9,212m / 30,223ft. That’s the amount of vertical distance my legs carried me over a period of just over 1 week out in BC. This included a back-to-back 2 days of racing in the Squamish 50/50 event at the END of the trip, and a bunch of great hiking and running outings in the days leading up to the event. Perhaps not the exact prescription for a proper taper, but when I’m surrounded by mountains, and have time to take advantage of it, I do! Even better than that was the fact that I was sharing all the experiences with Deanna, who not only joined in on the hikes, but was tackling her first-ever 50 miler!! She didn’t exactly choose the easiest one to cut her teeth on, so it was going to be an interesting experience. Read on to hear all about our races.
Before we get into the meat of the race report, I wanted to take some time to write a post about the vacation part of the trip. Canada is an immense and beautiful country, and there are so many amazing places to visit. It will come as no surprise that being surrounded by mountains, the ocean, and lush forests, BC, and even just the areas around Vancouver, truly captivated me. More than once I imagined myself living there and being able to play in the surrounding trails all the time. On this trip, we at least got to experience a good cross-section of the adventuring opportunities around these parts, so read on to learn more about those adventures.
Touring Around Vancouver
While at the Sinister 7 I only gave my self a glorified long weekend for the endeavour, with Deanna joining me for Squamish 50, we made it a 10-day vacation giving us time to explore what is essentially the Greater Vancouver areas as far as Whistler. We’d originally had plans to make a huge car journey all the way into the Rockies, but given the ongoing wildfires, and the how long the drive might take, we instead opted to only venture a few hours in any direction from Vancouver.
Fresh off the plan on a Saturday, we decided to grab the rental car and head straight to Grouse Mountain to tackle the Grouse Grind, because, well, why not? An 800m vertical climb over a short distance was the perfect way to shake out the legs after a long flight. Our only stop was at a convenience to grab granola bars and nuts as a snack. I’ve gotta say, the Grind was really cool There are some impressively steep sections, and it really would be a challenge to run that trail. Ultimately, at a brisk hiking pace, my time was about 1 hour. I figured that with a real effort, I could break 40 minutes. At the top, we enjoyed the world famous Lumberjack Show, hiking trails, and the Grouse Grizzlies. To cap it off, cold beers on the observation deck watching the Vancouver Harbour far off below. Great introduction to the West Coast life.
The next morning, we got out of bed relatively early to make our way to the Sea Bus and head into downtown Vancouver. Destination? A bike rental store of course! The plan was to cycle all around the city and take in the sights and the suds of Vancouver. This included a great little ride on the trails of Stanley Park before making our way to Granville Island to explore and have our first brewery stop where we also had lunch. Afterwards, more cycling and awesome beer tastings at other breweries. My only regret was that we could hit them all! This was likely the worst weather of our whole trip, and even then wasn’t bad. Slightly chilly, with a little bit of rain early in the day, but all in all great conditions for a day of bumming around on bikes.
Golden Ears Park
After our two days of exploring Vancouver, it was time to get a little further from civilization. We’d managed to borrow a tent and cooler from our friends in North Vancouver that we had been staying with, so we packed up our mighty little rental car and made our way 2 hours away to Golden Ears Park. While only 2 hours by car, it might as well have been 20 hours. Once in the park, we were surrounded only by gorgeous mountains and forests, and had no cell signal. Perfect! Of course, it was car camping, so there were others not far from us, but we had a spacious site, so we definitely felt like we were in the zone.
We had 2 nights booked here, and due to our slightly late start, opted to explore shorter hikes on day 1. I pored over a few maps before settling on a trail that would lead us up a canyon and ultimately lead us to a remote rocky beach with great views and some waterfalls. HOWEVER, as we hiked on the wide, gravel ‘trail’, I was a bit wistful, as it felt too civilized. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a little trail sign to our right heading up a steep faint trail labelled ‘difficult’. I somehow convinced Deanna it would be a good idea to head that way, even though we had no map or idea where it went. But when the direction is up, it always looks good to me!
After fighting and scrambling our way up this really cool back-country trail, we eventually arrived at a little pond higher up. I consulted the topos I had on my GPS, and figured that the trail kept going a LOT higher up to a summit. However, we were ill-equipped, and that would have been a bit more than the ‘forest hike’ I”d promised Deanna. Reluctantly, I turned back and we headed back down, and followed the original trail to the sights I had planned. They were still very much worth it, and little did I know just how much the next day would make up for it!
Day 2 at Golden Ears we got up early for breakfast, since we were going to tackle the Golden Ears Summit trail, whcih headed up to amazing vistas of the entire region. We decided to make this a bit of a training run, and geared up with running backs and gear. We set out at a good ‘ultra’ pace, making our way along the early parts of the trail in good time, as it wasn’t too steep yet. There was a lot of climbing to be done, but it was back-weighted, with the final push including the steepest sections. Unfortunately, Deanna wasn’t feeling super well that day, and although she kept pushing, I could see that it was unlikely she’d be keen to do the entire summit route with me.
Ultimately, we emerged on a bit of a plateau area that gifted us with really impressive views already. For Deanna, this was enough climbing for the day, and she wanted to head back. For me, it meant a tough decision, as I *really* wanted to summit. Eventually, we decided that she’d hang out on the plateau while I tackled the last bit alone. Partly for safety, partly because Deanna wasn’t too keen descending the technical bits alone (and a bit paranoid about wildlife). As luck would have it, shortly after I took off (at a pretty good running pace), I crossed paths with a group of three fellows who had been trekking and camping up here for 4 days, and were heading back down. I secured their promise that they would convince Deanna to descend with them. The benefit was that she’d have company for the descent, and be able to take her time, and for me, it meant I could push harder, sumitting strong, then having a good run back down to [hopefully] catch back up to them before the base.
