The Ethics of Flying in the Mountains

In September, a gang of us hiked up to Lake Lovelywater, one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever visited near my house in the Tantalus Mountains of BC. Getting there was a satisfying effort, it entailed crossing the Squamish River to access the trailhead, and then hauling huge packs up 1,170m, as the trail climbs alongside a giant waterfall. The old-school, nostalgic person in me loved the simplicity of travelling up there on foot, just as the first explorers might have (although we definitely had more cheesecake, and champagne).

On our way across the Squamish River with lots of colour. Photo by Alex Lea.

Getting to the lake for the first time made us realize how many people fly in to the lake, either by helicopter or float plane. On that trip, there was one party of two guys who had also hiked up, but all other groups at the lake had taken a helicopter, or a float plane. One group had even packed such that they could not move their own belongings 500 meters without the helicopter. (They had packed giant coolers, and didn’t realize the camp spot was a bit of a walk. They made multiple trips to eventually haul the cooler around the lake.) My first reaction was that I really didn’t like the concept of using helicopters to get to the lake. It felt unfortunate to skip the beautiful trail, and to neglect our abilities to simply walk forever. Given the availability of a nice trail to get there, it seemed wasteful. For some reason, I took personal offence to it, it bothered me. The fly-in people were the enemy.

Later that evening, we went to the hut to borrow canoes. These hut people had all flown in, so I wasn’t sure what to make of them. The second I arrive outside the hut, someone waves. The hut people are our friends from Vancouver! That moment turned everything on its head for me, suddenly my enemies were my friends, and my friends, enemies. Seeing the helicopter use in the context of my friends sort of changed everything. Even though I still personally disagreed with it, I felt more open to understanding, because I liked these people.

Since that trip, I’ve thought more about the ethics of travelling in the mountains with support from fossil fuels. In the past I thought about it mostly in terms of helicopters and flights into the mountains, and I wanted to avoid those. So far I had avoided any helicopter use, so I felt innocent. But when I dug a bit deeper, I realized that I do have my own versions, they’re just different.

I don’t fly into mountains, but I fly to big international airports. I fly to Portugal, or Italy, or Mongolia, jumping off points for exotic mountains. Then I started realizing, really, what’s the difference? For some reason I had categorized my international flights as relatively benign, and these mountain helicopter trips as evil, but it doesn’t add up. In fact, those international trips are far more wasteful than the local helicopter trips. When I dug into it, I realized that I was perceiving the two types of trips as benign or wasteful based on whether I could get there by foot, or not. If I could get to the destination by foot in a reasonable time, taking a heli to get there was wasteful. International travel, meanwhile, was rarely ever wasteful in this mindset, because it’s very rare that I could get to an international destination by foot in reasonable time. Maybe that makes sense as one outlook, but it was self-serving, allowing me to become negligent about the impact of my international trips. Who cares about one 20-minute helicopter / float plane trip if I take five long-haul international flights? And what about the person who takes only one single trip per year, and it’s a short helicopter trip, instead of travelling internationally? Then there are the volunteer trail builders who take helicopters to load tons of heavy gear, so that we can enjoy the trails.

 

 

The helicopters at Lake Lovelywater do have an impact, and perhaps when there’s one of the most beautiful trails instead, we should walk. But the situation is less straightforward than my primal urge to think, heli = bad. Our impact on the environment is more about looking at the big picture of what we do in a year.

Paddling on that beauty lake with Alex, Tara, Tory, Nancy and Tara, somehow all snug inside one row boat. Photo by either Tara or Nancy?!

 

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Hey there, Squamish!

It’s now one month since our move from downtown Vancouver to downtown Squamish. Here are my first impressions after month one!

Squamish & Friendships

On first glance, it seemed like we were moving farther away from most of our friends. Maybe we would see them less? Yet so far, I have only found the opposite! In the first week after moving, we had three separate visits from friends, which is almost equal to the amount of visitors we had the entire time we lived in False Creek. Being situated at the gateway to the Sea to Sky mountains, this place is right on the way for friends coming on their journey to or from adventures, and it doesn’t hurt that we’re located right near Mag’s, the giant-portions Mexican hole in the wall. I didn’t really see friends much during the weekdays in Vancouver anyway, so the frequency of visits with friends hasn’t changed. Locally, people are so friendly and welcoming, and my small town conversations have been everything I hoped for. We discuss brown sugar at the grocery store, share news of bear encounters, and enjoy random conversations on snowy trails. Everyone here seems to have a love for ski touring, climbing, and playing outside– it’s a special place where people have come for their love of mountains.

