Tom Shermer Imagery

Photojournal - 1 September 2017

Eponymous Beasts

September 1 was a Friday this year, the Friday before Labour Day. Dorothy had taken the day off, so as to have an extra-long weekend. We felt like we should get outside somewhere, and, somewhat buoyed by our last weekend amongst the squirrels, we decided to go to Whistler to see what we could find. We really wanted to find marmots, and Whistler is a great place to find Hoary Marmots. So we started out fashionably late in the morning and arrived at Whistler a bit after noon.

To find Hoary Marmots, one must generally go up mountains. Whistler is a very convenient place for this, as it has ski lifts and gondolas that it operates in the summer for hikers and sight-seers. So we acquired lift tickets, geared up, and were on our way up Whistler Mountain just past 1:00. From Whistler the town, the way up Whistler the mountain is on a gondola. Dorothy and I got a gondola to ourselves, so I felt free to poke my camera in different directions as we went up.

This first shot from the gondola is looking out at Blackcomb Mountain, which is another skiing mountain and our eventual destination. Blackcomb and Whistler are a combined recreation operation. When one buys a lift ticket for one, it works for the other as well.


A lot farther along, this is another view of Blackcomb. You can see the ski slopes converging on a lift on the right of the picture. That's the Seventh Heaven Express, for those of you who know the place. It will take you up to near the Blackcomb Glacier. One of these years I'll go up there to have a look.

Here is a partial view of the aforementioned Blackcomb Glacier. It has to be a glacier if it's surviving the heat wave we've been having.  
It is cliché, but it's hard for me to describe the mountains around Whistler except as majestic. There is no way I can capture the full experience of being there with the camera, but I at least try to convey a little of it.  
Our plan for the outing was to go up Whistler, and then take the Peak 2 Peak Express, a gondola that goes from Whistler over to Blackcomb, and then scour Blackcomb for marmots. The Peak 2 Peak is an impressive ride; its main length goes 3 kilometers between supports on either mountain. That's a long hanging cable. Here's the view looking forward out of our gondola.  

It's a breathtaking ride.

Once on Blackcomb, we decided to head around to the back of the lodge, a place where not too many folks go. Back there, and to the side of the lodge in general, is a rocky, cliff-like slope that is wonderful habitat for marmots. We were in luck this day, as we immediately spotted a marmot as we approached. The fellow also immediately spotted us, and stood up to get a good look.

But he must've decided that we posed no threat, for soon he was back to lying down, stretched out over a rock.  
After about 20 minutes chilling with this hombré, we decided to move up to a higher vantage point in hopes of seeing more of him. But almost as soon as we got set up on the higher ground, a helicopter came in for a landing nearby and that was sufficiently disruptive that the marmot went somewhere else to chill. But before he did, I did get a few good shots of him.  

So we walked back into the lodge, and got a sandwich for sustenance on the trail.

We commenced our hike on a small 1-kilometer loop trail, with an option to head off on another, longer, linear trail in the middle. It was on this trail that we had gotten good views of a marmot on our last trip here.

We made it to the rocky bowl that lies about halfway along, but found no marmots there. Dorothy had a couple of brief but very close encounters with a pika that someone above us on the trail had disturbed. We sat for a while, waiting for action. All we got was a White Pine Chipmunk that ran across too quickly for me to get photos of. While sitting, we lunched on our sandwich, which was quite good—surprising for a prepackaged meal. But then again, things always taste good when you're on a trail.

With there being little action at the bowl, we headed on, passing up on the opportunity to take the long trails, as it was hot and I didn't want to get too tired. Nearing the end of the loop, we stopped and I changed lenses so as to take some scenics. The mountains were beckoning.

Here's a wide-angle view, showing the rock field we were standing above, and all those beautiful mountains in the background made very small by the lens.  

A little ways down the trail, Dorothy looked at the lawn beside the ski lodge (farther up from where we had been before) and saw two marmots running across the lawn. She exclaimed and from that point on we hurried down the slope (as fast as common-sense safety concerns allow) to try to get there before they went away.

We made it, and really had nothing to worry about. There were several marmots about, making a spectacle of themselves on the rocks and lawn. They stayed there for a long time. This first fellow posed for us.

And this one took a break from eating the grass to look around.  
Our poser decided that relaxing was in order. Marmots like to sun themselves on rocks.  
Sunning yourself really does seem to be the thing to do when you're not eating.  
I kid you not.  

(That's two marmots facing away from us, lying down.)

I really respect that marmot way of life. I could grow accustomed to it, myself.

I was constantly changing subjects between marmots on the rocks, and marmots on the ground.

They were all quite friendly, and didn't seem to mind us (and many others) watching them. They only occasionally spoke, though.  
At one point, we counted seven marmots in sight. That's way more beasts than I had been expecting. And it certainly was good to see them all. They were all quite cute and presentable, although Uncle Horace here needs a manicure.  

Someone informed us of a marmot that was on the rock wall and quite close to the walkway we were on. I went down and got a few shots of it, but the sun wasn't in a good place relative to me and the marmot; its face was in the shade.

I quickly returned to my old spot, where the sun was to my back and most of what I could see was lit up by it.

These marmots have been eating a lot to stock up on fat for winter; they'll be hibernating quite soon. So most of them, like this overstuffed fellow, are carrying a lot of weight.

There were a few who were not as hefty, and seemed younger, than the others.  


Now, don't let their demure demeanor trick you—  

the marmots on the lawn were efficient lawn-mowing machines. They would stick their nose to the ground, munch some grass, and move forward, munching as they go.


Every seven or eight seconds, they'd pop their head up and look around.

It was now nearing 5:30, when the last chairlift down the mountain would be run. Right about that time, some marmot blew a quitting-time whistle and all the marmots on the lawn scampered back to the rocks. One straggler turned his head back to remind us that we had best be going ourselves..  
We offered our thanks and our goodbyes, packed up the tripod, and headed for the lift. Dorothy reminded me to put on a short lens for the trip down. I'm glad she did, because on the lift, I got more photos of the gorgeous mountains.  

I also tried to get shots of the colors in the alpine meadows; here's a shot showing a ski run with some orange-and-yellow flowers. One day I'll have to concentrate on getting good photos of the meadows.


For those of you who don't know, the Hoary Marmot is also colloquially called a Whistler, because of the whistles they make. It is this creature that gives Whistler (the mountain and the town) its name. So the marmots were the eponymous beasts of the title.

Looking for a comfy rock to sun myself on,

P.S. Remember: it ain't over 'til the fat marmot sings!