Whistler & Clearwater - 31 July to 5 August 2014

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September 4th 2014
Published: September 6th 2014
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On leaving Vancouver we stopped at Brandywine Falls to have a picnic lunch. This scenic waterfall with a drop of 227 feet is situated near to the town of Squamish and was perfectly situated for a break where a short walk took us to an overlook of the falls. The trail started from the parking lot, crossed a wooden bridge over the river and crossed the railway track to a small platform overlooking the gorge. What a magnificent view of the waterfall we had from here, the sun was shining and at the bottom was a perfect rainbow - a good start to our next journey.

Later that day we thought we had arrived in Switzerland - but actually we were in Whistler but the mountains and area was so like some of the resorts in the Alps! Whistler has a permanent population of about 10,000 but also a larger but transient population of young workers, mainly from Australia - we met so many Australians working in the bars, restaurants and on the ski lifts and they used to joke and say if we could find five young Canadians then we would get a prize!!! The area is renowned for alpine skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer - we saw more bicycles here than we had ever seen. The village itself is pedestrianised and quite quaint and during our stay it was always packed and buzzing.

Our hotel was near the village and so ideally situated to shops, restaurants and the ski lifts. We must say we were very surprised to have to pay to park our car at there hotel though and at $20 per night was rather extortionate on top of the room rates. We settled in and walked into the village and took an open air chair lift up to Blackcomb Mountain to hike some of the numerous trails. The last cable lift I had managed to tackle had been in Switzerland with our young granddaughter Maisie holding my hand and telling me not to be scared!

We trekked for about two hours to a stunning blue lake surrounded by the mountains with snowy peaks. It was so peaceful and we even saw a family of Hoary Marmots grazing near a trickling stream and also a cute American Pika (rock rabbit). Hoary Marmots inhabit the slopes of the high alpine and are often nicknamed ‘The Whistler’ for making a high pitched alarm whistle to warn others - these were certainly very noisy.

We headed back to the ski lift from our hike but instead of going back down the mountain the way we had come up we took the Peak to Peak Gondola to get across to Whistler Mountain. This new gondola is an engineering marvel that connects the mountain of Whistler to Blackcomb on the other side of the steep valley. It is a tri-cable gondola lift and the first lift to join the two side-by-side mountains together. It holds the world record for the longest free span between ropeway towers as well as the highest point above the ground at one point it floats nearly two miles high.

Coming up Blackcomb Mountain in the open air lift had been scary enough but this was really ………..… Once it took off though the quietness of the lift (no clinking between links) just a really smooth ride took your mind off anything else. The views were awesome as we ‘sailed’ quietly across the tree line, valley and river far below. The 11 minute ride was really memorable and oh what a way to cross from one mountain to another held up by just three cords!

When we reached Whistle Mountain we hiked downhill to reach yet another lift. The Peak Express Chairlift, another open air lift takes you up to the Whistler Summit. This was also really scary as it scaled steep mountain sides, some still covered in snow and steep drop offs. However once there breathtaking 360 degree mountain view traversed all around you. Standing out on the skyline was a peak called Black Tusk and you could see why it was named this. This massive black spire of crumbling rock juts out of the earth in an incredibly distinctive way that looks like an enormous black tusk thrusting out of the ground. We hiked yet another trail around the summit of the mountain top and even though we were getting tired it was so worth it. It was only a short hike but had lots of elevation gain and also crossed over compacted snow with loose boulders. We stopped and sat on the snow thinking it would be solid but it was quite soft - it was amazing that any snow was still on the ground as it was well into summer but the high altitude ensures that it stays all year round.

As mentioned above during the winter the area attracts skiers of all abilities but it gets even busier in the summer when hordes of BMX bikers head up the same mountains. We watched throngs of youngsters attaching their bikes to the ski lifts or indeed walking into the gondolas with them. Once up the top they would bike fearlessly down the mountain sides, just like the skiers do in the winter - it looked jolly good fun but we gave it a miss this time!

That day we had traversed 8 Cable Lifts (I think I am cured Maisie) and had a really tiring but awesome day on the mountain peaks of British Columbia. That being said it was great to reach terra firma and sit down and rest our aching legs enjoying a drink and supper in one of the village pubs.

The next day, gluttons for punishment we headed back up Blackthorn Mountain taking the same route as the day before as I preferred the open chair lift rather than being closed in. The silence as you sat in the chair and slowly climbed the mountain was blissful and it got quieter as one got higher - there was always a chance of seeing black bears as well, but we never did. The chair lift takes about 20 minutes to get to the top and you have to change half way to another one to get to continue the ride to the top. We arrived at the terminal and walked across to the Peak to Peak ride. This time we had the whole cabin to ourselves which was great as we could walk around and had uninterrupted views down to the town and lakes below. There are 28 cabins crossing the mountains and each holds 28 people all but two of the cabins are painted bright red but there are also two silver ones with glass floors.

