Tag Archives: Garibaldi Provincial Park

Mountain Profile: The Table

Of all the glorious mountains the surround Whistler, The Table has got to be  unique.

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Approaching the Table in a helicopter with Pacific Ski Air, circa 1970. Cliff Jennings Photo

This curious flat-topped mountain near Garibaldi Lake was formed when a volcanic eruption burst up through a massive glacier, roughly 10-15,000 years ago. The fast-melting ice kept the lava flow contained on the sides and forced it to cool off and solidify quickly, while the pull of gravity caused the nearly perfect flat top.

Scientists have been able to date it to quite recently since there are no signs of glacial erosion along the sides or base. This indicates that the initial eruption and formation occurred after the great Holocene ice sheets were in retreat, but obviously before they were completely gone, roughly 10-12,000 years ago.

In geological terms, a flat-topped volcano formed through this spectacular interaction between fire and ice is called a tuya. These are extremely rare, being found in Antarctica, Iceland, Siberia, Coastal BC, the Oregon Cascades, and not much else.

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As seen from Panorama Ridge during the 1939 George Bury ski expedition.

The Table sits within the midst of a highly active and scenic volcanic setting, with the Black Tusk, Cinder Cone, Mount Price, Mount Garibaldi, The Barrier, and several other nearby volcanic features. As a whole this area is called the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt, which is considered to mark the northern terminus of the Cascade Volcanoes that follow the Pacific Coast down to northern California.

First climbed by BC Mountaineering Club member Tom Fyles in 1916, The Table’s steep, rotten flanks repel all but the boldest climbers. It is rarely repeated, and prospective climbers are strongly dissuaded from attempting.

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The Table’s distinct flat top can be seen silhouetted in front of Mount Garibaldi.

No, there are no known ski descents. Maybe a local BASE jumper or speed-flyer would like to give it a shot? After all you need to get on top is shoot a rock video.

With such a rare and distinct shape, it’s not surprising that this mountain has made a few appearances in pop culture. The Table served as the world’s most over-sized and epic stage for Canadian rockers Glass Tiger in their 1986 video “I Will Be There.” Make sure to keep watching for the incredible guitar solo on the Table’s edge.

Also, in the sci-fi film Stargate: The Ark of Truth, The Table was used as some sort of underground spaceship base/hangar. We’re not really sure because we haven’t actually watched the film.

Jump ahead to 47:30 for a few more shots of a wild man from the future (past?) trekking around Garibaldi PArk. Presumably the giant flat zone is where The Table used to be.

 

Mountain Profile: Wedge Mountain

On this blog we try to highlight many of the unique characters in Whistler’s history. Being a mountain community, however, many of the local mountains are arguably as familiar as any person.  In the past we’ve set the spotlight on Fissile Mountain; today we shift slightly northwards to Wedge Mountain.

Wedge is an iconic local peak first and foremost because at 2895 m (9497 ft) it’s the tallest peak around. In fact, it’s summit is the highest point in Garibaldi Provincial Park (not Mount Garibaldi, as is commonly assumed), and all of the southern Coast Mountains. To find a higher peak you need to go the remote Mount Dalgleish, 100km to the north west, or to Mount Baker, across the border in Washington State.

Wedge Mountain is visible from just about anywhere in the valley, Rainbow Lodge and the entire westside have an especially clear view. Wedge is the most prominent peak, directly above the cabin in this photo, it's wedge-like shape quite evident from this angle.

Wedge Mountain (at right, above the cabin) is visible from just about anywhere in the valley, Rainbow Lodge and the entire westside have an especially clear view. The mountain’s wedge-like shape is quite evident from this angle.

The origin of the name Wedge Mountain is uncertain, although it presumably describes it’s triangular, wedge-like shape as seen from the Whistler Valley. The name is probably local in origin (like Whistler Mountain), as this name was already in use when Vancouver mountaineers Neal Carter and Charles Townsend made the first recorded ascent of the peak in 1923. When Garibaldi Provincial Park expanded in the late 1920s, a suggestion was made to rename the peak “Mount Vancouver,” but for whatever reason it never stuck.

Speaking of Carter & Townsend, we have already written about their two-week exploratory mountaineering trip to the region in 1923 which included the first ascent of Wedge (blog article here, full photo gallery here, and a virtual video recreation of their climb, using their own written account here), but needless to say, it was a dream trip.

The view south from Wedge to our familiar W-B backcountry: (l to r) Overlord, Pattison, Fissile, Trorey, Davidson, Castle Towers and Decker.

The view south from just below the summit of Wedge,  towards our familiar W-B backcountry. Charles Townsend, photograph by Neal Carter.

Today, most people know Wedge because of the notorious Wedgemount hiking trail, arguably one of the toughest and steepest around. The trail leads up above treeline to Wedgemount Lake and the Wedgemount Hut, built by the BC Mountaineering Club in 1970 under the guidance of long-time local outdoorsman, environmentalist and community icon Don MacLaurin. The hut is of the same gothic arch design as the Himmelsbach Hut at Russet Lake, and many other backcountry huts in the region.

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The idyllic Wedgemount Hut and Wedgemount Lake, with Wedge Mountain looming in the distance, right above. Jeff Slack Photo.

This is as far as most people make it, and that’s more than enough. Summiting Wedge is a far more challenging ordeal, requiring proper ice and rock gear and the skills to use them, but the standard North Arete route is considered one of the classic mountaineering routes of the Coast Mountains. There are also a number of popular steep skiing lines on the mountain, the most popular being the massive NW couloir visible from Highway 99 at the north end of town.

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Wedge’s massive North face. Jeff Slack Photo.

Few places in our region feel as “big” as the high alpine area around Wedge Mountain, but it is just one of many peaks that make our mountainous milieu special. What mountain would you like to see profiled in a future Whistorical post?

