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The Canadian Rockies – Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike

Lake Louise has a reputation for having some of the best hiking in the Canadian Rockies. This is due not only to the stunning alpine scenery but by the fact you can have a nice fresh cup of tea and a slice of cake served in an historic tea house at the top of your trek!

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Things to know before you arrive

The Agnes Teahouse is only open for the summer, so it is worth checking when it opens. This year it opened in early June but timing largely depends on the seasonal snow pack melt.

If undertaking this hike on a warm summer weekend it’s best to get to the Lake Louise car park reasonably early, as it fills up quickly. Alternatively, if you don’t get a spot you can park along the access road but that will add some extra kilometers to your hike!

It’s also worth checking the weather – our top tip is to plan to go on a clear sky day as the views of the Rockies and Bow Valley are nothing short of breathtaking. No point putting all that effort in to see what clouds look like close up!

The Lakes Agnes Hike

The basic Lake Agnes hike is 10km round, with an elevation gain of 700m. The uphill is not strenuous but it is continuous for the 5km climb.

There are a number of spots where you might want to take a “strategic” break at on your way to the Lake Agnes Teahouse:

  1. First glimpse of Lake Louise – while the lake looks great from shore level its amazing turquoise colors really stand out as you gain altitude.

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  1. View of the Bow Valley – as you gain more elevation stunning views of Bow Valley can be seen between the increasing breaks in the tree line.

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  1. Mirror Lake – this is a beautiful lake that reflects the Big Beehive in its green tinged calm waters.

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  1. Agnes Waterfall – as you climb up towards the Lake Agnes Teahouse, you will hear the sound of roaring water. A large waterfall soon comes into view as you climb the final Teahouse steps.

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The Lake Agnes Teahouse

The highlight of the hike is the historic tea house, which sits at the edge  of Lake Agnes at an altitude of 2135m. The Teahouse, which first opened in 1905, serves over 100 varieties of loose leaf tea, soups, sandwiches and welcome treats!

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On a hot summer day, outside seating can be quite limited so you may have to wait a while. Also, the Teahouse only accepts cash.

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Add On Hikes

From the Lake Agnes Teahouse, there are a number of additional hikes you can undertake:

  • Big Beehive – follow the Lake Agnes shoreline to the other end of the lake. We were unable to continue up the switchbacks to the Big Beehive summit due to waist deep snow but still enjoyed some great views looking back across Lake Agnes to the Teahouse. Best to check the Parks Canada Trail Report for hiking conditions if going in early summer

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  • Little Beehive – this is a fantastic 3km round trip that provides quintessential views of the Canadian Rockies looking out over Lake Louise, Mt Victoria and the Victoria Glacier.

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  • Plain of the 6 Glaciers – although a separate hike in its own right, if you start early and have the legs for it you can add this onto your initial hike. Its worth it given you have worked for a lot of the elevation gain already!

Top Tips

  • Bring cash for the Lake Agnes Teahouse.
  • Start early to avoid crowds, be able to park and give yourself time to do the add on hikes.
  • Pick a sunny day to guarantee amazing views.
  • Bring your camera and plenty of space on your memory card – you will need it!

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Doing Whistler Like a Local: The Summer Edition

As the leaves turn and our first Whistler summer comes to a close, it’s time for a blog post that summarizes the three months of awesomeness that is summer in the sea to sky corridor. This post isn’t about those spots that involve a helicopter flight followed by a three day bike ride followed by an ambitious feat of mountaineering to find (although many locals live for summer adventures like this.) It’s about those more mellow experiences that might be considered ‘touristy’, are easily accessible to all, but come summer time are on the don’t-miss list of every Whistlerite.

1. Floating, on a lake

You know those fluro-orange and yellow boats that you can pick up at your local Walmart for $20? Little did we know that our inflatable boat would become our most trusty companion this summer. The Explorer 200 is pretty much a Whistler summer icon in its own right.

It’s simple really – escape work, pack your Explorer, a pump (essential), snacks (recommended), a good book or a fascinating floating companion and beers cunningly disguised in water bottles, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect evening in Whistler. Whether you choose Lost Lake, Alta Lake, Nita Lake or Alpha Lake, there’s plenty of options that all offer calm waters on which to float and gorgeous mountain views to admire.

