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New alpine trail getting rave reviews

High Note offers spectacular views of Black Tusk, Cheakamus Lake

Stuart Rempel has hiked and skied at dozens of mountain resorts around the world, from the Rockies to the Alps, but hasn’t come across a better view than the one offered by the newly constructed High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain.

With views of Black Tusk, Cheakamus Lake and the glaciers of Garibaldi Park, along a high alpine traverse that dips just below the treeline in some sections, Rempel believes Whistler can offer a summer mountain experience on par with anywhere in the world.

"What I really love about it is that every time you turn a corner there’s another viewscape, and something that a lot of people who have been coming here for years have probably never seen before," said Rempel, the senior vice president of marketing and sales for Whistler-Blackcomb.

Rempel admitted to walking the trail four times in the week after it opened, and plans to hike it again this week when a relative visits.

Construction of the trail started last fall once Whistler-Blackcomb and B.C. Parks reached an agreement. Whistler-Blackcomb also held an open house where the project was well received, for the most part.

The trail starts at the peak of Whistler Mountain, and drops down into the park on the south side of the mountain. It continues for 8 km with only a 345 metre elevation change before connecting to the Musical Bumps trail between Piccolo and Flute. A round trip back to the mountain through Harmony Bowl should take about three hours to complete, although hikers have the option of following the trail to Fissile, or the Singing Pass trail.

The trail starts at the peak to ensure that the trail is mostly downhill, which makes it more accessible to more people. Overall it’s rated blue, or intermediate, although there are a few black diamond (expert) sections, including a few descents through rocks that are still under construction, and a short scramble around a rock outcrop that you’ll want to use the anchored rope to get past.

Wildflower lovers will be treated to dozens of species that bloom at different times of the year, while wildlife enthusiasts can spot hoary marmot, black tailed deer, grouse, and the occasional mountain goat and wolverines that live in the park. Bears are rare at that elevation, around 1,900 metres, but can be spotted from time to time.

Arthur DeJong, the manager of mountain planning and environmental resources for Whistler-Blackcomb, guided a media tour of the trail last Friday.

According to DeJong, the trail stems from a successful relationship with B.C. Parks.

"That relationship goes back to the 1990s when we built a few trails into Garibaldi Park off Blackcomb Mountain," DeJong explained. "When the mountains merged in 1997 it was decided that Whistler would be the summer sightseeing mountain. But what we learned on Blackcomb is that the best trails are set high on south facing aspects, there’s just more vegetation, more wildflowers, the snow melts faster… and the trails are generally very dry and don’t have the erosion issues of some of the other trails."

The High Note Trail is a perfect example of that kind of trail, DeJong added, as well as another access point into Garibaldi Park – the largest park in southwestern B.C. at close to 200,000 hectares. As well, the trail will make more use of the Peak Chair, which opened for hiking in the summer of 2005.

"We wanted to show the province that we can offer alpine summer hiking that is distinctive in North America," said DeJong. "Personally, the view from here is the best I know of in this region, and you’re going to have a great day out here hiking along the southern aspect."

DeJong admits that any incursion into the park with a commercial angle can be controversial, but says the benefits will outweigh many of the negatives. For one thing, he says the view from the start of the trail will include a glimpse of the test wind power facility being constructed by Whistler-Blackcomb. For another, interpretive signage will educate people about the alpine environment, which DeJong believes will foster a greater appreciation for mountains and issues like global warming.

He also believes that trail experiences like the High Note Trail will help draw visitors to the community if global warming continues and winter seasons become shorter.

The trail itself was built by Whistler-Blackcomb using mountain employees. Boyd McTavish, a ski patroller during the winter and a trail builder in the summer months, oversaw the project from its beginning last autumn. Work continued as soon as the snow melted in June.