In solstice time, hike, snowshoe, and be still
As nature’s pulse slows in winter, take time to stand still. Perfectly still. In the midst of the Christmas rush, that’s counterintuitive. Gain inspiration from the sun’s apparent motion. Winter solstice occurred officially on December 22, marking a seeming momentary pause in the Earth’s oscillation. Sunrises and sunsets appear to occur at the same times for the next few days before beginning earlier and later, respectively. Herewith, suggestions for a quartet of cosmic destinations to achieve stasis with the solstice season while savouring the outdoors around Vancouver.
Heart-stirring views are on offer atop Minnekhada Regional Park’s High Knoll. Despite the housing sprawl in nearby Coquitlam, this hideaway at the foot of Burke Mountain feels a world apart; literally turn the corner from where the sidewalks end and pass through the looking glass into a bygone rural era.
Over the past two years, Metro Vancouver Parks has substantially upgraded Minnekhada’s 10 kilometres of walking trails. When reached at MVP’s central-area office, operations supervisor Ron Wood told the Georgia Straight that the pathways are now much wider than before. “There’s phenomenal hiking in this park that we’ve enhanced with a new gravelled, all-weather surfacing,” he confirmed. “That especially makes the High Knoll Trail more usable, even though some people would have preferred we’d left it rougher. You can now walk side by side without worrying about slipping in wet weather.”
That last remark reflects the relative steepness of the trail’s final pitch. Don’t worry. Weighed against the rewards of mounting the knoll, such concerns are trifling, especially as your eyes widen to take in the panorama of peaks, waterways, forests, and farmlands. Not inspired to make the ascent? There’s plenty of inspiration to be had merely by walking the figure-eight trails that trace the marshy outlines of two ponds whose glassy surfaces reflect Burke Mountain and the park’s lumpy landscapes—stillness to the nth power.
On outings along North Shore trails, vistas rarely make it onto the menu. The defining features of the landscape, particularly on local peaks in Mount Seymour and Cypress provincial parks, are towering trees, some a millennium or more old. Ancient forests give off a sheltering vibe, never more so than when winter closes in.
Strap on snowshoes or slip into sturdy boots and off you go. Welcoming public trails lead from the parking lots at winter-sports operations in both parks, convenient starting points. Snow crystals absorb all sounds except the crunch of footsteps and the measured inhalation of pure air. Pause beneath a massive old-growth tree on Cypress’s two-kilometre Yew Lake Trail. Take a true measure of the stillness while meandering through the woods and meadows. For a peek across the mouth of Howe Sound from Mount Strachan’s flank, venture one kilometre past the Old Growth Loop on the adjoining Bowen Lookout Trail. Achieve that same reward, with plentiful views sprinkled into the mix, along Mount Seymour’s First Lake Loop Trail. To stretch out a snowshoe ramble and spend more time standing still while catching your breath, head up the seven-kilometre Mount Seymour Trail. (Snowshoes are available for rent at both Mount Seymour Resort and Cypress Mountain’s Hollyburn Ridge.)
Few natural features stand as solemn and still as mountains. But even in the coldest weather, nothing runs faster than water pouring off their slopes. In the Callaghan Valley just south of Whistler, Madeley Creek gushes from its headwaters tucked high above in the glacier-sculpted folds between Mount Callaghan and Rainbow Mountain. At a small, easily accessible recreation site, Alexander Falls forms in three drops, with the creek currently hidden behind a frozen curtain. The fact that this only occurs in winter is a shame, as far fewer visitors get to experience the special magic of this spot, where a bench honours a couple who vowed eternal love. Hold that kiss.
Choose between two approaches: from roadside just prior to the entrance to Whistler Olympic Park, follow an open, unplowed lane that leads downhill to a viewing platform; or a snowshoe trail accessed from the nearby Callaghan Country cross-country ski centre offers a close-up perspective beside the falls.
To get a big-picture perspective on a solstice sunset, head to Iona Beach Regional Park in Richmond, near YVR. It is quickly accessible from downtown by vehicle, and cyclists can reach the park via the Canada Line to Richmond’s Templeton Station, from where an 11-kilometre stretch of smooth roadway leads to the park’s gates. On arrival, choose your approach: a four-kilometre jetty lances west into the Strait of Georgia; to the north, an equal stretch of beach fringed with driftwood runs out to distant Point No Point, where the Fraser River meets the strait. Bundle up; winds knife through all but the most windproof clothing. Fortunately, two Plexiglas shelters at the jetty’s middle and end points offer islands of refuge for cyclists and determined walkers. Halt and down a bracing beverage as stillness suddenly reigns blessedly supreme.
ACCESS: Minnekhada Regional Park lies 34 kilometres east of Vancouver in Coquitlam; Iona Beach Regional Park lies 15 kilometres south of Vancouver in Richmond. For information and directions to both, visit www.metrovancouver.org/services/parks_lscr/regionalparks/Pages/default.aspx. Information on trails in North Vancouver’s Mount Seymour and West Vancouver’s Cypress provincial parks is posted at www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/index.html. Alexander Falls lies 6.5 kilometres south of Whistler. From Highway 99, follow well-marked Callaghan Lake Road nine kilometres to the entrances to Whistler Olympic Park and Callaghan Country. For information on Callaghan Country’s Alexander Falls Loop Trail, visit www.callaghancountry.com/winter/snowshoeing.