Thursday, August 4, 2011

Room between me and the ground.

As we ascended off the tarmack at Squamish Airport, what I thought would be nervousness in my first flight in a single-engine plane was actually utter excitement. The headset was on, the engine roared to life, and my good friend Stuart - who recently received his private pilots license - pulled back on the control column and sent us flying in the air. In seconds we were escalating above ground.

Before take-off he gave us the tutorial: "This is the tracking device incase we crash. Put your seat belt on like this. If I say 'hands off,' don't touch anything." And then, as if he had been doing it for years, Stu flew up to 7,000 feet in the air and imprinted within me an entirely different view of the Coast Mountains around Squamish and Whistler. A bird's eye view, if I dare to sound cliche.

 We saw the Stawamus Chief, not from the highway as most do, but at 3,000 vertical feet. The vastness of the granitic monolith is even more astounding from the air. And then we flew - in attempt to reach our desired elevation - through Garibaldi Provincial Park, which encompasses a volcanic field of nine different stratovolcanoes.

It was like a geography dream come true. You could see where glaciers from thousands of years ago used to sit in the earth, that have now melted away and left the ground transformed. And more, you could see the amount of volcanic activity that shaped the land in the first place during the Holocene (11,000 years ago). Above you can see the lateral moraine, a Roche Moutonnee (thanks to Malcolm's knowledge below) and U-shaped valleys from glacial activity.

And then you've got Garibaldi Lake, which is, in itself, absolutely astounding. It's depth is at 300 metres and exists due to a lava flow from Clinker Peak that created a lava wall barrier during the last ice age. The blue colour is the result of rock flour - ground up sediment from the glacier that, when the sun hits it, reflects the water in a bright blue. Adjacent to the lake is The Table, which formed below the Cordillera Ice Sheet. Flying directly next to and above these features, having never seen them at any close distance, was breathtaking. Not even an hour from Vancouver there is so much left to explore.

Stuart then flew us in our loop past Mount Cayley, seen behind me here. Mount Cayley is a "potentially active volcano" that rises 7,428 vertical feet. Upon further reading I discovered that Mount Cayley poses future eruptions, with hot springs steaming up on the western flank. Also, seismologists have recorded earthquakes as early back as 1985, a sure sign that volcanic activity still exists beneath the mountain.

As we began our descent back to solid ground, pilot Stuart and the other passengers (myself excluded) decided that Negative G's would be a hilariously fun form of entertainment. As I gripped my hands tightly to the bottom of the seat, Ben and Mikey giggled like school boys in the back. I resisted the feeling of floating and yet my body leapt into the air as the plane dove. All was not well in Jesse's insides. Still, I refrained from throwing up and took a photo of the two, much more thrilled passengers. Flying is fun. Seeing the reflection of the tiny single-engine plane on the trees below had me feeling nostalgic. However, I can't quite put into words what flying through a volcanic belt, with glaciers staring back at you, is like. It's like knowing something is beautiful but the description of it isn't tangible.

The modern airplane creates a new geographical dimension. A navigable ocean of air blankets the whole surface of the globe. There are no distant places any longer: the world is small and the world is one. - Wendell Willkie


  1. That's awesome Jess, I'm envious. The isolated dark rock in the middle of that U-valley is a Roche Moutonnée of resistant basaltic material from the volcanic events you mentioned.

  2. above is named...Black Tusk.......

  3. George would be proud of your 'geological' account of your flying experience. I will direct him to your blog!

  4. Reading of your flying experience makes me think of flying with my Uncle in his little plane and revelling in the majesty of the mountains from the top side. It's a whole different world up there eh? I'm glad you had fun!


  5. jessebell, whats a negative G?
    -renee xo

  6. Rock Flour. You were listening in Geography 12.


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