We made a quick trip to Vancouver to go in for interviews for the Nexus program. Deciding to make a weekend out of it, we spent a couple nights and took the opportunity to hike at Grouse Mountain.
The reason we decided to sign up for the Nexus program is to make it easier for us to come back from Japan later this year. Nexus will help since we'll be coming in through Canada, and we also get Global Entry, which will help entering the States. In addition, we get TSA Pre✓, which we'll be able to use for the next five years. The bonus is the application fee is less than TSA Pre✓ alone.
As is normal for us, we chose to take the train. We got to King Street Station quite a bit earlier than Amtrak recommends, but there was already quite a line. Fortunately, we got there early enough that we still got a seat on the water side of the train. The train was quite full, so we were glad that we got to the station when we did.
The trip up was uneventful, but the conductor did announce several of the stops as “The Jewel of the Northwest.”
We finally made it into Pacific Central Station in Vancouver around noon, then walked the mile to our hotel which is right near Rogers Centre and BC Place (the soccer stadium). After checking in and dropping off our luggage, we set out to get something to eat. We knew there were places in the library, so we walked the couple blocks and had some pizza.
After lunch, it was back the way we came, walking past the train station to the Canadian Border Services Agency. We were about a half hour early for our appointments, but decided to go in anyway, since the worst that would happen is we'd have to wait. As it ended up, there was only one other person in the Nexus waiting area, so we had our interviews (each of us speaking with a Canadian then a U.S. agent) and were done before our original appointment time.
We made a quick detour to walk past Science World, which has the geodesic dome which was the most iconic structure of EXPO '86. That fair 30 years ago was the last time I had been near the dome. There was also a ball machine nearby, so we watched that for quite a while. We then walked along false creek, then worked our way around BC Place to return to the hotel.
Back to the room to relax for a bit and decide on a dinner plan. We went to a ramen shop where we had been before where the servers all seem to be women from Japan. They often would loudly say something, then other servers would reply or just echo what was said. After we finished, we went to the grocery store to get breakfast food and snacks, then turned in for the evening.
The plan for the day was to get to Grouse Mountain, do a hike, then spend time looking at the other activities before heading back to the city. This part of the trip actually started on Thursday night, when just before we fell asleep Melody remembered that we hadn't purchased tickets yet. I grabbed the phone and did so; ah, technology. We printed them in the morning just before we headed out for the bus, not sure whether an electronic version would work.
After eating breakfast, we decided we had enough time to catch the first shuttle up to Grouse Mountain, so we grabbed our things and started walking to Canada Place. Several tours start there, but fortunately we easily spotted the bus, and it was not too long before we were able to board.
Getting to Grouse Mountain
The bus driver gave a running commentary about what we were seeing as we went through Coal Harbor, Stanley Park, across the Lions Gate Bridge, then through North Vancouver. It was only a little disconcerting that he was using a hand-held microphone during the whole drive, thus driving with one hand. We did safely make it to Grouse Mountain, and got off the bus.
As it happens, we were heading up the mountain not long before the start of the Grouse Grind Mountain Run. Participants would be running up the Grouse Grind, a 1.8 mile trail which includes over 2,800 stairs going 2,800 feet up the mountain. The Grind is a one-way trip, so once you start, you need to keep going to the top.
Knowing we weren't doing the Grind, we went to the waiting tram, and it didn't take too long before the doors closed and we started up the hill. We had a pretty good view of Vancouver when we started out, but before long we were in thick fog. After getting to the top, we browsed around the chalet area a bit to get our bearings, then went to look for the trailhead.
Dam Mountain trail
Just before we got to the trail, we walked by the grizzly bear exhibit and caught sight of one of the bears, which looked pretty chill.
Not much further along we filled out a registration forms, saying we would be going up to Dam Mountain and heading out to take a look at Thunderbird Ridge. We went along a pretty level service road, but before too long we got to the trailhead, and the path got rockier. A little further, the trail started getting pretty steep, to the point where it was almost like climbing very irregular stairs. Other parts had us scrambling up the rocks. The trail was pretty wet, so it was a good thing that we had our boots with us.