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2. Floating, on a river

Looking for some wilder Explorer action? You’re ready to brave the River of Golden Dreams. The nemesis of the Explorer 200, for every inflatable boat that survives this epic journey, another five are torn to pieces by rogue logs or an unexpected beaver dam. Starting from the launch spot at the bottom of Lorimer Road and ending at Meadow Park, this 5 km float takes around three hours to complete, and features stunning views around every corner, fun times, new friends, dubious rowing techniques, some stretches of floating relaxation and much drama as you attempt to avoid getting tangled up in bushes or caught on rocks. Whether your Explorer survives it or not, it’s a Whistler must-do.

A few River of Golden Dreams tips. Leave your Go Pro at home or it is likely to be lost to the Whistler waters forever. Pack your pump and a puncture repair kit for emergencies. Pick your time in the summer wisely – go too early and the spring melt rapids might be more than the Explorer can handle. Go too late and you’ll spend half the journey wading through the shallow waters. And finally – if your Explorer does become a victim of the river, take it home and dispose of it safely. The number of abandoned Explorers on the side of the river this year made us a little sad.

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3. Scandinave Spa

I know, I know, we’re more than a little biased (as our regular readers know, one of us works for the Scandinave Spa) but, continuing on the water theme, the Scandinave Spa really is a summer essential. Refreshing cold plunges in which to cool off on a scorching afternoon, hammocks to sway-the-day-away in, terraces with spectacular views where you can sit and contemplate life – the Scandinave Spa is the antidote to action packed summer burn out. Tip – visit on a weekday at the start of the day or in the evening and it can feel like your own private spa.

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4. BBQs

Given the high population of Aussies here in Whistler, it’s no surprise that come summer time BBQs are a way of life. Indeed visit Alpine Meadows on a sunny July evening and you’ll probably find no end of locals willing to throw a shrimp on the barbie for you. But if you’re looking to treat yourself to something a little higher end, there’s two stand-out options.

Firstly, there’s Whistler Blackcomb’s Mountain Top BBQ – the ultimate summertime dinner with a view. Time it right and you can ride up the Blackcomb chairlift for some bear-spotting, experience the incredible feat of engineering that is the Peak2Peak gondola, have a stroll and enjoy some photo opps on the Whistler mountain trails– and then enjoy a feast. Whether it’s Whole Hog Fridays, Prime Rib Saturdays or Pacific Seafood Sundays, the buffet format has something for everyone. Then it’s just up to you to grab a chilled glass of wine from the bar, pick a patio table and enjoy the 360 degree views. Just one tip – dress warm – a baking hot day in the village does not equal a balmy evening at 6000 ft.

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Secondly, (our personal favourite), is the Thursday night BBQ at the Four Seasons hotel. Similarly priced to the Mountain Top BBQ, what it lacks in views, it makes up for in outstanding food quality and selection, with grilled salmon, Korean ribs, roasted suckling pig and a whole host of salads and sides. And yes, you are allowed seconds (and thirds…). Add music from local duo the Hairfarmers and the legendary Four Seasons service standards, and you have the perfect Thursday night.

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5. Embrace Events

Wanderlust (yoga). Ironman (crazy dudes and dudettes swimming, cycling and running some intense distances). Crankworx (even crazier dude and dudettes dropping epic moves in the bike park). Whistler Half Marathon (fun and awesome runners). Go Fest (outdoor activities on snow, land and water). Whistler Presents Concert series (great music). Gran Fondo (cyclists in tight lycra). If you live in Whistler, it feels like there is a world class event every weekend.

To be a true Whistler local you must do the following. Complain to anyone who will listen about the traffic and how busy the village is. Then throw yourself into the event, cheering athletes on, dancing to music, having your mind blown at the local and international talent, attending parties and enjoying the energy and buzz that these productions bring to our town. Top tip – buy some cow bells to show you’re a serious supporter!

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6. And finally….hit the trails

Biking trails or hiking trails, there’s a plethora of them to choose from in the sea to sky corridor including Joffre Lakes, Garibaldi Lake and the Stawamus Chief. They are free to use, fantastic exercise and for us, what a Whistler summer is really about – so look out for some separate posts on what to do on two feet or two wheels in our hood. And let’s not forget the Valley Trail. A perfectly formed network of easy paved trails that provide the best commute in the world, the Valley Trail is the only way to get around Whistler in summer – for people and sometimes a bear.

