Chapter 7 – A crucial Pacific Northwest question: Where will it rain the less?
A couple of years ago, I was in Portland, Oregon. I was taking shelter from the light rain inside Powell’s Books when an employee asked me if I was looking for something. I told him I was just browsing the shelves and waiting for the rain to stop. He told me it wasn’t raining. I pointed to the window and the wet street. “When it rains, you’ll know,” he answered before walking away to greet another customer. I knew what he meant, but I think I really understand it now.
The last backpack of this week-long outing was Sahale Glacier, with a night practically at the summit. I knew it was slipping away. What would be the point of going if there’d be no view and I’d get pummeled by rain and snow? I needed to get Wi-Fi to find where to go. Sahale: rain, snow and low clouds, so out of the question. What about Black Tusk, my initial plan? Rain, snow and low clouds. The Golden Ears in BC, which could make a nice dayhike? Rain, snow and low clouds. Elfin Lakes, Olympic Peninsula, Manning Provincial Park, Coquihalla summit area? If you guessed rain, snow and low clouds, you guessed right. The objective had changed. It wasn’t to find the place with the nicest weather, but rather the place with the less rain.
Destination: Chilliwack. Isn’t it fun to say? It’s also where I went last year and busted a toe 30 minutes into a 4-day backpack. It seemed to have the less horrible weather forecast of anywhere within a 3-hour radius of Vancouver. I’d try not to get injured this time. I slept at the trailhead and played it safe with the “Chilliwack Grouse Grind” from Elk Mountain to Mount Mercer. It rained for about half of the hike. The other half was cold and cloudy. Luckily I had a washer, dryer, shower, dry clothes and a bbq on the beach waiting for me in Vancouver. I love Vancouver!
Lesson learned: a rain cover for backpacks is a wise investment.
Mileage: 18.1 km (11.25 miles)
Elevation gain: 1,264 m (4,150 ft)
Chapter 8 – Sea-to-sky
Despite the clouds and occasional drizzle, we headed north to Whistler on that expensive and aesthetic highway they call Sea-to-Sky. Whistler was thought out quite well because it offers options. For example, you have the option to either slog up the 1500m of elevation to the summit or take the gondola and spend more time in the alpine zone. You can warm up with coffee at the summit cafeteria or you can get ambushed by whistler marmots. We chose the gondola and the marmots. Who wouldn’t?
Whistler is named after its resident rodents, and they’re called whistlers for a reason. We came across a few and blew the whistle on our pack to say hello. That’s when trouble started. This one marmot immediately started racing towards us. I thought my time had come. I imagined it biting my leg with its sharp teeth and never letting go. They’re in their house and know every rock and every bump on the ground. I couldn’t hide and I couldn’t escape. Those furry mammals clearly had vicious guerrilla tactics or mad ninja skills or something. Death by marmot… There’s a nice ring to it. I guess there are worst ways to go.
At the last – and I do mean last – second, the marmot made a precise 10-foot jump right into its burrow, about 3 feet in front of us. I’m talking Olympic-caliber long jumping that would put Carl Lewis to shame. Another whistler was on guard duty on a rock, staring at us defiantly with its round black eyes. We could barely move. It’s like we were hypnotized.
The marmot in the burrow stuck its head out. I looked at it and I’m pretty sure it looked into my soul for about a minute until it was convinced I meant no harm. We made peace and got their permission to hike on their land. Or maybe none of this looking into one’s soul happened. Maybe we’d just looked at them long enough and it was time to get moving again. Either way, it was cool coming across those funny whistlers. The views were nice too, especially when the clouds started clearing up a bit, but I have to admit the marmots really stole the show. Well played my furry friends. (Sound of 1 sharp whistle)
Whistler looks like a great place, especially farther in the mountains when you’ve ditched the crowds and crossed into Garibaldi Provincial Park. We stayed in the village for food and music at the Olympic place and then drove back to the city. With that final western sunset, my trip to the Left Coast ended.
Life lesson #1: Go out, even if it’s cloudy. It always clears up eventually.
Life lesson #2: Don’t mess with marmots.