[Guest post] Crown Mountain – the taste of conquering a crown

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Since I’ve arrived in Vancouver, I’ve been hiking a couple of mountains, lakes and parks. What started as a touristy activity, fortunately became part of my new life-style, a real passion. I’ve found in nature the peace I had been looking for and in addition, the certainty that I’m always going to live a unique adventure as the challenges are always going to appear in different ways on the trails. Therefore, I’ve started searching for more challenging trails, instead of easy and mainstream ones. That’s when I discovered Crown Mountain, the hardest challenge for me so far.

What makes this trail so difficult is you have to hike down a very steep trail into Crown Pass before hiking up the steep side of Crown Mountain, then return the same route. The elevation change is therefore misleading compared to other hikes as you have to essentially hike the elevation change twice. (Vancouver Trails)

After two unsuccessfully attempts to reach the top of Crown Mountain, a friend and I decided we should try it once again. In both, we’ve supposed to be stronger than the nature trying to face a bad weather condition. But our third attempt should be a success, thus we thought about our mistakes in order to prepare ourselves better and waited for the day with the best weather conditions. There wouldn’t be anything able to discourage us to reach the Crown’s top. We had made up our minds and were focused on reaching that.

Cloudy and rainy weather have pushed us off the mountain in our very first attempt.

In order to save energy for the Crown trail, we ascended the Grouse Grind in 1h27m. An average of 20 minutes above the time we had done the last times. Then we stopped at the Grouse restaurant for a quick coffee and later on headed to the Crown trail. At the Grouse top, the staff were already making arrangements for the ski season, throwing snow with some machines and covering all the ground. The landscape and the environment were completely different from some weeks ago.

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Two photos at the same place in a four-week span.

The trail was also looking quite different from our last attempts. There were ice and snow on some places, which turned the path slippery and a little bit dangerous. Some parts of the trail looked like an ice skating rink, we didn’t have another choice but slide over the ice from one point to the other. And when we were neither sliding nor walking, we had to climb. We often stopped for a couple of minutes staring at the frozen rocks and the water draining beneath the ice, trying to figure out a way to go forward on the blocked path on the trail. The risk of falling and rolling down the slope was imminent. The adrenaline is always inherent in the mountain.

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Ice skating was sometimes the only option to go forward on the trail.

Despite all the obstacles and risks presented on our way, we headed up on a good pace. That was when we got at the point we had stopped in our very first hike. From there on, everything would be new. We double-checked our map and saw that we were close to the summit. The anxiety increased after each footstep. The feeling of being so close of a tough conquer was relieving.

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Stalactites that looked like ice spears.

The last footsteps till the summit seemed the longest. The mountain somehow seemed to push me up, giving me strength when I had none left. And the summit’s sight preview was stunning. Every breath filled up my lungs with a cold and light air. The feeling of happiness was unique, generated by an incredible sight of the snowy mountain-tops and endless valleys full of trees.

Shortly afterwards, we spotted a crow on the summit. Our goal was to get to the spot where it was sitting, but it seemed to reign there, showing to be the mountain’s owner when it looked at us. As if it was saying to us that it gets there way faster and with a lot less effort than us, whenever it wanted. However, the king of the mountain was generous and flew subtly over a stone beside and conceived us some room, so we could feel like kings for a while as well.

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The last footsteps till the summit. The king was already there.

Sitting on a stone at 1,504 meters high left me speechless. Any neglect or loss of balance could cost my life. There wasn’t anything below to hold me if I slipped down. A 360-degree spin gave me a real notion of how high we were. It was possible to see Squamish and Whistler mountain ranges northwards, the Coquitlam region mountain range and Chilliwack eastwards, the Vancouver Island westwards and even a couple of mountains from the USA border southwards. I didn’t know where to look at. At this point it became clear to me why the crow felt like the king sitting on that stone, privileged to be able to have that sight whenever it wanted.

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The numerous valleys and the snowy mountains from the Squamish and Whistler area.

I started counting with my friend the quantity of valleys that we could see eastwards and we count 8. Between one valley and another, there were mountains full of pine trees still green and some of them even with snow at the top. That sequence, whimsically sculpted by the nature, gave me the impression that the mountains were like the waves of the sea and were in constant movement taking us far away. However the most impressive was in fact the uninterrupted silence, that gave me a felling of being in another dimension. The silence would only be broken every now and then by the cry of a crow or the wind bypassing the mountain. It was a mysterious silence, that didn’t bother us at all. It seemed to have so much going on down there in the forest, but at the same time we seemed to be far from any living being. A rare silence full of peace, impossible to be felt in the city.

