Whoever came up with the phrase “The Great Outdoors” must surely have been standing somewhere in the Pacific North West. It has an unequaled mix of forests and mountains and snow peaks that make it truly beyond comparison. It’s hardly surprising that this is what makes it one of the most sought after destinations for the world’s hardcore outdoor fanatics.
I’m not one of those. Whilst I love the adrenaline that comes from a reasonable amount of non-life-threatening adventure, I was never a big hiker or explorer. Yet, somehow, I still managed to find myself at the bottom of the infamous Stawamus Chief getting ready to ascend.
The Chief is one of the most famous hikes in Canada. Located en-route to Whistler, the famous winter sport resort, it is flocked by crowds of people each year looking to concur it’s great height. Named for a nearby village, it is immersed in the history of the local people of the area. In total the Chief has 3 peaks, with the First being the most popular. The ascent to the very top is about 700m.
The start of this hike is arguably one of the best parts, as you get to pass by a beautiful natural waterfall called Shannon Falls. The sound of the fierce, gushing water and the smell of the luscious greenery creates an almost meditative atmosphere as you move away from the nearby highway and sounds of passing cars.
My limited experience of hiking in the UK is that our hills are often slow burners. The incline usually ascends quite slowly so you get a chance to acclimatise. The great thing about hiking The Chief is that you ascend very quickly. This is achieved by the many, many sets of man-made staircases which greet you at the start of your hike. This is no slow meet-and-greet. This hike is full on from the start and it becomes obvious straight away why people use this as an outdoor gym.
Despite there being numerous other climbers and there being quite a few signs, we managed to miss the turn off for the First Peak. We only realised this when we noticed the crowds begin to peter off (though more than one dog impressively charged away in front of us!). The reason for the smaller crowds became quite apparent when we were confronted with ladders and chains hooked into the rock face, by which you have to pull yourself up and along. My soccer-playing cousin and Body Combat-practicing friend admitted that even they found this tough going. I’d still be up there if my cousin hadn’t used his shoulder to propel me upwards at certain difficult junctures. More than a little upper arm strength is required but having patience and a strong team member makes this achievable if you aren’t rushed.
As it turned out, our wrong turn was the best mistake we could have made. The view from the Second Peak of the famous turquoise glacier water and the expanse of blue-green trees was phenomenal. It was only surpassed by the pride I felt seeing those sitting lower down on the First Peak and realising how far we’d come.
Though we managed to set our own pace on the way up, our descent was far more hazardous. The path had become much busier and we were almost pushed down the trail by a particularly enthusiastic school group. This is something to look out for as this is a hugely popular tourist destination. Going first thing in the morning is the best way to avoid feeling rushed.
But our reward was in sight. A short distance from Shannon Falls we bought a ticket to take a ride to the top of the hill beside The Chief. The trip is taken on the newly-opened Sea to Sky Gondola, which attracts people to see the high-top views without having to complete any treacherous hikes.
The Chief was conquered. The site of the bar at the Gondola Visitor Centre was almost enough to make me forget my aching muscles. We rested and ate and gave apologetic looks to those who sat beside us who hadn’t just endured a three hour climb. We even managed a saunter over the brilliant suspension bridge, which Canadians always seem to excel in engineering. The great workout, the challenge and the bragging rights made scaling The Chief worth every slip, scratch and struggle to overcome my desire to turn back. This is an absolute must for anyone passing through North Vancouver.
Find out more about the Sea to Sky Gondola on their website
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