Ultramarathon! Sun Mountain 50k Recap

“show me your bib!”
nervous smiles at the start line

I feel like this is going to be a doozy of a post! It’s also wayyy overdue: the recap for Sun Mountain 2017, my first ultra! Grab a coffee and settle in.

On Friday May 19th (6 days after we got home from Sydney), I met up with Jan and our friends Greg and Martina after a quick morning at the office. The four of us piled into Martina’s car and drove across the border to Winthrop, Washington. Our final destination was the Sun Mountain 50k for me, and 100k for Greg (!).

In few weeks before this, I finished my rural placement, wrote my CCFP, and traveled to Australia. It didn’t give me one spare minute to get nervous about this race, which I think was a really good thing, because it was the farthest I’d ever run, and pretty much the longest I’d been on my feet. (My only longer races were tri’s).

We stayed in a big house with some other Fraser St. Run Club folks, which was the best combination of advice from awesome trail runners and really good vibes. We arrived at the Air BnB a bit late (I was late leaving work + we had a long border crossing + Trader Joe’s stop) and made a quick dinner of stir-fry veggies and quinoa.

labeling drop bags

After eating I laid out my clothes. The weather was calling for 21 and sunny, with an 8 AM start in the mountains. I went with singlet (super old but tried and true) + Flow Y bra + Nike shorts, and a lulu long sleeve to start in. Add my Garmin, latest trail shoe choice and hat (Bondi beach souvenir trucker hat!) and I was good to go.

last minute race outfit pic!
drop baggies

The race had three aid stations: mile 8.6, 17 and 25.2 (km 13.8, 27.4, and 40.5). The website didn’t have a lot of info about what would be stocked there, but people had told me that Rainshadow events are always really well done. I made sure to have Nuun in the second two bags (the heat!) and tossed in a few other things I thought I’d like to eat. FYI: The aid stations were great, and had watermelon, bananas, pretzels, PB+J rollups, chips, water and sports drinks.

I wrote out my nutrition plan on the plane from Australia – colour coded because what else are you going to do with 16 1/2 hours? The main strategy was to get 90-150 cal/h, using foods that I already knew I could handle (not gel). Along the right hand side of the page I noted things I wanted to have available from my bag at the aid station (extra hair ties, chapstick, etc). I ended up not putting in the fig cookies, but I did have some banana bread in there instead.

So Martina (who was 4 months pregnant and an actual superstar) got up early to drive Greg to the start line for their early 5.30 am start, then came back to the house so she could drive me to the 8 am start. I was nervous at that part – it was chilly and I was just overall a bit shaky.

checking in

The race got started in such a quick way! Everyone was kind of standing around (like in the photo above), while the race director, James, did a mini safety briefing. But then, in the same breath, he was like “ok and 3, 2, 1, go!” People just standing around the start line were all “yikes ok!”

For the first bit of the race I was just thinking “omg I’m running 50 kilometres today”. I did a bit of “omg what am I going to think about for the next 48.5 km?!” and a lot of looking around until I settled in around 5k. I came to the first aid station absolutely dying to get rid of my long sleeve. It was around 14 deg at the start line and probably overkill even to have worn it in the first place.

I knew Jan didn’t have access to a car and would only be able to see me at the halfway point and the end, so at the first station I found my drop bag, grabbed some food (another waffle and shot bloks) and ditched my top. This is probably where I made my biggest mistakes of the day. Early that morning, Kat (speedy trail runner, also friend) had told me to get calories in early. She knew that in the heat and hills I wouldn’t feel like eating late in the race.

Feeling great running along at halfway

To make a long story short, I didn’t eat much at all (2 waffles + half a package of chews) in the first part of the race. Things were going so well at the 25k mark that I thought I’d be fine. In the last 10k, I got nauseous and focused on getting fluids, but wasn’t really able to take in a much food.

From about 28-30km, I felt medium –  until 45k, when I really just wanted to be done running. I was tired, hot, and my feet hurt. I really think that a major reason why I faded so hard was nutrition. I just didn’t get enough calories in. So, lesson learned! Eat early!