The path mostly followed a water pipe going down the hill, so we ended up ducking under or stepping over it several times as we worked our way up. The top of Dam Mountain was all rock, and after scrambling up, we looked out to a view of trees and fog. We weren't surprised, since we were seeing mostly fog all the way up.
Scrambling down the other side of the peak, we found the continuation of the trail, and started working our way down the hill. The path eventually turned around, so we started following the loop back towards the trailhead. We got to the Thunderbird Ridge turnoff, but since we felt we had done enough hiking with all the up/down, and since the reason to go to the ridge would be for the views (which would be just fog), we continued on.
We got to the point of the trail where there was a zip line tower, so we decided to take a quick break. As we were about to leave, a set of people were hiking up to the tower, carrying gear so they could ride the zip line, so we decided to hang around to watch them. After seeing the zip liners off, we worked our way back to the trailhead, turned in the slip to indicate we were no longer on the trail, then went to find some lunch.
Grouse Mountain activities
There was a barbecue place which sounded good, but it wasn't open that day. We opted for the bistro and got seated right next to the corner window. It would have been a great view, but all we saw was fog. We did see the tower for one of the gondolas (the one they use for supplies, not the tourist one), but at times we couldn't even see that. There were groups of Grouse Grind Mountain Run participants celebrating in the restaurant, but they were on the other side, so we couldn't hear them.
We decided after lunch to go back to get a better view of the grizzlies. On the way we walked past the lumberjack show, which seemed to be more of a performance rather than a strict lumberjack competition. The audience seemed to be having a good time, but we saw that there were few people around the grizzlies, so we made a circuit around the viewing area and ended up getting a pretty good look at both bears.
The lumberjack show was finishing up as we were heading back, and we saw one of them at the top of one of the poles that they climb. He feigned falling off, but ended up going down a zip line.
There was quite a line for the tram ride down the mountain, but the wait wasn't long. We all squeezed in for the quick ride to the bottom, then got in line for the shuttle. Again, quite a few people, but a short wait. The driver once again was pretty chatty on the way back.
Back to the hotel
After we got off the bus at Canada Place, we went to the other side of the Convention Centre to take a look at Jack Poole Plaza, where the Olympic Cauldron from the 2010 Winter Games is now situated. There was also a sculpture of an orca nearby which was a pixelated rendition. What was different is it was made of cubes, so it was pixelated in 3D.
We've never had good luck getting to a gelato store while in Vancouver, and this trip was no exception. We walked past a store, but the line was very long (looked well over a half hour), so we punted. Instead, we went into the Rogers Chocolate store in Gastown and got some snacks there.
Back at the room, we unpacked from the morning's excursion and made plans for the rest of the day. We decided to hang out for a bit, then head to the grocery store to get dinner and dessert. On the way back, we ran into a lot of people going the other way. The Whitecaps FC game had just let out, and since we were staying across the street from BC Place, we resigned ourselves to going upstream until we got back.
We called it an early night, knowing that we would need to get up quite early to catch our 6:30am train back to Seattle.
Since we've done it before, we had a pretty good handle of what we would need to do in the morning to get off to the train station. The only hitch was I realized I had left some things in the room, but fortunately we were only a couple blocks removed from the hotel. It didn't take me long to run back, get the stuff, then run back to meet up with Melody. We still made it to the train station with plenty of time to spare.
Just as in Seattle, we were surprised to see a line of people for the train, but we got in, filled out the customs declaration, then went through customs and boarded the train. We were once again on the water side, so had good views as the sky lightened and we transitioned from cloudy to clear skies.
When we got to Bellingham, a large group boarded, all wearing Seahawks gear; we assumed they were going to the game, which was to start a couple hours after we got into Seattle. They were having a great time, and were doing the on-train equivalent to tailgating. They did offer food to others in the car.
Into Seattle we rolled, hopped onto the bus, then walked the rest of the way to the house. A quick, tiring, but good trip,