|Inuksuk near the top of Whistler Mountain. See the note at the end of the post.|
There are lots of creepy heebie-jeebie moments in movies, like "Here's Johnny!", or "the call is coming from inside the house", but none gives me heart palpitations like the opening scene of "Cliffhanger" when Sylvester Stallone is trying to save a young women dangling from a rope over a vast chasm. She falls unfortunately, and I always drop the popcorn while covering my eyes. And then there is that first scene from "Vertical Limit", when not one, but three people fell down the cliff.
In my youth (roughly the ages 12 through 60 years) I was a regular peak bagger and rock clamberer. But I couldn't handle dangling from a rope. I only feel comfortable with solid rock or flooring under my feet. I rappelled down a cliff just once, I've never parachuted or gone hang-gliding, and rides at amusement parks that mimic the experience have never held any appeal for me.
This fact that I hate dangling is the background to today's description of our exploration of British Columbia that we undertook last summer in July. It's because I had to dangle over a cliff in order to see something I really wanted to see: a glacier from above.
|Whistler Mountain from the Roundhouse Lodge at the top of the Whistler Gondola.|
On the day we arrived in town it was a little hard to tell which season it was...it was July and it was cold and rainy. It could hardly be anything different (under the rules of Murphy's Law) since our weather thus far had been rather nice, and I was looking forward to seeing the spectacular alpine scenery around Whistler (my previous two visits had been in poor weather as well). We had scheduled only a few activities in the morning so the students could do some exploring on their own during the long afternoon.
|The Peak Express ski lift leading to the summit of Whistler Mountain|
So this is where we talk about acrophobia. I had no problem with the gondola ride at all. It's in an enclosed space with seats and a floor and all that. But when I got out at the Roundhouse Lodge at 6,069 feet, I found that I was still 1,100 feet below the summit of Whistler Mountain. And I would have to get their via...a ski lift. A spindly rickety dangling ski lift. I know all you skiers out there are used to these things, but I'm not. I don't like them. But it was the only way to get to the top of Whistler Mountain within our time constraints, so I hiked over to the base of the cliff and loaded myself onto the lift.
|The Cloudraker Skybridge and Raven's Eye (on the far right). The "snow" is actually the top of a glacier.|
|Walking out onto the Cloudraker Skybridge. The Raven's Eye is in the distance, upper left.|
|Terminal moraine and moraine lake at the former end of the glacier at Whistler Mountain.|
The true size of the glacier today can be seen in a satellite image taken in the late summer when nearly all of the snow (but not glacial ice) has melted away (below). The loss of glacial ice is a worldwide phenomena indicating that the global climate is warming. When these glaciers disappear, their loss will have serious ramifications for the regional ecosystem. The glaciers serve as a dependable year-round water source for alpine creeks, and when that disappears, so will the animals and plants that are dependent on that water. They don't have anywhere else to retreat to.
|The arete on the east side of the glacier. The ski lift went right over it.|
You'll all be happy to know that I gathered myself together and was not whimpering by the time I reached the bottom of the lift.
|Google Earth image of the small glacier at Whistler Mountain. The cirque is the bowl-shaped valley where the glacier originates. The skybridge traverses the upper end of the cirque.|
Whistler refers to the Hoary Marmots found in the region. I saw one of them at the Roundhouse Lodge when I got back from the mountain.