When flicking through a list of ‘adventure activities’ on offer in Whistler, Canada, Glacier Hiking caught my eye. I’m not THAT fit but I’d never really witnessed snow in summer and especially not a giant glacier, so the chance to hike up one in August definitely caught my interest. I signed up for a half day tour, climbing up Whistler Mountain with Whistler Alpine Guides (now Mountain Skills Academy). A tour is a MUST. The route I took was closed to the general public.
Whistler Mountain Hikes
With a lot of the tours I seem to book onto, they always get cancelled due to lack of bookings. So I was impressed that although I was the only one booked on the tour, Whistler Alpine Guides was still happy enough for the hike to go ahead. I really enjoyed being the only person. It meant that my tour was more personalised to me, we could go at my speed and stop for a break when I felt I needed one (which to be fair, wasn’t very often, I tend to go at 100mph all the time!)
The main glacier climb route went up the mountain and through the ‘U’ shape gap just to the left of the centre in the photo above, with a short clear road walk to the summit of Whistler Mountain. The Whistler Glacier is said to be over 10,000 years old! Due to a heavy winter ‘just gone’, the glacier was actually still covered (in AUGUST!) by 2 metres of snow. Usually climbs would require crampons…giant spikes that attach to shoes to be able to grip…but because of the snow being that little bit softer than a glacier, only walking boots and a helmet were needed (and were provided). I think this made it all a little bit scarier!
I was then harnessed to my guide and was given an axe – to act as a walking pole and to assist me should I slip! Just for the record, the idea is to ‘star fish’ yourself against the mountain if this should happen!
The glacier was a lot steeper than expected. We had to zig zag up the face, like switch back roads and kick into the snow with each step to create little foot holds. It was exhausting. I was able to keep up with the guide but I think in a group, it would have been a lot slower going.
I was concentrating so much on where my feet were going, that I kept forgetting to actually look back at where I was. ‘Look behind you…’ – my guide said. I was up SO high, you could see for miles and looked over the whole of Whistler village at the bottom, the glacier just seemed to disappear vertically beneath us. Now is probably a good time to mention that heights really don’t bother me.
We had a short break at the top. I even got to see (and hear!) the Marmots that gave Whistler it’s name. They make a whistling noise! The summit of Whistler mountain (2182m/7160ft) has a stone Inukshuk at the top. You’ll find these dotted all around Whistler. Traditionally they were used by the Inuit people as a landmark or directional marker (stacked balancing rocks). When they are shaped like a ‘human figure’, they represent hope, friendship and safety…which is quite apt for being on the top of a mountain.
Hiking back down was terrifying! Me being me, I wasn’t completely dressed accordingly. It was really hot up the mountain the day I climbed, so shorts and t-shirts were fine. I was given the opportunity to ‘slide’ back down the mountain on my bottom (Glissading) but didn’t think my Jean shorts were really up for it, they recommend you wear snow pants or waterproofs, but when I booked, I didn’t even know that this would be an option! The thoughts of ‘what if I slide out of control/snowball/can’t slow down’ also whizzed through my mind, so I opted to climb back down.
It was really difficult. Rather than switching back and forth, you literally just step down the mountain sideways in a straight line. I’m not the tallest of people and I struggled to step down far enough and kick into the snow with the side of my foot (like how you’d get a horse to move) to make any decent progress. It was like taking baby steps, it took FOREVER.
In the end I asked if my guide could lead. Normally the guide goes at the back so if one of the harnessed chain of climbers slip, they can hold everyone up and stop them from sliding down the mountain. As I was alone, she said it would be OK because if I was above her and slipped, she’d only have to stop the force of me rather than a whole chain of people whizzing by her. I was so grateful, I was able to step into her foot prints like a a little snowy staircase! We even went a rescued a discarded ski, which we had no idea how it got there as it’s no where near the ski run!
…And I only slipped once. I ended up doing the splits but managed to stop myself!
The whole trip took around 3 hours. I’m glad I did it, even though it was really hard work and the thought of while slipping coming down was horrible! A lot of the tourists that had used the chair lift to get to the summit were jealous of my route up and my guide was very kind in praising me and saying I was like an athlete! I think I would have preferred to do a Via Ferrata which uses metal ladders drilled into the mountain rock…although I’ve heard from others that Via Ferrata can be pretty tough going too, but I’ll do it one day!
The cable car ticket isn’t included in the price of the glacier tour, which didn’t bother me as I then rode the peak to peak gondola after my tour and then came down all the chair lifts on the Whsitler Blackcomb mountain, which is on the other side of the village.
Check out these other things to do in Whistler in Summer: 4 Adventurous Whistler Summer Activities To Add To Your Itinerary!
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