Once on Whistler Mountain again we hiked all the green and blue routes but missed out the black as we found the blue trails to be strenuous enough for us. All were scenic though, crossing meadows, traversing down some steep boulder strewn inclines into small forests and arriving at clear blue lakes, usually with a family of Marmots springing out of nowhere which made you jump as you walked by. The alpine wildflowers were still in bloom and we saw so many including; Stika Valerian, White & Pink Mountain Heather (little bells), Mountain Buttercup, Alpine Fireweed, Arctic Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, Partridge Foot and Western Pasque to name a few. One of the rangers here said that we had missed the best spring flower show - it must have been really stunning a few weeks ago as the meadows were still like a colourful carpet of colour.

In the Gondola terminal we visited a small museum dedicated to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games that were held here and also watched a video on the making of the Peak to Peak Gondola which was really interesting.

At the end of the day we took the older gondola ride (only holds 4) that went directly down to the town from the mountain top so we had now completed all of the various available rides. During the winter they have many more lifts running to ensure that the skiers get to the top as quickly as possible.

Our visit coincided with the Wanderlust Festival bringing together leading yoga teachers as well as a variety of musical acts. People gather from all over the world to attend retreats, classes and join in festivities including taking part in the Highest Yoga Class in the world at the top of the Whistler Mountain. Everywhere we looked people walked around with yoga mats under their arms heading off for their next lesson or taking part in massive sessions on the village green.

On our last night we decided to visit Peaked Pies, recommended on trip advisor for their Australia meat pies which we had so enjoyed there. It was only a small restaurant but they served up some delicious pies topped with mash potatoes and peas - really scrum my.

The next day we had a long journey ahead of us to our next destination which in the end took over 8 hours with several stops to reach Clearwater.


We had only really decided to stop in Clearwater to break our journey from Whistler to the Rocky Mountains and to see the Helmcken Falls which we knew were located quite a distance from the highway so would need an overnight stay. In the end we so enjoyed our visit here that we wished we had longer - much longer.

With a population of just over 2,000 Clearwater's workforce is mainly employed by the forest industry and is the gateway to Wells Gray Provincial Park which is surrounded by the Trophy Mountains, Raft Peak, Grizzly Peak and Dunn Peak - a very rural community.

We stopped at Clearwater Visitor Centre to get directions to our accommodation as well as picking up some leaflets on what to do during our stay. Our accommodation was located on the Clearwater Valley Road which was about 32 kms from the VC. With no other supplies within the park this was our last opportunity to stock up on any ‘essential’ supplies. The road from here literally ended at Clearwater Lake which just had a boat launch, campsite and small cafe with no other facilities along the way.

We stopped at Spahats Falls for a hike and to break the journey. With a 200 foot drop it poured out of a narrow cliff-sandwiched gorge before cascading into the Clearwater River below. You had a really sense of vertigo as you looked down into the deep gorge from the fenced off hiking trail around the gorge's rim. What was really different about this falls was that it seemed to hang from the narrow gorge above it and the water seemed to feed out of the centre rather than the top. All around the rock formations and abundant vegetation was really stunning - so lush and green. The weather was rather overcast but in the sunshine I expect this would have been even more spectacular.

We continued along miles of quiet roads with just trees and fields watching for a sign to our accommodation and nearly missed it was just a small wooden sign nearly taken over by roadside vegetation. A narrow gravel lane of about 3km traversed through some dense woodland before arriving at ‘Clearwater Springs Ranch’ our B&B which overlooked its own private meadows and surrounding parkland.

The advert had said that our accommodation was, ‘set within some of British Columbia's most beautiful wilderness, offering luxuriously appointed suites, food from local organic produce and their own Gold Award spring water in a unique, pristine valley setting of our 240 acres surrounded by the forests and mountains of the Wells Gray Park’ - the advert did really do it justice.

We were met by the owners, Kurt and Tania and their Sheltie dog, originally from Belgium they used to run a business importing tropical fish before they decided on a change of scene and moving to Canada. They fell in love with the mountains and wildlife and the seasons that create the different faces of nature but most of all they said they fell in love with ‘Time’ - time to enjoy the greatness of it all rather than work every hour of the day running their last business.

We had been allocated the Honeymoon Suite with our own entrance to a balcony that looked out over the meadows and mountains where we could hear the distant tumbling of a waterfall across the valley as it cascaded from Battle Mountain to the creek below. This was all you could hear apart from the blissful silence!