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So that’s our list of Whistler summer mellow must dos. Whistler locals and weekend warriors, what’s on your list?

Hanes Valley Trail – North Shore Trophy Hiking

The toughest hike of our lives all started in the safe and cosy suburban surroundings of a friend’s BBQ. As the beers disappeared war stories of sporting and physical achievements were traded until one bright spark asked if we had done the Hanes Valley Trail on Vancouver’s North Shore?

We had not, but being young and keen to experience all that Canada has to offer we joyfully accepted the invitation to join our Canadian friends for what we thought was a casual day hike….

The Preparation

Having hiked in the Lynn Valley before, we were aware that there would be no concession stands so decided to make sure we were prepared for what lay ahead and packed the bag with an English survival kit consisting of cans of coke, chips (aka crisps) and some Cadbury’s chocolate!

We dropped the first vehicle off at the base of Grouse Mountain around 9.30am, and struggled to find a spot thanks to the super keen summer Grouse Grinders! Eventually we found an unused bank at the end of the free dirt car park (we had a bad feeling we would regret that extra 500m walk back to the car later on that day!).

Our nice friends met us, and we were soon whisked off to the Lynn Valley Headwaters Car Park to start the walk in the summer sunshine. As soon as we hit the start of trail our phone signal disappeared.

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Lynn Valley Trail

The first 6km or so of the hike through rain forest was relatively flat, although you had to keep your eye out for raised roots and large rocks on the trail, and the endless stream of super fit trail runners speeding past.

The main highlight of this first part of the hike came at Novern Falls, a 10 minute detour from the main trail. It’s a good photo spot and an excellent lunch location.

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First Steps into the Backcountry

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We crossed a metal suspension bridge which is the gateway into the Hanes Valley and marks the start of the ”Backcountry.” The trail steepens through the forest before a narrow descent down to Lynn Canyon Creek which offered a place to get ‘refreshed’ in the summer heat.

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Next came the first sign that this hike might be more than a walk in the woods….what should have been a bridge was actually a 20ft fallen log crossing, with a 10ft drop in to the icy water below. Crossing techniques varied from an inch by inch bum slide approach to a more confident quick stroll, don’t-look-down manoeuvre. With that obstacle overcome, there was no turning back and we were now committed to what lay ahead!

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The trail then meandered through some pleasant grassland, forest and bushes. With the berries evident we busted out the bear bells, unpacked the bear spray and made as much noise as possible by shouting “hey bear” at any blind corner to ward off any four legged friends.

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We eventually made out it out of the bush to a helicopter pad and a strange looking cylinder, which is apparently is where North Shore Rescue keep their equipment. An ominous sign given what we were about to discover….

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The Climb(s)

The first climb was a 500m scramble up a loose scree slope to Crown Pass which took the best part of 2 hours in the summer heat, and converted our hike to minor mountaineering status!

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There was no marked trail, it was find your own way and hope the rocks did not give way!

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Feeling a huge sense of accomplishment, we soon realised more challenges lay ahead thanks to the snow which had yet to melt despite it being late July and the clouds of bugs which seemed to get thicker with altitude!

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We quickly had to make improvised hiking poles out of dead branches in order to maintain our balance on the slippery conditions as we made our way to the summit of Goat Mountain.

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The hardest part of the final climb was certainly the 50m chain ladder which felt like it was on a 45 degree pitch!

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Finding Grouse Mt

Having conquered Goat Mountain, and nearing the end of the hike we managed to lose the orange markers and so were unable to find the official trail back down to Grouse Mountain which was visible below us. In the end, we followed a creek bed down, which brought our soaked feet out onto a path below the Eye of the Wind.

Exhausted, from 8 hours of solid hiking involving 1300m of climbing, we emerged back in civilisation and we were greeted by the welcome sight of Coola and Grinder, the resident Grouse Mountain Grizzly Bears, bathing in the sunshine.

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As we staggered towards the Grouse Mountain Day Lodge, we noticed a large sign saying the Hanes Valley trail was closed due to winter conditions, something we wish we had seen at the start of the hike at the other end. This may explain why we saw no one else all day!