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The Goat Mountain featured and all the grandeur of Mount Baker in the background, with its 3,286 m altitude and the 116km away in a straight line, already in American territory.

The English Bay ships looked like toys, as if somebody had put them with the fingers and left them there stopped for hours. The city buildings, trees and parks seemed a scene of the game The Sims, and for sure, as if I was there playing it. I saw the city but the city didn’t see me. I didn’t hear the city and nobody heard me as well. I was close to everything and far away at the same time. I was on the mountain, but the world continued to happen.

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The mirror, the model and the ship toys.

At a mountain-top, the sun is the only thing that makes us realize that time hasn’t stopped. And the autumn Sun always far on the horizon illuminated English Bay and the sea, reflecting the sun’s light like a mirror. The valleys located behind the high mountains shouldn’t had received a single sun light for days, and sure enough, will stay like this for the next few months. Its warmth, which almost didn’t reach us, wasn’t enough to keep us warm. Luckily there was no wind and we were well bundled up this time. Moreover, the temperature at the top of the Crown should be nearing 0° C. As the sun was going down, we remembered then that it was time to go, after all it was an autumn day and there was just over 8 hours of daylight. We couldn’t ignore the time, otherwise the descent in the dark could be even harder.

The way back wasn’t worse because we rested and relaxed our legs at the top of the mountain. We came back slowly, but in a constant pace, with that wonderful sensation of a conquered goal. Even though, between one climb and another on the trail, I would feel the thigh muscle pulling off and begging to me to stop. Of course that I would ignore it and kept on walking. However, some stops were inevitable so we could appreciate the beauty of the sunset, shyly shinning between the pines, with the city lighting up and preparing itself for the night. And before returning to the city, we still stopped for a while at the beginning of the trail to appreciate the last rays of sun on the horizon and the uncountable stars starting to show up in the clear sky.

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The city lighting up with the arrival of dusk.

The bigger the challenge, the bigger the will to conquer it. It might be a mountain-top or all the challenges that show up in life, we should never give up our dreams and goals, it doesn’t matter how many times we’ll have to attempt or how hard they’ll be, if we believe we can do it, so we really can. The Crown Mountain was one of the biggest psychological tests I’ve ever had in my life. However, it made me discover that I’m stronger that I thought I was. And such as in life, the mountain had set up rules and had determined tough obstacles to reach it. As if it was a queen and had given us a message: “I’ll make you think about quitting from start to finish, but if you persist you won’t regret conquering my crown.”. Do I still need to say whether it was worth it or not?

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All the time the Sun is always down for some and rising for others. Challenges that come to an end, new challenges that arise.

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[Guest post] The day I was close to the sky twice

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In my last post I wrote (and showed) a little bit about Vancouver city, its surroundings, its gorgeous nature and some amazing trails around here. Today I’m going to tell you guys about the trail that has marked my life and made me definitely feel that I’m in Canada.

It was a sunny summer Sunday and I had scheduled with my friend to get on the very first bus of the line 160 right after 9am. We wanted to arrive early in Buntzen Lake Park to hike and enjoy the day. We got off in Port Moody to take another bus (C26) and some minutes later we arrived in the park. At 10:30am we were ready to start the trail.

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Warnings before the start of the trail let people aware of the existence of bears in the area and also warn people to be careful.

The beginning of the trail is really easy and well signalized, but soon the one-thousand meters climbing starts and my sedentary legs began to hurt. It’s a peaceful trail, we met only a couple of few people on our way, perhaps because there’s not much information about it on Internet, which gave us a even higher sensation of freedom, because when we were not talking it was possible to hear the sound of the birds and squirrels running through the bushes. Every person who likes nature, would appreciate this moment.

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Twin trees grew over the rocks and built a cave.

After some hours going up we had already a preview of the sight from the mountain. We had stopped for a while and kept hiking. The heat and the sweat were increasing and our bottles of water getting empty. We were hoping to fill our bottles with water from some river during the trail, but almost all of them were dry or with no apparent drinkable conditions. The first challenge had been set for us. Even though, the trail and the park in general have a different energy, many mushrooms and blueberries everywhere made the trail become lively. All types and sizes of pines made us stop often to take some pictures and appreciate them.

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I was willing to eating those huge mushrooms on the trail. (Maybe hallucinogens?)

