To Hell and Back: Flying over the Fraser Canyon

To Hell and Back: Flying over the Fraser Canyon

I’m continually blown away by where I get to live. Beautiful British Columbia earns its name in spades with all of the natural wonders mere minutes from my door. This really is the perfect home base for an avid traveller with a desk job. I get to take stay-cations and getaways to world-class sites on my weekends without even dipping into my precious stash of vacation days.

After 20 something years of exploring my own backyard it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find new places to explore. That’s why it seemed absolutely crazy that I had not visited Hells Gate yet. I was certainly aware of its existence as basically all of my friends and family had been there on a school field trip or family outing. But, somehow my grade had mysteriously skipped the Hells Gate excursion, leaving me in the dark as to what it was all about.

Well I’m pleased to announce that this past weekend I finally made the day trip to the stunning Fraser Canyon to see what I’d been missing.
IMG_0768

In short, Hells Gate is a narrowing of the Fraser River where the towering canyon walls force thundering rapids through a small 33 metre passage. Just imagine 200 million gallons of water per minute thundering beneath you. Having trouble picturing it? Here’s a visual.

IMG_0776

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s backtrack shall we?

If you’re like me, perhaps you have some questions about a place that calls itself Hell. I know I did. Well if I’m being honest, I didn’t see anything hellish about Hells Gate at all. The day began with an incredibly scenic drive through the Fraser Canyon. We took the Trans Canada Highway east past Hope and through 7 mountain tunnels before reaching our destination. In all my years I don’t think I had ever been on that stretch of highway before as I usually divert down the Coquihalla when heading further east.

IMG_3866

But this road trip was like stepping back in time to the Gold Rush era as we passed through tiny historic towns like Yale and blink-or-you’ll-miss-it Spuzzum. It’s hard to believe that people actually live in such remote communities. And even though I could never give up my life in the big city, I can see the appeal. The air was fresh. The mountains majestic. And the only sounds I heard were the rushing river and the occasional train.

IMG_3797

After a 3 hour drive from Vancouver we reached the Hells Gate Airtram, one of the only descending gondolas in North America. The first thing I had to know was how it got its name. And fortunately the answer was waiting for me on a sign at the entrance. The name Hells Gate came from the journal of famed explorer Simon Fraser way back in 1808. He described it has a place “where no human being should venture for surely we have encountered the gates of hell.”

Honestly the place was more impressive than intimidating. I love both heights and white water rafting so part of me was eager to get in a boat and check it out from water level. But, I can imagine that before all the infrastructure was built (and to someone less brave than I) this place would have been a fearsome sight.

IMG_0758 IMG_0765 IMG_0780

We barely had to wait for our small 25 person gondola to carry us down to the lower terminal on the opposite side of the river. The birds’ eye view was a great vantage point to snap pictures of the landmark including the pedestrian suspension bridge, observation deck, restaurant, gift shop, and museum.

IMG_0773 IMG_0774

My favourite spot was the bridge over the river which got me a bit closer to concerned about the force of the rapids. What really freaked me out were the historical facts about the 1948 flood. Back then a cool spring delayed the snow melt and when several days of hot weather and warm rain hit in May, the river quickly swelled to disastrous proportions. The footbridge I was standing on was actually a reconstruction as the original had been completely destroyed by the flood. It took a month for the water to recede and by that time 16,000 people had been evacuated and damages totaled $20 million. To put the flood volume into perspective, it is estimated that a continuous flow of 537,000 cubic feet per second would fill the dome-covered BC Place Stadium in less than two minutes! The disaster junkie in me would not have been able to tear my eyes away from that sight!

IMG_3783 IMG_3788

I also finally got to see what makes this such a popular elementary field trip spot. Not only is it a beautiful location but you can learn about the salmon run and the Gold Rush all in one go. The fisheries exhibit features an award winning video titled Run Sockeye Run and you can even pan for gold for just $5.

IMG_3823 IMG_0790

It might be a little (okay, a lot) off the beaten track but there’s a reason that Hells Gate Airtram has been around for over 40 years… there really is no place like Hell.

IMG_3868

*Note: Hells Gate Airtram very kindly offered me complimentary passes, but all opinions are my own.  

Advertisements
2014: A Year in Review

2014: A Year in Review

W h a t.  A.  Y e a r !  I can’t believe that it’s actually time to say goodbye to 2014 and what has been my best travel year since 2006. I somehow managed to squeeze 18 trips into the past 12 months and I did it all while holding down a full-time office job. That’s right people… you CAN travel the world without quitting your day job. To celebrate the end of an absolutely incredible year, here’s a review of my 2014 travel adventures.

