Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hiking the Stawamus Chief, Squamish BC

On Sunday afternoon, the normal cloudy with a chance of drizzle cleared and we were graced with blue skies and warm sun. It was the oportune moment to hike up the trail that runs behind the Stawamus Chief, a large granite dome located in Squamish, BC.

The Chief has 3 peaks, the tallest of which is 702m. Rockclimbers usually descend up the granite face, but for those with no ropes and a respect for heights, the national park has built a rugged trail that literally goes UP one way, and DOWN another. No compromise in between! There is also a secondary trail that runs to the third peak directly, and on to the Stawamus Squaw, a second, smaller granite dome standing next to the Chief. This trail is even less developed, but has the advantage of being less of a tourist highway.

Our first challenge was crossing the Stawamus River:

I was not so successful:

Nature 1: Gretel 0

Our second crossing (at least no wet feet this time):

Here, on the second trail to the third peak. It is a series of half-developed steps formed out of roots and large rocks:

The view waiting for us on the third peak. Here, facing North-East:

The town of Squamish below:

The moment I realised I had a long, long way to go before being able to rockclimb with no fear of heights:

Looking South, the Howe Sound in the background:

I may look slightly stunned by the beautiful view, but aren't my Canada-socks fabulous! (Designed by Czech sock company called ELEVEN. Their socks are awesome for cycling and running, and they also do excellent triathlon and cycling gear):

The Howe Sound:

Descending via the first trail to the Second peak:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Arrival in Canada

Arrival in Vancouver

With a 20kg backpack, laptop bag, day pack and bike box in hand, we left the airport and traveled via skytrain to Vancouver Downtown. After departing the train station we only had 500m to walk to our backpackers hostel. It took us 30 minutes: 10m - rest - 10m - rest...repeat!
Sweaty, hunched over and longing for a massage (so much tension in the shoulders), we arrive at "SameSun" backpackers. Like every other backpackers you have been to, the foul-smelling 6-bed dorm became our home for the next three days as we navigated our way through re-establishing our lives in Canada.

At the airport ("No, really, we need a trolley each!"):

Spring in Vancouver, while in the mountains Winter still reigns:

Facade makeover for the recent 2010 Winter Olympics:

National pride in downtown "Van":

Looking back at the skyline of downtown Vancouver:

Canada Place (Convention and Exhibition Centre) at the waterfront overlooking Burrard Inlet:

Looking towards Stanley Park along the waterfront of Burard Inlet:

Yachts moored in front of downtown Vancouver:


Moving to Squamish

Sufficiently traumatized (and suspecting slight brain damage) from the overwhelming stench of our (I hate to say it) Australian dorm-"mate," we were desperate to find accommodation in the town of Squamish. Located 60km north of Vancouver along the Sea to Sky Highway, it is tucked in a valley between mountains and the end of the Howe Sound. Heading up, we did as many Canadians do - we hitchhiked: *

Every local that has picked us up since then tells us that the highway was rebuilt for the Olympics and to make it safer for the tourists commuting between Vancouver to Whistler.
With an unobserved speed limit of 90km/hr and a road snaking between coastal mountains and spectacular vistas, we feel like we are on the road to paradise:

Horseshoe Bay, located just north of Vancouver:

Our house, with the Stawamus Chief (702m) behind, claimed to be the world's second largest granite monolith after the rock of Gibralter. It isn't, but the legend is nice and somehow seems fitting for the stern gaze it directs at the sleepy town:

The Chief offers over 300 climbing routes, adding to the other 1000 or so routes located in the Squamish Area. Our neighbour living upstairs enthusiastically tells us about how crazy the climbs on the Chief can get, using every adjective under the sun: "Totally crazy, just wild...AWESOME....Sometimes, they don't finish the climb and actually SLEEP on the rockwall, hanging on their harness...SLEEPING...can you imagine?" His eyes light up imagine these feats.

Then there are the mountain bike trails (perfect for trail running) starting 3 minutes from our doorstep, the excellent windsurfing and kiteboarding on the Howe Sound (considered to be one of the Top 10 windsurfing locations in the world) and Whistler only 40 minutes away for Skiing and Snowboarding.

Here, the Stawamus Squaw (Meaning "woman" in the Algonquian languages) can be seen behind our house. It is a slightly smaller granite dome standing at 665m:

In our backyard:

Downtown Squamish:

* Here are some highlights from our hitchhiking to present:

- Very nice man who turned out to be a World mixed-doubles champion in table soccer (his ex-wife was the female world champion once upon a time). And yes, you can get injured!
- An ex-pharmacist, originally from America, now living in Whistler with her second husband - "we are the Brady Bunch." She is now persuing a career in art. The highlight of the trip was when we realised her lapdog had silently jumped out of the car as we climbed in, and was waiting on the side of the road shaking and shivering.
-A biologist researching wetland environments. She was suspiciously vague and asked us to drive. We suspect she was stoned.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring in Havirna

In the Krkonose mountains, Havirna is a small collection of cottages tucked between rolling hills and alpine forests. We spent one night here, celebrating spring and saying goodbye to friends the best way imaginable: excellent food, excellent beer (Wheat beer from the brewery in Harrachov) and a huge guitar spectacular deep into the night.

Below is the cottage of our friends, Zdenek and Iva, where we stayed the night. It is over 300 years old:

Night approaching, the trees still bare but for small buds of green emerging:

Some of the flowers at the cottage popping up everywhere as the snow melts and the weather warms:

Snowdrops (the first flowers to shoot up in wet patches of grass everywhere) are a sure sign of spring. My friend Iva tells me that the flowers can smell spring coming and pop up even before we feel the weather warming):

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Jablonecky Aquatlon - Race Report

My last weekend in the Czech Republic arrived, and I could not imagine a better place to be than at the Jablonec Pool, awaiting my swimming heat. The race was the Czech Championship for Aquatlon, and was attended by extremely strong athletes who were keen to test their skills after a Winter of no racing. The 1500m of swimming was held in the 25m Jablonec Pool, and was conducted in heats based on time. Following a 2 hour break, the 10km would start, held on a 2km cross-country trail around the pool - perfect for an awesome spectator atmosphere.

I found the swimming and triathlon culture amongst girls really interesting in the Czech - unless you are "professional" and training with a coach, you would never consider participating in a race. Unlike Australia where amateurs compete recreationally and events/competitions have a huge turnout of girls of all ages, in the Czech it is only the professionals that attend. Thus, I was competing against 6 other girls.

After the Czech National Anthem (Kde Domov Muj - Where is my home?), I awaited my start nervously, especially after a Winter with a maximum of 3 swims in the pool! What better way to start the season though.

Jablonec Pool, Czech flag hanging proudly:

Some friends (also competing), showing their support:


Australian swimming cap on and talking to one of the race timekeepers:

Finally in the pool, I knew in the first 200m that it would be a long hard swim, daunting when I knew I had 60 laps ahead of me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the other girls ahead of me, and it was good practice in focusing on your own race and performance and finishing strong regardless of position.

I started the run as the last girl (after just surviving the swim), but felt buoyed by the excellent support I received from the locals, the event officials, and the energy from the 2 DJs playing ACDC, Midnight Oil and anything to get the blood flowing.

I received a countdown 10, 9, 8...and before I knew it I was out on the grass, heart beating and running!

I finished, really happy with my time (41min) and even more so with my running!

More surprising was the fact that I had finished 5th (one female competitor did not finish, and it was suspected that she was unhappy with the fact that she had been overtaken by some stronger runners, and therefore did not want to finish in shame), and had actually won some prize money! Excellent result!