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NatureSpeak Articles

A little walk in the alpine

One of my favourite things about Whistler is it’s a great place to sleep. For anyone who’s spent time in the humid sweatfest of eastern Canada, you know what I mean. Even hot days in Whistler normally cool off just in time for another great sleep, but this oppressively hot week was different.

Being mildly delusional from the heat, my brain drifted back to Grade 11 geography and recovered a dim memory of the environmental lapse rate. I remembered (with some help from the internet) that the temperature drops an average of 6.5 degrees C for every 1,000 metre gain in elevation.

Hot in the valley, cool on the mountain? I decided to head for the hills. Luckily a friend was heading to the alpine to do some work and agreed to drop me off. Couldn’t be easier!

Not long after, I was alone in the mountains. Thousands of folks down in the valley but up in the alpine it felt almost like wilderness, even so close to the village. I happily rambled along, dazzled by the display of wildflowers and scenic vistas.

I spotted a marmot sunning himself lazily on the biggest rock in a talus pile. He briefly deigned to give one whistle but didn’t seem to have much interest in it. Marmots are supposed to spend the hottest hours of the day in their burrows. This being after 5 in the afternoon, and maybe the hottest time of the day in the alpine, maybe he was just as dazed as the rest of us.

A little further, I came on one family of blue grouse, then another. In both cases, the chicks – at this time of year the size of small crows – quickly flew off to avoid danger while the mothers lagged behind. Were the moms trying to act as decoys, or were they suffering from heat stroke too?

One of the moms really wasn’t thinking straight. As soon as I became still, she came to within two metres of where I stood, cooing and doing a good imitation of pretending I wasn’t there. I hope she’ll be more cautious when her brain cools down.

Meanwhile, the flowers up on the mountain seem to be enjoying the heat. Three kinds of heathers are in full force: white, pink, and yellow. Pink-purple phlox is everywhere. And though the white flowers of wild potatoes (spring beauty) are starting to wither, they’re abundant enough to pop the occasional one in your mouth and wish they’d last long enough to put in a salad back home.

Western anemones are now full-grown into wild, moptop seed heads, a bit like Ringo Starr gone grey. The meadows are awash with colours from Indian paintbrushes (red), Arctic lupines (purple) and fan-leaved cinquefoils (yellow). Everywhere there’s even a bit of loose soil between the talus, there’s another miniature flower blooming. What a great time to be in the alpine!

Upcoming Events:

Saturday, July 29th, 9:45 a.m. Alpine hike to Decker tarn. Join the Whistler Naturalists for our annual alpine hike. Meet at 9:45 sharp at the base of the Wizard Chair on Blackcomb for a 10 a.m. upload. Please bring appropriate footwear, food, lots of water, and your ski pass (or money to buy a lift ticket). Members $5; Non-members $15.

Written by: Bob Brett


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