The Capilano Suspension Bridge – what an amazing example of human genius that has lasted the tests of time. Just think of all the hundreds of thousands of pairs of feet that have tread these very boards. Well, perhaps not these very boards, but the route at least! Unfortunately, the original, built by Scottish civil engineer George Grant Mackay using just hemp ropes and cedar planks, was completely rebuilt several times, with the latest being in 1956, taking the place of it’s earlier ancestors.
The bridge is conveniently located on the bus ride back from Grouse Mountain and cleverly brings together the feeling of soaring high above the Douglas firs to walking amidst these ancient giants. Having done my research and with the help of a few wise tip-offs from the locals, we avoided the Capilano Bridge until after 4pm, when the swathes of crowds are meant to subside, making the experience more enjoyable. That said, there were still queues and crowds, which came as quite a surprise considering how quiet the city was, but I can only image it must have been near impossible to get onto the Bridge and Cliffwalk if we had visited during the day.
As many of my friends and family know, besides being obsessed with views, I am also a self confessed tree-loving hippie! I spent a lot of time climbing them with my brother as a child, and much of my young adult life staring at them in awe. Meandering along the eco-pathways and the Treetop Adventure boardwalks was my idea of bliss and although busy, there was still the feeling of being at one with nature. My senses were alive with the rich, musty smell of damp bark, fresh pine and leafy vegetation combined with the faint sound of period music, such a flutes and mandolins playing the background. I was surrounded by awe-inspiring colossal trees, which filtered the bright sunlight through a branchy blanket, casting an orange haze over the treetop walks.
That feeling of insignificance made an overwhelming comeback, and like Grouse Mountain, put my somewhat overactive mind to rest. Ancient trees towered above me, with their width wider than my wingspan. They had been in that very spot, growing steadily and adapting with the changes of time longer than I could even comprehend. I love history and have spent much of my life studying the trials and tribulations of ancient civilisations, but this was history in another sense – natural history. I knew all about the rise and falls of ancient societies around the globe and the archaeological evidence they left behind, all of which was dead – to put it bluntly. But this ‘artefact’ – the tree – was still very much alive.
A lot of people said to me I’d miss the rich history England holds whilst travelling across the relatively ‘young’ North American landscape, but already, this trip was opening up a new level of understanding and interest. I have studied and worked with the ancient navigational charts of the first explorers to Canada and North American territories, which were beginning to all fit into place. I seemed to already know the place names dotted around Vancouver and the history behind its foundation, early discoveries and social interactions in this new-found land. I could see it all so clearly now, and I felt I was transported back in time, landing in one of the Charts I had spent so long cataloguing and researching.
The site did well in transporting all of their visitors back in time to the early settlers, with guides dressed in period costume, playing traditional instruments and relaying the history of the Bridge and surrounding area. It was all in-keeping and tastefully done, much to my relief.
I opted for the Cliffwalk before taking on the Bridge, with the meandering pathway looking so inviting. The Walk takes you on a high, and often narrow, journey along the side of the steep rocky ravine and gradually to a semi-circular glass suspended walkway jutting out over the Capilano River. Amazingly, the trees have adapted to the unusual cliffside conditions by growing out of the rock itself, with their rambling roots anchoring the monsters you see today to the cliff’s edge. Lining the path are informative plaques highlighting the variations of rich rainforest vegetation, unusual eco-system, the environmental impacts and changes in the rainforest and the types of animals and insects hidden in the undergrowth. It was a real eye opener and for any keen naturalists, hikers, or the average Joe (myself included), it’s a great opportunity to learn about this unique habitat.
The Bridge itself was awesome, if not a little nerve-wracking! Spanning 450 feet across and 230 feet above the Capilano River, it offers a unique and stunning view of the gorge and the splaying West Coast Rainforest on either side. It’s not for the faint hearted though – it was slow going to cross the bridge, with visitors nervously gripping the side rails or turning back when the height and general sway of the bridge became all too much.
Once on solid ground, the Treetop Adventure and its seven wooden suspension bridges await to offer yet another perspective of the forest. For a brief moment – ok, the entire time – I felt like Tarzan, but with more clothes on. Maybe Jane would be a better fit, but either way and jokes aside, it felt so special to be walking amidst the magnificent trees and looking down on the forest floor, which seemed, all of a sudden, so far away.
It is certainly worth the hair-raising trip across the bridge and the whole experience was one I will cherish forever. It has opened new doors for me – one of wanting to learn more about the changing faces of Canada, both in the people and in nature. It was offering history on another undiscovered level and, similarly to the different perspectives the various bridges gave of the Capilano River and West Coast Rainforest, I was gaining a whole new perspective on what I call ‘history’.