Route: Alpine Loop – Overlord Trail – Lakeside Loop
Approximate distance: 7km
Start / Finish: Peak 2 Peak Gondola Station, Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler, British Columbia
Highlights: A lofty balcony of meadows and pine culminating in a small tarn beneath rugged rocky peaks
The most rewarding walks transpire from a little challenge – a river to ford, a jungle to penetrate or, quite literally, a mountain to climb. These are the obvious physical hurdles, barriers put in place by mother nature that elevate our sense of accomplishment when they are overcome. But there can also be our internal struggles, our own situation and set of circumstances that connive to place obstacles in the way. Such as recovery from flu, jetlag, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This walk, based out of the popular resort town of Whistler a couple of hours out of Vancouver, is easy on paper (and, ideally, could be extended). But I arrived in Whistler direct from Sydney on one of the worst flights I have endured in my travelling life. This was mainly thanks to flu that I picked up a few days prior, packing up my possessions in a small flat in freezing Canberra. Making the experience of sitting in a confined space for 13 hours even less comfortable, I was also conscious of coughing all the time and keeping everyone else awake. I probably shouldn’t have travelled but I made it to Vancouver in better spirits, and set foot into the British Columbian air.
Alas, it was an air that proved stifling with a condensed smoky aroma from wildfires blazing in various parts of the province; not ideal when you are already having respiratory difficulties. Hopefully it would be clearer up in the mountains, but a few hours on a shuttle bus later, Whistler was shrouded in an eerie ashen gloom. A gloom that struggled to shift at all until the third and final day.
Thankfully this delay allowed me to stock up on various drugs and gain enough sleep to give me just enough motivation to set out on a hike in the mountains. I decided to employ a ‘see how you go’ approach, accessing an area of Blackcomb Mountain that offered an array of mostly gentle trails that you can adapt to suit. And, if nothing else, getting there would be fun: up from the town on the Whistler Village Gondola and then dangling across a gaping ravine on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. Who said walking is free, huh?!
Commencing from the Blackcomb Mountain Gondola Station, this walk meanders first along part of the Alpine Loop which – in itself – provides a quick and easy overview of the lay of the land. A forested plateau interspersed with patches of meadow and wildflowers perched snugly beneath bare and rocky peaks, capped in places by residual snow. Across the valley to Whistler Mountain, views are gargantuan but, today at least, faded by the smoke haze which still persists. There is still that ash flavour to the air, but it is more breathable.
If there were not enough nuisances and hazards associated with my walk today, then why not throw in the prospect of a hungry bear just around the next corner? Continuing on to the magnificently named Overlord Trail, this is an ever-present thought lingering in my mind. What would I do if I came face to face with a bear? Perhaps they like codeine with a shot of caffeine and some decongestant? As it turned out, this was not a theory I got to test, and after a while I was able to focus a bit more on the spectacular views from this elevated balcony. And stop for a breather to soak it all in.
After about a kilometre or so along the Overlord Trail, the connection to the Lakeside Loop appears. This takes you upwards a little to more open meadows, dotted in places with wildflowers and no apparent bears. The culmination of this is Blackcomb Lake; calling this a lake is generous, but sitting beneath the bare jagged summit of Blackcomb Mountain, it offers something of a culmination. An achievement even, at least for me today.
The prospect of continuing on towards another tarn and a lookout across the Overlord Glacier is appealing, but with increasing steepness and smoky air, this is one step too much to take on. Knowing your limits, knowing when to stop, knowing that you can take immense satisfaction from what you have achieved, what you have experienced despite being dealt a pretty subpar hand, is reward enough. And, continuing my steps on the remainder of the loop and back along the Overlord Trail, there is still the prospect of bears around the corner and a dangle over the valley to come.
- To continue this walk and make a full day of it you can continue on the Overlord Trail and connect with the Decker Loop, which – according to the brochures – will offer a viewpoint over the Overlord Glacier and continue onto scenic Decker Tarn. It sounds sublime, on smoke-free, flu-free days.
- Whistler is full of everything: a wide range of accommodation, cafes, pubs, restaurants, clubs, things for kids, things for grown-ups, snowboards, crazy hats, tacky souvenirs, and bears. I actually did come across a black bear in the undergrowth walking near the golf course the day before this hike. My mind was torn between turning back to try and grab a photo, or carrying on to ensure I didn’t get eaten.
- Maximising my schedule, I caught a shuttle bus direct from Vancouver Airport which was reasonably priced. You can of course go into downtown Vancouver and get the Greyhound or there is a train connection. The trip, following the scenic Sea to Sky Highway offers some fine scenery in places, especially when there is no smoke!
- Vancouver itself is a magnificent place to spend a few days or more. I returned here later on this trip under brilliant blue skies, the highlight being a day with a bike around its inlets and bays.
Whistler-Blackcomb summer hiking trails map: https://assets.vailresorts.com/-/media/whistler-blackcomb/products/the-mountain/about-the-mountain/trail-map/wb_mk1754_sum18_trailmap.ashx
Whistler Blackcomb: https://www.whistlerblackcomb.com/