With exactly one week till take off, I just stumbled upon New Zealand Tourism's "Top 10 Instagram spots in 2017."
Which ones are already on OUR itinerary?
Full disclosure: I'm trying to like Instagram. I have an account I use now and then, but as a travel writer I can't help but feel it undermines my chosen field. A click is a click is a click, I suppose, but when you get paid by the word the power of digital photography becomes highly disconcerting. Then again, 375 million active users can't be wrong, and many of the posts I come across are pretty damn cool. That must be why Instagram is making me feel so optimistic about my family's upcoming trip to New Zealand.
With exactly one week till take off, I just stumbled upon New Zealand Tourism's "Top 10 Instagram spots in 2017."
Which ones are already on OUR itinerary?
I won't deny that there are some glaring gaps in the Canada 150 Countdown.
These regional omissions were pointed out to me several times as July 1 neared. As “Canucklehead” put it in a comment: "The Canada 150 Countdown? Where's Manitoba? Yukon? The WHOLE DAMN EAST COAST? Time for a new title!"
Then there's this comment from “From The Rock”: "Still waiting for something from Newfoundland. Why don't you come visit?"
Honestly, I would like nothing more. Between now and the Canada 200 celebrations I plan to attend as a vampire or mummy, I solemnly pledge to explore more of the six provinces and two territories that aren't covered by the Ontario-Quebec-BC-Alberta-NWT Countdown. (Happy now, Canucklehead?) Now that my Atlantic Canada to-do list is out there, here are the five spots at the top of my 50-year itinerary for Yukon and Nunavut:
There’s still gold in the hills surrounding the former Yukon capital, but these days it’s far from the only draw. The vestiges of the late-19th-century Klondike Gold Rush are still prominent: The Yukon Gold Panning Championships each July; tours of Robert Service‘s home, which provide insights into the life and work of the “Bard of the Yukon;” Diamond Tooth Gerties saloon, where live can-can shows remain a staple; and the Downtown Hotel, where Sourtoe Cocktail, made with a real mummified human toe, is still served. One simple (and disgusting) act will get you into the Sourtoe Cocktail Club: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe.” And note-to-self: Several toes have been swallowed over the decades, and I don’t want to be “that guy.”
Starting near Dawson City, the Dempster winds 730 gravelly kilometres to the town of Inuvik, NWT, on the wildlife-rich delta of the Mackenzie River. Along the way it crosses the Arctic Circle, passes the jagged peaks and moss-carpeted valleys of Tombstone Territorial Park, and bisects enormous tracts of tundra that are home to moose, caribou and grizzly bears. If all this doesn’t make the miles melt away, the highway is also an essential lifeline for remote northern communities where First Nations customs are still practiced as they have been for centuries.
Kluane National Park and Reserve
Do the math: When 82 per cent of a national park is covered by either mountains or glaciers (or both), you know you’re in for something spectacular. It certainly adds up in this list’s largest park, a 21,980-square-kilometre wonderland of icy beauty tucked into Yukon’s southwest corner. Mixed forests and colourful alpine tundra flourish in Kluane’s remaining 18 per cent, providing a home for eagles, grizzly bears, wolves and other creatures that are often at risk in busier parks to the south. And topping it all off — literally — is Mount Logan, at 5,959 metres Canada's highest peak.
Auyuittuq National Park
If you’re going to name a peak after the Norse god of thunder and lightening, it had better be…striking. And Mount Thor is certainly that. The dramatic granite monolith in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island is a respectable 1,675 metres tall — starting almost at sea level — but 1,250 metres of that is sheer cliff, creating the Earth’s greatest purely vertical drop. In addition to being predictably popular with rock climbers, the precipice is world-renowned among base jumpers. For my part, I’ll probably leave my wingsuit at home.
