In this snowless domestic landscape, Christmas lights glow, framing the distant mass of Grouse Mountain. Green, treed slopes rise above the roofs until capped by a dusting of snow. It’s one of those rare straight lines drawn by nature, separating a ribbon of temperate green from a broad band of white above. As I start today’s walk, looking up at the mountain, I can imagine that line as roughly demarcating today’s walk on the Baden-Powell trail as it traverses the mountain.
For the first time, I am heading up the slopes of North Vancouver. The snow and cold of Manitoba is my natural habitat. I come to Vancouver seeking some sort of warmth – at least by Canadian standards. My natural inclination is not to head northwards and upwards into the cool and snow I am trying to escape.
But, then again, it is a mountain. A foreign concept to a prairie dweller. A geographic feature too novel to ignore.
So I head towards Mosquito Creek, heading north this time, walking against the waters as they plunge down to the harbour. The going gets rough – quickly. Warnings of cougar sightings. Warnings to proceed at my own risk. Deadfall obscures any trail that might exist – I am later told there was, indeed a trail – and soon I am scrambling awkwardly up a steep slope to where, I hope, I will connect with the Baden-Powell trail.
It works, but now I am following that line of snow, ice and occasional patch of bare earth as it makes its way westward along the steep slopes of Grouse mountain. I feel like an idiot hiker who should not be venturing into this treacherous world. Every step is potentially my last. I worry about my feet scooting out from under me, sending me tumbling down the near-vertical slope, my head and back smashed as I bounce from tree to tree, my body devoured by cougars. Oh, the imagination!
To make matters worse for this idiot, lithe young trail-runners effortlessly pass by and disappear, no doubt rolling their eyes at my creeping progress.
Eventually I gain confidence and my pace picks up, not to a run but at least a brisk walk. And it is a beautiful walk. The air is crisp, fresh and pleasantly cool. Slender pines soar vertically from the steep slopes. The trail crosses creeks that I have no doubt followed along manicured trails on my lowland walks. Up here, they take on a rugged, wilderness quality.
The Baden-Powell Trail was initiated by Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in 1971 as a provincial centennial project. It’s a long 48 kilometre trail that stretches west from from Deep Cove to Horseshoe Bay. I am following but a small length of that trek, from Mosquito Creek to the foot of the famous Grouse Mountain Grind (that trail closed for the season, with good reason) and the Skyride gondola, both taking visitors to the ski resort at the top.
It’s a sunny day for a change and, as I make my way along the trail, I decide a gondola ride up to the ski resort for lunch should be a worthy reward. Apparently every other sun-starved Vancouverite has the same goal. My arrival at the base of the Skyride deposits me in a long and winding line of skiers and tourists, waiting their turn to board the cable craft. By the time my turn comes, over an hour later, the sun has disappeared behind low-hanging clouds. Many are disappointed, some leave but I am determined to continue.
Up goes our huddled group. Mountains quickly disappear as we slip into an ethereal world of featureless clouds. Nothing exists beyond the glass walls of our little cabin. It is only as our gondola approaches its destination that the soft forms of buildings and trees reveal themselves through the grey skies.
And, as we step out on the platform, we all take a deep breath. We are in another world up here, above a carpet of clouds, under a dome of limitless sky. Boughs of spindly conifers sag under the heavy load of fresh snow, sugar-coated confections in this fairy-tale land. Or is it some sort of heaven…inhabited by skiers?
This might be considered an odd place to end a tour of North Vancouver walks, at the top of a mountain reached by a mechanical convenience. But as I left the home of my sister and her husband for my daily walks, each necessarily began with a walk up their cul-de-sac, looking north, looking up to those alpine slopes. Sometimes grey and forlorn. Sometimes dusted with snow. And, on one early start, a luminous apparition on the crest of Grouse Mountain, set against still dark-skies. I had to know. What was that other-world up there?