Chief Stawamus: Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
While the snow may have worked against us in Whistler, one thing that did play to our advantage was the long days. It never occurred to me that we were "so far north," but we clearly were far enough north where we had a few extra hours of daylight. The sun shone through our rental apartments at 4:30 am, and our evening walks home from dinner were well-lit at 10:30 pm. With the extra light, we felt obligated to spend more time outside, often doing two hikes a day.
After two days in Whistler, we packed our car and drove one of the most scenic stretches of highway in North America: the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia. There were ample scenic viewpoints, and with the extra daylight, we didn't feel the need to hurry our drive to get to our destinations. Our rule of thumb was to stop at any and all accessible scenic overlooks.
One hike that was recommended by numerous websites, hosts, and locals alike was the Stawamus Chief Mountain in Stawamus Provincial Park. More affectionately known as "The Chief," this massive granite monolith hangs out on the side of Highway 99 in Squamish.
The chief has three distinct summits, each ranging between 4 km and 6 km from the parking lot, all accessible by the Chief Hiking Trail. But due to the steep nature of the hike, it can take multiple hours to get up and down a single summit. And thanks to incredibly crowded parking on a Canadian holiday weekend, we parked a great distance away and had to tack on extra mileage to an already late-day start.
Our original plan was to hit up Summits 2 and 3, the Center and North Summits. All trail guides said that Summit 1, the South Summit, was the most crowded. As we got going, we realized it was because the trail was so steep that most people were looking to finish as soon as possible. We skipped the first summit turnoff and headed straight for the second. It immediately cleared of people.
I simply was not anticipating the steepness of the trail. I thought the Great Wall of China was challenging given the uneven stairs and midday heat, but The Chief rivaled in difficulty. At points, we were scrambling up boulders and climbing stairs that had no consistency in size or steepness. Finding a rhythm was a challenge. Othertimes, we were climbing along a steep dropoff, simply hanging onto a chain that was bolted to the side of the mountain.
I'm not a huge fan of heights -- or rather, I'm not a huge fan of dropoffs and things I can clumsily tumble down. Heights itself don't bother me, but ledges and edges do. Around the halfway point up the Center Summit hike, we saw a young girl hugging a tree on the side of the cliff. Her father sat next to her reading a book. "I think we're going to call it a day here," he responded when I asked if they were ok. "I am so scared. What's your name?" the girl said as she clung onto the tree for dear life. "I'm Alyssa. What's yours?" "I'm Lucy," she sobbed. I asked Lucy if she wanted to hold my hand as we traversed the chain handhold, and she said no. I told her I might be joining her in a couple of minutes, but I was just going to assess what it looked like around the bend.
The truth is, I was terrified. I so desperately wanted to join Lucy, but I knew if I made it around the bend I wasn't going to backtrack. The way down wasn't the same as the way up, and I'd have to meet my friends back at the car if I decided to call it quits and turn around there.
Through a lot of pep talks (and brave Sabrina propping herself between me on the bolts and the dropoff below), I traversed across the chain rope, up a rickety old ladder through a narrow granite crevasse, and onto the center summit of The Chief. The views of Howe Sound were incredible and we had an unusually clear day.
But that was enough for me. As we spotted the markers on the way down the Center Summit, I asked that we not continue onto the North Summit, another 2 km up the trail. At our rate, it would have taken us 3 hours to ascend the North Summit, with another 3 hours descent back to the car. We all agreed we were tired, hungry, hot, and didn't anticipate the 12 km walk to take us so long.
We hopped back on the scenic highway toward Vancouver as the sun starting setting at 10 pm.