was laid out in geometric precision and grand, towering mountains swept the northern horizon. The hard slog was well rewarded.

I descended on protesting legs, and soon was ensconced in the comfort of the Howe Sound Brew Pub. We recounted adventures while sampling MegaDestroyer Licorice Stout (10% alcohol!), Wee Beastie Scotch Ale and Devils Elbow IPA. Great names, great beer and a great day!

Wanna Hike the Chief?
- Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

High on the Mighty Chief: 1 of 3

The Chief, reputedly the second largest hunk of granite on the planet, stares down on the town of Squamish with a continual, hulking presence like a giant powerful god. In worshipful obeisance, townspeople and visitors clamber over this immense rock, striving to reach the Nirvana of its three peaks. Many hike the trails to the top, but the truly faithful take ropes and assail the vertical front walls. Rock climbing has become an obsession in Squamish. And the mighty Chief offers one of the best challenges in the world.

Checking into the Howe Sound Brewery and Inn, a hangout for local climbers, I quickly fell under the spell of the Chief. John Furneaux, one of Canada’s top mountain guides, who has scaled Mount Everest three times, explained how the magic captured him. “I grew up in Newfoundland, but from the age of 12 the Chief and surrounding mountains called to me. At 15, I hitchhiked across the country and then spent five years becoming a guide. It’s the best thing I could ever have done. I love this life.” As we scrambled over the rough terrain at the base of the Chief, John pointed out various routes. We watched climbers like ants hanging precariously high on the sheer walls.
Next morning I went for a climb with a friendly mutt named Suzie. We both clambered into harnesses and roped up at Smoke Bluffs in a Squamish suburb under the watchful eye of Crosby Johnston of Altus Mountain Guides. Without hesitation, Suzie jumped onto Crosby’s back, who then gracefully ascended up a near-vertical cliff called Neat and Cool. A total novice, I followed with painstaking ineptitude, jamming my fingers into cracks, scraping my knees and clinging desperately to anything resembling a hold. But I made it. What a high! I was a convert!
The popularity of climbing was demonstrated by six girls, one only 10 years old, from the
Rock Wall Climbing Gym in Vancouver. They hiked past carrying ropes and helmets, resolutely eyeing the higher pitches.

Matt Lucas, a powerfully built man in his thirties, has been key to establishing a climbing gym co-operative in Squamish and also runs a tea shop (his favourite tea: single-estate Assam). Matt explained that bouldering has become immensely popular in the past decade. “It requires less equipment than climbing and boulders abound at the base of the Chief. I love the fun and the comradery.”

Later at the pub, I sipped a Devils Elbow IPA, swapped yarns and couldn’t wait to get roped up again.

Wanna Get Roped Up?
- Meet John Furneaux:
- Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company:
- Altus Mountain Guides:
- More Info: