In this journal:
- I drag kayaks over a beaver dam;
- a waterfall made with straight lines;
- a train crash in the middle of the woods.
Anyone who has been to Vancouver would be familiar with the nonsensical words like “Squamish” and “Whistler”. Besides being perfectly terrible names to give to your newborn, they are also the places along the world-famous Sea-to-Sky Highway that marks the truly unbeatable spot of Vancouver as a top-of-the-line travel destination. Yet, most believe Whistler is just a ski-resort that has gotten too big for its own good, I am here to embark on a short roadtrip to prove otherwise. Behold my second time ever going to Whistler down below, and let me show you some non-frozen activities that can be performed in the summer, or in the winter if you are certified insane.
Ready to have some slightly-above-average fun? No? Let’s hit the road then!
Sea to Sky
Passing West Vancouver, it was officially Sea-to-Sky highway, normally plowed by German retirees who are spending way too much money on crumbling rental RV’s. This year, thanks to a bat boiling in a soup, there were no visitors on the road. The first point of interest is Porteau Cove, a small headland jutting out into the fjord of Howard Sound. A small ferry bay used to stand here, but today this now-defunct pier houses the best diving location in the vincinity, as well as a campsite for some peace and quiet, if one can look past the constant traffic.
A few kilometers down is the tiny settlement of Britannia Beach, complete with a large copper mine that is turned into an overpriced museum. Don’t be fooled, though. It is also home to a rather uninteresting beach despite its name, but the view from the train tracks is definitely something worth stopping for.
And as one starts climbing up the fjord-side mountains, he can truly begin to appreciate the idea of “sea-to-sky.” The twisty mountain road is sandwiched right between the sheer cliffs and the deep waters, with numerous snow-capped mountains in the backdrop, enveloping the entire sky with a coat of white. Few places in the world gets to enjoy this kind of serene explosion of prue bliss, not to mention this sight is merely half an hour away from all the modern conveniences that Vancouver can provide, such as comically large spatulas or bubble tea.
The “sea” part of the road ends at Squamish, which houses the famous Shannon Falls that is one of the must-stops on the road. It is one of the biggest waterfalls in the entire country, dropping over 100 meters from the granite rock faces that are the claims to fame in the region. Above photo is in August when the water was low and steady, and the below photo is another one I took in early spring that completely defaces the, uh, rock face!
Next to the waterfall is the not-so-must-see Sea to Sky Gondola, not because it has a drop-dead gorgeous view from its glass-filled top, or because of its seemingly neverending cluster of instagram-hungry infuencers, but because of its insanely overpriced tickets. (thanks overseas visitors!) Passing the mostly industrial town of Squamish, the road continues down the alpine forest, climbing higher and higher, eventually reaching Brandywine Falls, a few kilometers away from Whistler proper. A short trail leads from the parking lot to the train tracks, and then across the canyon to the viewing platform. If you are adventurous enough, you can also climb down the cliffs and take a look of this beautiful waterfall from a much more exhilerating angle.
The water has always been steady here in the waterfall, like a tipped over bottle of brandy that is extradimensionally connected to a gigantic barrel, like the one I witnessed in Heidelberg. Millenia of erosion has carved out a hole at the bottom, making the waterfall particularly gorgeous, thanks to the lack of rocks at the back, creating a sense of space.
River of Golden Dreams
Whistler is a town that stands on top of the definition of “ski resort”, so uninspiring in its own right that its most fascinating fact is about its unusually large McDonald’s. However, I am determined to show you some activities that can be done that is not as boring as getting a disappointing Big Mac™, well, at least things I could accomplish with a huge family in tow. Why don’t you join me on a leisurely row of a kayak through the deep Alta Lake onto the River of Golden Dreams?
A rental company gladly provided me with a kayak along with a collection service at the end of the ride. The mouth of the lake marks the beginning of this romantically named river. The water is shallow and the flow is gentle, so it was the perfect location to slowly drift down the crystal-clear river underneath the crystal-clear sky. Numerous animals found themselves at home here, and so did I.
One can easily see through the bottom of the river to the abundant aquatic vegetation undergrowth. They clinged ever-so-hardly at the mud, resisting the waterflow, bending themselves into bushes of straight lines pointing towards the other side of the ride. However, this quiet ride was not destined for long…
Just a few hundred meters down this dream of gold, a large beaver dam stopped our path. Why can’t Canada’s favorite rodent find something better to do other than blocking an entire river to facilitate their living rooms? Fine, fine. I got off the kayak, hopped onto this ledge full of broken branches covered with teeth marks, and quickly dragged every other member of the party over. Just Canadian life, eh?
And just another few hundred meters down, the water got too quick for my elderly mother to control the kayak, so I instructed the folks to pull up their palindrome (not racecar, I cannot afford that) and proceed to portage downstream for a bit. It is a strange kind of strange when you have to drag a kayak across a railroad under the mountainous sun while being reminded by cyclists to remain socially distanced, but hey my entire life is riddled with this kind of experience, so… hooray?
And a few beaver dams later, we reached the other side of the ride. This is definitely one of the more interesting rowing experiences in my life. Unlike th leisurely strokes of Moraine Lake, this is more adventuresome and definitely more wild. Up next is a small hidden hike, to a place rather juxtaposing.
Just a few minutes’ drive out of the Tim Hortons that serves way better coffee than McDonalds (please someone at Timmie’s sponsor me thanx), a small pull-out leads to a hidden road where logging trucks had crushed a smooth road out of gravel. The parkade led to a 20 minute hike through the dense alpine forest, all the way to a roaring river. The other side sits a eerily colorful spectacle.
Before the construction of the suspension bridge, it was illegal to access this train wreck because it involved walking on active tracks. That is why it attracted delinquents of nearby communities to paint all over these metal boxcars of the bygone era, full of romantic things like retro-swing-dancing, formal tea parties, and casual racism. Good times, good times! The punk-industrial subjects formed a jarring opposite from the natural backdrop, resulting in stunning photos, because, ya know, for a Chinese group of families that is the most important aspect of any sight.
But wait, how did these metal scraps end here in the first place? Well, my inquisitive yet imaginary reader, it was again a tale of human to err. 1956, a freighter train heading south from Lillooet passed by this area, which was under construction. The train was running behind schedule, and the engineer wanted to catch up some time, completely forgetting trains are unlike cars: they can’t drift past corners. They clocked an impressive 35mph in a 15mph zone, and the entire train derailed. Three carriages were stuck in the rocks, and were forcefully flipped over into the forest in order to facilitate the cleaning of the aftermath, and they remained here ever since, serving a new life as the least educational train crash of all time. Oh yeah, it is also now a bike park for some of the most daring young locals who wish to get fast-tracked to enjoy our wonderfully gratis medical system.
Second Chance Warrented
Indeed, Whistler was a fun place, if you can look over the fact that everything was so drastically overpriced. Luckily, in summer, and during a global pandemic, it was not as big of an issue, and I am glad to check out this town again after a rather unfavorable adolescence encounter. Maybe every place has the charms that deserve to be re-evaluated with more sophistication, and maybe we all need a second chance meeting, under the steel, hollow sky.