Nancy comes for a mid-week sleepover / run to work!

Nancy comes for a mid-week sleepover / run to work!

 

Running to Elfin Lake with Drew and Dave!

Running to Red Heather Hut with Drew and Dave!

Sea to Sky Commuting

Living in Squamish and working in Vancouver is not everyone’s idea of a good time. But for me, it’s a small price I’m willing to pay. I love my home, and I really like my work, and the commute between just allows me this awesome combination where I can have both a small-town lifestyle, and an exciting start-up job in the city where I am learning lots. The key for me is that I joyride with my boyfriend three times a week, and I take the Squamish-Vancouver Connector twice a week. On the shuttle days, I can sit back and read or sleep, and there is this great energy in the bus. It feels like we’re a bunch of kids on our way to a field trip!  I’ve also met some incredible people on the Connector shuttle. On driving days, I add fun outdoor exercise to make the commuting worthwhile. On the way into work, Julien drops me off on the beach in West Van, and I run the seaside into work. On the way home I play in the mountains, guiding snowshoe running up at Grouse Drop-In Nights, or Nordic Skiing with Julien at Cypress. Although those days are long, they are lived to the maximum in every moment, fully appreciating the sea to city to sky.

 

My commute. Running at sunrise from Dundarave -> Downtown.

My commute. Running at sunrise from Dundarave -> Downtown.

 

Lions Gate Bridge -- my favourite! Looking back at Ambleside & Grouse in the background.

Lions Gate Bridge — my favourite! Waving back at Ambleside, Crown & Grouse mountains in the background.

Squamish Trails

I probably don’t have to tell you that the trails here– running, biking, skiing– are amazing. With the abundance of activities around, I feel so much balance. For once I am swayed slightly from running and more likely to go ski touring, snowshoeing, or nordic skiing. I feel so healthy and inspired from the variety at my doorstep. It was worth the wait!

Skiing down from Paul Ridge area in Squamish.

Julien skiing down from Paul Ridge area in Squamish.

 

Out the back door in the Squamish Estuary.

Out the back door in the Squamish Estuary.

Post-Adventure Food Discoveries

So there is more than the Howe Sound Brewpub and The WaterShed? In our first month, we’ve discovered a few favourites beyond the breweries that typically lure us: Essence of India, (amazing rich Indian, great for eating in or takeout) Bisla Indian right down our street, (more homestyle / less rich style of Indian, great for take-out) Mag’s, (amazing gigantic Mexican and beers!) and hearty homemade soup and sandwiches at Squamish Seniors’ Activity Centre (halleluja, all ages can go!)… Oh, and the best hot chocolates to be found are over at The Ledge Community Coffee House, where you can also gaze at art in their lovely two-storey space. Curling up and eating in by the fire is also super fun here, especially after a long day outside.

Only Downsides!

So far, there are only a couple of downsides with living here. First, the train. The train running through downtown Squamish is wonderful and enchanting while we’re awake. But at 2am, it’s not our favourite stimulus. As a heavy sleeper, I’m lucky to sleep peacefully through the whistles, but I know that not everyone in my house is so lucky! Any ideas, Squamish friends?!

The other terror is my hair after it’s been soaked with a nice hard water shower. The minerals cling to the strands, forming tufts on a daily basis. The only solution is to braid my hair like I’m Katniss Everdeen or something. Oh, and gross vinegar hair treatments!! I may just resort to hair vacations to friends’ showers in Vancouver once a week but any advice would be great! :p

Yes, I look more and more like Disney’s Brave every day with the hard water, but for me this is a small cost to a new adventure, and living in a place that makes me super happy.

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The Tantalus, being hard to get as usual, so close but so far (across the river).

Canoe Indian Arm, Bike to Squamish… & Back

Did you know that Vancouver has fjords?

Indian Arm is a glacial fjord that’s right here in our backyard, a sanctuary of water between two steep-sided mountain ranges, North Vancouver and Belcarra. The body of water stretches about 20k north, toward a rugged wilderness area near mountain heaven– Squamish and Whistler.

amazing fjord!

amazing fjord!

I was always drawn to this area, both the fjord itself, and the wild area at the end of the fjord. Back in winter, I heard tales of an old logging road from the top of the Indian Arm that could lead to Squamish, and that further stoked my imagination. Come February, while “training” for a 100k, I was already onto that. In one very special day, Kerry, Tara and I managed to run that ~35 kilometer Stawamus Fire Service Road out and then back as a 65-70 kilometer snowy fun run, starting from Squamish to greet the marshes at the top of the Indian Arm, and then back.

it was snowy fun!

it was snowy and we saw no one!

