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Saturday, 27 July 2013

CONQUERING THE STAWAMUS CHIEF

Saturday, 27 July 2013 - 0 Comments


The Stawamus Chief is an imposing mountain that cannot be missed on the Sea to Sky Highway located about halfway between Whistler and Vancouver (near a town called Squamish). The Stawamus Chief (more commonly referred to as "The Chief") is famous for its near-vertical granite cliffs and the breathtaking scenery from the top that attracts thousands of rock-climbers/hikers around the world to this site. Personally having done the Grouse Grind the day before and coming off of my second graveyard shift, I foolishly agreed to go on this adventure.

Large boulder halfway into the hike
Top of the peak!
Directions (from Vancouver): (~1 hour with no traffic)
Take Highway #1 westbound towards Horseshoe Bay (follow signs toward Whistler) and exit onto Highway #99 (Sea to Sky Highway). Continue for ~40 minutes and watch for signs indicating "Shannon Falls". Park in the Shannon Falls parking lot. (It could get busy during summer weekends, so go during the week if possible... if the parking lot is full don't worry, continue on the highway for ~1 km and use the Stawamus Chief parking lot instead.)

From the parking lot, we casually strolled through the paved trail towards Shannon Falls. From there we took a left turn onto a wide gravel trail (Lower Falls trail) that eventually led to a small wooden bridge. After crossing the creek, Lower Falls trail becomes the Chief Peaks Trail. For the next 30 minutes we found ourselves ascending large rocks/wooden stairs up a fairly steep gradient (in the shade.. under the protection of beautiful west coast foliage). About halfway up there was a large boulder and granite lookout (where we stopped for a couple pictures + water break). We continued our ascent towards the first peak and, shortly after the boulder, the trail divided in two (one for 1st/2nd peak and the other path towards the 3rd peak). This middle portion of the hike was much gentler than the beginning, until the foliage gave way to the gigantic granite dome that defines the Stawamus Chief. In order to reach the top of the first peak we had to climb a couple metal ladders and continue our ascent with the aid of metal chains bolted into the rock.  After an hour of sweat and burning muscles, we finally conquered the Chief and realized why this hike is widely believed to be one of the best hikes in beautiful British Columbia.

Top of the peak: Emerald green water... killer view!
We made it!
P.S. Bring lots of water, and prepare for sore knees the day after (the descend down the mountain was quite hard on the knees).

Happy Travels!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

JINSHANLING: ADDITIONAL PHOTOS

Wednesday, 17 July 2013 - 0 Comments

Additional photos of Jinshanling as promised (see the original article here!)... possibly the most beautiful portion of the Great Wall of China!  If you are visiting Beijing, why would you choose elsewhere?!

Without further ado, the rest of the pictures as promised...
Hiking east to west (~8-10 km), from the wild wall to the renovated portions (near the end)..

If you want even more photos, see them all on my Flickr page! If you like what you saw above, let me know in the comments below!
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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

ABOVE THE CLOUDS

Tuesday, 16 July 2013 - 0 Comments

We all know having clouds in the sky add another dimension to photographs... so what happens if the clouds are beneath you?!

I just returned from a inter-continental flight and I decided to do some photography that I rarely am able to do - Photograph from above!  These pictures were taken from the window of the airplane...

CAN YOU GUESS WHICH CITY I JUST RETURNED FROM? (Leave a message below!)


Saturday, 6 July 2013

JINSHANLING: THE GREAT WILD WALL OF CHINA

Saturday, 6 July 2013 - 0 Comments

Jinshanling
This entry is part of "Ancient China in Modern Beijing" series...

Woke up to a beautiful clear morning with cloudless blue sky (BOO YA no smog!).  The first order of business: Go to McD’s and grab our lunches for the day - $2 CAD breakfast meals (we got 2 each haha).  We are not big fans of fast-food especially when traveling abroad, but with minimal choices we had to buy from the world famous golden arches.  Combining McD’s with some light snacks/drinks, we were ready for the Great Wall of China!  Our driver met us at the hotel lobby and off we went to Jinshanling!

For RMB $900 we hired our driver Joe for the entire day.  Having a fantastic guide/driver really made our great wall experience that much more immersive.  The drive to Jinshanling was approximately 2.5 hours from where we stayed (close to the Forbidden City).  Of course my wife slept through the entire car ride (there and back), but I was conversing with Joe the entire time in English and some broken Chinese about topics that would’ve put her to sleep anyways haha (like politics).  In fact I was pleasantly surprised at Joe’s willingness to speak his mind about more “sensitive” subjects like government and politics.  From our conversation I learned a few fun facts about Beijing and China:

1.    The “one child policy” in China is not applicable to rural communities (farmers).  I have always wondered why any country would want to half their population every generation…
2.    There are a lot of changes in the past couple decades and there are hiccups here and there.  However, many Chinese citizens are content and they enjoy a lot of day-to-day freedoms similar to the rest of the world (Thanks CNN for conditioning me to think that most Chinese people in China are suffering daily)
3.    To control the amount of cars roaming around central Beijing, only certain license plates are permitted to enter the city each day (ie. Monday = cars with license plate starting with odd numbers, etc).
4.    Beijing is constructed like a spider web with various ring roads surrounding the city (separated into 1st ring, 2nd ring, and so on).  But unlike most cities in the world where the center is filled with skyscrapers, Beijing is the opposite with the Forbidden City at its center and the tallest buildings are found in the 2nd and 3rd ring.