1. New Orleans (January)

I began 2014 with a bang and a kiss (teehee) while watching fireworks over the Mississippi River in New Orleans! This is definitely one for the record books and redeemed a holiday that I had pretty much given up on. Now it’s my new mission to celebrate NYE in a new city every year! photo-3 2. Victoria (February)

One of many weekend trips to Vancouver Island to visit my best friend (guest blogger Katie Smith) – it was cold. So cold that the fountains in front of parliament froze over. You don’t see that everyday.

IMG_0472 3. Victoria again (April)

A less cold weekend back in Victoria to visit same friend… yeah, I’m awesome that way ;)

IMG_1320

4. Lake Whatcom (April)

Only the single best girls weekend ever! Okay, that might have been the wine talking but seriously, we had a great time checking out the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and relaxing by a very lovely lake.  IMG_0652 5. Winnipeg (May)

At long last, I made my first trip back to Winnipeg in nearly four years. I used to go all the time (to visit family) but with domestic flight prices soaring, it’s a rare occurrence these days. Lucky for me I have connections and when my WestJetter friend hooked me up with 40% off – I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to catch my dear cousin (the actress!) on closing night of her musical. IMG_0932 6. Las Vegas (May)

VEGAS BABY!! Okay, so maybe my long weekend in Sin City wasn’t exactly what movies are made about… but it was fun! I hadn’t been since I was a teenager so the adult version was a whole new experience. IMG_0829 7. Vietnam (June)

My first trip to Asia and I chose Vietnam (by way of China) and decided to go all by myself too. Well, I didn’t end up being alone for long as I made a lot of great friends on the road. Two weeks went by all too fast as I sweat (holy hot batman!) my way up the coast enjoying beautiful beaches, amazing food, and fascinating cities. IMG_1144 8. Lac Le Jeune (July)

My first (real) camping trip was a roaring success! My expert camper friends planned a perfect two days in the Central Interior where we basically just lazed around the lake and ate. Summer in BC = Bliss! Lac Le Jeune 9. Kelowna (August)

Last year’s annual mother/daughter(s) weekend took us to Whistler Village where my sister-in-law and I took the plunge by bungee jumping for our first times. This year we headed to wine country for a perfect weekend of boating, drinking, touring… basically living the good life! IMG_1616 10. Whistler (August)

When my friend Katie casually mentioned that she’d never been to Whistler before, I hung up on her and called a hotel immediately. Whistler is an annual summer retreat for me and I’ve been at least 15 times. So, I was thrilled to show off this little resort town and all of the off-season activities it has to offer. IMG_1801 11. Tofino (August)

This trip! The trip that I never thought was actually going to happen. First we were going to Alaska. Then we were going to Hawaii. Then we ditched the idea completely. Then we were back to Alaska. But, by the end of it all, we settled on Tofino/Ucluelet for our first family vacation since 2007.

IMG_1854
12. Sunshine Coast (September)

When my friend Kendra got a job in the seaside town of Gibsons, I knew that it was finally  time to take a trip to the beautiful Sunshine Coast. We spent a perfect final weekend of summer driving up the coast and feasting our eyes on the impressive Skookumchuck Narrows!

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

13. Prince George (September)

Not the most glamourous destination on the list but it was travel and a new city. This work trip took me the furthest north that I’ve ever been in Canada and I got to squeeze in a quick visit with my friend Mel. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find impressive old growth forests nearby and a lot more activity than I would have initially guessed in such a remote community. This really is Beautiful British Columbia from top to bottom.IMG_2156 14. Boston (November)

One of my favourite benefits of traveling is the great people you meet along the way. Megan and I became fast friends while visiting Vietnam earlier this year and we were already googling flight prices between Vancouver and Boston before we even went our separate ways. I knew right away that I wanted to see New England in the autumn and I lucked out with an absolutely glorious weekend of blue skies and radiant fall colours. The Northeast is definitely a region I am eager to explore in more depth.IMG_2484 15. Seattle (November)

A frequent stomping ground for concerts, shopping trips, cruise departures, and cheap flights over the years, Seattle has become a second home in many ways. And now, with my family’s recent obsession with the Seattle Seahawks, we have more excuses to go and more love than ever for our sister city on the West Coast.  IMG_2506 16. Victoria again (November)

Back to Vancouver Island again… this time for some pre-Christmas festivities in sub-zero temperatures. Note to self… start visiting in summer from now on. Brr…

IMG_2552

17. Portland (December)

When I found out that my cousin Jordan and his wife Emily were moving from the mid-West to the weirdest coolest city in America… I couldn’t start scheming fast enough. One weekend was barely enough time to get a taste of what the city has to offer so expect many more adventures in Oregon in the months and years to come!

