Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Western Canada Diaries - 16. Route 99 to Whistler

[ Continued from Part 15 - The Dinosaurs of Drumheller  ]

This was one of our scariest days on the trip.

There's a few ways to drive from Calgary to Vancouver. You can drive west to Revelstoke, and then take the highway south to Kelowna, then 97c west before catching highway 5 all the way to Vancouver. Or you can continue from Revelstoke to Kamloops, before catching highway 5 south. Either of these is scenic, beautiful, AND SANE.

We chose the INSANE route. You see, I didn't know it was the insane route. All routes look the same on Google maps.

We decided we wanted to see the famous resort town of Whistler before going on to Vancouver. So we decided to drive to Kamloops, and rest for the night. The following day we would continue driving west and take Route 99 all the way to Whistler, and then Vancouver.


At first everything was fine. We left Calgary and drove past Banff and Lake Louise. This time we stayed on Trans-Canada Highway 1 and didn't take the Icefields Parkway. Sometime after Lake Louise, we entered the province of British Columbia.

We thought we had seen mountains, ravines, rivers and so on during our Rockies trip. We were seriously mistaken. The drive, while not as scenic as the Rockies trip, was still superbly scenic by any other standard. We passed through Yoho National Park, Glacier National Park, Mt Revelstoke National Park before reaching Revelstoke.

We passed through interesting towns such as Golden, Salmon Arm and Chase. Even Revelstoke was something to see, the town was actually below the highway. You take a ramp from the highway, and it descends, really descends, before you find yourself in the small town. And all along the way you pass numerous lakes, ravines and mountains that can take your breath away.

At one point there was a train going beside us, and ducks flying in formation on the other side, and a lake in the distance with the sun shining through the clouds. It was beautiful.

We reached Kamloops without incident. The road, while on a mountainous terrain, was fairly easy to drive. No crazy hills, and even though it was mostly one lane all the way, traffic flowed smoothly. We had a good night's sleep in Kamloops, unaware of what would come the next day.

 Sushi in Kamloops with my brother

Suddenly gone were the smooth highways we were used to. Forget the 401 of Toronto, or even the Trans-Canada Highway 1 of Alberta. Route 99 suddenly became treacherous, and driving became grueling. Our first clue should have been the turning and twisting roads.

Not to forget the rain and mist that would suddenly descend without warning.

If we knew about this, it would have been one thing. Like we would have been prepared. We were expecting a quick 2 hour trip but our van wasn't made for this. We had to drive extremely slowly. At times the road took a sudden steep decline of 15%! And not only that, at the foot of that hill would be a sharp bend!

I was just glad we had rented a new car with proper brakes. Numerous times during the drive we could hear the brakes working hard. There were several warnings on the road to check your vehicle's brakes or to gear down as the road went through those steep hills.

We reached the town of Lilloet and had to take a break.

Even though it had just been a small drive from Kamloops, it had been taxing. We were almost unable to admire the view of the industrial town below us in the valley.

And then came the most dangerous part of the drive. We would find out later that a section of Route 99, called the Duffey Lake Road, that we were now about to pass through, is rumoured to be the deadliest highway in Canada.

Oh it was scenic alright. When you are 1000m up on a mountain road with a sheer cliff drop on one side, it can be scenic AND terrifying at the same time. If you ever want to challenge yourself, take this road. I honestly felt like I was in one of those movies where there's a car chase through winding roads high up in the mountains, because that's where we were! There were parts that went through mountains, with turns where we felt like we would tip over. There are other parts that suddenly open to a huge beautiful lake that we were in no condition to appreciate because we were scared out of our minds.

Finally, tired and drained out, we reached Whistler. Even though it was summer, and by now the weather was sunny and beautiful, we could see the snow capped peaks of the famous ski resoirt in the distance.

We were completely tired by our drive, and the knowledge that we still had another hour and half driving to Vancouver. This made us completely unable to really enjoy Whistler the way we could have. We just wanted to see it quickly and get on our way.

The resort itself is very pretty, and there's lots of activities to do, especially for kids.

We all went and took pictures and selfies by the famous rings. We all had fond memories of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler, and the town had lots of places which were made famous during that Olympics.

But if I had to pick a moral from our trip, it is that avoid Route 99. Go directly to Vancouver, and spare a whole day for Whistler, not just a few hours.


nadia said...

I'm so glad you're all safe! Now you can look back and think of it as an unexpected adventure. Plus, you can now say that you've driven on Canada's deadliest highway.

'liya said...

Have never been to Whistler but would love to go... not drive there though, especially after reading this :D

mezba said...

@Nadia, I have to admit my brother drove through most of the highway, although I also took the helm during a sudden thunderstorm. It is something I wouldn't mind doing again, but this time better prepared.

@Liya, you can drive to Vancouver the SANE way, and then take the Sea-to-Sky to Whistler (which btw is not as easy as people think it is, crazy turns and really crazy if it's raining).