The secret Nature of Vancouver
Canadian techno artist Tomas Jirku shares his photos and thoughts on some of his secret nature spots with Kaput. Here he finds the inspiration for his atmospheric approach to electronic music.
I’m going to share with you what I consider the secret nature that surrounds Vancouver. Despite the vast wilderness that’s just beyond the north shore mountains, it’s too easy to stay trapped in concrete with all the city has to offer. Our electronic music scene is bigger and more vibrant than ever, but getting away from it regularly offers a contrast that allows you to appreciate it that much more. It’s the exact reason I moved here from Toronto 12 years ago, where finding solitude is next to impossible.
Admittedly, these just scratch the surface of what i consider “secret”, because the real secrets are, well, secrets. Here’s a start, and once you unlock these, the deeper experiences will reveal themselves to you.
For your better orientation, I designed a little map for you. More of my photos you do find on my homepage.
This mountain has beckoned to me for years before I finally climbed it. It’s a distinct, wide-open, granite face visible from nearly everywhere in the city, yet with a 12km hike just to get to the base and a 1400m climb almost straight up from there, it’s not easy to attain. Once at the top there is a strange contrast between the isolation of this “remote” wilderness that has a clear view of the city and cellular reception.
Hop on the bus after work and you can be fishing for salmon and steelhead in less than an hour. The steep and sometimes dangerous approach to the river cuts you off from all signs of civilization and you feel as if you’re in an undiscovered canyon.
Most people (including, thankfully, accident-prone tourists) are content to see the faux-wilderness side-shows once they get to the top of the popular Grouse Mountain gondola, but if you’re willing to climb down ropes and chain to Crown Pass, and clamour across sheer cliffs to reach Crown Mountain you’ll find yourself on narrow granite pinnacle with a 360 degree view the encompasses the city to the south, endless mountains of Garibaldi Park and beyond to the north, Georgia Strait and Vancouver Island to the west, and the Fraser Valley to the east with Mount Baker taking a prominent position.
Rising 2km from the Fraser Valley floor, it’s the most distinct peak on this stretch of the Trans Canada Highway, yet access isn’t easy. You’ll need a rugged 4×4 and lots of stamina, but the hanging alpine meadows in the bowl of its south face look as if they would harbour gnomes.
No other place is so close to the city, yet so wild and vast. The mountains shoot nearly straight up from the valley floor, the forests have elk, grizzlies and elusive timber wolves, and the river hosts most salmon and trout species. I have a hard time deciding whether to fish or hike when i’m there. The paranoia one sometimes feels this deep in the wilderness is offset by the beer and burgers that await at the local pub the moment you’re back in civilization.
The suburban version of the squamish valley has no less hiking, fishing, or wildlife, but all without being so uncomfortably remote. It takes more effort to get away from people, and when the salmon are running the humans turn to fleas on the river, but with effort there is always reward. Isolated sections of the river you need to raft into, or mountains with 1400m elevation gains almost straight up can almost guarantee all you’ll see is more mountains.
Though a major highway now runs its length, you can still find hidden corners of this small river that have an otherworldly feel, especially among in the moss-covered, sheer canyon walls. crystal clear waters bring beautiful steelhead trout fresh from the ocean. don a dry-suit to swim with them and you’ll feel like an alien in their world.
With a trailhead that starts at 1300m, you’re in a vast alpine wonderland with only an hour’s hike. Choose to explore one of the glaciers, waterfalls, and rocky peaks surround you, or just enjoy the pristine lakes of the hanging valley. Stay long enough and you’ll think you can start an off-the-grid commune with your fellow campers.
Sure it’s 125km away, and in Washington State, but because it towers over the Fraser Valley and can be seen from Vancouver, it’s impossible not to feel connected to this dormant volcano. Another peak that has stared at me, urging to be climbed, but incomparable to anything in the region, because climbing to 3300m entirely on a glacier gives no feeling of connecting with nature. Rather, you’re acutely aware how privileged your time there is, and you return home humbled.
The name of the mountain which Cypress Ski Resort is located, on the north shore overlooking the city, it offers a fantastic return on physical investment. The trail leading to the peak circumvents the barren ski slopes and instead climbs steeply through old-growth forest with massive trees as old as 1000 years, landing in an alpine meadow before climbing steepy again over tricky granite slabs, passing the wreckage of a military training jet that crashed in 1963. Once on the top you are afforded panoramic views similar to crown mountain, but dominated by the peaks of the two lions to the north. Despite all of this, chances are you’ll be most impressed by the ravens that inhabit the peaks of the north shore. They’re always willing to take your lunch-break left-overs.
If you’re in need of a quick jaunt into the alpine to shake the city off of you, there are fewer places with such a high reward-to-effort ratio. A 4×4 will take you most of the way via logging-roads, and you need only to hike twenty minutes before finding yourself in a pristine valley flanked by volcanic peaks covered in glaciers, and the requisite waterfalls that round-out the ‘lord of the rings’ vibe. Great place to impress a date, particularly in mid-summer when the wild-flowers are blooming like crazy.
There’s something about visiting the desert, particularly when you live in a rain-forest. Trees are replaced with fragrant sage brush. And you’ve got to appreciate the carefree life of tumble-weed. I’m drawn to fish there, with a giant, double-handed fly-rod, for giant steelhead in this giant river that rolls over giant, slippery boulders. But it’s when I’ve stopped flailing and my casting technique clicks that I can finally take-in the surroundings, and it’s the scale of the valley, and the shape and colours of the mountains that seem to be endlessly inspiring. Haven’t figured out why yet, so i keep going back.
As if this fog, moss, and, dense forestation didn’t already give this area a mystical charm, it’s also the fabled home to the sasquatch (though you might call it Yeti or Bigfoot). Spend enough time here, be it at the sasquatch pub with the local chehalis native band, or trying to charm log-sort workers to access prime fishing waters, and you’re sure to be regaled with stories of sounds, sightings and even encounters with the big hairy humanoid. spend even more time in this region and you’re sure to see one for yourself.
On your way to and from a number of the aforementioned places, you’ll pass by this place without even knowing it. Tucked along the shore of the sleepy community of Horseshoe Bay is a rocky outcropping, covered with gnarly arbutus trees which appear as if they are made from human limbs. but it’s the pebble and shell strewn coves that make you forget the city is just around the corner, and your eyes won’t believe themselves when they see dots of bioluminescent algae in the surf at night. thousands of tourists miss it every day on their way to the commodified mountain resorts to the north.