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There’s a Bear in There!

Canada #14 Grouse Mountain 

Part One

After our fleeting glimpse of grizzly bears at Whistler, it was guaranteed we would see bears on Grouse Mountain – we’d booked a date with them!

We met our first bears at the base of the mountain, in a beautifully detailed wood carving.

Once on board the Skyride gondola we quickly rose up over the forest where early morning mist clung to the treetops. At the top of the mountain, we emerged into brilliant sunshine.

Bear tracks led away from the Peak Chalet uphill to the Grizzly Bear Habitat. We took note of other wildlife we might meet, and hoped that a cougar wouldn’t cross our path.

As if they knew we were coming, Coola and Grinder were waiting outside, enjoying the sunshine in the grizzly bear habitat.

While they munched on chunks of sweet potato, our wildlife ranger Natasha told us how both bears were found in 2001 as tiny cubs, orphaned and starving. They were brought back to health at Grouse Mountain, where they live as close to a normal life as possible in their spacious enclosure, complete with a stream, large pond and forested hideaway. In winter, the bears hibernate inside their comfortable den.

We watched entranced as the bears devoured their breakfast.

Our breakfast was served inside the Grizzly Lookout Café. Leaving the bears to theirs, we enjoyed a delicious buffet which included pastry bear claws and gingerbread bears.

Later in the day, at the end of a nature walk with ranger Phil, we returned to the Grizzly Lookout and he told us more about the bears and their life on the mountain. They have never been tamed and still have all the instincts of wild bears – bad luck for unwary squirrels who manage to get over the fence!

In the 17 years since the bears arrived on the mountain, scientists have studied their habits and lifestyle, gaining knowledge they’ve used to aid bears in the wild. With the help of infrared cameras placed inside the sleeping den, scientists have discovered that hibernation is not a state of deep sleep, as had always been thought. Instead, the bears become dormant, sleeping often but moving around several times during the day, sleep walking for a few minutes or stretching and turning in their beds. Scientists now believe bears remain active to retain their condition over the winter months.

Phil ended his talk on a positive note. Rangers and scientists are hopeful that, with what they have learned from caring for Coola and Grinder, they will be able to return other orphaned cubs to the wild. Long after Phil had gone we continued watching the bears as they splashed in the pond, using sticks like toys and watching us watching them.

On Grouse Mountain, we saw much more than a glimpse of these beautiful bears.

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Surprise!

Canada #13 Whistler

Mention Whistler and visions of a winter wonderland bustling with snow sports enthusiasts come to mind. But with more than half of the annual three million visitors, including us, coming in the summer months, Whistler in early summer is just as busy.

The centre of the village is packed with day trippers and holiday makers and the shops and restaurants are crowded. It’s the mountains people have come to see though, and the only way to get there is on the Whistler Village Gondola which travels five kilometres to the summit of Whistler Mountain. Gliding high above the tree-covered slopes for 25 minutes, the gondola ride allows everyone time to enjoy the spectacular views on all sides.

Mountain bikers also ride up the mountain, transporting their bicycles on a chairlift before hurtling down again at breakneck speeds.

At the summit a giant stone Inukshuk, created for the 2010 Winter Olympics, gazes protectively over the valley. From a height of 2,182 metres, Whistler resembles a toy village dwarfed by the Fitzsimmons Mountain Range.

The Peak 2 Peak Gondola Ride crosses from Whistler Mountain to Blackcomb Mountain in a journey of record-breaking proportions. The highest and longest of its kind in the world, with the longest unsupported span of 3.024 kilometres, the ride travels 4.4 kilometres over Fisher Valley. The bright red gondolas leave the stations on either side every 59 seconds, and cross paths high above the valley floor. At the highest point of 436 metres, Fitzsimmons Creek resembles a narrow silver ribbon draped between the trees.

Back on Whistler Mountain, the Roundhouse Lodge serves steaming hot chocolates, with peaks of whipped cream and marshmallows mirroring the surrounding landscape. Tiny chipmunks scamper between the tables searching for dropped crumbs.

The best view comes at the end of the day, halfway down on the return journey to Whistler Village.

As the gondola passes above, a mama grizzly bear guides two cubs along a narrow mountain track. The gondola continues on its way and, while our glimpse of the bears is fleeting, our excitement lasts much longer. Whistler really is full of surprises!

Hidden Wonder

Canada #12 Brandywine Falls

We heard it long before we could see it.

The rushing water of Brandywine Creek, tumbling in a flurry of whitecaps under the little covered bridge, was the first indication of what was ahead.

Lush greenery surrounded us on the forest trail and, even when we lost sight of the water, the sound of its haste was always in the background.

We came to a railway crossing and, for a few seconds, our attention was diverted. These were not the unusual vehicles we’ve seen on train tracks.

A little further along the trail, our steps quickened in anticipation as we caught glimpses of what was to come.

All was revealed when, around the next bend, Brandywine Falls came into view. As the surging water of the creek reached the edge of an ancient lava flow, it plunged 70 metres to the base of the basalt cliffs before continuing on its way into the Cheakamus Valley.

No wonder we could hear the sound of the falls!

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From the Sea to the Sky

Canada #11 Sea to Sky Gondola

We were amazed by the statistics connected to the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway.

For a start, it’s located between the third highest waterfall in British Columbia and the second largest granite monolith in the world. At Shannon Falls, water tumbling over the cliff edge drops 335 metres to the ground while, on the Stawamus Chief, rock climbers aiming to reach the 700 metre high summit resemble ants as they cling to the sheer granite wall.

