THE POWER OF CON­NECT­ING PEO­PLE AND NA­TURE

Hik­ing Whistler and Black­comb Moun­tains

Whistler Traveller Magazine - - CONTENT - STORY BY NI­COLE FITZGER­ALD IMAGES BY JOERN RO­HDE

The Alpine Loop trail sys­tem be­gins with the Alpine Walk trail­head lo­cated mere steps from the Black­comb Moun­tain end of the Peak 2 Peak Gon­dola. The easy-walk­ing, nar­row dirt path leaves the sights and sounds of Whistler Black­comb’s op­er­a­tions be­hind. Min­utes later, hik­ers are im­me­di­ately hit with a view of for­ever-reach­ing peaks, snow and sky. Day-to-day thoughts scat­ter like the seeds of a blown dan­de­lion puff. Panoramic views slip be­hind hem­lock trees, which cozy up trail­side. The quilted pat­terns of boul­ders and wild green grasses emerge. The bril­liant red of an In­dian paint­brush wild­flower pops. Then ev­er­greens pull back their cur­tains again, and hik­ers see Whistler Moun­tain in a new morn­ing light. None of this ex­pe­ri­ence is ran­dom. Ev­ery­thing was care­fully de­signed when Arthur De Jong, along with the late Don MacLau­rin, planned and built the hik­ing trail sys­tem on Whistler and Black­comb moun­tains in the early 1990s. De Jong’s goal was to move peo­ple on an in­ward jour­ney as much as an out­ward one. You could say De Jong is out to change the world. Hav­ing spent more than 35 years work­ing on these two moun­tains, he’s dis­cov­ered the power of putting peo­ple and na­ture to­gether. “Peo­ple will only be in­spired or mo­ti­vated to pro­tect na­ture if they un­der­stand and con­nect with it,” says De Jong, moun­tain plan­ning and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­source man­ager for Whistler Black­comb. “[Our trail sys­tem] is a place to in­spire peo­ple to be­come bet­ter stew­ards.” And there is plenty to be in­spired by. The more than 50 kilo­me­tres of hik­ing trails range from leisurely fam­ily walks of less than an hour to day-long ex­cur­sions for the revved and rugged. All trails are lif­tac­cessed, drop­ping ad­ven­tur­ers di­rectly into the alpine with­out a 5,000-ver­ti­cal­foot up­hill slog to start their hikes. “I love the con­trast be­tween Black­comb and Whistler,” De Jong says of the trails. “When you go into trails that take you into the pro­vin­cial park, on the Black­comb side, you are go­ing into the Spear­head Range, which is very rugged and steep. On the Whistler side, the High Note Sys­tem, now called Fitzsim­mons Range, is a rolling ridge range and rum­bling land­scape.” Most par­ents refuse to favour one child over an­other but De Jong can’t help him­self. When not work­ing or vol­un­teer­ing for one of many com­mu­nity so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, he of­ten

dis­ap­pears into the Alpine Loop trails on Black­comb. The Sev­enth Heaven-area trail sys­tem is de­signed in loops, each cir­cle build­ing on the next, be­com­ing more chal­leng­ing as the trails move out­ward. The loop set-up also presents a new dis­cov­ery around each bend; a hiker never needs to re­trace her steps. And the south-fac­ing trails yield the first-of-the­sea­son and rich­est wild­flower blooms such as the mag­netic pur­ple lupins. (The north-fac­ing Whistler Moun­tain trails typ­i­cally see wild­flow­ers bloom later in the sea­son.) In­ter­pre­tive sig­nage ac­com­pa­nies trails, so guests can learn about the lo­cal plants, land­scapes and wildlife. Ed­u­ca­tion, re­cre­ation and in­spi­ra­tion share the same path in De Jong’s ef­fort to con­nect peo­ple and na­ture. He hopes guests are in­spired and in turn pack that in­spi­ra­tion home with them to re­duce their en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print in their own back­yard. “The pow­er­ful im­agery and pure­ness of na­ture, it makes us very present,” De Jong says. “I truly be­lieve that con­nec­tion in­spires peo­ple to do more in terms of be­ing bet­ter stew­ards in their daily lives.”

In 2016, De Jong re­ceived Canada’s Clean50 award, hon­our­ing his ded­i­ca­tion to sus­tain­able and clean cap­i­tal­ism. He hikes the talk of those be­liefs. Early-sea­son hik­ing be­gins in June be­tween the snow walls on Whistler Moun­tain, de­pend­ing on weather. The peak of the wild­flower blooms is usu­ally in Au­gust.

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