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Feature - In search of Whistler’s other

If early explorers couldn’t bring themselves to name a mountain, they named the mountain after the marmot



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The next Whistler on the list is located down near Crowsnest Pass, by the American border. Driving through the Rockies is best done during the day so as to enjoy the incredible scenery. This may sound obvious but it only really sank in when the ability to travel at night was abruptly taken away. There I was, cruising along and minding my own business when suddenly, out of the blue, something large and furry loomed in the road ahead.

D’oh! A deer. A female deer. Splat, she went across the hood. Sadly, Bambi was a writeoff but the truck only suffered the loss of headlights and other minor injuries, enabling the trip and the long drive south to continue.

Upon arriving in the nearest town of any size, Pincher Creek, I set out to ask the locals for advice about climbing this final Whistler. The local roadhouse (as they call pubs in these parts, where the skies are big, the music is country and the country is western) seemed quite full for a midweek night, especially with no Canadian team at this point left standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. I soon learned the place was so busy because today was the day news broke that Mad Cow disease had arrived here in Canuck cattle country. While SARS is what gives economic forecasters the willies in Whistler, B.C., it is BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) that will affect the long-term financial outlook in this neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, none of the locals I spoke to (including a park ranger) had any idea there was a local hill called Whistler, let alone why it is so named. I had hoped it might be for a hoary old tale involving a coalminer or firewatcher named Whistler. Or perhaps the name was given by an early surveyor who was an admirer of the art of James McNeill Whistler, whose 1871 portrait of his beloved ma reclining in a rocking chair – ‘Whistler’s Mother’ – has since gone on to become a veritable American icon. (In case you don’t know it, it’s the one defaced by Mr. Bean in his big screen adventure and is also the inspiration for the clever logo belonging to Whistler’s Other Video in Creekside).

Or possibly this peak was so pegged for some other reason: Crowsnest Pass, at 1,360 metres above sea level, is one of the lowest routes though the Rockies and is regularly blasted with warm winds coming from the deserts of the B.C. Interior. Winds of 160 km/h have been recorded and they have been known to push boxcars as far as 24 kilometres.