Sea-to-Sky and Hwy 99

• Vancouver to Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada •

To think that the mountain ranges are only footsteps away as you look at them from the streets of downtown Vancouver. The captivating beauty that continues as you go further north, towards and past the Sea-to-Sky Highway (Hwy 99), is not a route to miss while in the west.

Many scenic viewpoints and landmarks situated on this route are what propelled me to drive through highway 99 towards Kamloops, heading north on highway 5 and then south, passing through Jasper and Banff, and finally ending at Calgary. Of course, that was the initial plan. If it weren’t for heavy snowfall heading north towards Jasper, a terrifying lack of cell service, and lacking winter tires/chains, we would have taken this route.

We were ill-prepared, but we did make the best of our drive.

How much snow, rolling down from peaks, does it really take to stimulate an avalanche? Avalanche warning signs were plastered on 99% of this route (no duh) so needless to say I was always on the edge of my seat. I don’t know about my boyfriend – aka. the only G licence driver at the time. I think what mostly scared him was the lack of cell service.

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Waiting at the observatory/cafe/gift shop at the top of the Sea-to-Sky Gondola.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Squamish, but I got a pleasant surprise when I saw how beautiful it was. After arriving at the Squamish Adventure Inn late, we opted to go on the Sea-to-Sky Gondola, got magnificent views of Howe Sound, went on a suspension bridge again, and toured the town for a bit. A lot of the hiking trails atop the mountain were closed due to snow, which was a bummer. I guess it was still too early in the season to start clearing the paths.

I didn’t even realize how cold it should have been and I went up the gondola in only a long sleeve and sweater, which was surprising ’cause I can get cold really easily.

We also went to Whistler, walked around for a bit, and then continued our drive. It was rainy and foggy when we went so we didn’t hit the slopes (not that we would have, given our non-existent skills) and just went window shopping. Ate some delicious Australian pot pie and ice cream. Bought me a set of snowflake earrings. (I think earrings/jewelry are my new travel must-buy items.)

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Driving further north on highway 99 was breathtaking… And terrifying because we drove beside steep cliffs, sometimes without barriers. And more avalanche warning signs.

But there was something magical about driving through this route. We didn’t have the time to stop and scour the areas we’d have liked to (note: avalanche possibility), but to drive through gave me just a dash of something special. Almost spiritual.

And so I chose to just look; I could try to capture the beauty with the lens of my camera, but I couldn’t encapsulate the feeling of the solitude, silence, and awe I had felt as I sat there… While listening to some of my boyfriend’s rap music (he probably needed to stay awake by all means).

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The frozen Lower Joffre Lake must look just as beautiful in the summer.

At some point I was sure we were pretty high up because I remember driving through sharp corners, up a steep hill. We made a short pit-stop at the Lower Joffre Lake, and man it was oh so quiet you could heart your own heart beat. We walked a bit on the frozen lake, and really just stopped to appreciate the enormity of the mountains and the forest clearing.

We also drove over a rock that was in the middle of the road (boyfriend’s fault for not immediately sizing the rock as something we could not drive over), which then my boyfriend noticed a weird sound from the car shortly after. So we were hoping there would be a town nearby along the way.

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And then came Lillooet. Nestled between the mountains is this small town. If you ever pass by, make sure to stop to see the pristine blue lake. I think we were too panicked by a possibly-dying car that we didn’t stop for this photo-op of a lifetime.

We got a quick assessment from an automotive repair shop/gas station technician, who said everything was okay, just a few scuffs, some pipes touching other areas (which explained an almost inaudible humming sound when we accelerated), and that we were lucky the rock didn’t bash through the main gas line. I started to feel blessed on this trip.

We passed hills of farmland where the cattle and sheep roamed free. And a landslide, which thank goodness was repaired by the time we got there with the cars all lined up. And small native reserves in the middle of nowhere, which really were more dilapidated houses with broken-down cars in the front yard. Was anyone living here? There was definitely horse poop on the side of the road but those could have been from wild horses? No supermarket or recreation center nearby. Nothing. Just dilapidated houses, which was scary but saddening. No wonder native groups cannot thrive when they are fenced off, like pariahs, away from society.

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And then we reached our stopover in Kamloops, our “Y” point in the trip where we chose to follow the road to Calgary via the Trans-Canada Highway (ie. safer option).

At least we had cell service though?

Things I’ve learned, and what to consider for this drive:

  • Bring ice grips/cleats. If you really want to go on the trails found on this path during April, ice grips helped us when we really needed it. No slippage whatsoever. And you’ll walk slippery snow with confidence.
  • Many trails available. Consider doing the Elfin Lakes Trail (and even camp at the lookout there, but I heard you should arrive early) and Stawamus Chief Hike, both which sadly we had no time to visit. Gah.
  • Allow yourself lots of time. For the above hikes, and other attractions and viewpoints along this short stretch north of Vancouver. There is a lot to see and do.
  • Expect rocks, animals, and whatever foreign nature things on the road. Highway 99 is narrow, so try not run over anything (haha). Especially with a car rental.
  • Think twice about purchasing auto rental insurance. Not to discredit car rental companies, but do check your credit card (benefits) information. You may not need to buy extra car insurance. Some credit cards can cover you under a certain amount (think: car sale price) for car rentals in case of an accident, as well as other travel-related insurance. But to each his/her own.
  • Put your camera down once in a while. A lot of what you’ll see is spectacular, it’s so much to take in. Take time to appreciate the scenery without having to resort to photoshoots and getting that best angle, etc. But whatever tickles your fancy. And if you do take pictures, make sure you do it safely.

10 thoughts on “Sea-to-Sky and Hwy 99

  1. Pingback: When in Banff – paperybox

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