I don’t think I’ve ever really hit a true “low point” in a running race before. At 46ish k, I really just wanted to sit down on the trail. I was tearful and not thinking at all clearly about how I only really had 20 mins of running left to do. I couldn’t even recognize myself bonking a bit!

such an emotional roller coaster – from tears to smiles in a few steps

Jan ran out to keep me company for the last 3km, and seeing him really helped. I was so ready to have my first ultra done!

“can I dump some of that water on my head?”

I finished in 6:03 (23rd F). I think I’m capable of something closer to 5:45 if I train harder in the trails and figure out nutrition, etc. It’s taken me a full five weeks but I’m starting to think that it’s maybe something I would attempt again :).

At the race, you don’t get a medal – it’s a stainless steel beer cup! It says “Sun Mountain 50 km 2017”. I totally love it – way more useful and cool than a medal.

the crew watching the 25k finish line on sore legs!
driving through a still-snowy pass on the way home

The rest of the day was tiring but fun – we hung out at the finish line and ate amazing wood stove pizza + tons of snacks, beer, coffee and water. We waited for Greg and eventually ran with him to the finish line of his 100k race. I slept pretty well (I don’t usually after a hard race/workout but 65000 steps in one day will do that to you) and we watched a bit of the 25k race on Sunday morning before driving back home.

I’d definitely race this one again! Thanks for a fantastic first ultra experience Rainshadow!

PS I also got a really cool t-shirt as a souvenir, but no photo of it! Might be able to find it here

MEC Trail Race 3

too sweaty to open my eyes! sorry in advance for the iphone photos – no fancy camera today!

While we were in Australia, my friend Moira emailed asking if I wanted to join her for one of the upcoming MEC trail races (“Trail Race 3“). Of course I said yes!

Side note: the MEC races are so great because they have all the things you need for a race (timing, well-marked course, coffee at the start line and snacks after) but none of the extra bells and whistles (participation medals, t-shirts, etc.). This means they can be SUPER CHEAP but still well-run, challenging and super fun. 

This race was hosted by MEC North Van and was 15$ for a 15k trail race. There was also a 55k option, but it was only 2 weeks after Sun Mountain and even a 15k race sounded hefty. The race was on the Capilano-Pacific trail, which is mostly wide and non-technical, but also very beautiful!

Moira also got friends Jen and Travis to register, and Jan came along for moral support ;). We drove out to Ambleside Park, where the race started. They had coffee and water and we grabbed our bibs. Excel with Grace was there to lead pre-run yoga (when did I get so stiff?!?!).

I lined up near the front of the pack. I didn’t really know what to expect from other people there, but Jan is always telling me to start up front. There were a few layers of men in front of me but I didn’t see too many other women. They ended up going out pretty fast and when I saw us hit the first km in 4:20, I knew I needed to be a bit more conservative. I let the lead pack, including the first woman, go.

At this point I was running with only one or two other people. The race would go slowly up towards the Cleveland Dam before coming all the way back down, so I focused on running the uphills as much as possible, so I could put more distance between me and any other chase groups. I’m still so much better going up than down! I had some doubts in the early kilometers about racing so soon after Sun Mountain, but I reminded myself it was supposed to be a fun, no-pressure day and just went for it.

On the way back, I saw the others (the joys of an out and back course!) and started to feel good, especially with the downhill. I ran the last 7k significantly under a 5:00 pace and finished in 1:18:28 for 2nd female.

It was a pretty warm day, so I wore an old lulu swiftly tech tee and speed shorts, plus my Flow Y sports bra and a random pair of socks. I’m still rocking the New Balance Vazee trail shoes (a departure from my beloved Saucony!) and quite liking them. I had both of my trusty Garmin’s (steps and GPS tracking) and that’s about it! I carried my Ultimate Direction handheld but this was prob overkill – I didn’t drink on the course.

