Whistler and Squamish - Mountain Bike Paradise
With Bella Coola in our rearview mirror, we set our sights on Whistler and Squamish in lower British Columbia. These areas are famous for both their unrivaled skiing (hosted the Winter Olympics) and, more relevant to us, the mountain biking. See, since the dawn of mountain biking, both Whistler and Squamish have been on the forefront of the MTB scene. Superstars and pioneers such as Wade Simmons, Brett Tippie, and Richie Schley all hailed from the region. Without their contributions we may have never been introduced to freeriding, been inspired to pedal downhill bikes uphill, or experienced the back wrenching pain of a huck to flat. What Hollywood is to acting, British Columbia is to mountain biking, so you might be able to understand my excitement at finally being able to make it after 20 years of dreaming.
Before we arrived in Whistler however, we stopped in the lovely town of Pemberton. Pemberton is 45 or so minutes north of Whistler and just so happened to be hosting an adorable farmer's market the day we rolled through. Ashley and I spent a good hour and a half browsing the various stands, listening to music, and salivating over all of the gorgeous, fresh produce being offered for sale. This is where we were first introduced to Whistler Elixir, a local purveyor of very tasty kombucha. We highly recommend looking them up if you are in the Whistler area and trying their ginger flavor, its delicious! Anyway, we found ourselves walking away with an armful of root vegetables which made the most delicious roasted vegetable medley for dinner that night.
Whistler itself is centralized around the village. The village is a collection of hotels, shops, and restaurants located at the bottom of the mountain, and is the main hub of activity in the area. Luckily we arrived during the Fall shoulder season, but it was still pretty hopping with late season mountain bikers and tourists milling about. We probably spent a good couple of days combined wandering about the village, people watching and taking in the sights. Of course we weren't there solely to experience the village life, and before long we found ourselves perusing the mountain bike rentals hoping to score a couple of steeds for the day and get in some miles on the trails.
That is where Arbutus Routes came in handy, providing us with a couple of rental Yeti bikes for the day (an SB5+ and a SB100) and a trail map with suggested routes. Being that Ashley is more of a novice, we skipped the chairlift and instead focused on the Whistler village trails, a dizzying network of singletrack that weaves through the woods amongst the various area attractions. After only a little bit of climbing, we found ourselves in complete solitude with nothing but the buzz of our hubs piercing the silence. We hit trail after trail, navigating wooden bridges and single track with smiles on our faces. Now, the thing about Whistler is they have trails for almost anyone. Even Ashley, who can get intimidated when trails get too steep, narrow, or rocky, found herself pleasantly challenged by area. We made the most of it, zipping around and taking full advantage of our half day rentals. The trails live up to their renown and we would highly recommend giving them a shot.
With some pedal time under our belts, we decided to get in a little bit of hiking in as well. For this, we chose to do the Brandywine Falls trail plus a little bit extra. Brandywine was a cool little stroll, but owing to it only being 0.7 miles from the parking lot was rather crowded, which, if you know either of us know that is not our speed. So we decided to tack on a few more miles and ventured up the Sea to Sky trail to the Whistler Bungee Bridge. Unfortunately, people had stopped jumping for the day, so we weren't treated to any of that, but it was still a neat stroll through the woods.
The other fun thing about Whistler was how spectacular the dog park is. Despite being a little bit out of the way, it is located along the shores of the beautiful Alta Lake. An extra little bit of excitement was injected into our evening when we spied a shy black bear foraging in the bushes for berries. We left him alone and he was courteous enough to do the same. The dogs romped around for a bit before we coaxed them out onto the dock to do a sunset photo shoot. Being dogs, they just wanted to play, and spent most of the shoot trying to jump off the dock into the water. Typical of a dog's life, but we got a few pictures none the less before the alpenglow disappeared.
It was in Whistler that our beloved Chewie had her birthday, and we celebrated with treats. Happy 5th birthday Chewie!
Squamish lies just down the road from Whistler at the mouth of Howe Sound, a little tendril of the Pacific Ocean reaching inland, giving access to both the mountains and the sea. Owing to its location halfway between Vancouver (expensive) and Whistler (expensive), it is very much a town in transition, looking to redefine itself as people flock there in search of affordable housing.
The defining feature of Squamish is most definitely the Stawamus Chief, a towering granite massif that overlooks town. Its summit is visible from almost everywhere in town, and if you look really closely you can see people scaling the walls and on top. Given that the view from up there looked incredible, we found ourselves at the trailhead, hiking boots on, ready to conquer it ourselves.
Now, this hike is not for the faint of heart, lungs, or legs. It climbs 2,000 feet in less than 2 miles with an average grade of 25%. That, my friends, is a recipe for a bundle of hurt. We pushed through it, up every single stair, scaling the chains near the top, until we too were standing at the summit. We took our photos, had a snack, and crawled to the edge to peer over before starting the journey down. Somehow, even with the assistance of gravity, the way down proved harder than the way up. By the time we reached the bottom both of our legs were shaking from all of the steps down, and while I faired pretty well the days after, Ashley was just about crippled. Despite the physical exertion and toll this hike took on us, it was well worth it and we would highly recommend it to anyone in the area.
Not having had my fill of MTB in the area, I decided that I once again needed to rent a bike and hit the trails. This time around I grabbed something a bit more gravity oriented, a Santa Cruz Nomad, and was shuttled by my beautiful, generous, lovely, and selfless wife up Girabaldi Park road to access some of the famous north shore trails. After finding my bearings (Get the Trailforks app for Canada, it has the best, up to date information for MTB trails), I climbed the fire roads and descended the Full Nelson trail. This trail was an absolute hoot, a roller coaster of bermed turns, whoops, and little jumps. Finding myself at the bottom far too soon I climbed up again to do a lap of another famous trail, Angry Midget. Angry Midget is a departure from the flow of Full Nelson; instead it harkens back to the days of natural, chunky, steep trails. Lap 3 brought anther round of Full Nelson before I downed my single snack for the day and headed back into town. Trailforks showed a network of trails just down the road that would more or less deliver me to the doorstep of the bike shop, so I decided to take those since it was mostly downhill from there. This decision would prove to be a grievous error as the “trails” that dropped back into town turned out to be overgrown, loose, nearly unrideable, and quite a bit more uphill than I thought. With no other recourse, I slogged through it, pedaling into the bike shop just in time to return the bike. It was a ride to remember, both for the good and the bad, and it was a fitting end to an MTB experience that was a long time coming.
The next day brought rain, and with it our departure. Next up on the list, Vancouver and Vancouver Island!