That trip was thoroughly satisfying, but there’s always another level or layer. Because I’m an explorer at heart, I couldn’t help but think, What about canoeing up the whole Indian Arm, (~20k) and then hitting that road to Squamish, (~35k) and then coming back and canoeing all the way back?  I had canoed up maybe 1/4 of the Arm before, and now I had run the road both ways, so it seemed practical and within reason.

For whatever reason, months went by and no plans were made. Maybe it was the fact that there were so many logistics. How to carry canoe on my shit car? Where to leave canoe before the road? Then on Monday, I started going crazy about having an adventure on the weekend. And then, I remembered this dream! Nothing was going to deter me, even a slight achilles tendonitis, I would just turn the whole running into mountain biking.

I roped Julien into the plan from the get-go, he needed very little convincing. Both new, keener mountain bikers and semi-injured runners, we figured that we would canoe up the Arm with bikes on top, and then stash the canoe, and ride our way up to Squamish. We even added a nice little camp party with friends in Squamish after the journey out, and then we’d make the return journey to retrieve our canoe the next day, Sunday. We were quite cocky, telling the friends that we’d see them at camp around noon after starting at 7am. (!!!) A few details were left, like how to transport a canoe without racks, and how to put bikes inside, and how it would feel to paddle 20k. And, for me, how to ride a mountain bike. But these are just details! We even made a map for the way out using RunGo App (the start-up where I work) so we would find the bike trail and get to our friends’ campsite, knowing it would navigate us through any turns by voice.

Saturday morning looked like this.

Makes my car look more valuable.

Makes my car look more valuable. Foam blocks and straps are my new favourite accessories!

As these things go, we didn’t actually get going until 10:05am. Not 7am.

We hit the water in our canoes, and surprisingly, sailing was smooth with the bikes inside. It took us about 4 hours on our way out, at a leisurely pace but with great tides in our favour. (I think Julien actually looked up the tide charts…)

Canoe and Biking

After the paddle up, we stashed the canoe at the north end of the Arm, excited to give our crazy mountain bikes a whirl. At this point, we figured it would be a quick bike ride, maybe 3 hours. I didn’t remember any hills when we ran it. And it sure wasn’t technical, it was a road… We would be flying on bikes!

And then, I realize that I forget all the details about these journeys. Like, look at this terrain.

The Stawamus Fire Service Road

Thing is, the experience on a bike, is night and day from the experience on a run, and I had no idea yet. The road was super rocky, which made the peddling up a good way to learn how to bike. Oh ya, and speaking of, how did I forget all that elevation?!

We quickly realized that the forgotten climbs, and the rocky road was actually pretty technical biking, and our expected timing on the bike skyrocketed. We arrived to camp at 7pm, after some pretty decent climbs and rocky riding. Highlights included learning how to mountain bike, getting an electrical charge by accident, and seeing Julien bail on his bike a lot.

Transition

The way back was even more epic.

It seems we can’t get an earlier start than 10am, I blame it on Zephyr Café this time. Off we go, and oh sure, this way will take way less time, because we’re doing more downhill, and we’re more used to the terrain now. Being endurance/exercise-aholics though, somehow we end up climbing 7 vertical kilometers, on our mountain bikes, up the wrong roads. We actually made it up higher than the top of the Chief on one of those climbs up the Sea to Sky gondola road, before realizing how dumb we were. That’s fine, just more calories needed!

Arriving in Squamish

Arriving in Squamish

We ended up making the journey back on our bikes in good timing, once we finished our accidental few hours’ elevation assault. Almost as a reward for making this journey, we made a friend on a yacht which was silently docked in the Indian Arm. We were so lucky to meet Roxy, who befriended us and welcomed us aboard, like the crazy kids we are. While wondering why we didn’t just drink and smoke instead, Roxy fed us this amazing cheese, fig, and date platter, and some delicious white wine, so we could focus before our big canoe trip back.

The canoe finish was almost enchanted… we canoed right up to Deep Cove in flat, still waters as sun set, through the dusk and as the stars began to emerge above us, lighting our way into Deep Cove.

Indian Arm!

Comment here if you’re interested to make this journey and want to use the maps we used on RunGo app, or if you want to ask Julien about how to not fall on bikes!