Break On Through…

…to the other side – in keeping with the theme of Jim Morrison & The Doors 😉


The "Other Side" of Little Whistler Peak

The "Other Side" of Little Whistler Peak

Whistler is at the high point along the Sea To Sky Highway from Horseshoe Bay to Pemberton. From the Village, there are ski lifts to take you even higher up both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. During the peak of summer, lifts are operating on both mountains taking hikers, bikers and tourists even higher into the alpine.

Alas, summer has drawn to a close and operations are gearing up for the upcoming winter season. In fact, snow was reported as early as September 17 at the Roundhouse on Whistler Mountain – good sign for another La Niña winter 🙂

The upshot of all this was that options were more limited for me on the first weekend of October. Saturday was a bit of a washout from a weather perspective, but Sunday provided a small break between storms. Time to head up to Whistler/Blackcomb for some alpine hiking, and the Whistler Village Gondola provided me with a bit of a “cheating” start to get me to the Roundhouse Lodge at 6,069 ft 😀

Whistler has always had a very special place in my heart since my first visit in 1978. Upon graduating from University Of Toronto that spring, Vancouver and Whistler were the launching points for me and 3 buddies on an adventure that would take us on a road trip down the West Coast – all the way to Tijuana and back. Now that’s a story for another time! But for now, below is a picture showing one of the old gondola cars that I took up the mountain from Creekside (I don’t think that name even existed at that time) in May 1978 for some wet spring skiing.

Old gondola car at Garibaldi Lift Company

Old gondola car at Garibaldi Lift Company


Now, here I am 33 years later heading up the Gondola from the Village that was just starting its transformation from a garbage dump in the late 70’s. (Note to self – compare that to my own personal transformation over that 33 year period).

The alpine was cool and occasionally blustery as I stepped out of the warm gondola car after the 25-minute ride from the Village. I shared the ride with a couple from Langley and we were treated to a wonderful scene with a Mama bear and her cub firmly planted in the middle of the main trail used by downhill mountain bikers. As bikers made their way down, Mama bear stood (actually sat) her ground while her cub sought the protection of the trees to one side of the trail. The bikers made their way down the trail coming within 15-20 feet of Mama bear, who did not move but kept her eyes on them and her cub at the same time. The bikers made a wise decision to go around Mama bear on the other side from where her cub was hiding in the trees 🙂

I’m not going to post all my pictures from the day here, but if you want to see some of this action and more of my pictures they are available here on my SmugMug site.

Given how late in the season it was, the Peak chair was now closed. This did not allow me to easily get to the highest point on the mountain – Whistler Summit at 7,087 ft. I say easily because I could have hiked/scrambled up there, but I chose instead to follow the Pika’s Traverse Road that took me to Little Whistler Peak.

Little Whistler Peak and Harmony Hut Tea House

Little Whistler Peak and Harmony Hut Tea House

The road climbed 885 feet in just a mile-and-a-half to reach the Harmony Hut Tea House (closed for the season) that you see on the right. This is also the point from which the picture at the top of this post was taken.

From here, the route finding was a little tricky as the crew had already started taking down some of the trail markers, especially on the Half Note Trail that I was attempting to follow to it’s junction with the High Note Trail. Fortunately, there were plenty of footprints to follow in the fresh snow left from the storms over the past couple of weeks.

The High Note Trail markers were still in place, making for a less stressful passage and the opportunity to take in some spectacular scenery with views to Cheakamus Lake and Black Tusk to the south. The trail itself is actually just across the border from Whistler into Garibaldi Provincial Park. It eventually meets up at a junction with the Singing Pass trail that can take you all the way back down to Whistler Village on foot – about 22 km in total! I met up with a group of hikers who had done the hike from the bottom up, which brought back some good memories of doing likewise back in the late 80’s myself – at about the time I was really starting to get interested in trail running and ultra marathons. Coincidentally, this was also around the time when Shane Collins and I met, leading us to start up the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run in 1989 😀

Ah yes, many good memories from a relatively short alpine hike in a very special place, with many more being made all the time. I concluded the hiking portion of this day with an easy 1-mile Alpine Walk on Blackcomb Mountain after a quick 11-minute ride on the breathtaking Peak-2-Peak Gondola. After the walk, it was a return trip on the gondola across Fitzimmons Creek valley to Whistler Mountain. Then it was back down the mountain via the Whistler Village Gondola.

Once back down (both literally and figuratively), I took a stroll through the Village. This led me to the northern end of the Village and the former site of Celebration Plaza during the 2010 Winter Olympics. It has now been redeveloped and branded as Whistler Olympic Plaza, with many symbols from the Olympics and Paralympics adorning the grounds. Just 3 weeks ago, this was also the place where 7,000 lycra-clad cyclists (myself included) celebrated after a 122 km journey from downtown Vancouver in the second annual Whistler GranFondo. Yet another story for another day!

One thing that I missed seeing on that day just 3 weeks ago was a memorial to a fallen athlete from the 2010 Olympic games – twenty-one year old Georgian luge athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili. His untimely death came in a tragic accident on Opening Day, and I wrote about it here. On this day, it was once again a poignant reminder of how fragile and precious life is. I close this post with a picture of the permanent memorial and tribute to young Nodar.

Memorial and Tribute to Nodar Kumaritashvili

Memorial and Tribute to Nodar Kumaritashvili - Whistler Olympic Plaza

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