Monday, July 26, 2010

Escape to Whistler Mountain

On the weekend, Mike and I decided to escape the number tags and run off to Whistler for a few days. We've been wanting to get out and do a little hiking, and what better place to do that than on the top of a mountain! :)
The plan for Saturday was to head up Whistler, do some hiking, hop the Peak to Peak Gondola over to Blackcomb mountain, hike a little more, and then make our way to the bottom. Unfortunately, the mountains had other plans for us...
Rubber duckies at Whistler Peak

Last winter was particularly snowy on Whistler and Blackcomb. Combine that with a not very warm spring, and you're left with an unusually deep snowpack on the mountain tops. So much, in fact, that the trail we wanted to hike was closed... Well, technically, it was 'hike at your own risk/pay for your own rescue' open, and came complete with deep snow, and unmarked cliffs and crevasses. But that wasn't really the kind of hiking that we'd had in mind, so we gave it a miss.
One of the whistling alpine marmots, from which Whistler takes its name. They're supposed to be pretty elusive, but this guy wasn't much bothered by us.

Just to give you an idea of the amount of snow that's still up there, here's Mike next to one of the 'snowbanks' that line the road from the peak of Whistler Mountain down to the main lodge at the top of the lifts. Not exactly typical for this time of year, I don't think...

Since we couldn't hike (much) on the Whistler side, we decided to hop over to Blackcomb, by way of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola - a cable car that spans 4.4km/2.73 miles (3km/1.88 miles of which is stretched between only 2 towers!) and sits about 486m /1430 feet above the ground.
Here's a shot taken while in-transit - that straight cut through the trees is the path of the gondola...

On the Blackcomb side, the trail we wanted to take was also marked as 'closed', but no one seemed to be paying much attention to the signs (probably because it didn't have the 'you pay for your own rescue' note attached!). So we followed it along a bit, and had lunch in an alpine meadow.
Then we walked a little further, and found a little (slightly frozen-over) glacier lake
The benches were still buried by the snow... yet more evidence of the unusually deep snow pack!

After that hike, it was getting time to head back down the mountain. Earlier, we had wondered why all the designated hiking trails were at the top of the mountains... on the way down we saw some possible reasons for this restriction:
Can you see the bear in the middle of the run? Here's a close up, taken as we glided over top of him. I always think they look just like big hairy dogs...
He's just a little guy, probably about a year or so old. His buddy was down the hill a bit, in the next ski run over...
Later, we saw signs for guided 'bear watching' tours, featuring (most likely) these two bears. Guess that's why they don't encourage hikers to walk down the mountain on their own!

On Sunday, we decided to hire bikes and explore the valley a little. We didn't manage to take too many photos (too busy biking!) but here are a couple from Rainbow Park, where we took a little break to stick our feet in the lake.
We also saw a third bear as we were biking - just a cutie little cub this time - but he was too far into the woods to get a good photo. Let's hope he soon moves up the hill with the other guys, where he's out of reach of the tourists!

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