MOUNTAIN LIFE - Coast Mountains | Fall Winter 2018

FALL/WINTER 2018 MLCM 115 words :: Feet Banks Geologic time is not always noticeable but when it comes to the glaciers of the Sea to Sky it’s easily apparent that the times they are a changin’. “The first time I went into an ice cave was probably 27 years ago,” says Doug Washer, a longtime Whistler local. “It was amazing. I found waterfalls under the ice sheet, but all that ice is gone now. The waterfalls are all exposed and where those caves were is probably 1.5 kilometres from where the toe of the ice currently sits.” As CEO of Head-Line Mountain Holidays, Washer has spent the past two and a half decades introducing people to the joys of winter through snowmobile tours, helicopter flightseeing, boutique winter camping missions and recently, guided ice cave experiences. When he realized just how much the glacier had receded during his time in Whistler, he got curious. “We began by recording our own data and various observations,” Washer says. “Capturing images is part of all that. We just sent a photographer up there for two weeks to get photos of the ice worms and bugs, as well as videos and time lapses of the rate of change taking place. It’s the first time we’ve had someone up there for two weeks constantly monitoring things.” Much of Doug and his team’s research informs their risk aversion strategies— the utmost level of safety is entirely desirable when leading people into a cave with several million tonnes of ice for a ceiling. “We had theories but we didn’t have the opportunity to prove them,” he says. “we borrow many of the avalanche hazard assessment techniques and modify or apply them to ice cave exploration. We have seen examples of most of the major changes in the ice occurring during the cool down periods, not the sunny warm periods.” Washer explains that meltwater percolates through the outermost layer of the ice cap during the day then starts to freeze—and expand and crack—at night, which causes cancelling, a term describing how the ice evolves and (sometimes) break apart. “That’s a valuable perspective for us,” he says. “We don’t go in there at night.” Washer has teamed up with scientists from Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby, and will soon install a weather station on one of the local ice caps. The station will measure air temperature, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, radiation, relative humidity and snowfall. All the data, as well as photo images, will be transmitted back to scientists to inform computer models and further research. ENVIRONMENT THE ICEBOX Boutique Tourism And Cold Hard Science Working Together On Local Glaciers “In BC and Alberta in the 1980s we had 30,000 square kilometres of ice. That was 23 per cent of all non-polar ice in North America. In the last 20 years, at least 10 per cent of this ice has been lost.” The Icecap in 2016. HEAD-LINE MOUNTAIN HOLIDAYS/CHRIS TRANTINA