There’s something about being in the mountains that can change your perspective. It’s humbling to be faced with a skyline of endless rocky peaks, in a habitat indifferent to your survival. But for some people, those same mountain environs make them feel invisible.

In an Olympic town where athletic success has been elevated to a way of life, most of the people I see out on the trails are fit, slim and able-bodied. But let’s face it, not all bodies were created equal. 

I was hiking on Blackcomb Mountain recently, and in the first 200 metres, I came across a man who was sitting on a rock, in the middle of the trail, trying to catch his breath. I wanted to meet his eyes, to communicate that he was not alone, that I too was struggling with the steep uphill section. Just then, a trail runner came running up behind me. The man resting on the rock attempted to make himself as small as possible. He lowered his gaze to his sneakers and tried to take up less space. 

 As someone with invisible health challenges, I know how it feels to be doing it wrong. To be huffing and puffing as others pass me, not only walking faster but holding a full conversation at the same time. For me, catching a lift up the mountain is the only way I can experience high alpine hiking.  If I had to hike from the bottom, I simply wouldn’t make it to the top.

Over many seasons in Whistler, I’ve become used to being the slowest visible person on the trail, and it’s allowed me the time to really appreciate where I am. 

Hiking Options on Whistler Blackcomb

The nice thing about starting at the top of Blackcomb is there are options. Some days when I get off the gondola, I do nothing more than sit at a high viewpoint, breathe the fresh mountain air and sketch what I can see. I listen to the marmots call to each other, and watch the crows circling above. If I want to stretch my legs a little, I take one of the relatively easy scenic gravel trails, either the Alpine Loop on Blackcomb or the Spearhead Loop on Whistler. On a good day, my favourite trail to meander along is the Lakeside Loop on Blackcomb Mountain.

While the entire loop, out and back from the top of the Blackcomb Gondola requires 6.6 kilometres of hiking, I’ve learnt that every section of this trail has something unique to offer. 

INSIDER TIP: The Blackcomb Gondola is located in Whistler’s Upper Village, and has its own Guest Services building. If you’re starting in the main village area, the number five bus can shuttle you for free from the Gondola Transit Exchange.

Built in 2018, the Blackcomb Gondola cabins carry up to ten people, and can easily fit a stroller, walker, or wheelchair. The entrance to the gondola cabin is flush with the concrete loading area, so there is no gap or step-up to contend with.

An open Blackcomb Village Gondola cabin with its doors open.
The Blackcomb Gondola, which takes sightseers and hikes up Whistler Blackcomb. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

You can also ask the lift attendants for assistance when loading and they are happy to slow down or stop the lift for anyone who needs it. They will also communicate your cabin number to the attendant at the top so that the lift can be slowed down again when you disembark at the Rendezvous day lodge.

The Rendezvous Lodge, on Blackcomb Mountain, sits at 1,850 metres above sea level and has a graded gravel path with numerous wooden benches to rest on while you take in the views of the snow-capped mountains of the Pacific Range. Looking over the valley, Mount Currie is easily recognizable, as is the eye-catching turquoise water of glacier-fed Green Lake. 

A view of the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain, with the stunning Green Lake in the background down in the valley.
The Rendezvous is on the upper left, with Green Lake down in the valley on the right. PHOTO KATE HESKETT
INSIDER TIP: The Rendezvous Lodge has accessible washrooms and a water bottle refill station. There are no other water or washroom facilities available to summer sightseers on Blackcomb Mountain.

Always check the lift closing times before starting your hike and allow as much time as possible to complete the trail you choose. Don’t rely on the time estimates on the signs, instead keep track of how much time it takes you to complete each section of the trail and allow yourself extra time on the way back for when your body might be tired.

All of the Blackcomb alpine hikes, including the Lakeside Loop, begin at the wooden entrance arch, uphill of the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola.

A photo of the wooden archway that hikers pass under when they head off on the alpine trails on Blackcomb Mountain.
The lift times can be found just before the arch on Blackcomb Mountain. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

The Alpine Loop (1.4 kilometres) and Fitzsimmons Lookout (0.2 kilometres)

The Alpine Loop starts with two, steep uphill climbs on a wide gravel path. These can be lung-busters, so be sure to take your time. The rest of the loop is much flatter. If you’re lucky, you might hear, or even see one of the local hoary marmots that Whistler is named for.

