Saturday, May 23, 2009
NOT a walk in the park
If you love the mountains or you love hiking, you'll love British Columbia. They are all around. That's why we love it here. Supernatural British Columbia indeed!
Hiking is one of my favourite outdoor activities. My hubby enjoys it too and has gone to more hiking trails around here. Hiking is a good form of exercise, brings us close to nature, provides scenic views, and is free (except for minimal parking fees in some places).
Very early today, my husband and I drove about 1.5 hours to Squamish, north of Vancouver. We wanted to hike up Stawamus Chief, "the second largest granite monolith in the world" according the the BC Parks website. It was a lovely morning. The forecast was sunny, ideal for spending the day outside.
We arrived at the Shannon Falls National Park while the sun was still at the other side of the mountain. It was still very chilly.
Walking from Shannon Falls to Stawamus Chief National Park next to it.
Just before entering the forest, we saw this warning sign:
"Caution: This is NOT a walk in the park. Many hikers have been rescued from this trail. Lost hikers. Injured hikers. Hikers stranded after dark..."
"Not very comforting," I muttered. "At least they were rescued," MrB replied.
"The trail is extremely rough," the sign continued. "Steep stairs and ladders. Slippery rocks and roots. Short sections requiring the use of hands. Drop-offs and cliff edges..."
Good there was no mention of bears. I fear heights but I fear bears much more.
I felt slightly uneasy as we entered the forest. There was no else except me and hubby. Where are the hikers?
We reached a wooden bridge by the waterfalls and stopped for some photo shoot. I remembered this place. We had been here before. So this was leading to Stawamus? We did not go very far at that time because Gabriel and Markus were still quite young. I felt it was not safe for their age.
After this point, we started seeing more people. They came up from a different trail starting from the Stawamus Chief parking lot perhaps. I was glad to see them.
The hike became more and more difficult. I stopped often to catch my breath. I told my husband to go ahead and just wait up for me every now and then. I didn't want to rush myself.
As a precaution I walked with other hikers who were about as slow as myself like those two men in their 60s who were chattering all the way up. Their conversation, which I couldn't help overhearing, took my mind off the trail.
The trail is mostly rocky after the waterfalls.
When faster hikers caught up with me, I stepped aside and let them pass. "Good morning," they greeted me. Sometimes they said, "Thank you." I got several greetings mostly from men, old and young alike. What a polite bunch these Canadians.
Whenever we came across a good viewpoint, we stopped to rest and soak in the sights and sounds.
We were not even one-third of the way to the first summit and I was already exhausted. I was sweating. I did not expect the trail to be that difficult. It was not as steep as the Grouse Grind but the trail was "extremely rough" indeed.
When we reached a junction, we decided to take the trail to the first summit, which was closer. We thought we would do the second summit later. I overheard some guys saying that the first summit was just around the corner. First summit it is!
"I thought it was just around the corner," I told hubby after we had been walking a long time with still no sight of our destination. Must be a corner in mountain terms.
The last third of the trail posed a different challenge. Twice we had to hold on to chains to help us climb. We also climbed two ladders. "The view up there better be worth all these," I said.
Finally, we saw the Howe Sound and snow-capped mountains from a distance. The sight was breathtaking. Definitely worth the hard climb!
But we still had a section to climb. The rocks have disappeared. Instead, it was just one massive rock that we need to scale to get to the top. The surface was rough so traction was good. But there was hardly anything to hold on to. A little unnerving especially for someone who doesn't like heights. Can't go back now.
As we reached the summit, we were thrilled by the scenery. Really awesome! We found a nice place to sit and enjoyed it all.
Even though we were nicely seated on a safe spot, I tried hard not to imagine falling off the cliff. Occasionally, I felt my knees tremble as I watched people walk around as if the summit was flat or just a few feet from the ground. How can they get close to the edge? That is so not safe.
After having climbed for about two hours, we were not about to come down so soon. We decided to linger, eat our packed food--beef jerky, trail mix and burger sandwiches. I even did a sketch of the Second Peak across from where we were.
I had another reason for not wanting to go down yet. I was still mustering the courage to do so. I wanted to get used to the heights. I wish there were a helicopter that can take us down. Or a gondola...
After more than an hour, we were ready for the descent. I was encouraged by the number of people going up or down, including children. But I was glad we did not bring our own children or things would have been different. I would have been freaking out if they wandered farther than 10 feet from me. Don't go there!...Come back here...Stay away from the cliff!!!
I found going downhill more difficult than going up. I struggled with the ladders. "How many more steps?" I kept asking as I very slowly brought each foot lower.
I felt the pressure on my knees, legs and feet. I could feel them shaking. I thought I was going to have foot cramps at some point. Fortunately, I did not.
Along the way, we saw a guy who was rock climbing. I stopped for a while to watch what he was doing. This is something I can never do and would never have done even in my youth.
After hiking down more than two kilometres, we were back in Shannon Falls Park. We were exhausted. We spread out a mat on the grass and laid down. Aaaahhh, this is so good! The Second Peak will be for another time.
My legs and body will probably be very sore tomorrow and the day after, but that's all right. We had a good hike. It gave us a high!
I don't think I would want to go hiking again within the next month. Not this kind anyway. For now, I will be happy just to take a walk in the park.