It was great to get a post-race massage, banana, muffin and coffee! We spent the rest of the day hanging out and getting ready for the week – a perfect Sunday in my books :)

Sunshine Coast April Fool’s Half Marathon – Race Recap!

On Sunday I ran the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool’s Run presented by Coast Cable. It was a really beautiful day, lots of friends were on the coast for the run, and I actually ended up running a surprise PB! Here’s how the day went:

I’ve been living on the Sunshine Coast for the past 8 weeks while working at St. Mary’s Hospital and the Upstream Family Medicine Clinic. On Saturday, our friends Greg, Martina and Greg’s brother Jeff took the ferry over from Vancouver to join me and Jan in Sechelt for the weekend. We had a late lunch at Shift Kitchen, and then drove to Smuggler’s Cove Provincial Park for a short hike. We didn’t attempt anything too intense, since Greg, Jeff and I were running the half the next morning. On our way back, we grabbed some groceries and made an awesome dinner of steelhead, quinoa salad, risotto and grilled asparagus. Martina also made this really awesome guac that we ended up eating with lime-flavoured tortilla chips..the best.

almond milk + coffee + nervous Alyssa = must be race day

So Sunday morning I woke up early with my usual pre-race nerves. After scrolling through Twitter for Barkley Marathon updates, I decided to just get up. I ate a bowl of oatmeal with a little bit of almond butter and chocolate chips. I also drank about 1/2 a mug of decaf coffee with almond milk. It was so nice to have Jan, Greg, Martina and Jeff to chat with! Really helped distract me from the race.

time to boogie! Greg 1.0 , me, Jeff and Greg 2.0

 

Since the race is point-to-point, we left one car at the finish line and all piled into Martina’s car to head to the start. There, we met Alan, Greg B., and Dimitri (also saw Julie and Steph!). We all grabbed our race packages, put on our numbers, and did a quick warm up.

It was sunny and clear, so I went with shorts + singlet + arm warmers and gloves for the race. I think it was the right call! I would have been warm in a tee-shirt but I was glad for the arm warmers. #ventilationFTW! The race goes off at 9.17 am, and around 9 the volunteers started corralling us all to the start line. I went to the bathroom one last time and gave Jan my joggers and hoodie.

Before I knew it, the race started and I was over the timing mat. I was trying to run by feel for the first little while. The last time I raced a half marathon was in August – Seawheeze! This was also my PB, and while I knew I’d gotten stronger since then I also didn’t feel like I was in that kind of shape. I didn’t taper into this run and I’m in the middle of a 50k training cycle, so I thought “ok, let’s just see”. My best guess was that I’d run around 1:40.

So we start the race and I just try to settle in. My first three km splits were 4:19, 4:13, 4:17 (averaging 6:45/mi) and while my initial thought was “whoa too fast”, I also thought “but I feel really comfortable”. I decided to just go with it and see what happened.

still feeling good at 6k

The first 10k of the race flew by. This has never really happened to me. I felt like km markers were just coming up so quickly. I’m not sure if it’s because I was enjoying the rolling hills, or because I’ve gotten used to much longer runs, but I found myself thinking “How are there only 10km left in this race?!”

With every km I checked my watch to see how far off of 4:30 pace I was. I wasn’t planning to push myself for anything faster than that, but the plan was to try to use it as a benchmark. For every km under 4:30, I just felt like I was putting seconds in the bank – and I ended up needing a bunch of those to get up the hills in the next part of the course.

there’s the pain face!

I ran with a few small groups until this point in the race, occasionally drafting in the headwind or pulling one or two runners (mostly men) with me. I took a cup of water at every aid station (there were four) but none really made it into my mouth. One I splashed on my face, another down my neck and I think I got a tiny sip out of the third or fourth. I didn’t have any food for the race (this is pretty standard for me in a half).

At km 15-16, I was running totally alone, and came to the start of the large hills on the course (Marlene road up to the highway, which continues up). I really had a moment coming up Marlene when I thought I’d burned all my matches and just about died, but then I settled back into a rhythm and the highway seemed like no big deal. At this point the race was really spread out – I could only see one or two other runners ahead of me.

chasing down 10th place!

