While in Vancouver we decided to take a trip out to Whistler. We had no plans to ski, both of us being fairly certain that if we ever put on a pair of skis we will more than likely come away with at least one broken bone, but we thought it would be nice to visit and we could try to do some bear watching.
We had heard a lot about the Rocky Mountaineer trains and so decided to splash out on that. A day trip on the train gave very little time there, and even adding an overnight stop left time limited, so we opted for getting a sea plane there, and the train back the next day.
The sea plane was a good choice. As well as the novelty factor of taking off from and landing on the water, it gave us some lovely views out over Vancouver and the Rockies. The lake we landed on at Whistler was so still that it perfectly reflected the mountains around it and looked stunning.
After dropping our bags at the hotel, we took the Whistler MountainVillage Gondola, watching the BMX mountain biking going on below us, and then the peak-to-peak across to Blackcomb Mountain.
At the top we spent a little while watching the snow boarding competition, that for some reason required the competitors to dress up in silly costumes, and then headed to back to the cafe at the top of Whistler Mountain for some hot chocolate with rum while we enjoyed the views.
~Back at the bottom, we had time for a quick meal in the highly recommended Irish bar, before meeting our guide for the bear watching. Whistler is home to black bears, and there is a good chance that if you are here for a while, you may just come across one while you are out walking or driving around. With only the one day, our chances of a lucky find were limited, so we chose to do a tour.
When we pick our tours, we always try to use a company that knows and respects the animals, even though that often means that they won't get you quite as close as some others do. We used Blackcomb Whistler Bear Viewing Tours, and our guide, Michael Allen, certainly knew his bears. Having been interested in them all of his life, he regularly gives lectures on black bears as well as advising on their conservation.
The bears often graze on the lower slopes of the mountains, where there is plentiful green grass. We soon found our first bear, but it was high up on a slope that we couldn't get anywhere close to, so we could only watch from quite a distance. Our guide thought that this was a female that he knew had a young cub, so he was concerned to see her on her own.
If the cub had died, it may have been at the large paws of our next sighting. This was a huge male that was new to the area, and was happily grazing near to a couple of deer. Female black bears mate only every other season. Their cubs stay with them for almost two years, which means that they are not ready to mate again the next year. However if the cub is killed, the mother will mate, so males sometimes try to kill them.
If they are aware of the danger in time, a mother will send her cub high up into a tree, where it can be relatively safe, knowing that the small branches would not support the weight of the much larger male should he try to follow. Sadly, with no sight of the cub in the trees nearby, it seems like the cub may have been killed.
One of the best places to find bears is grazing on their favourite clover in the middle of the 2002 Olympic luge track. Sure enough there was a young male enjoying his fill. We also found a large male rooting around in a field close to some of the huge holiday homes of some of Whistlers wealthiest part time residents.
Our favourite sighting though had to be Olivia and her two cubs. The three of them were happily grazing along an embankment at the side of the road, and whilst very aware of our presence, they were content to amble along as long as we stayed a reasonable distance behind them.
Overall, a quite successful trip out.