Kurt and Tania told us to keep the main door locked and closed at all times as there were bears in the area and they were able to open the front door! We never did get to see one during our stay but apparently we should visit in May when they are all around the area. They come down from the mountains but as it gets warmer usually head back up. They had seen a bear the day before our arrival and Tania said it was probably because the Thimbleberries around the ranch were ripening - the bears love these. Their son Sidney had also seen a Cougar on the track up from the main road the night before but again we never did. Tania later brought us some thimbleberries to taste and although a little bitter they were quite different from any other berries we had eaten. We said we were going to do some hiking the next day and she advised us to visit Helmcken Falls later in the day as the sun (if it was shining) would highlight the falls better.

On our first night the two other guests (there are only three rooms) were out and the owners were visiting friends so we had the whole place to ourselves and we sat on the balcony and enjoyed the total peace and solitude and wished we could have stayed forever … … …

It was absolute tranquility with Humming birds hovering around us and views over the meadows as the sun set over the horizon and the distant trickle of the waterfall on Battle Mountains … … …

The next day we set off to explore Wells Grey Provincial Park which covers about 1.3 million acres - most of this complete wilderness with some good hiking trails. It is also a destination for waterfall lovers as there are seven close by along the Murtle River in the park.

Our first stop was at Dawson Falls which was just like a mini Niagara Falls. What Dawson falls lacked in height it compensated in width as it stretched for 275 feet across the river. There were several good viewing points with open views of the river and the falls. Dawson Falls was named in 1913 by land surveyor Robert Lee after George Dawson, the Surveyor-General for British Columbia. Lee and his crew camped near Dawson Falls during the summers of 1913/14 while they surveyed homesteaders' lots along the south side of the Murtle River. Whilst surveying west from Dawson Falls he also discovered Helmcken Falls. WE would be viewing Helmcken later that day as our host had said it was best viewed in the afternoon when the sun shines over the falls.

We hiked to Ray Farm passing through a forest track which eventually opened out to a grassy meadow full of wild flowers in bloom. The long-abandoned homestead consisted of a log cabin with a couple of outbuildings and a small gravesite. A cold mineral spring bubbled out of the ground near the farm buildings and we watched several birds hovering over the water. The mineral springs attract wildlife, providing a rich source of nutrients for the animals and birds. A small boardwalk and detailed signboards told the history of the site as well as details on local flora and fauna.

The farm was constructed by John Bunyan Ray, a trapper and farmer. John first came to Clearwater in 1910 from Oregon with his brother, Sam and they stayed in a cave by Azure Lake as they trapped. The next year John helped save many members of a native Indian tribe during a measles epidemic. In gratitude the chief awarded him a huge tract of land, about 800 acres, centred around what is now called the Ray Farm. The first few years he stayed in a cabin near Alice Lake but he then built a one-room cabin next to the mineral springs on the farm. In 1933 he surprised many by marrying Alice Ludtke, daughter of an Upper Clearwater pioneer family. He was over 50 while she was just 21 but they lived and raised three children, Doug, Bob and Nancy on this remote homestead.

His family were among the very few first pioneers that settled in the isolation of the North Thompson Valley with there nearest neighbours about ten miles away. They had to be remarkably self-sufficient in this wilderness setting, keeping livestock, maintaining a garden and harvesting and preserving food supplies for the winter - if not they would not have survived for long. Ray would make a long trip west once or twice a year to pick up some supplies and trade in his furs.

The family moved from the farm to Clearwater in 1947 so that the children could get an education which was unavailable in their wilderness setting. It took many trips to move homes and John did not return from the last one … … … Some friends trekked back to the remote farm and found that John had died of a heart attack between the cabin and the barn - he was buried nearby. Alice died in 1959 of cancer and her ashes were left on John's grave. All their three children did well in life occasionally returning to paint the picket fence around their parents grave.

Today the farm is deserted and the buildings are deteriorating - everything is gradually returning to the earth. It is still inhabited though by local wildlife; bear, mule deer, moose and coyotes all visit the area and birds nest in the farm buildings. The land has come full circle, back to its original owners who were here long before Ray the pioneer moved into the valley - but his story will also live on and be read and remembered by those that visit this scenic meadow still set in a wilderness … … …

After this very interesting, yet poignant hike we continued literally to the end of the road as the Clearwater Valley Road ends at Clearwater Lake. We walked around to the large lake where there were a few picnic tables and we sat and ate our picnic overlooking this scenic lake. Nearby was a small campsite and cafe where a couple of people were sitting but apart from that it was so quiet. We chatted to the owner of the cafe who told us that he was our B&B’s hosts nearest neighbour - but this was 2 miles away. He rented out kayaks but we were happy that we had enough exercise for the day. You really had to know what you were doing in this area as nearby was the Osprey Falls which was very hazardous to boaters on the Lake because of the strong current - many people have been swept over these falls and only a few have survived.

