Admiring the Chief from a whole other vantage point.
Over homemade buttermilk biscuits and house-cured sausage at Fergie’s cafe in Squamish, Max and I make plans. We could climb the Chief, but we’re not really the hiking types. As a couple, we prefer our outdoor adventures to be of the sit-back-and-soak-it-in variety, and ideally accompanied by a stiff drink. So the Sea-to-Sky gondola it is: we’ll defy gravity in style.
The gondola goes up and up and up, and we are very quiet. The cars in the parking lot shrink away and look like toys, and our little bubble floats higher and higher above the Douglas firs and dark soil. Instead of drinking in the view of the Howe Sound, we look down, to see if we can spot any bears, but the only wildlife on view is brave (or stupid?) hikers, picking their own route over the craggy rocks, stopping their climb only to rehydrate or take a selfie.
At the top, 885 metres above sea level, we’ve got options: we can stand on the deck off of the gift shop and look at the view, or we can tiptoe across a suspension bridge and look at the view, or we can follow a loop trail which will lead us to places to look at the view. We choose the trail, partially to build some anticipation, but also because we over-indulged in sundries from Squamish’s Black Market Cheese the night before (apparently, there is such a thing as too much brie)—a stroll will do us good.
We may not be the hiking types, but walking? Walking we can do.
It’s just a kilometre to get to the Chief Overlook viewing platform, which faces the northern part of the valley and overlooks a popular wind-surfing spot, but our pace is slowed because we’re stuck behind an elderly couple in matching Goretex who are taking their sweet time. I’m irritated about the delay just out of habit, but really, we’re in no rush—it’s not like the view is going anywhere. We slow down, get a rhythm going, marching past blueberry bushes and artful tangles of branches, winding our way deeper into the woods.
Mud cakes my sneakers as we follow the signs to the officially sanctioned vantage point. Max walks out onto the viewing platform, but there is no view to be viewed. It is white all around. We’re in a cloud, or in the fog, and I can barely see him, six feet in front of me, let alone wind-surfers, jagged rock faces or glittering canyons. Not exactly a jaw-dropping vista.
But then, our inadvertent Goretex-clad hiking companions emerge from the mist behind us. “It’ll clear up around 11,” they advise us knowingly, before disappearing again into the ether. Are they locals, or wise ghosts? Either way, they’re right: a few minutes later, as if on cue, the clouds part, and in front of us a gorgeous scene reveals itself. A mountain pass, dappled with stubborn snowy patches; a swath of greens and blues anointing the hillside. Whitecaps kick up from the glacier-blue water and tiny kiteboarders try to tame them, pinpoints from our perch. Patches of bristly treetops part to reveal jags of granite and the occasional surging waterfall.
Max and I are faced with certain truths, gazing upon this postcard-perfect vista: the world is big; we are small; nature is incomprehensible. The mountain air suddenly seems that much fresher. Our hearts beat just a little faster. Probably the altitude, we tell each other.
We take the back half of the loop trail with more of a spring in our step, feeling like we’ve accomplished something. (Contemplating your own miniscule role in nature’s great work is sort of an accomplishment, right?) We run across our mystical advisors once again, and they offer us a look through their binoculars to scope out a wild grouse that’s perched in a tree. I start to suspect the two of them live on top of the mountain.
Then it’s down the narrow path, back to the lodge, to the big, sunny patio with a heart-stopping view of its own—the perfect spot for a cold beer and another new perspective on the world below.