Then there’s the gondola. As its name implies, the ride begins just 35 metres above sea level, at the northern end of Howe Sound. After a ten minute journey covering 1920 metres from Basecamp to the Summit Lodge, the gondola ride ends high on a rocky outcrop in the mountains, 885 metres above sea level.

From our shiny, green gondola we could see right around – up the mountains of the Coast Range and down to the blue waters of Howe Sound.

At the Summit Lodge, the sight from the viewing deck of the snow-capped Tantalus Mountain Range across the water was magnificent.

The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, named after one of two nearby peaks, stretches for 100 metres over one of many narrow gorges between the ridges.

We stopped several times on the way across to the Spirit Viewing Platform as the scenery demanded our attention. Perched on the edge of the granite ridge, the platform offers grand views of both Sky Pilot and Co-Pilot Mountains. The rugged peaks were white with snow and dense forests of maples, cedars and Douglas firs covered the steep slopes.

The Spirit Trail, one of many walks in the mountains, begins at this platform.

The 400 metre circuit took us on a journey back to the days of the Squamish First Nation. From the information boards along the track we learned about the first people’s connection to the land and their use of the abundant natural resources in the forests. For them, the trees were the source of many household items. To us, they were simply beautiful.

With another glorious view at every turn, birdsong filling the air and the lush green of the forest surrounding us, we forgot about statistics.

The wonders of nature had taken their place in our thoughts.

Visit Jo for more Monday Walks.

Crossing Bridges

Canada #10 Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

We expected Capilano Suspension Bridge Park to be busy. It was peak holiday season and the weather was perfect, but our visit began very quietly. There were just a few passengers on the free shuttle bus and we didn’t have to queue at the ticket office. It wasn’t too busy at the Story Centre where we learned the history of the park and the famous bridge.

We soon found out where all the visitors were; the 137 metre suspension bridge spanning Capilano River Canyon was packed!

We had no concerns about our safety – the bridge is strong enough to hold 96 adult elephants. We weren’t keen though to join the slow shuffle of pedestrians making their way to the other side, so we decided to see the park from a different perspective.

Equally as thrilling and far less crowded, the Cliffwalk is a series of cantilevered walkways, bridges and stairs attached to the granite cliffs of the canyon.

We ventured down the spiral staircase and followed the narrow paths to wider platforms where nothing came between us and the river far below except clear glass floors.

On a circular bridge suspended 70 metres above the ground, we still weren’t as high as the treetops.

When the crowd on the suspension bridge had lessened we finally crossed over, going at our own pace and stopping every few steps to look down yet again into the canyon.

We spent more time looking down and up at the Treetops Adventure, where seven more bridges are suspended by adjustable non-invasive collars between eight Douglas firs. Even though at times we were 33 metres above the forest floor, we were dwarfed by the huge trees around us.

Back at ground level we followed the board walk past a leaf-littered lake, where the forest and the sky above were mirrored in the still water.

We were captivated by trees we’ve never seen before: the maples with their distinctive leaves and the firs, ornamented with miniature cones.

By late afternoon we were ready to leave and, after feeling pleased that we’d avoided the crowds for most of the day, reality returned – the last shuttle bus of the day was already full. We didn’t mind waiting for the city bus. We were happy to sit a while longer in this beautiful place.

Into the Blue

Canada #9 Victoria to Vancouver

To travel between Vancouver and Victoria, our options were either a plane or a ferry and, after a 14 hour flight from Brisbane to Vancouver, a ferry ride sounded like a great choice. The day we went to Victoria was grey and wet and the glorious scenery we’d looked forward to was shrouded in mist, so we were happy to sit inside and enjoy a warming coffee.

Our return journey was completely different. The sun sparkled on the water and snowcapped Mt Baker was beautifully framed by the bluest sky and ocean.

Even though there were many other travellers there was plenty of room on the outside deck – we didn’t sit inside this time.

The ferry left Vancouver Island from Swartz Bay and sailed past several small islands, across the Strait of Georgia to the terminal at Tsawwassen. The journey of 24 nautical miles took 95 minutes; we could relax and enjoy the spectacular views. The clear blue sky was reflected in the deeper blue of the ocean, both separated on the horizon by the dark lines of densely forested islands.

We saw watercraft of all shapes and sizes. There was no need to compete for space in this wide channel.

Another ferry passed, going where we had just been. Like us, the passengers were all out on the deck, making the most of the glorious day.

A Castle With No King

Canada #8 Craigdorrach Castle, Victoria BC

When Robert and Joan Dunsmuir began construction of their palatial mansion in 1887, they probably didn’t intend it to be known as a castle. But with its prominent position high above the city of Victoria, its imposing towers and ornamented gables, Craigdorrach Castle seems the perfect name for this imposing building.

Originally from Scotland, Robert Dunsmuir had several successful businesses in the second half of the nineteenth century. The fortune he made through coal, railways, shipping and timber was reflected in the lavish interior of the castle, including intricately detailed woodwork, beautiful stained glass windows and the latest modern conveniences of the time.

From the rooms on the fourth floor, including the tower high in the roof of the castle, the family enjoyed expansive views across Victoria and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympus Mountains in Washington State, USA.

Robert Dunsmuir never enjoyed the final result of his prosperity; he died in 1890 before the house was completed. Joan lived there with three of her daughters and two grandchildren until her death in 1908. Then the castle became a military hospital before being used as the site of Victoria College, the forerunner of the University of Victoria. After a third reincarnation as the Victoria Conservatory of Music, the castle was preserved as a museum.

First opening to the public in 1969, Craigdorrach Castle is now a Designated National House Historic Site. Every year, more than 140,000 people come to see the castle, experiencing for themselves the luxurious surroundings Robert Dunsmuir never did.