Gravity, Wind, Scenic Wonders & Fun…
There’s a small town with huge personality and incredible beauty situated smack dab in between Vancouver and Whistler BC Canada. I think most casual tourists making the trip to and from Vancouver and Whistler just sort of stumble onto it unexpectedly with big googly eyes and a slack jaw. They don’t expect something like this and it probably wasn’t on their planned itinerary, so they just kind of wobble around, possibly stop briefly to stare and then plunge on ahead to the promised land of the better known, more publicized bookend places they originally planned to visit. However, for those adventure travelers seeking some of the finest opportunities anywhere for incredible outdoor activities in sports such as rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP) and kite-boarding etc., then this is Shangri-La-Di-Da dude. Participants in these and other outdoor sports know Squamish for the world class destination it truly is for their chosen activity. They seek it out and come to play like pilgrims on a mission. I guess in a way, many of us are exactly like that. I know I am.
Squamish bills itself as “The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada” and this is no idle boast in my opinion. The whole area is dominated of course by the sheer 2,300 foot granite massif of the Stawamus Chief rising right out of Howe Sound like a small planetoid embedded in the Earth’s crust. The Sea-to-Sky Highway drives right beside its base on a narrow patch of flat land between it and the water. To give you some idea of scale, El Cap in Yosemite rises roughly 3,300 vertical feet from the valley floor, so picture a slightly smaller version just sitting there along with tons of satellite crags and you have some idea. It’s just breath-taking. Squamish is also ringed by some spectacular mountains and mountain ranges. These include Mount Garibaldi at 8,786 ft and the Tantalus Range, but there are dozens more in the nearby environs.
Truth be told, I learned to rock climb on the Squamish Chief and its endless satellite crags many years ago as teenager. We were all high school buddies with a shared passion, scant common sense and no formal training. We learned on the sharp end, from dog-eared climbing magazines and the few others who were climbing here in those days. Although I haven’t lived in the area, or even the country for that matter, during most of my adult life, I still make it a point to come back and climb, bike, hike or board here as often as I can. One of the best days I ever had anywhere was learning to kite-board here in the morning and then taking a long multi-pitch climb on the Squamish Chief with one of my closest friends and climbing buddies from Vancouver. By the end of the day, I was dog-tired, water-logged and slightly sunburned, but wearing a big ol’ smile that simply can’t be wiped off your face.
Squamish is not only a world class climbing destination, but also a kite-boarding Mecca of similar degree. Huge temperature differences between the hotter inland air up valley and the cool ocean where it terminates at Howe Sound makes for some spectacular and reliable wind in one of the most gorgeous settings you can imagine. Be warned though that the water here is seriously cold even in summer, so if you’re learning and spending massive amounts of time in the water rather than on it (like me) then make sure you’re well prepared. Squamish boasts lots of places to take lessons or get gear, so you’re covered for any eventuality. I took lessons with Mark at Squamish Kiteboarding School on a couple of occasions and it was awesome!! He makes it easy and fun. The gear does all the heavy lifting so it takes very little strength to participate in this uber fun activity.
The mountain biking around Squamish and nearby Whistler is seriously world renowned. For example, last fall I was cycling single track in the Southern Appalachia of North Carolina and ended up talking to these local guys who just went gaga over a place roughly 3,000 miles away. The 67 kilometer aptly named Test of Metal cross-country bike race hosts over 1,000 riders from all over the world. There are several great bike shops in the area and I’ve personally had wonderful experiences with Corsa Bikes over the years.
Adrenaline pumping extreme sports aren’t the only game in town (sorry bad pun not intended). There are several excellent golf courses in the area including Furry Creek. If you ever watched Happy Gilmore and saw Adam Sandler getting pummeled on the course by dapper Bob Barker, then you’ve seen some of this course. I can’t forget to mention amazing fly fishing, kayaking, rafting etc., etc. If you’re not a rock climber, the backside hike to the top of The Chief is a fabulous way to spend an afternoon with unparalleled views. It’s reasonably strenuous, although the trail is just superb. Until recently, this was the only option for most people to gain the summit, but now you can take the easier, faster Sea-to-Sky Gondola up. The Gondola facilities now also provide more food and beverage options at the top other than the usual handful of trail mix. Hurrah for a civilized glass of wine and a tasty Panini instead!
If you’re new to the area, a good first stop might be the Squamish Adventure Center located right on the highway in a seriously cool looking building. Another fabulous resource is the Squamish Adventure site created by local Paula de Jong. Of course the official Tourism Squamish site is chock-a-block full of wonderful resources and ideas. For climbing, hiking and backpacking gear, you have a few choices. My faves are Valhalla Pure, The Escape Route and Climb On. They’ll hook you up with gear, ropes, guidebooks and even guides if necessary. Mark Bourdon’s Squamish Select is an excellent, well organized rock climbing guidebook and covers a huge variety of crags and routes in a tidy little package. Squamish Climbing is another great resource for local beta, route info and lost & found items etc. Squamish has lots of choices for food and drink in all categories, but one of my favorite ways to end a day climbing there is at the Watershed Grill right on the Squamish River. If you’re here in the winter, then this is also the best place anywhere on the planet to see Bald Eagles. Nearby Alice Lake Provincial Park is a beautiful spot as well. Adventure, a plethora of activities on land, sea and air, scenery to equal anything anywhere, great food, and a active, friendly local populace should put Squamish on everyone’s must see destination list.