Two marmots stare indignantly at the camera from their rocky perch.
Marmots whistle to each other to raise the alarm. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

Patches of pink and white heather add colour to the trail and look like upside-down fairy teacups. 

A close up of pink heather on Whistler Blackcomb.
Pink heather adds a pop of colour. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

The Fitzsimmons Lookout Loop has a shaded bench and picnic area and is a great place to sit and enjoy the view or do some nature sketching and journaling. Walk past the first sunny bench to find the shade.

Keep an eye out for the sign posts as you go. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

During a recent hike, I was visited by a family of Canada’s national bird, the Canada Jay, or Whiskey Jack as we like to call them in Whistler. A young bird was being taught to associate people with food, so I was very careful not to drop any pieces of my granola bar! 

A whisky jack sat on Kate Heskett's shoe.
An inquisitive Whiskey Jack takes a break on Kate’s shoe. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

The Fitz Lookout Loop adds 200 metres in distance, requires stepping across large, flat-graded rocks and is unfortunately unsuitable for wheels. 

INSIDER TIP: The trail map says that the Alpine Loop is 1.4 kilometres and 30 minutes, but you could easily spend a few hours on this route enjoying the views and reading the alpine ecosystem storyboards.

Overlord Trail to the start of the Lakeside Loop (2-kilometre return)

The Overlord Trail takes you further into Garibaldi Provincial Park and is named for the impressive Overlord Glacier that is clearly visible along the way. It is a narrow, graded dirt trail that is not suitable for wheeled devices, and there are fewer benches and flat rocks to rest on, so consider bringing a lightweight tri-fold chair. Although shadier than the alpine trails on Whistler Mountain, the sun can really beat down, and a foldable umbrella would give you more options for resting spots.

The mountain view from the Overlord Trail is absolutely stunning with snow-capped peaks and lush pines.
The Overlord Glacier is in the top left of this shot. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

The first section of the trail passes under a large boulder field, where pikas and marmots like to hang out and soak up the sun. You’re most likely to see them warming themselves in the morning and late afternoon. The fertile volcanic soil along the trail makes for the best displays of wildflowers on the mountain. 

Be aware that the Overlord Trail is an out-and-back trail unless you plan to do the spectacular, but steep and narrow, Marmot Trail. Also, most of the signposts will only give the distance and time estimations to the next trail junction, not for getting back to where you started.

A marmot looks out across the mountain from its rocky perch.
Marmots like to sun themselves on the warm rocks. PHOTO KATE HESKETT
INSIDER TIP: The best section of wildflowers is on either side of the steepest section of the trail. This section can be a little slippery on the downhill, and you will have to do the uphill climb on the way back, so it can be a strategic place to turn around. You will have seen the best that the Overlord Trail has to offer, and have enough energy left to enjoy the second half of the Alpine Loop back to the Rendezvous.

Lakeside Loop – You Have Options!

One look at the trail map and you’ll notice that to complete the Lakeside Loop, you actually have to do an additional section of the Overlord Trail, making the Lakeside Loop a 2.2-kilometre trip plus 0.8 kilometres of the Overlord Trail to make it back to where you started. So it is really three kilometres of hiking to complete the whole loop. 

The sign posts point the way to the Fitzsimmons trail lookout.
A mountain crossroad. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

4-Way Junction of the Lakeside / Marmot / Overlord Trails to Blackcomb Lake – 1.2 kilometres

The Lakeside trail heading directly to Blackcomb Lake is narrow at times, but gently graded with no steep sections, and only a few small rock steps. As the black peak rises up in front of you, keep an eye out for bright yellow shrubby cinquefoil, lilac spreading phlox, and red ‘leaved’ spreading stonecrop.  

