Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Olympic Explorer Loop to 2010 Olympics

Very soon the TV news crews will be focused on the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia. People from around the world will decide that the Pacific Northwest with its rocky slopes, soaring pines and picturesque coastline is a place worth exploring.

What you may not know is that on a clear day you can actually see the peaks of Garibaldi and Whistler-Blackcomb shimmering in the distance from a ridge high in the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. Perhaps it’s prophetic that Mount Olympus in Washington State was named after the home of the gods in Greece. On July 4, 1778, British explorer John Meares gave the mountain its present name—Olympus—because he believed it to be the most heavenly and tallest of all the mountains they had seen on their long voyage up the Pacific Coast. The Olympic Mountains actually have 37 peaks over 7000-ft. and while Mount Olympus is the tallest at 7,965-feet -- it seems much higher because you can actually view the mountain from sea level.

Beginning in 776 BC, the Olympic Games were held in Olympia, a village approximately 500km southwest of Mount Olympus, located in the Pindars, the highest mountain range in Greece in a region known as Thessaly. The Games were held there every four years for the next 12 centuries.

So perhaps the fact that the 2010 Winter Olympics are once again in the shadow of a mountain called Mount Olympus -- in a state whose capital city is called Olympia -- is poetic. In fact, Whistler-Blackcomb is less than 220 miles from the Lost Mountain Lodge where we write this Blog, so in fact, the 2010 Games are closer to “our” Mount Olympus than they were to the original Mount Olympus in Greece.

When you bookmark Whistler or Vancouver, B.C. as your next winter or summer vacation destination, the best kept secret is our Olympic Explorer Loop. This is a scenic route that will take you from the primeval rain forests on the west side of the Olympic National Park where you will pass through the misty town of Forks -- home to the Twilight series vampires -- to the old British fur trading outpost of Victoria, B.C. where the Olympic Torch began its 28,000 mile (45,000 km) odyssey on October 30, 2009.

Rather than waiting in a long line of cars at the border crossing on Interstate 5 north of Bellingham, you’ll venture “up island” to Nanaimo -- where Captain Cook once traded beaver fur pelts with native tribes. There you’ll board a ferry and cross the Straits of Georgia to Horseshoe Bay, bypassing all that tangled traffic in downtown Vancouver.

From there it’s a magnificent drive along the sparkling shores of Howe Sound all the way to Squamish where the road turns east and begins its climb past Garibaldi Park to Whistler-Blackcomb.

I skied the slopes at Whistler in 1976 -- long before there was a Blackcomb and when there was no Whistler Village or boutique hotels or 5-star restaurants. There was one gondola ride to get on the mountain and an amazing 7-mile run at the end of the day to get off the mountain through the "back side" wilderness. We stayed in rustic cabins on Alta Lake and made a big pot of homemade chili. Nightlife consisted of a cutthroat game of Scrabble or Spades.

Those news crews and athletes will find a more cosmopolitan experience in Whistler, but our Olympic Explorer Loop will help you discover places that thankfully are still undeveloped and pristine including the Olympic National Park, a World Heritage Site. For more information, see our earlier December 3, 2009 Blog regarding the World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve distinctions bestowed upon the Olympic National Park -- a destination that should not be missed when traveling to Vancouver or Whistler, B.C.

Your Travel Guide at
Lost Mountain Lodge

Olympic National Park World Heritage Site

The Olympic National Park is a World Heritage Site. It earned this designation based on the diversity of its ecosystems. The Olympic National Park features 37 peaks over 7000-ft. in elevation, including the citadel of Mount Olympus at 7,965 feet. These peaks are cloaked year-round in more than 60 pristine glaciers and surrounded by alpine meadows and thousands of acres of old growth forest. The Park includes one of only three temperate rainforests left on the planet and the largest example of virgin temperate rain forest in the Western Hemisphere.

Twelve major river systems (and 200 smaller streams) drain the Olympic mountains, offering some of the best habitat for fish species in the country (and the best hope for restoring native salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest).

The park also includes 57 miles (100 km) of wilderness coastline, the longest undeveloped coast in the contiguous United States, and is rich in native and endemic animal and plant species.

The Park contains more than 1,200 plants, 300 species of birds, and 70 species of mammals. Some species are unique to the Olympic Peninsula and are found no where else in the world. Attributed to geographic isolation in the last ice age, these species include the Olympic marmot, the Olympic torrent salamander, the Beardslee rainbow trout and Lake Crescent cutthroat trout, Flett’s violet, Piper’s bellflower and Olympic Mountain milkvetch.

The American Forestry Association has recognized more than 9 trees within the borders of the Olympic National Park as the largest living specimens of the species in the United States including Douglas Fir (298-ft.), Grand Fir (251-ft.) and Western Hemlock (241-ft)—making all these trees taller than a 20-story building!

Since its rugged terrain had virtually precluded any development in the Park, in 1988 Congress designated 95-percent of the Olympic National Park (or 876,669 acres) as federal wilderness.

The Olympic National Park was named a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1967 for its scientific value as a major reserve of temperate rain forests and a large, protected and virtually “un-manipulated” ecosystem.

The Olympic National Park was further recognized as a World Heritage Site on October 27, 1981. Based on the notion of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, nations have agreed by special treaty to give special recognition—and protection—to important natural and cultural areas. Other World Heritage Sites include ancient Thebes and the pyramids of Egypt, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

Your Travel Guide at
Lost Mountain Lodge