IMG_2648

18. Lisbon (December)

When the office shuts down over the holidays, why not celebrate in… P O R T U G A L ! This quick Euro trip reunites me (once again!!) with my Boston Bestie, Megan. We are spending the final four days of 2014 in beautiful Lisbon… and the travels don’t stop there! Follow my adventures into 2015 and see how (and where!) I ring in the new year!

IMG_2776

2014 By the Numbers:

Countries Visited: 3 (2 new ones): USA / VietnamPortugal

States Visited: 5 (2 new ones): Louisiana / Washington / Nevada / Massachusetts / Oregon

Plane Rides Taken: 12 (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has). Of those flights, four were heavily discounted by family/friend discounts, two were paid for by work, two were almost covered entirely by points, and the remaining four inspire me to keep looking for great deals.

Other Modes of Transportation: 10 ferries, 3 overnight trains, 3 buses (long-haul), 1 motorcycle, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 16 (YVR, MSY, SEA, YWG, YXS, LAX, BOS, AMS, LIS, BCN, BLI, LAS, CAN, SGN, HAN, MCI)

Beds Slept In: 26. Of those, 10 were hotels, 7 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were sleeper trains,  2 were house rentals, one was an Airbnb apartment rental, one was a bed & breakfast, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

Wine Tasting in the Okanagan Valley

This past weekend I spent my second annual “Girl’s Weekend” in the Okanagan Valley with my mom and sister-in-law. Basically, this weekend is an excuse for me to have a mini vacation (with my mom picking up the tab) and to show my new American sis all the glorious spots BC has to offer. And of course to bond and spend quality time together too.

Last year we took her to one of our favourite summer stomping grounds – Whistler Village. Although the weather didn’t quite cooperate, we still managed to kick off this tradition with a bang and checked bungee jumping off the bucket list!

Just jumped off a bridge... no big deal

Just jumped off a bridge… no big deal

This year we had to make sure our trip was equally entertaining and decided to return to the Okanagan where my family used to frequent back when I was a kid. However, this time we had more grown up pursuits in mind… cue the wine!

No trip to the Okanagan Valley would be complete without making time for a little wine tour. With over 150 wineries in the region it’s no wonder that USA today named it as the world’s second best wine region to visit. Described as “Drop. Dead. Gorgeous” by expert Kerry Woolard, this wine country has made a name for itself with award winning white wines like the Mission Hill Chardonnay and incredible lake views from nearly every angle.

IMG_1551

We decided to visit the famous Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna for a one hour heritage tour. It was a delightful experience, perfectly crafted to please by our host Elizabeth. We watched a short documentary, toured the bordeaux cellars, and of course sampled some wine (three to be exact). But, it’s really the grounds that make this such a lovely place to visit. The winery is built in a Roman classic style similar to what you would see in Tuscany and boasts a 140 ft bell tower, a 1000 seat outdoor amphitheatre, and truly beautiful lake views. I could have stayed here all day!

IMG_1586 IMG_1538 IMG_1544 IMG_1557 IMG_1569 IMG_1578 IMG_1580 IMG_1582

Next up: Soaking up the lake life in Kelowna!

Explore BC: Sea to Sky Gondola

When I first heard about the plans to build a gondola near the famous Stawamus Chief Mountain near Squamish, my initial reaction was disappointment. I had first climbed “The Chief”, which is the second largest granite monolith in the world, back in 2007 and wasn’t thrilled about increasing tourism in the region.

But, since then I’ve heard some great things and opened up to the idea of expanding this incredible place to a wider audience. So this BC Day, I took the plunge and tried out the brand new Sea to Sky Gondola, 1.6km Panorama Trail, and Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge.

The summit is incredibly well planned with a great lodge (Yeah healthy food options!) and clearly marked trails.

As you can tell… the views did not suck. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves since no words can really do this place justice. I’m so thankful to live in (the aptly named) Beautiful British Columbia!

IMG_1479 IMG_1482 IMG_1494 IMG_1516 IMG_1509 IMG_1517