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Top Tips

Make sure you bring enough water, we had 5 litres between 2 and it was all gone by the time we reached Grouse Mountain. In addition, gloves and hiking poles would have been great extras!

Do your research first for this “trophy hike” so you know what to expect. Here’s a few articles we probably should have read first:

http://www.trailpeak.com/trail-Hanes-Valley-near-Vancouver-BC-479

http://www.trekitnow.com/2011/01/hanes-valley-hike.html

http://www.outdoorvancouver.ca/featured-trail-hanes-valley/

In summary, a challenging summer day hike with lots of geographic variation which is well suited to experienced hikers who are well prepared and have done their research!

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Bowen Island

Located at the opening to Howe Sound is the beautiful and quiet Bowen Island which lives up to its tag line of “Within Reach, Beyond Comparison.”

How to get there

To get to Bowen Island you need to take the hourly Queen of Capilano BC Ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove. The timetable can be found here.

A return foot passenger ticket costs $11 for the 20 minute journey across the water to the island inhabited by 3,300 people. Make sure you get yourself a good spot on the sun deck and have your camera ready to grab some stunning photos of the surrounding snow-capped summer mountains.

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You don’t need a return ticket, you simply walk back onto the ferry at Snug Cove. The last ferry from Bowen Island leaves at 10.10pm.

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Kilarney Lake Hike

The Kilarney Lake hike is approximately 9 km in length, with minimal elevation gain and took us approximately 2 and a half hours to complete with a 15 minute lunch stop.

After leaving the ferry take the first road on your right next to the Bowen Island Library and walk past the visitor centre (where you can pick up a trail map) to the signposted Alder Grove Trail and head into Crippen Regional Park.

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The first highlight of the hike is the Bridal Veil Falls which flow into The Lagoon. The falls have a clever fish ladder to allow fish to swim upstream during mating season. We imagine it would be quite spectacular to visit during the early autumn to see some Salmon getting some serious Michael Jordon “air time” as they move upstream!

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After crossing the Millers Road we followed the Hatchery Trail through some lush rainforest before taking a right into the tranquil Terminal Creek Meadows, although we did have to dodge some suspect Aussie rules players trying to throw a strange shaped ball around!

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After taking a right onto Killarney Creek Trail we headed down to the dam at the south end of Killarney Lake, which offered a great viewpoint of the water and surrounding mountains, as well as some picnic benches and washrooms. We did witness a fellow hiker taking some time out for an early afternoon nap in the summer sunshine only to be woken up by a out of control puppy giving her a lick to the face! Top tip – sleep with one eye open!

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The 4km undulating hike around the rest of Lake offered some great exercise, which you can also take to the lake in the form of paddle boarding (you need to bring your own). The return journey is a repeat of the inward trip.

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For those of you looking for a longer, more challenging hike on Bowen Island, check out the 17km intermediate trek 719m up Mount Gardner.

“Downtown” Snug Cove

Snug Cove is a peaceful backwater which offers an excellent retreat from the intensity of the city.

There is a great Coffee House called the Snug Cafe, which offers a full range of breakfast, lunch and snack offerings. Helena fell in love with their raspberry cream cheese croissant.

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We also stumbled upon the smallest Candy Shop in the world, which was about 6ft by 4ft! The shop had 3 customers in and was full! Despite its size the shelves were packed with treats from all over the world, which because of Helena’s ability to guess the name of the children’s song playing in the store we got free!!

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Continuing the size theme, we also noticed that Snug Cove is home to the world’s smallest Sears!

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Snug Cove also has a great looking pub (Doc Morgan’s) overlooking the harbour which provides a welcome retreat for tired hikers….shame we were running late yet again for the return ferry.

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Watch Out for

–          If you’re driving to Horseshoe Bay in the summer on a weekend, make sure you get there early to get a car parking space in the BC Ferries official car park (which apparently fills up by 9am) otherwise you will face the dreaded 3 “you shall not pass” cones! With limited parking options, we managed to find a space outside a local school which was a 15 minute walk (or a 5 minute run downhill if you’re late for the ferry) to the terminal.

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–          Finding an ice cream can be surprisingly hard in Snug Cove on a sunny day! We managed to get one at the candy store!

–          It can get pretty windy on the sundeck during the quick 20 minute crossing – hold onto your hat!!