The Black Tusk

One of the most distinguishable mountains in BC is the Black Tusk. Visible from many different heights in Whistler and the Garibaldi region, it is often talked about and almost always identified aloud when viewed in any form; people can’t help themselves from calling out “Black Tusk!” when they see it in pictures or from afar. Aside from its distinct and fascinating appearance, the Black Tusk has quite an interesting geological history.

View from the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain, 2014. Photograph by Trish Odorico.

View from the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain, 2014. Photograph by Trish Odorico.

In the last two million years volcanoes and glaciers have added dramatic scenery to the landscape of Whistler and the surrounding area. The topography of BC has been continually modified by glacial and steam erosion and the eruption of volcanoes. The Black Tusk, a local volcano that erupted about 170,000 years ago, is a reminder of our volcanic past. The Black Tusk is a stratovolcano, meaning it is made up of many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash. Centuries of erosion have stripped away its outer cone of bombs and ash, leaving behind solidified lava of its central conduit that now forms its narrow summit spire.

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Photograph by Trish Odorico.

The Black Tusk reaches 2,319 m (7,608 ft) above sea level. Alike to well-known mountains such as Cerro Torre in Patagonia, the Barbarine in Germany, and the Vajolet Towers in Italy, it is a pinnacle, giving it its sharp and unmistakable structure. Pinnacles are individual columns of rock, isolated from other rocks or groups of rocks, that form the shape of a vertical shaft or spire.

The mountain hosts two significant glaciers that start from approximately 2,100 m (6,890 ft) and flow northward to below 1,800 m (5,906 ft). Both glaciers are heavily covered in debris due to the crumbling nature of the Black Tusk’s rock.

To the Squamish people, the Black Tusk is known as t’ak’t’ak mu’yin tl’a in7in’a’xe7en, meaning “Landing Place of the Thunderbird,” while for the L’íl’wat, the mountain is called Q’elqámtensa ti Skenknápa, meaning “Place where the Thunder Rests.” It is said to be named after the supernatural bird Thunderbird. The story goes that the jagged shape and black colouring of the Black Tusk is due to the Thunderbird’s lightning, or as another account goes, by the Thunderbird’s talons that crashed into the peak.

Whistler Museum Collection.

Whistler Museum Collection.

A Clean Slate, part 2

Following up on our post from a few weeks ago, where we looked at Whistler Mountain as A Clean Slate, with the photos from Franz Wilhelmsen & Willy Schaeffler’s initial inspections from 1962, today we will look a little deeper into their first impressions of the undeveloped mountain .

Schaeffler’s report following their July 1962 survey was short, for as Franz Wilhelmsen noted, “a report covering all possible variations and reasons would be very long.” Instead, they worked under the assumption that the team would be able to purchase and develop the Jordan’s Lodge property, today’s Creekside, due to its large flat area for parking lots, and proximity to the railway. Remember, there was still no proper road access to the valley, so this last point was crucial.

Schaeffler was wholly unimpressed with the “logging chaos” that spanned the lower half of the mountain, which he estimated would require would “make skiing in this area with less than feet of snow almost impossible.” Thankfully, there was plenty of mountain above.

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The lower half of Whistler Mountain looked like this in 1962.

Reading Schaeffler’s report, it’s remarkable to find so many elements of today’s ski resort already conceived at such an early stage. On their second helicopter ride into the alpine, Schaeffler notes how they were dropped off at “the saddle east of Whistler Mountain at 6,800 feet altitude,” a spot known today simply as “The Saddle” one of Whistler’s signature intermediate alpine ski runs.

From there they descended into “the major bowl with the most ideal north exposure.” Known today as Glacier Bowl, this was the first true alpine terrain to be included in the ski area, serviced by Whistler’s alpine t-bars.

Looking across the bowl, they also identified a wide-open, gentle sub-alpine slope they thought was perfect for an upper-mountain beginner area. Your might recognize this as the slope above Roundhouse Lodge and surrounding the top of the Red Chair.

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Beyond terrain analysis, Schaeffler’s report also included his preliminary thoughts on infrastructure. Based on the sheer scale of the mountain, Schaeffler concluded that

“we must realize we are speaking here of a major European type ski area. In order to open up this mountain and use its full potential from the beginning, a different type of uphill equipment that has been used in normal North American ski areas must be built here.”

He was talking about a gondola of course, and a few year’s later Whistler Mountain indeed opened with British Columbia’s first gondola. Schaeffler’s initial lifts plan included a gondola, 3 chairs, and a t-bar, to service a predicted 2,000 skiers on peak days. Today Whistler-Blackcomb can see more than 25,000.

All these people would need to eat, so he also called for several hundred hotel rooms in the base area, and a cafeteria for those 2,000 skiers. Because the ski area was so large, and its focus was really the high alpine area, Schaeffler also anticipated an on-mountain restaurant.

His report includes a call for a “building which allows a 360 degree view from one room, perhaps with a fireplace in the middle” plus a cafeteria servicing 1,000 skiers, plus first aid and other amenities. He called this prospective building, simply, “The Roundhouse.”

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Schaeffler returned multiple times in the coming years to fine tune their plans and oversee their implementation. His enthusiasm for the project never waned, as this 1964 Province article indicates:schaeffler001

Looking back through these photos and reports, it’s evident that Schaeffler had a huge, and largely under-appreciated impact. Not only time affirm the clarity of his vision, but having such a respected figure involved in the planning and backing the development with such enthusiasm certainly contributed to the growing buzz around the new ski resort.

Obviously several other key figures were instrumental in Whistler and Blackcomb’s continued growth over the next five decades. As this winter progresses, we’ll highlight some more of these figures and stories.