Friends, let me tell you, that final scramble (which included another 500m of vertical in a short distance) was AMAZING, and exactly what I needed. I felt free, and was having a true adventure. I lost the trail on a snowfield, and ended up heading part way up another summit before realizing my error (I was packing a GPS with topos). The last push included pure scrambling, requiring hands and feet at some points. The reward was having my sandwich on the summit, surrounded by amazing views as I watched clouds swirling in a bit. The weather had been amazing, but I didn’t want to push my luck too long, so after about 10 minutes on the summit, I turned tail and started the super-fun scramble / run back down the trail. It took a long time before I finally caught up to the rest of the crew far below, and was happy to see Deanna feeling much better. Another hiker had been kind enough to give her some pain killers, and they’d kicked in for the descent.
As a result, after coming out at another vantage point with the trio of hikers, we opted to start running again, to make it back to camp before too late in the day (as it was, we were on track for supper time anyway). We had a great run down, and thanks to having tired myself out with the summit bid, we had a similar pacing all the way down. Before finally wrapping up, we stopped at a water crossing to cool off our muscles. Yowza! Alpine waters sure are effective at cooling you off. What sweet relief! We enjoyed the warm sun, cold water, and good company for a bit before running the final few kms to camp. All told, my day saw me cover 20km and Over 2,000m of climbing. It was a memorable way to cap off our camping in Golden Ears!
Playing Tourist in Squamish
After another nice night camping in perfect conditions, we got up early once again to have breakfast, break camp, and make our way to the Squamish area. After, all, we had plans waiting for us there already! I’d been fortunate enough to work with Tourism Squamish on setting up a fun 2-day itinerary, and Day 1 had us heading up a mountain the easy way, climbing on said mountain the easy way, and of course, enjoying views and suds up there. If you’re looking for the TL;DR version, scroll to the bottom now, and you can watch the video I put together of our Squamish adventures.
The first adventure was heading up the Sea to Sky Gondola, which whisks people up from the base of the mountain near Howe Sound to high up in the mountains. Of course there are really nice hiking trails to make that journey, but given the previous day’s hike, and the looming race in 2 days, I reluctantly agreed to the gondola. It was FUN! At the top, there are another series of trails, with a mix of family-friendly hikes, up to more advanced trails to head further into the mountains. Again, tempting as it was, I’d promised Deanna a more ‘taper-like’ day. So after strolling all the family trails, the amazing Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, and marveling at the views from the main observation deck AND the platform on Panorama Trail, we were ready for another adventure.
That adventure? Why the Via Ferrata on the mountain of course! I’ve been wanting to try one of these for a long time, so I jumped at the chance. We ended up being the only folks taking part in the late afternoon group, so we had the guide all to ourselves and spend as much time playing on the granite face while securely attached. I’m pretty sure in the world of Via Ferratas this is one of the ‘easier’ ones, but the guide was good at giving me options to make it more challenging. This included me not using the rungs for my feet for most of it, and also tackling the final section without any use of the included aid, making it more like pure climbing. It was truly a fun experience, and a unique way to take in some of the spectacular views. Of course, as you can guess, we capped things off by enjoying beers and watching the day waning around us, as it was late afternoon.
Amazingly, we learned that a mere week ago, they had NO views around here. The wildfires had brought very poor air quality. We saw pictures of days where you couldn’t even see Howe Sound below, and the sun was a mere orange blob obscured by smoke. We were so fortunate, as just as we had arrived in the area a few days ago, there had just been some rain, and the air completely cleared up. We had SPECTACULAR conditions!
Once we made it back to the bottom, we checked out the now-deserted Shannon Falls with amazing sunset colours playing on the cliff faces before heading to our hotel. We stayed in the Sandman Hotel, which had an amazing 2+ storey waterslide in the pool area. After playing on that for a while, and relaxing in the hot tub, it was off to sleep to rest of the next day. For our last day before getting race-ready, we opted to go tandem kayaking on the Howe Sound. I don’t think conditions could have been better!
The funniest part of the paddle was our guide. Why? Well, because I actually knew him. As in, I had suffered with him in a multi-day race. It was none other than Eduardo from Costa Rica, a fellow I’d raced the Gaspesie Adventure with a few years before! I didn’t even clue in that he lived in the region. It was great catching up with him as we slid across the water to arrive at Galileo Coffee, no doubt one of the highlights of the day for Deanna to have a delicious coffee! I was happy for it as well, as it meant she couldn’t get too annoyed by the fact that the rest of the day would be spent touring the 3 local breweries! However, before that, it was off to a locals’ favourite spot for lunch, Mag’s 99 Fried Chicken and Mexican Cantina, and yes, it was as awesome as you might imagine!
After a filling lunch, we wrapped up the tourist experience by visiting all three of the local breweries, meeting the brewmasters, and sampling their wares. After Backcountry Brewing and A-Frame Brewing, our final stop was Howe Sound Brewing, which for some reason treated us like royalty! Eduardo actually joined us there as well, and we stayed well into the night enjoying delicious food and flights of beer. We bumped into a few other racers as well who wanted to chat about the upcoming race. All in all, a fantastic way to cap off a couple days being a tourist in Squamish. It’s safe to say I’d love to spend more time there (retire there perhaps??). One more night at the Sandman before changing gears, moving locations, and getting ready for the races! But, to hear the tales of that, you’ll need to read the actual race report instead!