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Not even 20 minutes from Squamish is the trailhead to Elfin Lakes.  This 11km trail gains 2,000 feet of elevation through Garibaldi Provincial Park - half of it through the forest and half through Alpine meadows... think Heidi and the Sound of Music.  I swear I could have been in the Alps.  

The trail is an old road created to access Diamond Head Chalet which was built by two young Norwegian men (Ottar and Emil Brandvold) and a Canadian woman (Joan Matthews) in the 1940s.  Diamond Head chalet was the first high-altitude ski lodge in BC north of Vancouver - at this time people had to take a 4-hour ferry ride just to get to Squamish - this was followed by a train to Garibaldi station, and an overnight there before even beginning the hike in!!   Pretty cool.  I just started reading about these 3 people and find them fascinating - they were all competitive skiiers who met in a tournament in Banff... the three of them dreamed of creating a hut to hut system for hikers and skiiers throughout Garibaldi park... and went on to do so.  

Now if these people weren't cool enough already - Joan was also the first graduate in sculpture from the Vancouver School of Art.  They developed a rehabilitation program to have war veterans come up into the mountains to help build cabins with the main focus being on the men's mental and physical health.  They also adopted a local deer as their pet - "The only thing about that deer," laughs Ottar, "was that we could never train him not to get into our bed." After Joan and Ottar had two kids, Joan stayed down in Squamish more... but wasn't just a housewife - she became the chief ambulance driver for the area.... wow this woman is my hero.  To read the whole history of this area - check out this article

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Lava rock!
So back to the present.... Sonia and I hiked in early saturday - carrying all our gear for camping as we had heard this place was seriously popular and we expected the hut to be full up from people who hiked in on friday.  Not the case at all.  There were maybe 6 people staying there, but the campground was almost full.  After the hike in, we dropped off our stuff, and carried on for another 10km hike or so.  We wanted to go check out Opal Cone - which is some sort... of cone?  But we had to turn around after we hit a large, roaring creek with no easy way of crossing, and we couldn't see the trail on the other side.  I am still unsure if we actually saw Opal Cone or not... it is a Cascade Volcano responsible for 15km of dacite lava flow (sounds like this is a wrinkly rock ridge).  I think we must have seen this... oh well.   

We hiked back to the hut - jumped into the glacier cold lake, and cooked ourselves the most delicious steak and potato dinner.  Sonia even had a glass of red wine.  We sat on the porch and played crib watching the sun go down.... 

 
 
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Remember this large lump of granite?  This is the Chief - besides the Grind, this is probably the most popular hiking destination in the Vancouver area. 

It is claimed to be the second largest monolith (single massive rock) in the world... what is the first?  Well the only other one I can think of is Ayer's rock, so that's my guess.  Turns out monoliths are quite an interesting topic themselves - did you know in Lalibela, Ethiopia there are 11 churches carved in the 12th century from red monolithic volcanic rocks; and they are considered the 8th wonder of the world?  Ok that's enough following wikipedia into the depths of random facts.  I could get lost in there for days.  

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Back to the Chief - there are three peaks to hike to and it takes about 5 hours to do them all (although that is just a bit of hearsay, I have never done it).  We just went to the first peak, and because the trail becomes more difficult for dogs, we turned around there.  As it was, Tim (the dog) had to be carried up a few ladders, but ultimately seemed to be enjoying himself.  

Normally the summit provides a fantastic view of Howe Sound and Squamish below, but we found ourselves in the middle of clouds, that only blew off for glimpses of the town below.  It was pretty cool though to be surrounded in clouds, completely in another world. 

An update on something I mentioned ages ago - the 40km hike from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove that I wanted to do... well my friend Michelle is going to do it with me next Monday!!  Yes :D I am so excited! 

 
 
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The Squamish River
I am slowly falling in love with Squamish.  Not really the town itself - although there is a really great sandwich shop with a delicious turkey and cranberry number... but the surrounding wilderness. 

Today the adventure north was to try mountain biking for the first time with my sister-in-law.  I had a feeling I might love it, and sure enough I think I have found another passion.  I should say though that it wasn't really "mountain" biking, more like trail-through-the-woods biking... there wasn't really any real downhill and it wasn't a particularly challenging ride.  I think they call it a green run (or the biking equivalent).  But still, it was enough of a taste of the sport to have me hooked for more.   My brother is a serious mountain biker - like the crazy type.  And I aspire to be like him. :D

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My brother
After our ride, we headed to Alice Lake.  Something kind of interesting (and glad I didn't know before) about this lake is that due to the presence of a smelter operational until 1972, the water became so acidic the only life form in it was some metal-tolerant algae.  I wish right after the website told me that, they would then tell me that now it supports a host of thriving species... or at least, that I don't need to worry about my skin falling off.  So far, so good though.  I am a little bit ashamed to say this was my first time this summer getting in the water.  I am usually in the water as soon as the sun makes an appearance, so I am glad this wrong is righted.  By the way, smelter has nothing to do with the fish - but more to do with extracting metals from their ore.   Hmmm another very wrong assumption.  

 
 
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I had no idea that just an hour and a half north of Vancouver I would find complete paradise! 

Garibaldi Lake.  

After trekking 9km through beautiful, lush Westcoast forest, we emerged in the middle of a scene straight out of a BC tourism ad.  I have never seen anything like this before!  And to think it existed this whole time only miles away. What have I been doing with my life?  

Garibaldi lake is 1,500m above sea level and is surrounded by mountains.  These peaks are volcanic along the north, south and west side.  At some point in history two volcanoes nearby erupted forming The Barrier - this lava dam is over 300m (1,000ft) thick and 2km wide.  The Barrier is holding back the water from the Garibaldi Lake system - which if it ever let loose, would do some serious damage to the nearby town of Squamish.  This is actually the reason why my brother and sister-in-law cannot get flood insurance on their home.  The most recent movement in The Barrier was in 1855-6 when the debris flow created a large boulder field giving the name to Rubble Creek.   In 1981 the BC government decided the instability of The Barrier made living in the nearby village of Garibaldi (which no longer exists) was too dangerous, so all the residents were relocated to a few Estates that were being built to the north.  At this time plans were also given up that would have made Garibaldi into the main ski resort in the area - instead the company Garibaldi Lifts went on to open Whistler Blackcomb....    interesting!!