What to do when it rains on the mountains

Birdwatching in Boundary BayVancouver had a pile of early snow this year, making for some great snowshoeing on the north shore. However, in January, the rains returned to the slopes, bringing up the question of “what else to do in Vancouver”. While most people don’t give the Fraser Delta much thought, it turns out to be one of the biggest shorebird and waterfowl wintering areas on the west coast. And there is no better place to watch them than at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. A small entry fee gets you into the sanctuary, with several well-maintained paths, and over 200 species of birds. And a bonus for photographers, it’s easy to get close to the birds. Sandhill cranes walked to within a couple of meters. Made for some great portraits of ducks. While most people may see this as a local/regional attraction, I met several people from the US there. Birding is a growing experiential product, not only in Europe and north America,but also in Japan.

There are several other good birding areas, including Boundary Bay (pictured above) and Iona Beach Regional Parks.

InnChanter

Tofino and Ucluelet make for a great weekend getaway, but there is lots more to do. Why not take a trip to Hot Springs Cove and stay on the Innchanter? This luxury floating B&B with a reputation for amazing food is moored just off the coast at the hotsprings. Or, if you’d rather stay in town, you can always get Atleo River air service to fly you there. They’ll drop you off for breakfast and a dip in the pools, before picking you up again, and flying you back to town. Or take your time, and let them fly you to a nearby remote lake for a sumptuous lunch. They offer an endless selection of aerial adventures.
Or, if you are truly adventurous, why don’t you buy the Innchanter and live the good life all year round?

West Coast Trail makes the National

The CBC National paid some handsome attention to the West Coast Trail tonight: an half-hour documentary by Mark Kelley in his “7 Days” series. He did the trek last year. The description is wrong – he only walked the trail, and didn’t do any cleaning, but still a fun piece. Monique features prominently. Great publicity!

Video part I | part II.

West Coast Weekend

A cousin of mine from Holland came to spend the weekend with me after a conference in Whistler. I decided to give him a solid West Coast experience. What does it look like for a March weekend?

Leave Friday on the ferry to Nanaimo, and drive to Ucluelet. Eat along the way in a small road-side diner near Coombs for a typcial meal of meat, potatoes and salad. Explain the myriad ways to have your steak done, and go through the umpteen choices of salad dressing.

Check into a B&B in Ucluelet. We chose Radfords, which is excellent, but there are many others. Get treated to a delicious breakfast that includes freshly baked muffins.

Book your grey whale watching trip with Jamie’s Whaling Station. Hike the Wild Pacific trail and spot dozens of eagles while waiting for the departure.

Don a survival suit (another Canadian invention!) and head out in a Zodiac. Spot a dozen feeding grey whales at close range, and many seabirds. Make a detour into the Broken Island group and spot large haul-outs of Steller’s and California sealions.

After a short hike on the beach near Ucluelet, wind down in the local pub with view over the harbour. Explain the concept of Hockey Night in Canada while sipping on Vancouver Island microbrews and eating a real burger (rather than one of the fast-food imitations).

The next day, head towards Tofino, stopping at the Pacific Rim National park visitor centre. Walk the rainforest boardwalk, but also take the time for the bog boardwalk. This short hike is just about as impressive as the better known rainforest trail. Watch the surfers at Long Beach.

Migrating grey whalesIn Tofino, convince your guest that watching grey whales from a boat doesn’t do them justice. To really see them, you need to get up in the air. Head down to Atleo River air service, a true family company where the husband flies their Cessna 185 float plane, and his wife tends the tiny office and their young baby. Sign up for a half-hour whale watching flight, and see how large grey whales really are when you see them from 200m up. Watch a large group migrate north. On the way home, fly past a large sealion haul-out. Be amazed at the highlight of the trip: a “raft” of about 50 sea otters looking up at you, floating in a kelp bed.

Drive back to the ferry through the surprisingly high mountain range west of Port Alberni; be lucky and secure the very last spot on the boat. Watch Pacific white-sided dolphins and Dall’s porpoises along the way.

View over Howe SoundThe following day, show that Vancouver is truly a multi-season destination by heading up to Cypress for a morning snowshoe trip on the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Enjoy the spectacular views over Howe Sound, and follow yesterday’s route. Point out that it it weren’t for his flight home, we should have gone kayaking in the afternoon.

Return to the city for a pilgrimage to Vancouver’s outdoor icon: the Mountain Equipment Coop. Load up on great outdoor clothing at a fraction of European prices. Arcteryx is one of Europe’s hottest brands, so impress your guest with a stop at their factory store (few people know that it is a Vancouver brand).

Finish the weekend with a quick trip to Burnaby Lake for a glimpse of Canada’s national animal, the beaver.

The result? A very happy cousin who will be back soon with his wife for a much longer trip (and will hopefully convince his friends to do the same).

Tip: if you go to Tofino for spring whale watching, head toUcluelet instead. There the whales feed in nearby sheltered bays, while in Tofino they merely pass by. Moreover, in Tofino you have to go out into the open sea, which can be very rough at this time of year. In Ucluelet, you stay in calmer waters. Besides, Ucluelet is smaller and more authentic.

Canada’s best outdoor towns

No month without a list! The list of the month is Canada’s best towns to live in if you’re into the outdoors, published in Explore, March 2007. The winners:

Rossland, BC
Gold River, BC
Jasper, AB
Dauphin, MB
Parry Sound, ON
Whitehorse, YT
Baie-Saint-Paul, PQ
Sussex, NB
Cornerbrook, NL
Lunenburg, NS

In my opinion, missing are: Canmore AB, Squamish BC, and Tofino/Ucluelet BC. These are all famous for their outdoor activities. But, they’ve been around for a while, so it is nice to see some other towns pop up, especially down east.

Trekking in the high arctic

Few people think of trekking in the high arctic, but Black Feather now offers a 60km trek through Katannilik Territorial Park on southern Baffin, not far from Iqaluit. There is a surprising abundance of flora, and also lots of wildlife. As a bonus, the trip ends with a country meal hosted by a local family, addding a cultural touch to the trip.

Chasing the weather

Nat. Geographic Adventure magazine (March 2007) has an article of (bad) weather-related experiences. It lists Alaska as the place to go for a cold weather tour. I am sure we could come up with something similar in Canada – Dawson City regularly hits -50 in winter!

For storms, Tofino is the place to go. The Wickanninish Inn gets a mention, as does Surf Sister Surf School.

The Quebec ice hotel is mentioned as the place to sleep on ice.

Going Underground in the Rockies

I had a day in between meetings in Calgary and Banff, so what better way to spend it than going underground in Canmore? My friend Chas Yonge runs the excellent Wild Cave Tours in Canmore. We spent about 4 hours in the Rat’s Nest Cave, just outside of town. His Adventure tour comes highly recommended. The 20m rappel is a blast,  and the laundry chute is out of this world. Imagine yourself 100m underground, squeezing through a narrow tube, head-first at a 45 degree angle, and after a semi-somersault on your belly through another tiny tunnel. Not for the faint-of-heart or the claustrophobic. The tour leads toa large chamber and grotto with small underground pools.

Their multi-day Alpine Cave adventure sounds rather amazing as well.

Snowbiking

Here’s a novel way to make your way down a skihill: snowbiking. It was only a matter of time before someone thought of putting skis on a bike. It looks pretty comfortable to me, and a lot easier on the knees than skiing. Not a Canadian invention (it’s Austrian), but a great way to have fun on the slopes.

What’s living in your hotel room?

You’ll think twice about touching anything in a hotel room after reading this article about hotel germs in Condé Nast traveler

A cozy tent on a great hike sounds like a good alternative to me!