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Vancouver to Harrison Hot Springs: The Scenic Route

posted in: BC, Explore | 3

Introduction

So… black hoodie, grey jeans and a toque. See you soon! I consider adding a smiley faced emoji, but send the text as is.

I immediately start typing a second text, to a second contact.

I’m just about to meet up with a dude I met through instagram. I don’t think he’s a psycho but we are driving to Harison Hot Springs, so if you don’t hear from me ever again his IG name is @jonbeeotch. Grimacing smiley faced emoji. Send.

I get off the skytrain at Commercial Drive Broadway station and make my way down the escalator to meet The Idealist. He’s wearing a red jacket and jeans and I recognize him straight away.This is weird. He slows down enough for me to fall into step beside him.

Yeah. I nod. It’s pretty weird.

I follow him to a well used Volkswagen Westfalia in the first row of the Safeway parking lot and wait for him to unlock the passenger door.  I climb in and we continue our brief discussion about how crazy and weird it is to meet up with someone you only know through social media and agree to go on a mini road trip into rural and wilderness areas with them. It’s the stuff that horror movies are made from, truly.

The Route

Our plan is to take a scenic drive to Harrison Hot Springs. The fastest way is to take the Hwy 1 East out of Vancouver, past Chilliwack and turn off at Exit 135. We are going to wind our way along the Lougheed Hwy on the north side of the Fraser River because there is a waterfall and a frozen lake that The Idealist thinks would be cool to check out. Our route will take us through Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and Mission before delivering us onto Hot Springs Road, which not surprisingly is the only road into Harrison.

Kanaka Creek Cliff Falls

Our first stop is Kanaka Creek Cliff Falls, which is approximately 35 minutes into our journey. The falls are a jumping off point for several other hikes within Kanaka Creek Regional Park in Maple Ridge. The park spans the Kanaka river and surrounding area from where the tributary empties into the Fraser River all the way until it crosses Dewdney Trunk Road.

We pull into the frozen parking lot and gather our equipment before starting to make our way down to the falls.

We might die.

I love how you go straight for the worst case scenario.

He might be right, though. The parking lot and trail down to the falls is like an ice rink. A ridiculously uneven and treacherous ice rink.

But we manage to survive the slippery descent and we set up to take photos of the falls at the bottom of the trail. They really are spectacular. The Idealist explains that in the summer months the smooth, round rocks invite visitors to sit in them while water trickles over the falls. Today we are looking at a torrent of whitewater being thrust through an icy canyon. It’s cool, but likely a much different kind of cool than in the summer.

view of Kanaka Creek

As we carefully make our way back up to the Westfalia we are deep into a discussion about how awesome dogs are to have as pets.  He pulled his last pooch on a wagon for over a year after his legs gave out.  Part of his daily ritual included carrying both the dog and the wagon downstairs.  It sounds a lot more dedicated than when I dismantled my bed so my fur kid could continue to hog my mattress at night.  Not everybody understands that.

On the short drive to Whonnock Lake he tells me he wants to build two little cabins in the woods, one for him and one for his daughter.

She won’t turn 18 and move out or anything, but I think it would be nice for her to have her own space someday.

Whonnock Lake

We pull into an almost empty parking lot at Whonnock Lake. The Idealist is hoping that it will be frozen over because that will lend itself well to the type of images he takes. It’s warmed up in the last few days and although the lake is still almost frozen over there is a border of flowing water between the shore and the slab of ice still covering the majority of it. A pair of hockey nets stand abandoned on the out on the mini iceberg.

We joke about venturing out onto the lake to retrieve them. Half of us is only half joking.

The Idealist starts to take out his equipment while I quickly snap a few photos of the landscape. The lake is surrounded by thick, dense forest, the edge of which, is comprised of a thin line of dead, waterlogged trees. Sedges and other marshy plants frame the transition area from lake to forest. We stand on a small strip of sandy beach, spanning approximately the length of a football field. East of us, a happy couple frolics on a dock, posing for selfies.

Whonnock Lake

I’m fascinated by the ice and quickly become obsessed with macro shots of it. Holes, water, patterns and combinations of all three. None of them are turning out the way I want them to, but they are getting less terrible with each frame. We wander out onto the dock. I want to capture a candid portrait of The Idealist there; large, pale blue eyes of his against a backdrop of ice and clouds. The dark hair and the red jacket. Every time he looks my way I panic and move the camera away from my face.  It’s awesome.

