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Just where are we, anyway?

Geographically speaking, Whistler is far more interesting than you might think



Most people can find Whistler on a map relatively easily. On Google Maps, the name of the town appears after just four clicks over the southwest corner of mainland British Columbia, as well as the names of three significant parks in the region — Clendenning Provincial Park, Stein Valley Nlaka'Pamux Heritage Park and Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Any road map makes it clear that Whistler is located almost due north of Vancouver, the third-largest city in Canada, some 125km up winding Highway 99, also called the Sea to Sky Highway. The first part of the ride hugs the eastern shore of Howe Sound, the second part winds up the Cheakamus Canyon.

But really, where are we?

This is a question that Pique has been wrong about over the years, with occasional references to the Coast Range, Coast Mountain Range and various other geographical place names that are wholly inaccurate. Fortunately, Karl Ricker — a geologist by trade and a geographer, glaciologist, explorer and birder in his spare time — has always been here to set us straight.

We are most certainly not, as we've printed numerous times, in the Coast Range. The Coast Range, explains Ricker, is a low mountain range that runs from California to Washington State, terminating south of the Olympic Peninsula.

Mount Olympus, standing at 7,980 feet/2,428 metres is the highest peak in that area in a range of its own, although it's much easier to see Mt. Baker towering on the horizon when you look south from high places in the Lower Mainland.

Mt. Baker is also not in the Coast Range; it's in the Cascade Range within the U.S. and Cascade Mountains in Canada, which start just west of Chilliwack and extends northward and eastward up the Fraser Canyon to Lytton, and southward to culminate in northern California, just south of Mt. Shasta. But we digress.

Whistler, to be accurate, is within the Western System of the Canadian Cordillera, in a major range known as the Coast Mountains. The Coast Mountains stretch some 1,600km from the Haines Highway in The Yukon, along the eastern edge of the Alasakan Panhandle and south to the Lower Mainland. It's divided into three subranges: Whistler is in the Pacific Ranges, bordered to the north by the Kitimat Ranges which extend from the inlets leading to just beyond Prince Rupert. Farther north are the Boundary Ranges, beginning at Portland Inlet and running northward along the B.C.-Alaskan boundary — hence its name.

But the divisions don't end there; there are more subdivisions to consider. All of the peaks to the north of Fitzsimmons Creek and south of Wedge Creek are considered to be in the Spearhead Range, while all of the peaks to the south of Fitzsimmons Creek are in the Fitzsimmons Range — and beyond both to the southeast lies the McBride Range, named after a famous B.C. Premier, Richard McBride.