The hill crests at km 18, and from there it was just get to the finish! I saw Jan and Martina at a few points (the start, 6km, 12ish km, and the finish, plus driving from point to point) and that was a big boost. I saw Jan with his camera just before the finish, and turned to sprint home. I passed one woman in the chute with only a few metres to go!

I have fast friends :) Alan and Greg were already done and demolishing bagels!

Ultimately my official time was 1:34:17, 10th F overall and 5th in my age group. This is a 41 second PB over Seawheeze on a tougher course, so I’ll take it! After the race we all came back to my Sechelt place for a family brunch – the best way to finish a race :).

Jan and I also took a quick afternoon drive/walk to Porpoise Bay, just up the road from where I’m staying. It was so pretty but so windy! Towards the end of the evening I got a really bad headache. I tried everything (caffeine, fluids, rest, a shower) until I realized I probably needed salt (I had already eaten oatmeal, then pancakes, fruit salad at brunch and then a salad for dinner). I literally put some margarine on a piece of toast and dusted heavily with salt and magic! 30 minutes later I felt like a different person.

What did you do this weekend? Anyone else a very salty sweat-er? 

All photos by the wonderful JAN except the one with the Fool’s Run banner, which is thanks to Rick Horne

Snowshoeing Hollyburn Mountain

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In January, Jan and I took advantage of a perfect holiday Monday and snowshoed up Hollyburn Mountain. The views were bluebird! Here’s a recap of our day and the hike up:

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The trail is free, and starts from the alpine area of Cypress Mountain. It’s a left from the main road as you head towards the ski parking. At the base, you can rent snowshoes or get passes to go into the groomed Cypress trails. The Hollyburn trail is marked by red poles, like the one in the photo above.

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The first part of the trail is one of the steepest, and I always find myself de-layering here :). Eventually, you move away from the power lines alongside this trail and into a more forested section.

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After 2.8 km of meandering up (sometimes climbing, sometimes more level ground), the trail turns up to the left towards Hollyburn peak. Several times when I haven’t had time for a long snowshoe, I’ve called it a day here.

This time, though, we had the whole day and it was so beautiful, I knew we had to get to the peak.

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At about 3.6 km, the trail starts to wrap around the mountain. Here, it’s easy to go exploring “off piste” if you have good visibility and the right conditions. Make sure you take the usual safety precautions that you would in the backcountry!

We explored a bit – my favourite is the trees that are covered in snow!

The snow is deep – I would definitely recommend snowshoes (you need more than just boots or spikes, at least in January/February).

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Eventually we stopped goofing around and made it the final few hundred meters to the peak. The views were unreal!

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2017-01-02-snowshoe-hike-hullyburn-mountain-038We took in the sights, ate a snack, and headed back down. Our total ascent time (with lots of playing around/stopping for photos) was just under 2 hours. We took our time going back down as well, with lots of photo stops.

Quick stats: 8 km roundtrip | Dec-Mar | 3 hours roundtrip | Parking and snowshoe rentals ($15) at Cypress Alpine Parking lot | 590 m elevation

Photos all thanks to Jan

Lynn Peak Hike (Guest Starring Catherine and Silvia)

Longtime blog readers (and, ok, my cousin and her bff) came for a visit to Vancouver last weekend! We had a great time exploring the city, and ended up on a surprise hike. Here’s the story:

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Jan usually takes (and edits) blog photos but since this was spontaneous, it’s me & an iphone :)

On Monday morning I had planned to take Catherine and Silvia to Lynn Canyon. It’s my favourite alternative to the Capilano Suspension Bridge (almost as long, way less crowded and free!). We didn’t really have plans for the afternoon, so we got a slow start to the morning. Around 9, we walked to Whole Foods for breakfast and almond milk lattes of course (Silvia got the mac’n’cheese, which ended up being the best decision). Then, we got in the car and drove to Lynn Canyon.

