The Okanagan and Vancouver

After the heli-boarding I began my journey back to Toronto. There was a couple of places to visit along the way, the first of which was Summerland, and Uncle Phil and Nadine’s house! It was the first time I’d seen the Okanagan in winter time and it was pretty nice.

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Lovely snow…

Penticton and Summerland are pretty quiet in the winter, so the pace was pretty relaxed as we pottered around catching up and seeing a few places from holidays past. The area is famous in Canada for it’s fruit, so on the weekend we did a tour of some of the local distilleries, sampling some of the fruit based liquors, and a maple one (because this is Canada of course). The highlight was visiting Duhb Glas, a micro distillery in Oliver where we were treated to a tour and explanation of the process by the owner. I picked up my next newmake to put in the barrel at home and Phil and Nadine topped up their supply of gin!

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Quite a haul..

After a few relaxed days in the Okanagan I made my way to Vancouver. My time here had been cut short because of having to re-arrange the heli-skiing, so despite being tired from the early morning bus ride I made the effort to get out into the city and see some people. The first stop was the Vancouver Lookout. It’s sort of like the Calgary or CN Tower..

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If a little short…

The view over the city was great though, I hung out on the observation deck and took in the view for a while as it got dark.

That evening I met up with Tyson and Georgia, a couple of friends that I’d made in Lake Louise. They’re spending the rest of their visa in Vancouver, and knew all the good little places to eat near my hostel. That outing lasted until 2am, and conveniently finished a short stumble from my hostel! The next day I made a lazy start and headed to Stanley Park, probably one of Vancouver’s biggest tourist attractions. The huge park sits on a peninsula between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver and was an important area for the First Nations in times past. I took public transport to get there, but misread the bus route and ended up taking the bus right through to the other side of the park, over the Lionsgate Bridge, and beyond to North Vancouver! I had nothing else to do that afternoon so I decided to walk back over the bridge, around the park, and back into the city and take in the views of the bay.

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It was a cloudy day, but I still had a great view of the city..

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On the other side of the park lay the Pacific. Vancouver is Canada’s big like to Pacific trade.

I made my way around the park and eventually reached the park’s collection of totem poles, which are unique to the nations of BC and Southern Alaska.

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Great imagery….

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Vancouver’s skyline was in full glory now….

That evening after getting back into the city I met up with my old uni mate Dan. Dan is attempting to cycle around the world, a trip that makes my travels look like a Canadian package holiday! Me and Dan caught up over our primary shared past time – Scotch.

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The Shebeen had a great selection to choose from!

After that Dan took me to one of the restaurants he works for and introduced me to Sushi (yes that’s right at 29 I’ve never tried sushi). It was pretty good! Apparently this place was the best in Vancouver!

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It was immaculately presented!

It was great to see Dan, who I hadn’t seen since before either of us left on our journeys. If you want to read more about Dan’s trip have a look here.

Cycle Earth

This had technically been the 3rd time I’d set foot in Vancouver, and the longest time I’d been there for, yet it never seems like I’ve spent enough time there. Its quite a place. I boarded my flight the next day feeling like it deserved more of my time, but as my plane glided towards my next destination those feelings changed to something different.  I could see a familiar shape out the window. A tall object…. Taller than anything for miles around, changing colour above all the other lights….. It marks a city I know very well, a place I have come to love, filled with very special people. A little cheeky part of me felt like it was coming home…

Heli-Boarding

I talk about Edgewalk all the time: “CN Tower this…” and “1168 feet that”, and I’d forgive you if you thought that the reason I was in Canada was to walk the Edge. Buuuut I’m actually in Canada to snowboard. To ride the hills and mountains of BC, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, and hone my abilities on some of the most challenging terrain in the world. More than anything I’ve sought to ride powder, the freshest, lightest, deepest stuff I can find, and this week with the aid of a helicopter I found what I was seeking. I was going Heli-Boarding.

Phil works for Purcell Heli-Skiing, based in Golden, BC, so they were the natural choice for me to go with, but making it happen proved to be a little challenging. The weather  was not playing ball and when I arrived an approaching storm had cut off the mountains and we were unable to fly. Not the best. I had been really looking forward to it, especially as I was going to do it with Phil. Significant re-arranging followed. I had to cancel all of my accommodation in Vancouver, talk to Uncle Phil about moving the dates that I was going to see him, and try to find a route that would use a couple of nonrefundable Greyhound tickets. But it paid off as the next time I arrived in Golden it was to blue skies and perfect flying weather. I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed and was soon refreshing my avalanche training, and chit chatting with the other guests, with every other word being “send”, “stoked”, “gnarly”, “awesome “and “can’t wait”. It’s hard to adequately describe how excited I was as we finally boarded the chopper and lifted off. It felt like 3 years of planning, travelling, and riding had built up to this, I was finally doing it, this is what Canada is all about, I’m actually living the dream.

