Friday 14 March 2014

The Unicycle Diaries 8: Grouse Mountain, Vancouver

When Narrelle and I visited Canada last year, we spent a day at Grouse Mountain, north of Vancouver and a popular recreation area. Here's an account, lightly adapted from the notes I made on the day...

It's surprising how close this rugged area is to the city, making it an easy day trip or even a half-day outing.

The shuttle bus from Canada Place drops us off at the cable car station at the foot of the mountain. The cable car is an impressive smooth ride up the steep green slopes, taking 6 minutes to get all the way up, with a couple of exciting lurches on the way as the car passes over its supports.

On the way up we can see the city and its hinterland spread out over a great distance.

It occurs to me that we should be able to see into the USA from here, and I realise I can indeed make out the US border quite distinctly just south of Vancouver - a straight line of much lighter vegetation heading east-west.

It's fascinating - I'm not quite sure why I can make it out so clearly from this distance, the border clearing should be only a few metres wide as I understand. It's odd to be able to clearly see a border, they're supposed to be invisible. Or maybe it's all just an optical illusion.

Grouse Mountain is a rambling set of buildings and attractions spread across the mountaintop, most within easy walking distance.

We make our way past carved wooden figures of animals and people which look like remnants of a secret pagan past, to reach the grizzly bear enclosure. There are two bears, about five years old, who were rescued as orphans from the wild and raised here.

It's a big open area with a lake and trees and a winter shelter for hibernation, so it looks a good life. One of the bears goes for a swim as we watch, lazily lying on his back in the water and playing with a floating piece of timber.

We go for a short walk up a slope which leads to a peak near the Eye of the Wind lookout situated within a wind turbine, and pause to take in the view. We can see the city framed by slopes and trees now, and that hint of the US border is still evident.

Then it's back to the "World Famous" Lumberjack show. While sitting on benches waiting for it to start, we munch on a Beavertail - a long doughnut like confection with soft edges and a brittle centre, dusted with sugar and cinnamon.

The show is good fun, a nice balance of humour and skill. An MC directs two "lumberjacks" through a series of competitive tasks - woodchopping, sawing, logrolling - while we take sides.

The two guys performing the impressive feats are also decent actors, each taking on a character and bantering with each other and the audience. It's not too blokey, the female MC keeps the humour cheeky and funny, rather than too stereotypically cheesy.
It's broad humour but it's funny and works for the big diverse crowd.

Highlights include an opening gag in which a "tourist" invades the area and climbs a tall pole before losing his gear then falling to safety; and the log rolling is particularly athletic.

There's also a bit of audience participation, eg two women joining the lumberjacks to saw through a log, dressed in 19th century gingham dresses.

We finish with lunch at the onsite Altitudes restaurant:  British Columbian salmon on flatbread, long pretzels served with Guinness butter, fish tacos made with lingcod, and a chicken club sandwich. Accompanied by beer from Granville Island Brewing, a lager and its Ginger Ninja.

It's decent cafe-style food, though with the usual North American tendency to enormous serves.

From the patio where we sit there's a great view over the mountain greenery and the slope below, with occasional hang-gliders passing. Impressive.

Find out more about Grouse Mountain and its attractions by clicking here. Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

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