Whistler – Blackcomb inter-generational hiking
July 5, 2012
My sister (Sue) and brother in law (Curtis) were visiting Vancouver from LA. Along with them was Curtis’s mum, Jean who is early 80s young and has never, ever been on a chairlift or a gondola! It’s July but a cold wet June (locals refer this to phenomenon as Juneauary) had brought record cold, wet temperatures which had unfortunately curtailed efforts to get out for much hiking in a previous trip we had taken to Cathedral Lakes in the BC interior,
Wonder of wonders, a fat high pressure system had moved in and weather was improving. Cynical locals like myself keep a we’ll believe it when we see it outlook but the weather models looked great so I proposed to treat my parents, Sue & Curtis and Jean to a trip to Whistler. Our goal was to ride the Peak to Peak gondola and see what trails were hikeable or walkable up high. Much has been written about the Peak to Peak. It’s basically a gondola which goes from the mid-stations of Whistler to Blackcomb. It’s 4.4 km long, takes 11 minutes to ride and at its highest point is 436m above ground. Sheer numbers don’t tell the tale; to me it can basically be described as having the views and feel of a helicopter or plane ride but at the fraction of the cost and with a good deal more comfort.
On another note, it’s funny how even local attitudes have changed towards the Peak to Peak. When it was first proposed then built many skiers and hikers (Sharon and I are 100 day/year skiers and occassional hikers) said they wouldn’t use it much. How our tunes have changed and how it’s changed the hiking and skiing experience. Now it’s easy to switch mountains to suit different conditions or moods. In the case of hiking we wanted to get my parents and Jean into the alpine without too much fuss and effort. All of them used to hike but don’t move quite as quick as they used to but still love mountains and the fresh air. Having ready access to Whistler’s alpine hikes through gondola access is a boon for older folks. Being also able to access Blackcomb’s trails via the Peak to Peak is icing on the cake
Mother Daughter bonding moment. I’ts the first sunny day in Whistler for a long time and everyone’s stoked!
Jean takes in her first ever ride in a gondola. Curtis looks at the snow and wonders how much more there is up top?
Locals’ tip – ride the Peak to Peak first thing in the morning to beat crowds.
Another locals’ tip – wait for the silver gondola which has the viewing platform and the views of the valley straight below you. Oh boy there’s still a lot of snow
The Singing Pass trail and Fitzsimmons Creek is 436m or about 1400 feet below us
Unfortunately there was so much snow on the ground at Blackcomb’s mid-station that hiking would have been a challenging option. Pemberton IceCap in the background
From L to R: Shar, Jean, Sue, Curtis, Dad, Mum and me
The 7th Heaven access road is plowed so a free bus can take you to the 7th Heaven access lift which accesses the highest facilities and is the venue for summer glacier skiing on the Horstman Glacier.
Another first for Jean as she takes in the views and sunshine from her first ever ride on a chairlift
Sue, Mum and Dad are old hands experienced at getting off chairlifts onto snow
The summer skiing camps fascinated Jean. I could have sworn that we could have rented some gear for her and she’d have been pulling corked mistys off the sculpted jumps and half-pipes. This looks down from the Horstman Hut to the Horstman Glacier
The Horstman Hut has a small area for hiking cleared out and spectacular views to the McBride Range far south
Requisite group shot taking in the McBride Range then the Squamish – Cheakamus divide on the other side of the valley
Had a hard time tearing Jean and Curtis away from watching flipping spinning skiers and boarders
and down we go – usually you can hike down some trails here when there’s not a few feet of snow still covering everything
Civilized stop at Whistler’s Roundhouse restaurant to have some food and take in yet more views
A word on conditions. Above average snowpack and below-average temperatures meant that alpine trails weren’t yet hikeable. I’ve had great luck with the Whistler alpine hiking trails in mid-August as it’s usually then a good bet that they’ll be snow – free. Late July to early August tends to be the best time for alpine flowers. Usually some trails are accessible in early July but as you can see you roll the dice with snowpack and weather and sometimes you come up snake-eyes. Here are some shots from 2009 in mid -August just to show potential for all ages
Looking down on the Peak to Peak from Blackcomb’s trails
More views from Blackcomb’s trails
Hiking the trail to the Peak Chair on the Whistler side
Views from the Peak Chair on Whistler are spectacular
You can partake of the all-you-can-eat alpine BBQ and buffet although it might be a bit overkill for smaller appettites. On the left is Mum’s petite salad. On the right are the three desserts I had