COQUITLAM NOW, FEBRUARY 28TH, 2007
A SOJOURN AT SKY CAMP
Dale Douglas, is a buff, straight talking pilot. In summer, he flies fishermen, hunters and sightseers to the glaciers beyond Whistler. In winter he ski’s them. Glaciers are his friends. He knows them by name, shape and character.
He’d harboured a dream. Why not build a mountain retreat where nature-lovers could hike, bike, fish and be spoilt by a gourmet chef. “I wanted to share the magic,” he says, but was there a market? There was only one way to find out.
The moment his Beaver dropped onto the lake, he knew this was it. At 1375 meters, the air was pure as baby’s breath, the views spectacular and the spring fed waters of Crystal Lake were as clear as a looking-glass.
The logistics were daunting. Obtaining a lease was just a beginning. Land had to be cleared. Trees milled. A lodge built from scratch. Trails cut. Every nail, pan, plate, mattress had to be flown in. Not to mention kayaks, canoes and mountain bikes.
Dale’s financial partner, an old hand in the tourist game, helped package and market the place. “Pamper the guests. Cocoon them in comfort then fly them in!” He advised. By the summer of 2005 “Sky Camp” was ready for a dozen guests.
When we leave “ground zero,” The Granville Island Hotel, our Ford Explorer is packed to the headliner. The Sea to Sky Highway never fails to impress visitors and locals alike. Lunch is a picnic table affair in a quiet part of Shannon Falls Park. Ryan, our ever-pumped young guide, knows just the right spot to lay out cheeses, pates, fruit, and chocolate pecan pies. A fine start.
They haven’t scrimped on the Whistler accommodation either. A suite at the Pan Pacific sets a high tone. Bike ride, shopping, a snooze? Maybe a gondola to the peak? All options are on offer.
We are eight guests and two guides. Bonding begins at dinner. Tonight’s choice is Elements, a trendy new tapas place abuzz with locals and tourists in the know. (Last week it was La Rua. Both are among Whistlers finer eateries.) Only the booze is an add-on.
Next morning is cloudless. I climb into the trusty Beaver with my wine stashed safely in a float locker. Can’t go dry for 4 days. Green lake is teal from glacial runoff, as we gain elevation and head over The Pemberton Valley. Tiny fields hug the Lillooet River which, I discover, begins at The Lillooet Ice Fields and flows into Lilloooet Lake.
Small planes seem to touch nature. We are flying above the tree line at 2500 meters. A Dahl sheep gazes up from the shale ridge overlooking the Hurley Glacier. Chunks crumble from Bridge Glacier to form icebergs in Bridge Lake, perhaps an indication of global warming? The Grizzly mum and her cubs are hiding today.
Fifty minutes after take-off, we climb over Mount McClure, and begin our descent. Crystal Lake is a clear gleaming jewel, hidden among the soupy-white glacial fed waters of The Taseko Lake chain. Dale had chosen well.
I am led to a comfortable lakefront, carpeted, tent cabin. There are hot water showers thanks to propane tanks. The “facilities” are aptly named “Thunderbird” for the outhouse and “Hummingbird” for the self-composting model which is a scary cross between an elevated plastic throne and a commode!
Claude Bour Bonniere is our cheerful chef. Off-duty, he “chats” to his girlfriend via satellite phone and a laptop from the end of the dock. With such a name we expect great things from his tiny kitchen and he delivers. Dinner begins with stuffed mushroom caps followed by “planked” salmon and finishes with cheesecake for desert.
I start my mornings with a huge breakfast. Perhaps a little fishing Its all catch and release here. From a kayak, I watch the motionless crane, erect as a sentry, poised for attack.
By 11am, our young guide is ready to lead the hike. Each day we venture off in different directions to discover secret lakes, waterfalls and extraordinary viewpoints. It’s a good opportunity to bond with fellow skycampers along the trails.
After four days, we have really mellowed. What luxury to have time for a book, a bit of reflection, or a casual chat without feeling guilty. The journalist has finally quit gazing at her Blackberry, resenting it’s blank screen.
A distant drone spoils the moment as Dale’s plane comes into view. Our bags are already piled at the dock. It’s time to re-enter the world we left behind.
You don’t need to be an accountant from Arkansas, a lawyer from Lethbridge or even a filmmaker from Flin Flon, to appreciate being pampered in a private mountain retreat by upbeat staff with wondrous levels of cheeky enthusiasm and great culinary prowess. Just make the call and cut the cheque. You deserve it!
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Copyright © 2007 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.