It’s hard to breathe when you’re perched on a rock face 20 stories above Fitzsimmons Creek–the roar of rapids swollen with the spring thaw pounding in your ears. It’s even harder to actually jump off the rock.
I was standing on Whistler Mountain in British Columbia paralyzed with fear. While Whistler is named for the whistling call of the marmots–a type of mountain squirrel that’s the size of a groundhog, the only “EEeeeeeee” screams I heard that day were my own.
It was late March, a damp day where no sun broke through the cloud cover or heavy canopy of trees that make up the temperate rainforest on Whistler’s lower levels. The first step in the Whistler Ziptrek Ecotours zipline adventure had been to climb into a heavy harness that would be my saddle while I zipped through the air from Blackcomb Mountain to Whistler Mountain. I’d be riding–of course–nothing but air.
I’m not really big on heights, so the bumpty-bump-bump ride in the snowcat from the sign-up in Whistler village to the starting point on the mountain had made me reconsider my decision altogether. During orientation I’d made friends with Shannon, from Arkansas, and her two kids, Ethan (9) and Abby (11), and I reluctantly decided that if they could do it, so could I.
The thing that had drawn me to this particular adventure was its ecotourism aspect. And the guides certainly delivered, as Andre and Drew rolled out the facts and information about the ever-changing ecosystems on the mountains.
The adventure begins in the valley’s temperate rainforest with a series of suspension bridges, aerial ladders, and observation platforms that wound us up the mountainside. It started out pretty easy. I just stood on the sturdy board structure at the first zip, waited for one of the guides to clip me onto the heavy cables, moved ahead, and zoom…there I was on the other side. No worries at all, since even if I froze their patented system could reel me in and also apply the brakes.
I couldn’t see much beneath me either for the mist and the trees. And what I don’t see doesn’t matter, right?
I did fine until we came to a long suspension bridge and I looked ahead, then back, and asked my guides about turning around. “Sorry,” said Drew, “there’s no way back. We make five zips, so you even end up on a different mountain than where you started.”
Sadly, the logic of that little fact had escaped me when I signed on. I crossed the bridge–keeping my eyes focused on the target ahead–Abby’s lime green jacket.
- British Columbia’s coast has a temperate rainforest—the largest intact one of its type in the world
- Temperate rainforests are rare, composing only 0.2% of earth’s land surface
- Trees can live more than 1000 years
- Trees can reach 100s of feet high and be up to 31 feet (9.4 m) in diameter
The second zip was the hardest of the whole adventure for me, even harder than the long 1100 foot zip nearer the end.
At zip number two the platform almost sticks out over the gorge below, so you can see every bit of the surroundings. My eyes inched their way around the rock, the trees, the water… I stood for a full minute totally awe-struck and um…terrified…by the rapids below me. My eyes refused to close.
Some inner coach whispered take deep breaths and focus. I obeyed. Two breaths. Three. I was still standing on the platform. Finally…
I just stepped forward and was gone. My harness link whirred along the cable and I flew, faster and faster and faster. The whole world was me and the mountains.
Although I was still shaking when I stepped onto the platform on the opposite side, I had done it–found my courage and, I might add, the adrenalin rush that every “zipper” feels.
Gradually, we all began to relax. Since there are absolutely no worries with the Whistler zips, we were encouraged to do some “fun” moves. How exactly can you move when you’re dangling from a wire? Well, it’s easier than you might think.
The first instructions we had were for speed lovers. While fear might generally make you curl up into a ball or that fetal position, on a zip line that’s going to make it all rush by even faster. I didn’t need faster.
Or, you can do tricks. The easiest is to let go of your harness rope and stick your arms out. Then, bring up your knees and voila, you’re doing sumersaults in midair. Woo-hoo! Well, few of us ever actually flipped over. Huddling your knees up to your tummy was easy, but letting go definitely wasn’t.
This one I tried, and did eventually almost turn over, with both knees up and one arm out, and a little marmot squeal to finish the adventure.
So why did this Whistler zipline adventure rank #30 on my 2012 Staycation event? Well, it was a combination of thrills and chills, along with the chance to get up close and smell the lichen covered evergreens of BC’s temperate rainforest.
View the YouTube video from Evening Magazine below while you wait for Stop #29 on my summer Staycation event here on guide2travel.ca.