The view from the top of Whistler is truly spectacular and for many summer visitors just looking is enough. But if you're one of those people who long to venture beyond the roads and the chairlifts – if you yearn to visit a remote mountain valley where wildlife is more abundant than tourists – if you imagine yourself drifting in a canoe past loons and nesting ospreys and casting your line into a pristine mountain lake where fish still abound – if that is the sort of wilderness experience you are looking for then Sky Camp on Crystal Lake may be the answer. You don't need to be a rugged mountaineer to get there and you don't need to rough it after you arrive.
Earlier this month I was invited to join Vanessa Caarrington, of Tyax Air, Brian Niska, the owner of Whistler Flyfishing, and Kevin Kish, who guides for Whistler River Adventures, on an overnight trip to Sky Camp – the first of the 2006 season. We met Dale Douglas at the Green Lake floatplane dock in Whistler and climbed aboard his immaculate red and white DeHavilland Beaver. Dale, an airline rated commercial pilot, operates Tyax Air and Sky Camp is his creation – a labour of love where families can share a true wilderness experience.
After giving us a short safety briefing and taxiing downwind to the end of the lake Dale opened the throttle, coaxed the Beaver onto the step, and within seconds we were airborne and climbing west into the Coast Mountains. The roar of the engine is muffled by our headsets, and we are able to talk to one another on the plane's intercom. The scenery is breathtaking and Dale is a wealth of information about the mountains glaciers and volcanoes around us. We leave the forested valleys and glacially-rounded lower slopes far below and enter a sparkling world of ice and granite. These towering peaks were once islands of rock (nunataks) in a sea of ice. And off to the west the Bridge River ice cap, dotted with modern-day nunataks, is how the world looked during the last ice age.
Out the right window of the Beaver I can look straight down into a gaping crevasse in one of the thousands of alpine glaciers that still cling to the upper slopes. Between the terminal moraine and present nose of many of them a brilliant emerald-green lake is set into the freshly scoured rock. At the snout of giant Bridge Glacier the lake is large enough for Dale to land and later in the year, after the icebergs have melted, he takes visitors there for a hike through pristine meadows crowded with alpine flowers, and a close look at a major glacier.