Bathurst Inlet Lodge
Formerly a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post and Oblate mission, the 42-year-old lodge offers nicely appointed rooms in a variety of quirky locations: a deconsecrated church, cabins overlooking the Burnside Delta, the two-bedroom Taipana House, a former trading post warehouse, and a former radio transmission station. Staying here is said to offer a glimpse into the traditional Inuit lifestyle, as well an opportunity to spot Arctic wildlife such as foxes, seals, barren-ground caribou and muskox from hiking trails and sea kayaks. Also in the area is the Wilberforce Falls, the highest waterfall above the Arctic Circle.
Travel elicits many emotions, from awe to anger and from upgrade ecstasy to gift-shop remorse. But over the course of my Canadian wanderings there’s something more: Pride. That's what this daily series is all about: Sharing my proud perspective on the places and experiences that make my country the greatest on Earth. Some of my selections are world-famous, others are little-known, a few are acquired tastes, and this one takes hiking, and hot-tubbing, to new heights.
“Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying…”
Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” reverberates through my headset as our soundtrack-equipped helicopter soars over the bluest lake I've ever seen. At that moment, the lips in question belong to the awestruck passenger next to me. But it’s easy to see what she’s saying: “Wow!”
Her mic isn't working, but no matter. All six passengers in the West Coast Helicopters chopper are clearly dumbfounded by the Coast Mountain scenery assaulting their senses.
An hour earlier, our mid-morning lift-off from Nimmo Bay Resort shattered the misty serenity of the luxurious eco-lodge. Here on the southwestern edge of B.C.’s remote and rugged Great Bear Rainforest, exploration is only possible by sea or air. We would soon discover why helicopters are so well-suited for the latter.
If the tiered waterfall powering the resort, the bronze grizzly bear statues in its effluence, and our towering breakfast skillets had seemed like aspects of a wonderful dream, then the next seven hours push the experience into died-and-gone-to-heaven territory. Indeed, I expect “Stairway to Heaven” to continue the classic-rock theme as our chopper veers away from Corsan Peak and its impossibly blue kettle lake, and returns to a wide river valley where larch trees mottle the banks with their autumnal yellows.
We’ve touched down just once so far: On a parking space-sized boulder near the base of a gushing waterfall, where Dave Wigard, our good-natured pilot, demonstrates the chopper’s remarkable versatility.
His point is driven home emphatically as we approach Silverthrone Glacier. As its jagged expanse unfolds below us and its namesake peak looms ahead, I half expect to see Superman emerge from what looks like his Fortress of Solitude. I also realize just how lucky we are to admire scenery that would otherwise require some serious mountaineering skills to reach.
Wigard skilfully lands the chopper on a moraine flanking the glacier, where we rendez-vous with the tour’s other two birds. Within minutes our guides cover a flat-topped boulder with a decadent lunch spread, which tastes that much better 8,000 feet up.
After cramming our memory cards with “I’m King of the World!” snapshots, we climb back into the choppers and leave the glacier in dramatic fashion. We fly low over the ice, past sinewy waterfalls and towering cliffs, then suddenly swoop upward. Within seconds, we’re looking down on Silverthrone Mountain, its snowy peak punctured by dark pillars of volcanic rock that resemble giant claws bursting from an icy lair. Forget Superman: This is more like something out of Lord of the Rings.
Read the rest of the story in the Globe and Mail
WHERE TO STAY
Most Nimmo Bay guests arrive via YVR, where the nearby Vancouver Airport Marriott Hotel provides free shuttle service, elegant accommodations, and 24-hour room service.
Travel elicits many emotions, from awe to anger and from upgrade ecstasy to gift-shop remorse. But over the course of my Canadian wanderings there’s something more: Pride. That's what this daily series is all about: Sharing my proud perspective on the dozens of places and experiences that make my country the greatest on Earth. Some of my selections are famous, others are little-known, and a few are acquired tastes. This one, meanwhile, was made for yodelling. Can you say “Riiicolaaa?”
