So I came out to Vancouver a few days ago on a personal trip and after a couple of days of rainy damp cold it was time to escape to Squamish where an Aussie friend named Dave has been living for a few years now.
Dave and I connected in Australia in 2015 through a cycling mate. We had a bit in common, both running online businesses and bonding over a love for Canada. So I came out here in Summer and Dave who has started flying here took me up in his little Cessna 172 the day I arrived. It was one of the most amazing ways to see the beautiful mountains of south east British Columbia.
Yesterday, the weather cleared and Dave was keen to fly. So myself and another amatuer photographer Yanick got the invite to go up and zip around the mountains. The experience turned out to be simultaneously one of the most magical and sickening of my life.
It was icy at the airport, but fortunately Yanick is a carpenter and brought down some timber to help get the plane out of the hanger. On the way there, I managed to take a wrong turn to the tiny Squamish Airport (thanks a lot Google maps) and almost got stuck in the snow down a mine access road. But thankfully made it to the airport without having to get towed out.
After a bit of a chat between the three of us and another pilot at the airport, it was time to climb into the cabin of the 4 seater plane. Having been up before I was relegated to the back seat, which I was later to regret.
Riding in a small plane is quite a different experience to the passenger jets that most of us are accustomed to. Part of the fun is being right up close to the pilot. Each passenger is given a headset to communicate within the plane and you’re privy to all radio chatter between pilots and ground control. After running through the pre-flight checks, Dave goes to start the engine and it coughs and splutters the first time, but eventually it’s running and we begin taxing out to the single 2400ft runway. We hold short and watch another Cessna taxi out and take off.
Next it was our turn and after a short ride to the end of the runway, we’re given clearance and lift off heading south over Squamish and towards Howe Sound. Before long we turn and head North west towards Mt Garibaldi and the aptly named Castle Towers Mountain. We circle around Garibaldi lake and Black Tusk, an impressive spire of stratovolcano rock reaching 2,300 meters into the sky.
Yanick is struggling with his camera battery, but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the experience, he grabs Dave’s point and shoot as a backup. Dave is keen to get the best angles for shooting the mountains and pretty soon we’re doing tighter and tighter turns around each impressive mountain formation. I rarely get motion sickness, but something about the diesel fuel, the lack of a solid connection to a horizontal plane and the smell of alcohol coming off Yanick (I think he had a big one last night) are making me queasy. I go quiet and focus on my breathing while snapping the occasional pic and video.
The headset is hurting my ears, so I take them off and focus on the noise of the plane and my breath, closing my eyes momentarily. I regain my composure as we head north to check out the runs at Whistler/blackcomb. From this high up we can just make out the snow bunnies lapping up the conditions on this sunny day.
Turning tightly we pass Wedge Mountain and eventually traverse an arch north west across to Mt Callaghan and the frozen lake at it’s base. Heading south, we pass the fluffy powdered summit of Brandywine Mountain before heading west sharply and tracking past the serrated form of Mt Cayley. From my perspective in the back seat the mountain looks like you could reach out and touch it. I remind myself that the four years of training Dave has means he probably knows what he’s doing.
We’re weaving our way south in an S-pattern. Dave points out the hut on Mt Brew, covered completely in snow. It stands out, only because of it’s cube shape, sitting on the ridge dressed in white, not far below the peak.
Tracking south over Mt Brew, we pass Tricouni Peak and head by Cloudburst Mountain over Upper Squamish and towards Mt Tantalus and Serratus Mountain. Every where you look there are mountain ranges, separated by steep sided water courses. It reminds me of Fiordland National Park on the south island of New Zealand.
After more an hour in the sky, we’re turning east and shedding altitude on the run home. Crossing the sound with the views out to the sea, a soft pink and orange glow sits over the horizon in the distance.
It worries me that Dave is adjusting the altimeter based on a reading provided over the radio, doing calculations in his head to judge how high we are. I switch my thoughts to what we’ll have for lunch and looking forward to quelling the uneasiness in my stomach.
Thankfully the landing is pretty smooth. After a slow, banking turn over town, flaps extended, Dave guides the plane’s nose around and we line up the runway. Visibility is clear and despite a small cross wind, we land precisely at the start of the runway and taxi back in to the hangar. It feels good to be back on solid ground! After pushing the plane back into the hangar we head to the pub for a late lunch. What a day!
Photos: Michael McMahon
Have you ever had a similar experience? Share with us in the comments.