Despite the fact that Vancouver BC is one of the most interesting cities in the world, MY most Perfect Day in Vancouver actually takes place (for the most part) just outside the city. To avoid disputes, then, lets just say this is one of the many perfect days one can have in (and around) Vancouver.
Flights to Vancouver are relatively cheap – especially in the winter when the image of a dark, cold, rainy city sits on someone’s mind. Those made up fears don’t get to me so I popped up for a few days and found I was in for a treat.
Hitting it early on a very chilly morning last December, I dropped from my cheap Day’s Inn room on Pender into the Twisted Fork Bistro on Granville Street. Everything on the menu is $12. Thats doable and I was intent on loading up on enough energy to take me as far as possible in one day. The asparagus scrambled eggs, a side of hash browns and some sourdough did the trick. The coffee helped.
I hustled down to the SeaBus Terminal just east of the great white sales of Canada Place.
The SeaBus was packed. Tourists crammed against the front array of windows to watch the heavy rain clouds break and allow sunlight to flood the fresh snow on the mountaintops. When that happened, the skyline turned silver. We skirted a giant tanker ship at anchor in the bay and docked at Lonsdale Quay where everyone in sight was either eating McDonalds or drinking Starbucks. Another cup of coffee hit the spot and I jumped on Bus 236 to the base of Grouse Mountain. My goal? The Grind.
The Grind is a two-mile, 2,800 foot hike straight up the south-face of Grouse Mountain. Look, I live at 7000 foot in elevation and regularly hike from 8000 or 9000 feet to 12,000-13,000f feet in elevation. So, despite all the scary, threatening pronoucements at some of the websites around, I certainly didnt feel threatened by The Grouse Grind.
Until I hit the ice, that is.
I jumped off the bus and immediatly saw that the trailhead was closed. Milling innocently about for a few until I was sure no one would spot me, I took the first break in potential gawkers and scrambled up the hill above the parking lot and into the forest catching the trail well above the closure signs. The trail didnt appear all that threatening. It was very steep but nothing unusual. I was pretty sure I could reach the top within two hours at the most and that no one would see me. And that is when I hit the ice.
The trail was covered in 3-4 inches of fresh snow. Under that was a slick sheen of frozen rain that made gaining a footing next to impossible. Fore every well-earned one, solitary foot in elevation gained, I slid back two or three or five feet. Now, I’m not super smart but I can do basic forms of math on my fingers and my fingers were telling me that this wasn’t going to add up. The seventeenth time I landed on my butt I lost control and slid straight down the trail. Thats when I saw the wolf.
‘This isnt going very well,’ I thought.
Then I hit a fence marked “electric fence”.
There were two positives about the electric fence. One, it was off and two, it contained the wolves. Inexplicably, four beautiful timber wolves – two of them colored a dramatic snow white – were contained within the moderately-sized enclosure. They paced in a frenetic pattern as do all depressed mammals. It was heart-wrenching to see these wonderful, wild animals penned (I heard later that the wolves are Hollywood refugees, raised in captivity and hand fed).
Several groups of tourists were eyeing me by now and my plan of sneaking up the closed Grind unseen was blown – and my hip was sore from the slide. I relented and bought the $35 ticket up the aerial tramway – reputedly, the largest in North America at 3, 700 feet.
Its nothing special. But it was better than breaking my hip on the Grind. I’ll go back for that in the summer.
The top was a zoo of tourist offerings. Christmas songs blared, reindeer pulled sleds, snowboarders and skiers flew by, groups of school kids slid out-of-control on the ice-rink. An insane, winter carnival. I dropped $16.00 for snow-shoe rental (next to the ice-rink) and headed into the back-woods, down into the deep, wet snow among the Alpine Firs.
A winnowy winter-wonderland trail brought me up to the Dam Mountain loop trail and on up a fairly steep climb to the summit of 4,500ft Dam Mountain itself. There, I found two seriously fearless ravens more than ready to tear into my pack.
The view was astounding.
The city played hide-n-seek in the clouds but the ships lying in Burrard Inlet were clear as bells. My hopes for a push to the next peak (Goat Mountain) were dashed by the sudden appearance of three rangers who kindly warned me that the trail to Goat was closed for the winter. Fine.
Down was quick.
After a shared snack with my new friends (they demanded, I relented), I sat on my snowshoes and pointed them downhill, descending about 800 ft in less than five minutes. A quick bowl of clam chowder at the chalet, a quick drop to the parking lot on the skyride and I was back on Bus 236 back to the SeaBus Terminal where I hopped the 232 for Lynn Canyon.
Lynn is a magical rain-forest. I’m not sure if I’d ever been anywhere like it. Lynn Canyon is the perfect stroll through a fairyland-like temperate rainforest of steep cliffs, a turquoise creek and crashing waterfalls. Mist fills the air and creeps throughout the forest of second-growth Western Red Cedar, Doug-fir, and Western Hemlock. Everything is draped with moss.
See the Lynn Canyon photo essay here.
By then it was dark and I was cold. It was time to head back to the city. A short hot shower at the Days Inn, a new set of clothes and I was ready for Japanese.
Vancouver is packed with pricey restaurants of an amazing variety (Malasian, Chinese, Italian, Indian…) and some of the sushi bars are so overpriced as to make your eyes pop out. But not Guu. Not the Guu. The “irashaimase!!!” took me by surprise and gave the staff something to tease me about the rest of the evening. There was alot on the menu and most of it at a decent price. There are my regular sushi items – salmon, salmon eggs, yellow tail – that I must have but I always have to try a few new items. So, with a few extra shots of warm saki swirling in my increasingly tired body, I ordered up the octopus balls and the pan-fried pork intestine. Interesting.
Hey. For me, new foods is half the reason to travel. So I downed a quail egg too. That was also interesting.
Canada Place was my next stop. It was night. The sky was clear and the air chilly. By that time I figured I’d packed in a pretty decent amount of Vancouver. Stanley Park, the aquarium and Gastown were online for the next day but this was pretty damn good. I was happy. A whiskey above the bay in the Pan Pacific Hotel bar was in order. So I had two.
Back at the Day’s Inn, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. The last 8 of that 24 hours in Vancouver BC was spent in the peaceful slumber of a day well spent.