High atop the Sea to Sky Gondola, the hills are alive with the sound of … backhoes? With less than three weeks to go until its 2014 opening, dozens of construction workers are digging, drilling and hammering final touches into place.
Just off the Sea to Sky Highway in Squamish, B.C. – the self-proclaimed Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada – the 2,135-metre-long lift climbs the Sky Pilot massif in spectacular fashion. There is wining and dining in its Summit Lodge; a tidy network of alpine walking trails; and a 90-metre-long suspension footbridge. From the enormous sunset-facing patio, one of three panoramic viewing platforms, I gaze up at Sky Pilot Mountain’s horn-shaped peak as it tears clouds to shreds, while Howe Sound glitters in the forested fjord nearly a kilometre below. It’s enough to make even Tyroleans envious.
That’s two Austrian references already, and for good reason: The $22-million facility was inspired by the gondola stations common in the Alps, says general manager and founding partner Jayson Faulkner. These were built “not for skiing, but for access,” he says. “That’s very rare in Canada, which is kind of crazy. We have all this amazing wilderness, and we have first-world infrastructure – highways, roads and the rest of it – yet access is fairly limited.”
First proposed in 2011, the gondola required approval from four different sources, as it occupies municipal, Crown and First Nations land, and runs through Shannon Falls Provincial Park. After much local consulting over the nature and purpose of the project – and considerable controversy over mistaken perceptions that it would run up the Stawamus Chief, the iconic granite dome that looms over Squamish – construction began in March of 2013.
It all came together with “remarkable” speed, Faulkner says, because locals clamoured for something more than another roadside attraction. They are an active, outdoorsy bunch, as evidenced by the wide array of diversions – rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, kite boarding and so on – that gives the town its motto.
The gondola, in turn, is about more than sunset cocktails and nuptial photo shoots. “All those superkeen backcountry hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers see this as providing extraordinary accessibility to what is otherwise inaccessible,” Faulkner says, gesturing toward the densely forested mountainsides. “About nine million people drive the Sea to Sky Highway each year, and more than 70 per cent of them do it for the express intent of an outdoor wilderness experience. That is unique in North America, and we are here to cater to it.”
Read the rest of the story in The Globe and Mail.
WHERE TO STAY
Squamish is about halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, and is therefore less than an hour’s drive from both the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel and the Delta Whistler Village Suites. Marriott Rewards members qualify for rates that are up to 5 per cent off the best available rate when booking online, and if you find a lower rate within 24 hours of booking Marriott will match it and knock another 25 per cent off your stay.
I've always followed cougar-related news with interest, what with my bizarre personal connections to Canada's biggest cat. So when I read recent reports of a cougar carcass (pictured) being found near Thunder Bay, it confirmed what I've feared for years: They are coming to finish the job!
Just joking: An eye-opening assignment for Explore magazine taught me that tangling with a mountain lion is unlikely in the extreme. Statistics bear this out: The odds of being killed by a cougar in Canada are at least 32 million to one against, so it seems impossible that I'll be snuffed out the third time around. (Knock on wood.)
My recollection of my first cougar encounter, in Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park, remains as vivid as ever. Our party of seven was spread out along the Bertha Lake trail on the sunny morning of August 20, 1982. My dad, brother and two cousins were leading the way, and my mother and sister were bringing up the rear. I was hiking alone in the middle, with approximately 20 metres separating me from each group.
Partway up a gentle rise, cries erupted behind me: “Adam, look out!” For a moment I mistook the golden animal for a Labrador retriever, but then shouts of “Cougar!” set me horribly straight. Barely an arm’s length from my incredulous eyes, it bared its fangs and emitted the distinctive snarl that, until then, I’d only heard in car commercials.
”Yell at it! Scream at it!” my parents called out. Not that I needed coaching: When the cougar reared up and jabbed one set of claws into my back and the other into my left leg, I shrieked as loudly as my nine-year-old lungs could muster.