Once you get into the park, the suspension bridge is only a few steps from the parking lot. I thought we’d go across, take some photos, then do an easy hike to Rice Lake and back (total time ~1h max). We did cross the bridge, but once we climbed the stairs above the 30 ft pool, we passed a sign showing the path to Rice Lake. It was an inset on a bigger map, which included the trail to Lynn Peak via the Lynn Loop trail.

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We were less than 2k from the base of Lynn Peak, and it was turning into a really nice day. I asked the girls if they wanted to try to climb up, and they agreed. I went once last summer with Brian, Sarah and Moira, so I knew the trail was well marked. I also had a lot of extra food with me, plus most of the 10 essentials (I think we were a little light on clothing but I always pack emergency blankets).

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The first part of the hike is a steady uphill along a rocky trail. Since it was a relatively warm day, there was water flowing in some parts. Eventually, the trail changes to packed dirt switchbacks. We made really good time along both these sections (total ~1.5km), and de-layered a bunch of clothing.

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At that point, you find yourself on a ridge that goes steadily up. This is where we also found snow. We had decided that if it got too snowy or cold, we’d turn around, but since we still had lots of layers to put back on, and the snow was packed and melting, we carried on.

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The trail is deceiving here because there are several false flats – just as you think you are at the peak, it turns and there is another uphill section. There were some steep parts here where poles or spikes would have been helpful (but not necessary).

Along the way, we passed 2 viewpoints: first looking east, then west.

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Viewpoint on Lynn Peak looking at Seymour Mountain

 

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Viewpoint from Lynn Peak looking at Grouse Mountain – on a clear day you can also see the Georgia Strait behind it!

After a little more climbing, we reached the peak. I was so impressed that the girls made it up – I was definitely feeling the climb, and I remember thinking the same thing last time I did it. Lynn Peak has been called a less crowded Grouse Grind :).

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The views definitely did not disappoint – the pic I took is overexposed but we could see way past UBC and the airport to the USA. Pretty cool! Our ascent time was about 1:15, with a few stops for breaks – total ~1:30. We hung out at the top for a bit, enjoyed the view, ate a bunch of snacks, and then headed back down. It only took us 30 mins to get back to the Lynn Loop trail, and then another 20 to get back along the creek, over the bridge, and into the car.

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Total hike time: 0:25 (Lynn Canyon) + 2:00 (Lynn Loop and climb) + 0:30 (summit) + 0:50 (descent and Lynn Loop) + 0:25 (Lynn Canyon) = 4:30. Links to Strava page with GPS info.

After driving back to Vancouver, we stopped for bulk candy and Momo, and these 2 tried their best to stay awake until 9 :) It was a great day!

Cypress Snowshoeing

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A few weeks ago Jan and I decided to go for a quick afternoon snowshoe. We’ve gone up Hollyburn a few times, so we decided to check out the paid snowshoe trails in the Cypress resort. An adult trail ticket is $10, and you can get a season’s pass for $99. The one bummer is that the pass only gives you access to the snowshoe trails – you need a separate one for the cross country skiing. I can definitely snowshoe more than 10 times in a season, but I’m not sure I want to go to the same place 10 times.

So anyway, we headed into the trails to see what they were like.

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Pros: The trails were easy at the beginning. Flat, short, pretty. I would definitely be able to bring my parents, or other visitors who I’m not sure I want to drag up a mountain. As we kept going, things did get harder, but the trails were really well marked (similar to ski trails – green/blue/black etc.) and we knew what we were getting into.

We had snowshoes with us, but another “pro” might be that you can rent snowshoes in the Nordic Area parking lot, which would be convenient. The snowshoes are $24 for the day and include your trail ticket.

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Cons: Honestly, just that there is a cost. There aren’t many great viewpoints in the resort, but the trails do lead to the BC parks trail that sends you up Hollyburn. Considering you can do that (and a lot of other local trails) for free, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to pay. I think the resort trails would be nice for someone who wants to explore a few trails without a lot of elevation gain, or who just prefers marked/groomed trails (though Hollyburn is also marked, and seems groomed because of all the foot traffic).