It was about 1:30pm and we had already been hiking for a long time neither meeting nor hearing anybody. The silence was almost absolute. The sensation that we were far away from everything, from everybody and nobody knew where we were, it was like an immersion in the middle of nowhere. But all of a sudden the silence was broken. We heard a strong noise coming from somewhere in the middle of the bushes. At that time we stopped hiking and were speechless, we knew that the strong noise wasn’t being made neither by a squirrel nor by a bird. My heart started pulsing strong. In a fraction of a second I thought about getting my camera off my backpack and start recording, but not all the moments in life wait to be recorded. After some seconds there he was: a huge black bear some 10 meters ahead of us. My friend who was in front of me just opened his arms. I was in doubt between screaming, speak something or simply wait for my death. The bear starred at us and went back to the bushes. As if we had disturbed him coming up on his way. We got close to the sky, but it wasn’t our turn to get there yet.

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Just around 10 meters in front of us there was the bear. It was like to have lived a dream.

According to the story, the meeting with the bear seems to have lasted long, but actually it was just a few seconds that seemed to be forever. I felt a threat completely different of everything I’ve ever felt before, different from a robbery, or the adrenaline of skydiving, or being over 160 km/h in a highway, etc. It was like it activated on me a primitive natural instinct, as if I had come back to become part of the nature, such as the primates who lived over 200,000 years ago. My legs were shaking non stop. After that, we would stop to pay attention at any noise we heard throughout the trail, despite knowing that the probability of meeting another bear (or even the same) was very low, after all, bears don’t use to live in groups, they are roomy and live in a many-kilometer range between each other.

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One of the reddish lakes we found on the top of Eagle Mountain. Their colours are impressive, but all of them were lifeless.

With our legs still trembling for a long time, we followed our way. We saw some blurred-water lakes with no life on the top of the mountain and finally arrived on the top of some rocks, a little over 1,000 meter high, where I could have one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. It was possible to see from there the Buntzen Lake, Diez Vistas, North Vancouver, city of Vancouver and surroundings. The name of the mountain suddenly made sense by itself when we saw some eagles flying over our heads. After a while, some clouds showed up and started drizzling, but I knew that drizzle was falling just over us and wasn’t strong enough to reach the ground, as if it were some signal from the sky or some message for us. I felt from those rocks a closeness from the sky and a very good energy.

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Our sight from the top of the Eagle Mountain.

We were willing to spend the rest of the day and camp overnight there, but we weren’t ready for that. So, I hiked my way back with some certainties in my head. To come back to that place better prepared in all meanings, but also sure that after that I knew Canada indeed and had lived a unique experience. If each trail has been a different adventure and in this one I felt so close to the sky twice, what can I wait for the next ones? Actually, I’d rather not have expectations, nature always take care of us and surprises us. It is perfect.

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A message from the sky: live longer, it isn’t your turn.

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[Guest post] Vancouver: where the nature gives its special touch

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Many people say that Vancouver is the city which least looks like a Canadian city, however they are the same people who say that Vancouver is the most beautiful city in the country. It is the least Canadian city perhaps due to the large quantity of immigrants who have been living here, especially Asians. Most beautiful probably because its surrounding mountains, parks, beaches, wooded and cleaned streets.

So that in 2011, over 8 million tourists visited Metro Vancouver, and over half of the tourists were Canadians. Over one-third of the travellers have come to Vancouver and its national and provincial parks to practise outdoors activities, such as camping, fishery, kayak, etc.

Most of the tourists have come to Vancouver during Summer and it makes sense, the city is really beautiful in summertime. Days last longer with the sun setting over 9pm. Flowers decorate streets. Music festivals have happened weekly. Many free attractions. Many people occupying parks and beaches. Vancouver is a city where the diversity is common and everybody may express themselves whatever they want, everybody here is welcome.

Vista do centro da cidade a partir do Waterfront Park em North Vancouver.

Downtown seen from Waterfront Park in North Vancouver.

But what most delighted me until now was indeed the nature. Many parks and trails are accessible by Public Transportation from Down-town and most of them are free entrance, which makes sunny weekends much cheaper to enjoy.

Man fishing in a clear river in Capilano River State Park. Accessible by bus from Downtown.

Man fishing in a clear river in Capilano River State Park. Accessible by bus from Downtown.

In the trails we can often meet whole families (including pets) hiking or camping. And even when they meet unknown people while hiking, Canadians are used to greeting whoever comes their way, therefore don’t be scared if you listen to “Hello, how are you doing?” or a simple “Hi!” with a smile from an unknown person. This is the polite Canadian way to be and live.

Upper Joffre Lake, o maior e mais bonito dos lagos em Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, um parque próximo de Pemberton, a pouco mais de 2 horas de carro de Vancouver.

Upper Joffre Lake, the largest and most beautiful lake in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, a park near Pemberton, about 2 hours by car from Vancouver.