Other Activities

The island has enormous sea kayaking opportunities around its sheltered bays. For those who can handle the cold ocean water there is swimming off the island’s sandy beaches.  The trails are bike friendly. The Island is also known for its artwork and jewelry.

So in summary, a day trip is Bowen Island is cost effective and offers visitors a great chance to unwind and enjoy some beautiful scenery, while the ferry ride home gives you a great chance to catch 40 winks after a long day on the trails….

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Mt Seymour Bear Dodging

Most Vancouverites only visit Mt Seymour in North Vancouver between the months of December and April to take advantage of the abundant white stuff (snow, to be clear for any employers / children / parents / bored customs officers reading this). However, after 2 years of simply admiring the beauty of the North Shore Mountains in summer we decided to head up to Mt Seymour to check out the hiking trails in Mount Seymour Provincial Park.

The drive up to Mt Seymour which is situated at 1449m above sea level takes about 20-25 minutes, sharing the road with insane cyclists riding up the mountain who at any point look likely to drown in their own perspiration.

The Provincial Park has 14 well marked hiking trails which vary in grading from easy to difficult. Now we just want to take this moment to raise an internationally significant issue (possible with the UN Security Council) regarding Canadians’ ability to accurately grade the difficulty of their hiking terrain. Take note that what your average “I skied my first black run when I was 3” Canadian would grade as “easy” would require a week of intensive Everest style base camp training for a normally fit and active Brit to conquer! Based on this level of grading we decided somewhat foolishly take on a “moderate”  hike named Mystery Lake trail because of the promise of a refreshing swim in the lake at the summit of the mountain.

Only a 1.5km hike in length from the starting point in the car park to the finish at Mystery Lake, the walk gains nearly 200m in elevation. While that does not sound too steep a gradient on paper, the reality is that you are basically clambering up rocks. However, this hike offers more dangers than those of a twisted ankle…..hungry black bears!

So everything was going well on the climb until we met “Can Man”. This jolly fellow has nobly spent the last 6 years picking up the beer cans of visitors to the mountain (note that in Canada you receive a monetary refund from the supermarket when you return containers, making beer can collection in prime drinking areas a better career option than a job in PR). He advised us that he had just seen a 700lb bear in the bushes and its young cub on the path. Now we are not natives and we have only picked up a bit of bear knowledge from Les Stroud’s survival programs and once reading a bear smart leaflet in a coffee shop but even we know that getting between a big black bear and its cub is about as good an idea as telling a US border guard that they should smile more. Despite carrying the latest in anti-bear armoury of bear bells (a steel ball with a smaller ball inside which creates Ibiza club levels of noise and is very irritating for fellow hikers) and bear spray (a hand grenade meets a deodorant can that is a useful tool in hand to paw close combat) we were unsure whether to turn back and give up on our dream of swimming in the clear fresh cooling waters of the Mystery Lake oasis…..

Fortunately, we were saved by a couple on the trail behind us.  No, they were not locals who had Masters degrees from Dr Doolittle University in Black Bear hostage negotiations, but were just bear ignorant tourists hiking in their flip flops and only carrying a swimming towel for protection, who really wanted to go swimming. So adopting the statistical survival philosophy that you only need to run faster than one other person in the group (and the male tourist clearly did not say no very often when asked if he would like to “supersize”) we proceeded on into the danger zone (cue top gun music). As we came over the ridge we were confronted by a violently shaking bush but fortunately no angry mummy bear. Clearly big bears prefer berries in the bush to naive tourists.

We reached Mystery Lake to be greeted not only by crystal clear fresh water but also by 30 blokes having some kind of weird Chinese hat wearing drinking session!

With the thermometer in the high 20s, Paul eagerly jumped into the Lake……..approximately 1.2 seconds later hypothermia and frostbite kicked in simultaneously, much to the amusement of a smug Helena who had already worked out that a lake made from melted snow in the middle of a ski resort is likely to be cold.  Perhaps the Chinese hat wearing guys had the right idea, having primed themselves with copious amounts of beer, and their numerous empty cans could have paid the rent on a Yaletown flat for the previously mentioned Can Man. Overall, not quite the peaceful swimming oasis that we had in mind, but totally worth it for the amazing views of the Lower Mainland, Boundary Bay, Mt Baker and the Georgia Straight.

Thanks for reading.

Paul & Helena

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