I love being around airplanes and helicopters in any setting, so unloading from a running Huey is quite exhilarating on its own, once you’ve unstrapped you pile out into the snow, keeping your head down from the rotor blades, and then turn to look up at the whirling beast before it leaps off the ground and dives dramatically out of sight. Leaving you in the quiet wilderness to collect yourself up.

Then there’s the snowboarding. Once I’d collected myself up I was then presented with a snow sports paradise a sprawling playground extending as far as the eye can see. Your guide’s job is to pick out the best (and safest) lines and then guide you in intervals down to the landing pad to wait for the chopper. Most runs ran pretty much the same way: start in the alpine…….

Then you make your way down through the treeline…

And then into the glades….

Then you meet the heli and back to the top!…..

Sometimes you go one at a time over a steeper slope, or you go with a bit of spacing and ride kind of as a group….

As you can see its pretty amazing! Obviously the tracks from your other group members are in the snow, and everyone is very polite about letting other people go first, but that has negligible affect on the amazing riding, the best I’ve ridden ever. If you are lucky enough to go straight after the guide you’ll get a view like this.

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Powder anyone?

The runs are 700-900m each and I got an extra one, giving me 6 for the day. Its not the cheapest day out, but for me it was an incredible once in a life time experience (although the guides did joke “welcome to your new addiction!”). As I loaded my board onto the chopper at the end of the last run, a thought occurred: This would be the last time I would be snowboarding in Canada. I was now going to make my way eventually back to Toronto, for the summer, and the end of my visa. It was quite a swansong really; I’d achieved the main goal of this trip, my last few tracks in Canada may well be the best of my entire life, better than I’d ever thought possible, and I felt satisfied and happy that I had managed to make it happen. My outlook on what was achievable in life had been changed for the better for ever.

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Living the dream.

Ice Climbing!

As February slipped into March I reluctantly left Lake Louise. The call of Nyssa and the Tower was growing in my heart, but also the start date was just before April and I had more adventures to tick off! The next one came rather unexpectedly, Tim (who came to visit in January) had sent me a voucher for an ice climbing course! I headed down to Canmore for a couple of nights to do Basic Ice Climbing 1, with Yamnuska, a local guiding company that knows the area very well. They provide all the climbing kit – appropriate boots, ice tools, helmet, crampons, etc, but I was also prepared with my warm winter gear, harness, and a brand new pair of mitts, to keep my hands warm and dry.

I’ve done plenty of climbing in my time, but this was a whole new thing and my instructor – Grant – spent the first morning showing me and my group the basics of moving around in crampons and on icy terrain, and then we graduated onto rope work and actually climbing stuff.

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Watch your step…

All the climbing we did that day was on top ropes, and on gentle climbs with not a lot of vertical, which made things much more comfy for learning. Despite this (and typical of my attitude to climbing in general) I was constantly eyeing up the more dramatic vertical features on offer and wondering aloud if we’d get a chance to climb them! The basic of ice climbing are relatively simple, try to use your axes mainly for balance and try to get your legs doing as much of the work as possible. It’s important to keep your hips forward, forcing your centre of gravity over your crampons to maximize their effectiveness.

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Working my way up…

Once you’re confident in your crampons it becomes much easier but at the end of the first day my arms and hands were still quite achy. The ice axes (referred to in the sport as tools) present an attractive thing to cling on to when you’re nervous, and like in rock climbing, your arms tire much quicker than your legs!

During that afternoon a large snowstorm (that had been bothering me for other reasons before the trip) settled into the area, and the next day due to the avalanche risk Grant was forced re-assess and pick another location for us to climb at. To my pleasant surprise this was Johnston’s Canyon! It was a great turn of fortune for me, as I now got a chance to climb the ice that I’d enviously watched other people climb when I’d been to the canyon with my parents. After a couple of warm-up routes (and some more wondering aloud from me) Grant set up ropes on some of the larger features in the canyon and I got to do a WI 4 – a respectably graded 12-15m route that went up close to all the huge icicles that hang down around the upper falls.

It was a really awesome couple of days, one of the big highlights of my trip, and a fantastic early birthday present from a great friend that I won’t ever forget.Next stop Golden, and (hopefully) some heli-boarding!