What do you think? Worth it for the extra $$?

Al’s Habrich Ridge Trail Snowshoe

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On Saturday, Jan and I joined our friends Greg, Martina and Christine for a day in the snow. We’d all done a bunch of snowshoeing on the North Shore Mountains (Grouse, Cypress and Seymour) this year, so we thought we’d venture further north and look for some new-to-us terrain.

We decided to head to Squamish and check out the trails that start at the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola. The gondola entrance is just off the Sea-to-Sky Highway, about a kilometre before downtown Squamish. At the bottom, there are amazing views of the Chief, another awesome hike (which I’ve done in the summer, but not the winter!)

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Anyway, you can either hike up to the top, or take the gondola. We really thought about hiking, since the fee to go up+down is $37.95 per person, but a ticket to go down only is $9.99 per person. The guys at the bottom told us to expect a 5-6 hour trip if we hiked up, so we chose to ride. Vancouver trails says the hike takes about 3.5 hours in the summer, so I guess that would mean about 5 hours of hiking/snowshoeing in the winter. We also didn’t have trax or microspikes, which probably would help a lot. The views going up the gondola were spectacular, even if the price was a bit much. I plan to come back to do the full hike up at some point!

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At the top of the gondola, there is a viewing platform and cafe. Just behind the cafe/gondola exit, there is a snowshoe rental area and a nice, warm firepit. When we got there, around 10 am, it was really quiet. We took a few photos and then headed down a snowy road/wide walking path until we reached the trailhead. Along the way, we saw some people ice climbing on the rock faces! I’d love to try it this winter.

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The trail we chose is called Al’s Habrich Ridge trail. It wraps up around the northwest part of Habrich Ridge, part of Mount Habrich. The trail map we picked up at the bottom of the gondola says it’s an advanced/backcountry trail.

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We reached the trail head and pretty much immediately started going up. The trail has 340m of gain in 3km. The steepest section is at the beginning, but this was definitely a workout. We ended up getting to the top in just under 90 minutes, and the return trip was much faster (partly due to sliding down ;). I felt like we were hustling for most of the way up.

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The trail map says that the markers go from 1-44, but at the “top”, we only saw #33. The trail pretty clearly ended, and there was a spectacular viewpoint, which looks out to Garibaldi, Atwell, Tantalus peaks as well as Howe Sound. A connector trail called Robin’s Connector apparently leads to another viewpoint with views of Habrich itself, Sky Pilot, Copilot and Ledge peaks, but it wasn’t broken in and we weren’t really prepared to be trailfinding.

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Overall, I’d say that snowshoes were the way to go. We did see some people in with microspikes, but there were definitely some deep-snow sections. At the gondola, they recommended renting poles, which we decided not to do. It was totally fine without them, but you could see how they’d be helpful given the steep terrain. I don’t think it would have been worth the extra 10$/person.

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Trail comments in general: I thought this trail was really well marked for a backcountry trail. We never really wondered if we were in the right place, which is impressive given the amount of snowfall we’ve had.

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I will say that it’s not an easy go, and I’d make sure that you have ample time, snacks and of course the 10 essentials. We saw a few older kids (12+) on the trail on our way down, but I think the average child would have a hard time with this one. The views were totally, absolutely, 100% worth the tougher hike!

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When we got back, I was surprised at how busy the gondola area was! The cafe was bustling with people who rode the gondola up for lunch with a view. If you’re looking for an interesting lunch spot (maybe to take visitors) this could be great! Otherwise, it seemed a little bit expensive/typical ski-lodge food, so we decided to head down to Squamish for a late lunch.

We ended up at the Howe Sound brewery, which was really great. I had so much trouble deciding what to get, but ended up going with soup+salad with salmon on top (very typical lunch for me!). Jan had a burger (I think Christine did too) and a beer, which he said were both great. I got the soup of the day (tomato-lentil), and the cup size with a small salad was more than enough food.

photo creds, as usual, to the wonderful Jan Heuninck