The Stawamus Chief looms over Squamish as nature's overstatement. Climbers spend hours picking out heart-pumping routes; children draw pictures of its jagged peaks, and developers dream of a gondola. No matter where you stand in Squamish, you can see the Chief. It always looks different.
Each time my car rolls into its shadow, nostalgia hits me and in an Irish brogue, I find myself saying, "That's my mountain."
Perhaps I've watched the film Braveheart too many times and can relate a little too well with the crazy Irish character who refers to Ireland as "my island," but the Chief is symbolic of my love for the West Coast.
A few weeks ago I met a European, lured to the Sea to Sky by the new Whistler Olympic Park. In all seriousness, he said the Stawamus Chief would be a great spot for a gondola and a five star restaurant.
It's not new but when I here rumours of a gondola stretching up the side of "my mountain," my first reaction is laughter and the second is concern.
Of course I realize I have about as much claim to the Stawamus Chief as I do to the Thompson River. Although I bear its namesake, I am not receiving usage royalties for every raft that floats down the Thompson's waters.
But a gondola represents the "Disneyfication" of the backcountry, which guarantees accessibility for the right price.
The three-hour hike up the Stawamus Chief is far from epic, but it still requires a certain amount of determination and fitness. After a long hike up the mountain, the last thing I want to see is a fresh-faced tourist sucking back the alpine air I busted my ass to get.
I should be careful to point out that I don't consider myself "extreme" in any way. I'm the kid riding with training wheels when it comes to backcountry bravado. But it was the Chief that turned my interest in rock climbing into a full-blown obsession after my first multi-pitch climb up the Apron's Deirdre route.
Gondolas clinging to every peak are great for Europe, but I hold Canada to a different standard. A gondola would be just another symptom of a fast food society that expects a burger, plate of fries and an alpine summit for a value menu price.
After paying for a lift ticket up Whistler Mountain, I often suffer from nature amnesia because the signs, chairlifts and gondolas lull me into a false sense of security in the backcountry.
Nature should be wild and mysterious. The wildness of the backcountry is an essential part of the satisfaction experienced upon returning to "civilization."
Giving more people the opportunity to see the backcountry isn't always negative, but it comes with a price I am not sure I am willing to pay.
Without the mystery, the Chief has the potential to become as significant as the wave pool in West Edmonton Mall. I believe if everyone could climb the world's tallest peaks, surf the biggest waves or paddle the hardest rivers, our fascination with them would cease.