Squamish: Is Oh So Turned-On These Days
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The absurdly gifted environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy thinks often about ‘sense of place,” that feeling we have when we know we belong within a specific habitat, that priceless experience of being settled. Though Goldsworthy travels around the world to create his icicle sculptures, shale cairns and other mind-altering work, he says he’s most comfortable and creative when home in Penpont, Scotland. Though over 4500-km from where I grew up, I consider the Pacific Northwest my settled place. Though I live in Seattle, I believe Squamish, B.C. to be my native habitat.
I once treated Squamish as a tea refill station en route to Whistler, especially since I’ve never been into rock climbing. Like many frequent Sea-to-Sky commuters, Squamish would tickle my interest, whitewater rafting on the Elaho River one season, dropping in on the mountain bike trails the following year, without much more than a scratch. Then I returned for more than a sneeze, specifically to check out the future site of the Sea-to-Sky Gondola and to explore Squamish for more time than it takes to snag a blueberry scone at Galileo Coffee Company in Britannia Beach.
In many ways the gondola finally elevated Squamish’s status or, depending on your perspective, revealed what locals have known for decades: that just beyond the Highway 99 shoulders lies some of the province’s most accessible recreational wilderness forays, from glacier-fed lakes to serene trails.
Now five years old, the gondola rises almost 2,800-feet above the Howe Sound Fjord between Shannon Falls and Stawamus Chief provincial parks. Passengers gaze off towards 6,645-foot Sky Pilot peak from the Spirit Viewing Deck, jump on the hour-long Panorama Interpretive Trail or strike out on the Mount Habrich Trail, into the Upper Shannon Creek Watershed or over to Goat Ridge or Sky Pilot Mountain for a few hours of solitude. Arrive early, hike up the face, take on the Via Ferrata then wander across the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, repairing to the deck for a pint of Howe Brewing Co’s special Sky Pilot IPA, created specifically for this moment.
Were I to assume I could achieve a Zenful state, I would clearly be anything but static. The Sea to Sky Adventure Company occupies a similar Zen zone. Step onto a standup paddleboard for a two-hour float down the Squamish River. Red breasted mergansers skirt away and a lone bald eagle foreshadows the myriad eagles that call this river home in winter. After a riverside lunch at the very groovy WaterShed, S2S Adventure Co will outfit you with a bike, then lead you to “Half-Nelson,” a terrific intermediate downhill run through the western red cedars and Douglas firs.
Call me a Pac-NW Rat, but my state of Zen is greatly enhanced by a ridiculously hoppy IPA, the official libation of Cascadia. Never fear, Howe Sound Brewpub, the town’s hub, sets up an IPA flight that will satisfy any “hop head.” This bouncy flight goes especially well with the Drunk Salt Spring Island Mussels and signature Deep Fried Pickles. True to regional requirements, Squamish is spilling over with microbreweries these days. The latest, A-Frame Brewing Co. provides a worthy plank in the pint onslaught. (Side note: Where do brewers come up with these names? I, for one, can’t wait for the pot shops to bloom in B.C., if only for les nom d’herbes.)
Breakfast and bed, though not necessarily in that order, fill the corners of my Zen place and there may be no finer downy dine than Sunwolf, not just in B.C. or the Pacific Northwest, arguably any place anywhere that doesn’t require helicopter or floatplane access to get there. The compound settles among the trees with the ease of the bald eagles that arrive by the thousands to this area every winter. Fergie’s puts out simply the best breakfast in B.C. Best to stay in the “Logger’s Shack,” rumored to be the oldest dwelling in Squamish, or one of the other cabins situated here at the confluence of the Cheakamus and Cheekye rivers.
I know Zen craving is something of an oxymoron. Still, I always depart Squamish desiring another bike descent, another couple kilometers of hiking and, if I am honest, another day at least of natural and perhaps personal exploration.
If you go