The scenery on the drive out to Jinshanling was a lot like the drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon – barren and uneventful.  Occasionally, sections of the wall could be seen on some distant mountaintops (I think... it could also be excitement manifesting random rock formations into the Great Wall).  I had originally planned to hike Jinshanling for 5-6 hours (~2.5 hours one way then backtrack to the starting point), however our driver suggested a new route where he would drop us off at a newly built entrance closer to the Simatai end (east) and we would hike one-way towards the main Jinshanling entrance. (I couldn’t find such information anywhere on travel sites, so hopefully I am contributing something new to the public haha). 

This new alternate entrance (East gate entrance?) to Jinshanling Great Wall was similar to a lot of new architectures in China.  Although the property itself looked amazing, it did not blend in with the surrounding landscape and thereby it stuck out like a sore thumb.  We realized that we made a correct call to visit Jinshanling instead of the more “famous” sections like Badaling or Mutianyu because we were the only visitors at the entrance.  After paying the entrance fee of ~$50 RMB per person, we embarked on a 30 minute hike uphill on a well maintained trail until we reached our starting point.

The view on the trail to the Great Wall
Trail up to the Great Wall
Well maintained stairs
Jinshanling Towers Wild Great Wall Jinshanling Wild Great Wall Jinshanling Wild Great Wall Jinshanling Meandering Jinshanling Great Wall
After having Beijing’s bone chilling wind kick my butt a couple days before, I made sure I was dressed appropriately even though it was 3 degrees Celsius outside (dressed in layers, just like any good Canadian would because cold + sweat = trouble). Once we were on the wall the view overcame my desire for warmth, and the majesty of this ancient monument trumped my senses. The weather-battered great wall meandered endlessly like a stone serpent resting over hills and valleys, and at that moment I felt small and powerless. The vastness of the great wall against the barren landscape, in combination with the shivering wind created a harsh and lonely atmosphere. It was impossible to not relate to what it was like 450 years ago for a sentry posted here to defend against barbarians from the north. 450 years ago the protective barrier walls were probably intact and the bricks weren’t loose, but I am sure the wind was just as harsh. In fact those gusts woke me up from the epic views because my face screamed in pain (thank god for face warmers and heat packs).

Our hike started at Dongwuyanlou (or Dongwuyan tower/East Five Eyes Tower/東五眼樓) and we could only proceed in one direction westward towards the Jinshanling main entrance because the path towards Simatai was off limits. This section of the great wall is considered as the "wild wall" because this section has not been touched since its conception from the Ming Dynasty era (AD 1570). We walked casually westward as we were in no rush, sometimes stopping at the watch towers (or what was left of it) for refreshments and sometimes even doubled back to savor the astonishing views. (Jinshanling has the highest density of watch towers as well as various strategic wall improvements that are unique to this stretch of the Great Wall).

The first third of the hike was definitely more challenging as loose bricks, crumbling walls, wobbly steps, and numerous potholes welcomed us at every turn. We hiked this section rather cautiously but the hike itself was easily manageable and we didn’t feel at any point in danger. We had the Great Wall all to ourselves as we did not encounter another soul for the first 1.5 hour. Our driver said most visitors who visit Jinshanling are foreigners as most Asians (except Japanese tourists) usually stick with Badaling or Mutianyu. In fact throughout our entire hike we saw two other couples, one local elder, and four local kids playing tag. Looking back at my Great Wall experiences I would rather experience 30 minutes of Jinshanling than hours at Badaling. There is something truly special about experiencing the Great Wall at its original state with minimal disturbances from other visitors, over commercialization, and traffic. (Did you know the Badaling section is basically a complete rebuilt on ancient foundations?)

(Aside: I visited Badaling when I was a kid before China was open to the western world and domestic Chinese citizens were too poor to travel… and Badaling was already packed then! Badaling wasn’t as commercially developed then and the “washroom” had crawlies everywhere – I imagine its hygiene status should be improved now. Anyways I digress…)

As we proceeded westward the wind felt gentler and our hike felt less rugged as well. We encountered an abruptly repaved section half way into our journey, but just as abruptly the renovation ceased 200 meters down the path.. WTF? By the time we reached the Big Jinshan Tower our journey through the wild great wall was over and we were walking on “solid stones” once again. This stretch of Jinshanling was renovated in the 1980-1990s and it was beautifully renovated (non-intrusive). There were even cable cars to traffic less physically-able visitors to/from the great wall! It was closed when we visited during the winter months, and in fact the entire main entrance seemed deserted when we hiked through the little Jinshanling resort village (aka main entrance). Joe was waiting for us at the parking lot as promised and our hike through Jinshanling was about 4.5 hours all together (with numerous photo/snack breaks in between… so probably 3 hours with no interruptions).



UPDATE: July 17, 2013 - Additional Photos Added! click here!

Have you been to Jinshanling? Or are you intrigued by the wild wall?  If you enjoyed this post, or have any questions about the trip.  Let me know in the comments below!  Happy travels!

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