Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Last weekend I was supposed to hike the Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Cascades. But there are huge forest fires burning right now in eastern Washington, and there are fires close to Leavenworth that have closed the trail. Even if the trail had been open, we would have postponed the trip, not wanting to do a huge hike in awful air quality and poor visibility. We rescheduled for two weeks from now, hoping the fires and air clear up by then. If not, we may have to put off the hike until next year.

Left with the weekend unexpectedly free, my honey and I decided to go to Whistler, BC. I had never been there! I don't ski or snowboard so I never had a reason to go in the winter. I thought about going to the Olympics in 2010, but I was getting ready to move to Korea and a bit deterred by the cost and the crowds.

There was plenty of lodging available with a few days' notice, and the weather was forecasted to be clear and warm. We left early Friday morning and had almost no wait at the border. Our condo was right in the heart of town, complete with a balcony and well-equipped kitchen. We had burgers and salads for lunch, then went to check out the ziplining tours. Neither Matt or I had ever been ziplining but were both curious to try, so we signed up for a trip that afternoon.
We had a lot of fun. The guides were very experienced and efficient, fitting us into harnesses while chatting away. They were also naturalists and explained a bit about the coastal temperate rain forest that we were in, and unique features of the flora and fauna. Some of the area was in was old growth forest, and at one point we were walking across a tree platform around a 700 year-old Douglas Fir, about 100 feet off the ground.

They started us on a short line, with each zipline getting progressively longer until the 5th one. It was a beautiful crisp evening as we zigzagged back and forth across the Fitzsimmons Creek, which separates Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The last line literally takes you right back into the village.
Once the sun went down it got a bit chilly so we ducked in to the Longhorn for a hot plate of poutine (french fries, gravy and cheese curds) along with a local beer.

On Saturday morning I made us breakfast and coffee. There was a low cloud cover and we couldn't see the mountains at all. But we were determined to get decent views and a good hike in, so we hopped on the gondola up to Roundhouse.
It's quite a long way up, nearly a 25 minute ride. We went through the clouds and voilĂ ! came out on top of the world with the peaks sticking up through the white. It was quite a lovely sight.

From there there is a short walk and then the Peak Express chairlift to get to the very top of Whistler. Peak Express was closing the next day until ski season, making us realized just how well we timed this visit- it was the off season enough that prices were lower and places weren't as crowded, but still close enough to summer that it was warm and things were still happening.
From the top there are amazing views of the surrounding mountains. It sort of blew my mind that we were able to just ride to the top. But we smelled forest fire and couldn't help but notice a haze in the air. Were there forest fires in BC? We hadn't even thought to check. It wasn't until the next day that we found out the smoke we were seeing was from the eastern Washington fires! Here is a MODIS satellite image from the Cliff Man Weather Blog. You can see the big cloud of smoke, the the long arm going northwestward into Canada.
We set off on the High Note trail, a 6-mile hike around the back of Whistler, with views of unique peaks like this Black Tusk on the right. It could have been clearer, but otherwise the weather was amazing, warm but not hot, breaks of sun here and there.

I even went swimming in one of these little lakes, not bad for the first day of autumn! The trail took us back down to Roundhouse, where we caught the Peak to Peak gondola over to Blackcomb. We walked around more before taking the very last gondolas back down. We were a little tired and ready for a snack before dinner- yep, poutine and beer again.
On Sunday morning we rented full-suspension mountain bikes. We originally thought about doing downhill in the bike park, but it looked a little too intense and we didn't really want to take a lesson. Plus, as fun as it is to put your bike on a lift and just ride down, we were looking for more exercise than that. So we did a huge loop on some of the easy and intermediate cross-country bike trails, making our way up to Lost Lake on the Zappa trails (all trails named after Frank Zappa songs). We also heeded the very useful signage on the trails.
I wish I had been able to spend more time at the lake. Sunday it was clear and in the mid-70's, and I really would have liked to hang out longer and go swimming. But we had to get back on the road by a reasonable time. All in all, a really great weekend and a good intro to summer activities at the resort. It's not the type of trip I usually take, usually opting for wilder and less-developed places, but I'm glad I finally got to experience one of our area's gems.

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