For some, Whistler's playground for adventure begins with driving the beautiful sea-to-sky highway, but we ride in comfort aboard Whistler Mountaineer's Glacier Dome along the even more scenic railway. Rolling through picture-perfect West Vancouver into Horseshoe Bay, hostess Elizabeth serves up nuggets of history with savoury breakfasts.
Magnificent vistas begin along the vast shoreline of Howe Sound. Taking in picturesque Porteau Cove, famed stone monolith Stawamish Chief in Squamish and spectacular 70-metre Brandy Wine Falls, our rhapsody intensifies as we "hang" from the heritage open-air viewing car to ogle awesome Cheakamus Canyon.
From Alta Lake station, some fellow travellers will spend their day exploring Whistler's alpine-style village, strolling to Lost Lake or taking a gondola up into mountain meadows before returning to North Vancouver. Staying three days, we do all that and more.
Settled at the Pinnacle, one of Whistler's chateau-style hotels, we walk to the new Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre. Within the huge glassy Squamish Longhouse and under the grassy dome of a Lil'wat Istken pit house, these two bands showcase their living cultures. Our guide tells us that they have long shared their immense territories, which encompass Whistler. Even marriages, including her own, occur between members of these two proud bands. Looking at large photos appearing on banners, she tells us how medical herbs are gathered and mountain sheep hair is collected for woven clothing.
Exhibits feature intricately carved canoes, dramatic ceremonial masks and fashionable clothing incorporating aboriginal motifs. A multimedia presentation illustrates a native lifestyle rich in dance, music, sports and traditional crafts. The cedar bark harvest is especially fascinating. Peeling off six- to seven-metre strips from towering trees, brittle outer bark is separated from pliable inner bark; it's rolled and hung to dry, then stored for a year before it's used in basketry. The onsite café offers an intriguing menu of native foods.
Returning to the village through one of many creek-side parks, we enter its winding pedestrian mall. Trees, flamboyant flowers and artwork border arrays of freshly painted al fresco restaurants, boutiques and shops - some selling souvenirs, others excursions including river rafting, zip-lining, nature hikes, rock climbing, kayaking and horseback riding. This first day sets our daily pattern for tasty meals, lingering at tables overlooking the busy main square, followed by leisurely strolls over to Cows for moo-vel-ous ice cream.
Early next morning, we join Whistler Eco-Tour Guide Robbie for a pedal-paddle expedition. Waivers signed, he provides bikes befitting our stature, and bottles of cold water. Initially, we roll along a meandering two-and-a-half kilometre paved forest trail to Alta Lake. Leaving bikes locked under some evergreens, we pick up paddles, life-jackets and a canoe at dockside for a hearty paddle across the lake.
On the way, Robbie points out what's popularly known as the million-dollar view of snow-capped mountains, including Mt. Rupert, Easy Chair and Wedge. Pausing, we watch an osprey hovering above us; her nest is atop a nearby snag. On the far shore, a great blue heron stands ready to spear a meal, and a reddish brown merganser mama and her brood preen on a cottage dock.
Beaching our canoe at Rainbow Park, we stretch our legs. The nearby bridge is created from curved lacquered branches. Robbie observes, "Steam trains brought honeymooners to this idyllic destination and this, Bridge of Sighs!" Nearby stand the original small cabins of Whistler's first resort. Old photos on their windows depict newlyweds happily experiencing outdoor adventures, just as we do today.
These romantic couples fished, hiked and canoed the same River of Golden Dreams that we enter at the reedy end of Alta Lake. Moving slowly through patches of yellow pond lilies under mellow sunny skies, this placid waterway conjures "golden dreams." Lofty cedars, firs and hemlocks soon line the shore, like green sentinels along the serpentine channel. Coming to a manmade log dam, we make a short portage and re-board. Often shifting our weight, we manage to rock ourselves over the shallowest of the shallows, carefully paddling through this trickle toward the main river.
Following tips on how to avoid capsizing while merging into the white water, we furiously apply a variety of strokes. The torrent pushes us sideways and under tree limbs; ducking, we avoid bumps and scratches, soon emerging back into bright sunlight. Our course now winds between rocky banks topped with briars of orange salmon berries, purple fireweed and wild pink roses. Travelling five kilometres of pristine serenity, we arrive near Green Lake's shore.
Our shuttled bikes stand nearby, ready for action. Remounting, we proceed along this huge lake tinted like icy turquoise by glacier-ground rock flour. Skirting an adjacent golf course, we spin along a compact-gravel trail paralleling glacial Ferguson Creek. Stopping at a co-op greenhouse, we learn that many of Whistlers' leggy pedallers also have green thumbs. Continuing onto a paved road, we pass through the village suburbs, return to a trail, pass alongside a skateboard park, a bustling terra-formed bike park and return into town.
Our second morning finds us swooping skyward in a spacious gondola, rising up Whistler Mountain. Immediately below us, legions of cyclists in full-body armour coast and jump down the lower slopes. Taking in their frenetic activity, a large brown bear grazes nonchalantly nearby. At the midway point, passengers with bikes exit to try out jumps at the nearby bike park or thrill-ride downward on a choice of gnarly trails. Continuing our ascent, we look out for namesake Whistling Marmot, spotting instead a pudgy pika among the rocks.
Our scenic ride ends at the Roundhouse Lodge, 1850m above sea level, a huge chalet reception area. Upstairs, we glance at shops offering souvenirs, warm clothing for the unprepared and refreshments. From its huge open deck, we see the Inuit Inukshuk symbolizing Whistler's 2010 Winter Olympics, eagerly snapping photos of this gargantuan human depiction with a panoramic backdrop of the famed resort area below.
Breathing in fresh mountain air, we hike down a short slope to the chairlift and continue our ascent to Blackcomb's summit. Hopping off, we spot another Inukshuk constructed of huge granite slabs and join multitudes on a pilgrimage to its sky-high platform. This one stands before distant Black Tusk, a distinguished black basalt peak, remains of a Pleistocene volcano. Looping up and down nature trails, we examine small and great sights at these heavenly heights, where small wildflowers nestle colourfully among sun-warmed crevices and majestic snowcapped mountains rise around us.
The last morning, we tramp through woods looking for Lost Lake. Well signed, we easily find this beautiful body of water situated among huge evergreens. Accessible from the village, with even a shuttle bus service to its nearby parking lot, the large sandy beach has become very popular. Our return route, below splendid resorts of the upper village and along Ferguson Creek, leads us to a covered bridge where a kayaker escorts two wacky blue and yellow ball-like polyhedrons tumbling down the rushing creek; hydro-bronc riders inside buck the cascading waters.
Later that afternoon, we re-board the Whistler Mountaineer and soon enjoy high tea, complete with tiny finger sandwiches, luscious blueberry scones with Devonshire cream and scrumptious lemon tarts. Over steaming cups of Earl Grey tea, we review our mountain adventures - and conclude that Whistler rocks in summer!
WHEN YOU GO:
* Travel by train from N. Vancouver to Whistler - www.Whistlermountaineer.com
* Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre - www.sicc.ca
* River of Golden Dreams Pedal/Paddle - www.whistlerecotours.com
JUNE 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER
JUNE 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND
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