Spending hours hiking a trail is much more than a basic hobby to me, there’s always a new challenge. It’s about testing the body and mind limits. From the body, when the legs can’t stand it anymore. When the blisters on the foot beg you to stop. When the mouth dries and the bottle of water is over. From the mind, to control all the difficulties struggled and body limitations.

Depois de mais de uma hora subindo 1000 metros, a vista é recompensadora no Garibaldi Provincial Park.

After over one hour hiking up 1000 meters, the sight is rewarding at Garibaldi Provincial Park.

According to the legend there’s always a pot of gold in the end of the rainbow. Here in Vancouver in the end of a trail there’s always a beautiful lake with hundreds shapes of green and blue or a stunning sight of a valley, a city, of the mountains. And in the end, all the pains is forgotten and all the effort is rewarded.

Garibaldi Lake e suas dezenas de tons de verde e azul.

Garibaldi Lake and its dozens shapes of green and blue.

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[Guest post] Book a ticket and go!

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Hi everybody, Hector gave me the chance (and honour) to express myself so these lines are for you if you are a strong 21st century woman looking for adventure. Of course, understanding and not judgemental men are also allowed to read and comment this post.

We (women) are often finding excuses to postpone what we really want to do in our life. Never the right moment, nor the right place. Not enough money (but enough to buy the latest pair of shoes), nor the right person to travel with. And if we are single, travelling alone is scary. You know what? Just STOP thinking and remember what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Why should you book a ticket?

  • You’re gonna discover unexpected landscapes. Trust me, the world is full of surprises. You’ll see and remember every detail, every colour and smells of incredible places. You’ll have the opportunity to see “in real” what is being seen only as images on TV programs or postcards. During my trips, I was standing there gaping in front of animals in their natural environment (seals in Ireland, condors in Patagonia, marmots in the Alps, llamas in Peru).

Lhama in Peru

Lhama in Peru

Machu Picchu in Peru

Machu Picchu in Peru

I’m not a “city” girl but how could I not be astonished by the monuments in Rome or Paris? And sometimes, yes sometimes, you like places but you don’t really know why. The light? The weather? The guy playing great music at the corner of a small street? Who knows?

  • You’ll live 1000 things per day, feel free and your emotions will be multiply by ten. When I was living abroad, I could cry and five minutes later laugh and realize how ridiculous I was. I was just living the present time, feeling every minute of happiness and joy.

  • To challenge yourself. Cause yes, being a woman in this crazy world is not always easy. I’ve realized this only when I came back home. And now, I just want to travel again and again. Every time that I come back I have this satisfaction and desire to discover a new destination. You should trust your instinct and satisfy your curiosity, it’s never too late. Breaking my habits and losing my bearings were the best things I’ve ever done. The thing that I am more proud? Swimming with rays and sharks, an experience that I will always remember.

Swimming with sharks in French Polynesia

Swimming with sharks in French Polynesia

  • You’ll see another reality and find other manners to think and live. People that I’ve met had different cultures than mine, so it helped a lot to stand back and have new perspectives. In my country, for example, people are (in general) stressed and complaining a lot so it’s good to see how the others are living. In some parts of the world, people are warmer, more welcoming and smiling, organized, sincere and honest.

  • Eat and try incredible specialities. This is one of the best reasons to travel. Belgian and Swiss chocolates, Chilean ceviche and empanadas, Irish breakfast, pizzas and lasagnas in Italy, Brazilian cachaça, German beers, Spanish paella, Portuguese cod and potato, Peruvian hot peppers (that make me cry), I love them all ! I have to admit…I am definitively a foodie.

Peruvian pepper

Peruvian hot peppers

  • Professionally speaking it’s a plus. I was scared that being abroad for a long time could create a gap in my CV and close some doors for my future jobs. But actually, it was the contrary. I’ve opened my mind and learnt new languages and now, I can easily justify it during my jobs interviews.

  • You’ll feel as a stranger. I know what you are thinking; being a stranger is not good. But look at the positive part. In my own country, people aren’t concerned about me, or should I say not surprised when I meet them for the first time. Am I an uninteresting girl? I hope not… it’s just that we are one among the others. Abroad, people are more curious about where you’re from, what you like, why you’re there.

Last but not least: you’ll meet people from everywhere. You will make friends, have fun. You’ll debate a dish recipe for so long that you could have time to try all the ways of cooking it. You will discuss words pronunciations and never agree with the correct one. But you’ll see, you will be amazed by how we can be so different in the same time and how we can share so much in common in the other time and maybe….yes maybe…you’ll live the unexpected meeting (THE ONE) You may say I’m a dreamer? …yes…but I’m not the only one.

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