Sunday, June 19, 2011

Conquering The Chief

A few co-workers invited me out for a hike one weekend and after I accepted, I quickly realized how different the term "hike" in the B.C. landscape compared to say - a Manitoban Prairie-land trail.  Nonetheless, after a few reassuring conversations with the co-workers, I was excited, curious and anxious about my first official west coast mountain-side hike on what's locally known as "The Chief".

 After a well-rested night and nutritious breakfast, I was up eager and ready to take on the fresh Pacific air. Situated near Squamish, a town 45 minutes north of Vancouver on the coast of the Sea-To-Sky highway (and the half-way point to Whistler Blackcomb from the city), The Chief is a dome-like granite mountain that is approximately 2000 feet of vertical rock to summit.  As daunting as this sky-high hunk of rock appeared, I knew there was no backing down at as we approached the foothill of the trail.

The first third of the 1.5hr hike up was the toughest as it was basically all incline up wooden steps.  But that was the toughest part; onward were simpler zigzag mountain trails that felt a bit easier to handle. The Chief has 3 different peak points you can visit, each with their own spectacular trail and view. The first peak was the closest and often most visited stop, so we decided to take on peak #2 and avoid crowding.  To my surprise, the very top was all on solid exposed rock where chains and ladders were installed to help hikers safely climb and scale to the top.  It was a bit scary with my slight fear of heights, but it was so much fun and my closest experience to "mountain climbing".  Tight squeezes between rock wedge and careful sliding and shimmying across ledges helped me overcome several questionable moments - but it felt amazing to say "screw it" and overcome them!

Once atop the peak, I soaked in breathtaking views that were well worth the pain and fear endured ascending the mountain.  After some refueling and playing with some new furry critter friends, the trek back down felt seemingly simple, so I thought.  One word of advice is to go early or during non-peak times; upward trail traffic noticeably picked up which was a challenge for the tighter-squeeze areas.  But my other, more stronger word of advice: do not underestimate the ease and simplicity of going downhill.  Though at the time it felt like a breeze, I felt the pains in the week afterwards all throughout my calves and hamstrings.  I felt muscle strains and pains whenever I tried to take a step downwards on stairs, a pain I'd never experienced before.

All in all, my first official hike as a Vancouverite was an eye-opener. Not only is this rugged B.C. trail significantly more intense than hiking trails out east, so are the post-hiking pains.

But unlike the Prairie trails, this hike up The Chief offered spectacular and memorable views that can only be found atop these coastal mountains.

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