On the road again

We’re both hungry by the time we are back in the Westfalia and we make the decision to stop for lunch before we get to Harrison. The Idealist knows of a place that he describes as a biker pub that’s on the way. It’s called the Sasquatch Inn and it sounds like a place worth checking out.

On the way I ramble on about what it is that I’m trying to do with my professional career. It takes much longer than it should to explain. I’m trying to find a way out of a job that I’ve loved for over a decade but realistically can’t keep doing in the long term. I am desperately lacking any practical skills that would make transitioning into another career an easy task. I’m dabbling in marketing and web development. I want to write a book. I have a blog. I have an instagram account that is loosely connected to what I blog about. I’m springtime in Ontario.

The Idealist is whatever the opposite of that is. He is a former pro skateboarder turned filmmaker and his successful instagram account is a side project that he has simplified into one photo per day from a very unique perspective. Sprinkled every now and then with an image of his daughter and dog for good measure. We talk for a while about one of his bigger accounts and he points out a spot where he took photos of a shipwreck for his instagram feed. I make a mental note to go back and look for them.

We stop to capture an image of a fallen tree in the middle of Nicomen Slough as it lazily cuts it’s way through the delta.  Bald eagles dot the surrounding trees and I babble on about how excited I am to see so many of them, while The Idealist gets to work. Rows of bare blueberry shrubs with their bright red twigs fill the landscape on the other side of the road, stretching almost to the low mountain peaks in the distance.

A few kilometers down the road, The Sasquatch Inn is a wonderfully, offbeat surprise. On the surface it’s frighteningly close to being a stereotypical red-neck, tacky tourist trap. The parking lot is full of large pick up trucks, and the saloon style decor sports a large carving of the iconic Sasquatch near the entrance. I am delighted to find their burgers boast locally sourced grass fed beef. I order a Sasquatch burger and fries and happily clean the entire plate.

Sasquatch Burger

Destination:  Harrison Hot Springs

We pass fields full of large white birds that I think might be trumpeter swans on the 20 minute drive into Harison Hot Springs.

This is so cool! I repeat this every 30 seconds or so,  like this is the first time I’ve ever seen a bird or a farmhouse or an estuary.

We are running low on daylight by the time we make it to the little resort town of Harrison Hot Springs, so we decide the best trail to explore would be the one that leads to Sandy Beach and Whippoorwill Point because it’s easily accessible from the main parking lot.   The lake is in a wide valley nestled between mountain peaks, and it’s much colder than it was in Vancouver.

I pull my hood over my toque and zip my hoodie as high as it will go.

The trail hugs the shores of Harrison Lake as we walk past the resort, and approach a small concrete building emitting steam. We joke about whether or not we’ve brought our skivvies and whether or not skivvies are underpants or bathing suits. The building is locked and we peer inside to see an abysmal pool of water. I assume this is what they call “the source” and it doesn’t look like it’s ever available to lounge around in. However, on the other side of the path there are two shallow pools with a ring of rocks around them.   We decide to make a break for Sandy Beach in the fading light and leave the make-shift hot tub for the way back.

 

The trail to Sandy beach ascends and winds along the cliff offering peek-a-boo views of the lake. By the time we reach Sandy Beach it’s too dark for my little Canon to adapt so I watch the Idealist work on his set up, and at one point he even lets me use his equipment. It’s really cool, but I’m terrified of breaking it.

I love being outside at this time of day. I love the cool colors of the mountains as the sun sets and casts shadows on their peaks.

We almost get lost on the way back, and I’m not sure about The Idealist but I’m freezing. Still there’s very little discussion about whether or not we are going to dangle our feet in the hot springs. You can’t go to a hot spring town and not. You just Cant. So we do.

We sit on a log in the dark on the shores of Harrison Lake, our feet dangling into a make-shift tub of hot-spring water. The scent of sulfur wafts from the shore, emanating from where the orange glow of the pathway lights illuminate the rocks above us. I look to my left, away from the lights, across the dark lake towards boxes of light on the other side, and then up at the sky to look for stars. But it’s too early and the sky is just one big canopy of the darkest blue you can imagine.

The Idealist pulls his left foot out of the steamy water, dripping with thousands of years worth of decayed organic matter. This feels nice.

I clumsily rub my feet over a large underwater stone and snort. Ew. Gross.

Even though we are enveloped by the scent of rotten eggs, it’s pretty much the perfect way to end the day.


I highly recommend checking out The Idealists Instagram…

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