Our next hike was to Bailey’s Chute a short waterfall along the river with a very swift, strong current and where during high water, the roar of the chute could be heard a kilometre away. The walk only took us about 25 minutes travelling through some large cedar trees before stopping at a wooden viewing platform where the noise was really deafening - you could hear why it is classed as one of the wildest rapids on the Clearwater River. Bailey’s Chute is apparently in its full glory when the salmon run arrives in late August and for about 3 or 4 weeks, these giant fish can be seen trying to jump up the waterfall - we were probably two weeks too early which was a pity … … …

We enjoyed the walk never the less but continued on to visit the main reason why we had ended up in this park - Helmcken Falls. With a 476 foot drop, measured by a total straight drop without a break and Canada's fourth highest waterfall it was a really impressive volcanically formed waterfall. It was for the protection of these particular so beautiful falls that the Wells Gray Provincial Park was formed back in 1939. We agreed that just to be able to view these falls was so worth the detour from the main highway. If we had not we would have missed all that this delightful park had to offer - another place we would like to return to one day - maybe in the Spring when the bears are out!

Although some areas in the park were regularly visited by local Indian bands to gather food, Wells Gray Park was little known by Europeans until a century ago when surveyors explored potential routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Helmcken Falls itself was only discovered in 1913, and the fame of the area for its spectacular waterfalls spread quickly but tourism has never been huge.

Back at our lovely B&B we met some new guests and they were rare Brits to the area like us, Dave and Pauline who came from Guildford. We had a delightful meal with them and our hosts on the balcony overlooking the wilderness - oh, this really is such a lovely place and we could see why Tania and Kurt so loved it here. Thank you Tania for cooking such an interesting meal, a fusion of Canadian and Belgium flavours.

At breakfast the next morning we watched the Dawn Mist slowly rising over the valley and Battle Mountain to welcome in yet another day - such beauty in this uncrowded, unspoilt location. It would have been great to have stayed longer but its time to move on again as the Rocky Mountains beckon us - see you there.

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 37


6th September 2014

What stunning scenery you have photographed, it looks so serene. Great too to see that you have overcome your fear of heights & can now take it all in your stride Sheila. Loved the picture of the hummingbird too. xx
6th September 2014

Hi you two - it such a stunning place you cannot put the camera down trying to capture all the beauty. Still get wobbly legs though but can do so much more now. Love P&S
6th September 2014
Brandywine Falls

America the beautiful
6th September 2014
Whistler View

North America
Canada is so lovely. Amazing. North America has so much to offer.
6th September 2014
Whistler View

North America
What a wonderful Continent North America is - Regards P&S
7th September 2014
Brandywine Falls

Great photo
Great photo. It is not easy to take photos of waterfalls. I have many times over tried to catch the magic of water cascades and failed. You succeeded though.
7th September 2014
Brandywine Falls

Thanks for your comments and yes it is really difficult -but I got lucky this time! Regards S&P
8th September 2014
Brandywine Falls

What a place!
Great pics! Thanks for sharing! Canada is magical!
24th September 2014

Hi Paul and Sheila, Loved reading all about Whistler. We have been to Whistler- but only to ski! So it looks and sounds very different to when it is covered in snow and is so cold! We heard all about the marmots but never saw them (I'm sure that they hibernate?) and one of James' friends even gave me a plush marmot...but a marmot is no competition for my favourite of all animals, the suricate! I think that we will have to visit Canada in the Summer sometime. Simon is desperate to go to Canada for Christmas again but I think we will go a little closer to home to ski and keep it for another time. Simon has settled in smoothly to Middle School like Maisy and has become as cool as a cucumber! Jonathan is enjoying Gr4 and his South African male teacher! (Luckily he has been in the UK for the last 14yrs) His Africaans accent still lingers though... Hope you are both well and hope to see you when you are in Dubai again, love Rae
3rd October 2014

Christmas Already
Hi Rae - Thanks for your comments on the blog and yes Canada is really great. Glad to hear that Simon and Jonathan have settled into their new term I expect they have grown a little since I saw them last. Cannot believe that Christmas is around the corner it only seems like yesterday that we celebrated it in grand South African style at your lovely warm home. Will definitely catch up with you when we are in our 'second home' in Dubai with Sharon, Geoff and Maisie. Lots of Love P&SX

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