The cat withdrew and looked me up and down. Then it lunged again, this time reversing its grip as it tried to pull me to the ground. I screamed and kicked its exposed belly, causing it to retreat and tilt its head quizzically.
Thanks to one of my cousins and to my father, the attack ended there. David charged down the hill, waving a piece of deadfall and screaming maniacally. Dad was close behind. The animal’s eyes widened, and just before I collapsed, it darted into the surrounding foliage.
The next thing I knew, I was in my father’s arms. Red rivulets covered my bare legs, and I could feel my tattered Muppets T-shirt sticking to my bleeding back. We made it to the one-room Waterton Medical Clinic in a matter of minutes -- Dad says he had never run so fast -- and after being assessed, bandaged and poked with various needles, I was discharged.
Park wardens weren’t taking any chances. My attacker, a healthy adolescent tom, had already been spotted regularly in and around the town and had approached hikers several times. Two days later, it was shot dead.
Read about my second (and hopefully final) cougar encounter in Reader's Digest.
Some of you know that I was mauled by a cougar in Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park when I was 9. I've told the story many, many times, but never followed up on it until I landed a writing assignment to do so for Explore magazine. Two years and two trips to Kamloops later, the story is finally on newsstands. To give you a taste of this peculiar and uniquely harrowing tale, and hopefully encourage you to pick up an outstanding Canadian publication, here's a short excerpt of the 3,500-word piece:
Wildlife-viewing generates hundreds of millions of dollars in British Columbia each year. Grizzly bears, killer whales, bald eagles, sockeye salmon – all of these fascinating creatures, and many more besides, can be spotted with a professional guide at your side.
Cougars, however, are another story. The province is home to more than 85 per cent of Canada’s 7,000-odd cats, yet try as I might I can’t find a tour company or outfitter to show me one in the wild.
When I email Heather McEachen of Tourism Vancouver Island about cougar-spotting tours on the landmass with the world’s highest per capita density of the animals – about one for every 760 humans – I can almost hear her incredulity over cyberspace. “As cougars are quite dangerous and unpredictable there are no companies offering this type of package,” she replies. “It is not a tourism product we sell. Generally, most people stay away from them.”
The feeling is mutual. Cougars are lethally anti-social. The territories of adult male “toms” can exceed 200 square kilometres, but they want it all to themselves. Toms typically fight to the death in contested territory, while females (or “shes”) that aren’t in heat are attacked on sight, and often killed along with their kittens.
Then there’s the species’ incredible stealth. There’s an apocryphal saying among Vancouver Island residents that cougars are watching them 50 per cent of the time. This probably isn’t statistically accurate, but it speaks to the big cats’ abundance and secretive, solitary ways. Add to this the fact that cougars are active mainly outside daylight hours, and it’s no wonder the only reliable way to see one is to sniff it out with dogs and chase it up a tree.
I could hire a hunting guide to do this – B.C.’s one-bag-limit cougar season runs from November to February – but I’ve no intention of killing or even harrying the big cats for sport, or supporting the industry that makes this possible. Retribution is the last thing on my mind.
It’s only after reading media reports of Bust’s tragic demise that I seize upon the idea of imbedding myself with a Conservation Officer. COs shoot plenty of cougars – 118 in 2014 alone – but they do it to protect people, livestock and pets. In short, if I spot one alongside a CO, its inevitable demise won’t be for my benefit.
Trouble is, no journalist has ever gone on a real “cougar call” before. After several emails to the B.C. Ministry of Environment, a media relations staffer replies by phone. “We don’t really let journalists go out on calls,” she explains apologetically. “Why do you want to do this, anyway?”
“Well,” I reply, “I was mauled by a cougar when I was 9, and I’m looking for some answers about what happened to me.”
There’s a pause on the line. Then: “Do you have any scars?”
Two months later I’m sitting in Kevin Van Damme’s truck, about to embark on the first cougar call of the warm spring day.
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