Directions: Hop off the #182 Belcarra around Anmore Grocery. Head north.
It’s not a hike yet because the traffic drowns out the sound of your footsteps.
Crook a left onto Pumphouse Road. See the floating bridge.
Keep walking. It’s about to happen.
The names are rich around here: Sugar Mountain, Eagle Ridge, Bearclaw. The lake is called Buntzen but somehow we all know the proper name is Beautiful.
You can hear it now. whispering wind and swaying branches, your own footsteps. You see your shadow soft and cool on the forest floor.
Keep walking until it’s not a walk anymore.
Keep walking until it’s a hike. You’re no longer a trespasser in a wild land but a wayward traveller making your long-awaited return.
In his forthcoming book Destination Hikes In and Around Southwestern British Columbia, author and hiker Stephen Hui navigates 55 local trails.
As a guide, Hui is difficult to match, warning us about summer’s crop of migrating toadlets and advising us to appreciate tiger’s eye mushrooms as you follow Village Lake Trail on the path to Dennett Lake.
While Destination Hikes is meant to complement Hui’s previous book (105 Hikes in and Around Southwestern British Columbia) the forthcoming release delves further into each route.
“It gave me a chance to go a little more in-depth,” Hui says of the new book. ”There’s more information about history and culture.”
The book features the plants, animals and fungi you might find but Hui is also interested in the trade routes and ancient trails etched into the wilderness.
“There’s just a lot of history in these trails,” he says. There are places where we can cross an old pathway that leads us into the past of fur traders, colonial road builders and Indigenous history. “If you get interested in the nature part and the history part too, it adds so much more to the hike.”
That history and culture is on display as Hui explores the Diez Vistas Trail, a 13-kilometre up-and-down route looping Buntzen Lake.
The Diez Vistas (which literally translates as “Ten views”) offers numbered lookouts, half of which are “easy to miss, overgrown, or view-challenged,” Hui writes. “No matter . . .”
For new hikers, Buntzen Lake is one of the best places to start, Hui reasons. The elevation gain is moderate but the undulating trails offer: “[an] introduction to what a hiking trail is like.”
Besides offering travel tips for the shoulder-season hotspot, Hui also offers a glimpse into the days before B.C. Electric Railway general manager Johannes Buntzen gave his name to the lake, back when it was a place of apocalypse and legendary resilience.
In 1911, E. Pauline Johnson chronicled The Deep Waters, a tale told to her by Chief Joe Capilano.
Like any legend worth telling, it happened in the before time.
“It was before the white people came,” Johnson notes.
Back then it was raining. Even by B.C. standards, it was raining.
It rained until streams toppled their banks and mountain peaks vanished beneath waves that swept up like highrises.
It was an end – but not the end.
Tribes gathered on the shore of Lake Beautiful, today known as Buntzen Lake. And, following a council the men built a giant canoe and the women plaited and rolled the longest cable the world had ever seen.
One end of the cable was fastened to the canoe and the other to an enormous boulder.
“. . . noble hands lifted every child of the tribes into this vast canoe; not one single baby was overlooked,” Johnson writes.
The canoe was stocked with food and water and piloted by one handsome young man and a beautiful young mother.
“At the crest of the bluffs about Lake Beautiful the doomed tribes crowded. Not a single person attempted to enter the canoe. There was no wailing . . .” Johnson writes.
Published in Legends of Vancouver in 1911, The Deep Waters was based on Johnson’s conversations with Chief Joe Capilano and Mary Capilano of the Squamish Nation. The story ends when the survivors spy land and make their home in a country between Mount Baker and the Fraser River.
In the saddle between Sugar Mountain and Buntzen Ridge, Hui guides us straight through a corridor toward steep switchbacks. If you head left you can see Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm, which Spanish naval officers charted as the Canal de Sasamat in the 1790s.
It’s one of the oldest place names in the region, according to historian and former Belcarra mayor Ralph Drew, dating from the days of José María Narváez. The Spanish explorer understood that Indian Arm was called Sasamat, “likely derived from the Salishan word Tsaa-tsmat which means ‘cool place,’” Drew writes.
Following the “viewless top of Sunrise Hill,” Hui guides us past ridgetop ponds to Vista No. 1.
“Naturally, as numero uno, the views don’t get any better than this,” he writes.
Hiking and the brain
The researchers had a simple idea for their young ADHD patients: take them for walks.
The walks were 20 minutes long, sometimes in nature, sometimes in the city. When the kids got back they were asked to do puzzle-like tasks. The children performed “significantly better” when they’d been walking in a more natural environment.
Being close to nature – whether it’s wilderness hiking, gardening or even having trees outside your apartment window – are linked to: “superior attention, effectiveness, and effectiveness-related outcomes,” according to a study.
Walking in nature may also help with morbid thoughts. A 2015 study found that walking in nature – compared to walking in an urban environment – resulted in less blood flow to the part of the brain associated with morbid rumination.
Many trails have become more popular in the past year, Hui observes.
“This past year there’s definitely been a huge swell in interest in hiking,” he says. “It’s become their thing now because, what else is there to do?”
To help hikers get off on the right foot, Hui notes the importance of responsible adventuring.
“Pack it in, pack it out,” he advises. “A little knowledge of outdoor ethics and etiquette goes a long way.”
Besides basics like travelling and camping on durable surfaces and proper waste disposal, Hui also pleads with music lovers to use headphones.
“Just because you’re listening to Taylor Swift doesn’t mean everyone else has to as well,” he writes. “Respect the outdoor experiences of other hikers, who may – shockingly—prefer to hear the sounds of nature.”
Hui also touches on a long-standing lack of inclusion in outdoor recreation, noting that marketing around outdoor equipment: “perpetuated the vastly incorrect notion that people of colour in Canada don’t ski, hike, climb, or camp.” The book features a foreword by Musqueam Nation political activist Cecilia Point.
Point writes of the Musqueam belief that the first beings were transformed into trees, rocks, bodies of waters, animals and humans.
“This is why we have such a strong connection to this place. The animals and various parts of the landscape are our ancestral relatives,” Point writes.
Point asks for hikers to think of what the Musqueam people have asked of visitors for years.
“Think of the ancestors from the past seven generations, the original caretakers of the land, and look after this place for the next seven generations to enjoy.”
For Hui, hiking today is a heightened version of what it’s always been.
“I have always loved to get away from the stresses and anxieties of the city and work and head out there.”
Destination Hikes is slated to be released May 11.
A portion of the royalties goes to the Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning to support trail building and maintenance