Whistler first impressions

It’s a couple of days now since I left homely Jasper in search of the famous ski town of Whistler. Here’s some of my first impressions…

The first item of worthy mention – the huge 750km drive really took it out of me; I don’t know if that’s the sole reason I’ve been feeling below par these last couple days but 10 hours of travel certainly can’t help.

Awesome scenery near Kamloops
Awesome scenery near Kamloops (visible in the distance at the end of the lake)

The first 550km was straight forward highway driving, then the last 200km was all twisty mountainous roads. A lot more fun and interesting to drive on but when you just want to get some tucker and a bed not so great.

The roads around Lillooet were down right wild, narrow tunnels cutting under the railway, followed by single lane wooden bridges over creeks and canyons. Then you were climbing up switchbacks and not long after descending down windy snake-like roads.

The quirky mountain town Lillooet
The quirky mountain town Lillooet

I got lucky around these twisty spots and sighted my first ever bear, a little black bear cub. So awesome!

The best shot I got before he ran away into the scrub, presumably to Mama bear. No way was I leaving the car!
The best shot I got before he ambled off into the scrub, presumably to Mama bear. No way was I leaving the car!

Now that I’m here in Whistler the second thing that springs to mind is how damn quiet it is here. With ski season just about all over red rover it’s understandable but was unexpected. The hostel I’m staying at was part of the athletes village when the winter Olympics were held here in 2010. Very nice facilities even though it’s 7km from Whistler village.

Walking through the village yesterday I can conjure up what it might have all looked like just a couple of months ago.  Snow covering everything in sight and skiers and snowboarders rushing to get up the gondola. Then after a big day on the hill caving into the irresistible warmth of the coffee shops, restaurants and pubs. The glow of the fireplace oh so tempting through the icy windows.

Whistler Olympic Plaza with some of Whistler Mountain visible behind
Whistler Olympic Plaza with Whistler Mountain visible behind

Today is Thursday and on Monday Whistler Mountain closed for the season leaving only about half the Blackcomb Mountain chairlifts still open. Which brings me to my third point…for all the talk of how gigantic Whistler and Blackcomb are, from the village they really don’t look it. Not at all. I proposed this to someone who actually has skied here and he said you can’t see the top from the village and the terrain is endless. Looks can be deceiving.

Over the next few weeks I can only imagine it will remain really quiet here as the ski season finishes up and Whistler is transformed into a mountain biking mecca. The official mountain biking season starts up on May 18; wish I could fast forward time by a month for a couple of days then rewind it.

As a side note yesterday was the warmest day I’ve felt for over 5 months! +17 I heard and with the sun out too – arrr how great the warm sun feels again.

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Signal Mountain summit stories

Just a cruisy six hour return hike we thought. Ouch, how that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Take a look at the mountain. Looks kinda small right? Like a big hill, no real “mountain”.

But as we found out looks can be deceiving! The trail was covered in snow so with every step we sunk and slipped backwards ever so slightly. Over a few hours and with the steepness rising we felt the mountain trying to repel us backwards.

Signal Mountain - the target for the day
Signal Mountain – the target for the day
The going was tough through the snow
The going was tough through the snow

As we climbed through the tree lined trail I couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to have such brilliant sunny weather. Yesterday the prediction was overcast and a high of 3. Just our lucky day I guess.

The views in every direction are so worth the effort
The views in every direction are so worth the effort. Just a little further Gedas!

Once we finally got above the treeline we could see the summit for the first time. Life was good and we were within reach but we also glimpsed the challenging slopes that loomed in the distance. “We’re another hour away” was Gedas’ accurate guess.

At one stage it got steep enough that I and my Lithuanian climbing buddy had to monkey it up on all four hands and feet. The going was very slow and steady all the way to the top.

Gedas and I at the summit!
Gedas and I at the summit!

Now we well and truly realised that this “big hill” was definitely a real mountain. 2300m above sea level and views in every direction. What a fabulous feeling standing a top the snowy dome. For interests sake Pyramid Mountain (the tallest one on the right) is 2750m.

After three and a half hours up and just an hour and fifty back down we both settled for a soothing hot tub and a good feed. Awesome day!