A close up of lupine and spreading phlox on Whistler Blackcomb.
Spreading phlox, stonecrop and lupines. PHOTO KATE HESKETT
INSIDER TIP: It’s not the volcanic rock that makes Blackcomb black, but rather ancient lichen that sat above the glacial ice cover during the last ice age, making the lichen you see more than 65 million years old! Take a look at the Whistler 101 Geodiversity video if you’re a keen geologist, and consider a walking tour where the guide will talk you through exactly what you’re looking at.
Blackcomb Lake on Whistler Blackcomb.
Blackcomb Lake sparkles in the summer sun. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

When you arrive at the lake, there are several wooden benches to rest on and enjoy the views. Take this scenic opportunity to drink some water and eat something high in energy. I like to bring a peanut butter sandwich because it doesn’t matter if it gets squashed in my backpack.

One of the picnic areas on Blackcomb Mountain. The photo shows simple, wooden benches with an incredible view of the Coast Mountains.
Take a minute to enjoy the view; it’s what it’s all about. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

 The alpine lake area is a delicate ecosystem, so try to stick to the trail as much as possible, and avoid swimming as sunscreen, bug spray and other human factors can pollute the water. The lake water is not safe to drink due to the pink algae that bloom as the snow melts. 

Lakeside Loop – 1.8 kilometres back to the 4-Way Junction

The far side of the Lakeside Loop is luscious and cool, thanks to streams of icy water flowing down the mountain. It is a more difficult trail, with loose rocks, bigger steps down, and four or five stream crossings. The stream crossings are a sequence of mostly stable rocks but would be tricky for anyone who has trouble with their balance. 

A creek crossing on Blackcomb Mountain weaves its way down grey rocks and alpine meadows.
A burbling creek meanders its way down the mountain. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

Once back on the Overlord Trail, you’ll pass through an open marshy area with frequent wooden benches, before being challenged with steep inclines and rock steps leading back to the four-way junction where you started the Lakeside Loop.

A creek crossing on one of the high alpine trails on Whistler Blackcomb.
An idyllic, if tricky, creek crossing. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

Then it’s time to switch into low gear and tackle Wildflower Hill in reverse. You’ll naturally want to stop many times so that you don’t miss out on any of wildflower’s colourful combinations!

I like to focus on the changes in the flowers. Have the cream-coloured western anemones turned into fluffy Seussian seedpod heads? Are the purple lupines still flowering? Or have they started to form pea pods? Are the flowers in the shaded areas different to those in the sun?

Sketching in the Apline

Some of the flower names I remember, and some I look forward to identifying when I get home. Sketching flowers is a great way to observe them in more detail.

I always make sure to include the leaves, and the leaf-like petals underneath the coloured petals (called sepals), as these make identification easier. By incorporating sketching into my hiking I naturally want to slow down and take more breaks, and I feel more connected to the mountain landscape.

Shifting Perspectives

Life moves slowly in the alpine, the trees need to make sure they have good footing and enough resources before they continue upwards, some choose to grow horizontally along the flat ground instead.

There’s no right or wrong way to hike. It doesn’t matter if you move slowly, if you miss a lookout or two, or even if you stop before the end.  

I’m sure that trail runner covered more ground than I did. But I bet he didn’t see what I saw. 

Kate Heskett waving to the camera stood in front of an alpine lake on Whistler Blackcomb.
Taking it all in. PHOTO KATE HESKETT

Useful Flower IDs

Sickletop Lousewort (Pedicularis racemosa)

Spreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa)

Common Red Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)

Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa)

Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium)

Mountain Fireweed / Mountain Beauty (Chamaenerion latifolium)

Blue Beardtongue (Penstemon albertinus)

Arctic Lupine (Lupinus arcticus)

Nootka Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis)

Spreading Stonecrop (Sedum divergens)

INSIDER TIP: If you’re interested in wildflowers and plants, consider a trip to the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. Whistler’s Indigenous peoples have an incredible connection to the land and have hosted exhibits on the medicinal properties of the local flora and fauna. A visit to the centre is well worth it, as well as heading to the gift shop where they have books dedicated to the subject.

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Like a lot of locals, Kate came to Whistler for a month, seven years ago. Originally from Australia, Kate is happily stuck in the Whistler bubble, spending their free time boarding, biking and hiking among the trees. In the summer months you can find them canoe guiding on the River of Golden Dreams.