The Grouse Mountain Experience

No visit to Vancouver could be complete without a real mountain experience. So after covering the Servas conference I left at 2 pm for downtown. To get to Grouse Mountain was quite an experience in itself, I got to take 2 buses downtown, then I boarded Vancouver’s light rail rapid transit system, the Skytrain, which runs underground downtown, just like a subway. Then I hopped on the Seabus, a regular ferry that connects downtown with North Vancouver. Buses were waiting for passengers right when the ferry docked and I jumped on the #236 which takes you right to Grouse Mountain, passing the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. At the base of Grouse Mountain I entered into another means of transportation: the Skyride, a 6 minute gondola / tram ride to the main complex at the top of the Mountain.

Canada Place – Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal

Grouse Mountain is also called the “Peak of Vancouver”, and it offers recreational possibilities all year long. The elevation at the top is 4100 feet and in the winter Grouse offers 22 runs for skiers and snowboarders as well as 13 lit runs for night-skiing. The top base of the gondola features a fine dining restaurant, contemporary dining, a more casual cafe as well as a gift shop and a store called “Outfitters” that provides all sorts of outdoor gear. The dining areas have sweeping views of the city all the way down to Washington State.

I decided to check out the mountain attractions and walked past a number of huge wooden carved statues, finally arriving at the Lumberjack Show. Two young strapping lads go at it in a variety of woodsman’s competitions, including target throwing of a double-sided axe, aiming for the bull’s eye, speed-sawing competitions involving a single-handled saw and later a speed-sawing contest with a double-handled saw that includes 2 female audience participants.

There is all sorts of humorous competitive banter between the two guys, all coordinated by a female emcee that tries to keep the (staged) competition under control. Then the 2 young lumberjacks climb 2 large poles where they have to ring a bell at the top and of course only one of them can be a winner. The show climaxes with one of the lumberjacks being pushed into what appears like a deep well, water splashing out of the well as he apparently hits the liquid. Then the other lumberjack tosses a stick of dynamite into the well, followed by a big bang and a huge splash of water that reaches the front rows of the audience, usually accompanied by some socks or a torn shirt as evidence of the unfortunate lumberjack’ s demise, all of the debris landing in the startled and delighted audience.

Sawing with audience participation Log-rolling Mason & Darren, the stars of the show

To everybody’s relief, the second lumberjack climbs out of the well, wet but intact, and the two guys embark on their final competition: the log-rolling. A round piece of wood is located in the middle of a small pond and the two guys each have a designated side for themselves. Then they start to roll the log, spraying and splashing each other, performing all sorts of acrobatics while turning the piece of wood. The final winner is the guy that pushes the other guy off the log into the water most often in 3 tries.

I talked to the young fellows afterwards, 2 nice young men by the name of Mason Bischoff, a BC native, and Darren Hudson, of Nova Scotia. Both guys come from families of real lumberjacks and they often compete in lumberjack competitions. Mason has only been doing the show for 5 days, very surprising since he performed so professionally, and Darren has been at it for 5 years, working at Grouse in the summer, and doing some lumberjack shows in Australia in the winter. It was evident that both of them are having an absolute blast doing this job – performing a rather strenuous half-hour show 3 times daily, 7 days a week. I found the show very entertaining, a great combination of physical strength, endurance, slapstick, and witty repartee between the lumberjacks and the emcee.

Following this I checked out the famous bear habitat, which has proven to be a refuge for 2 orphaned bears that found a permanent spacious 5 acre home on Grouse Mountain. Unfortunately the two animals, Koola and Grinder, were sleeping somewhere under the trees and I only caught a peek at one of them when he stretched and rolled over to continue sleeping. Right next to the bear habitat is an area for timber wolves and I was a little luckier getting a peak at these white canines.

Peregrine Falcon Great Horned Owl Harris Hawk

Staying along the animal theme, I checked out the “Birds in Motion” Show that features 4 different types of birds: two Harris hawks, a red-tailed hawk, a great horned owl and peregrine falcon. The birds have names like Arwin, Frodo, Chinook and Rusty and they perform various maneuvers, often sweeping closely over various audience members’ heads. The show was hosted by a young woman who also injected a dry sense of humour into her performance.

The peak of Grouse Mountain, about 100 m up from the tram station, still remained to be climbed. It’s not a far distance, but it takes a solid 20 or so minutes to get up to the top, which also features a chairlift station. The view from the top is astounding, and the snow covered peak of Mount Baker, an inactive volcano in Washington State, mesmerized me. I heard that it is about 150 km or 90 miles away from Vancouver and with its snow-covered peak it appeared like a mirage in the distance.

Faint view of Mount Baker

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