September’s lake destination, and for the third time in as many weeks, we found ourselves driving up Highway 99 towards Whistler. With Maria’s IT band issue needing serious rest, it was just me, Andrew and Merewyn. Although Rainbow Lake itself is in the Whistler watershed, we knew that we could go a little bit further to Hanging Lake for Andrew and Merewyn to swim. And yet another sunny September day beckoned as we set off from the trailhead.
We followed the trail up through the lower forest, ignoring the sign for Rainbow Falls again, pushing on up through the second growth. Then it was out onto the old logging road for the next section, up the hill with the occasional view of Wedge Mountain over our shoulders. Though boring (and longer than I remembered), we made good time. We reached the end of the road (where the bike rack is) and entered the forest again, the trail narrowing to a person-width surrounded mostly by head-high bushes. (I refrained from reciting my `Ode to Bushy Bits’….) We crossed a couple of tiny creeklets and zig-zagged our way up the hill.
We left the old second-growth forest behind and entered unlogged woodland, much nicer to hike through. The downside is all the boggy areas. Much like the trail to Brandywine Meadows, many of the muddy spots had helpful stepping stones, boardwalk and planks. And much like the Brandywine trail, they were lethally slippery and in many cases, previous hikers had simply gone around them. But it was quite easy going, mostly level or a gentle gradient.
Crossing another creek (with a fine waterfall upstream) on a robust bridge, we soon entered the first of the open meadows. Need I repeat that it’s berry season? Much nomming ensued and our pace dropped. We were treated to our first views of Rainbow Mountain (including the horny bit…). A short while later, we climbed to a small outcrop where we rested and took in the view back down the valley. Soon we crossed Gin and Tonic Creek on a suspension bridge and the trail entered more glorious open meadows, filled with laden berry bushes. Delicious!
Somehow we dragged ourselves onwards and, after crossing Rainbow Creek on a bouncy bridge, headed up our final incline through a patch of forest. A few more metres and there we were – Rainbow Lake. I was instantly reminded of how beautiful the lake was, with a craggy slope on its southern shore and more open subalpine meadows to the north and west.
We circled around the northern edge of the lake, hopping a stream and climbing up to the pass which led to Hanging Lake. Rainbow Lake is in the Whistler watershed, so swimming and camping are not allowed there (though that never stops people – dogs are forbidden too, yet we were passed by a few hikers with dogs). However, Hanging Lake, only a km beyond the pass, is in open terrain and was our goal for the day.
The view from the pass that leads down to the lake is breathtaking in all directions. Rainbow Mountain rises temptingly to the north-east, the peaks of the Wedgemount Lake area are visible further east. To the west lies Metal Dome and Brandywine – we felt quite sandwiched between destinations of recent trips. Stunning scenery all around. And nearby, the terrain is quite gentle and invites days of simple exploration. A plan to return formed very quickly.
We passed someone taking panoramic photos and headed on down to Hanging Lake. A few switchbacks later and we were at the campground, small but level, and about 10 metres higher than the lake and its meadows. We continued on down to the lakeside, soon needing to cross the flats which are undoubtedly very soggy earlier in the year. We found a suitable spot and Andrew and Merewyn went in for their September swim.
The lake was peaceful and quiet, with us being the only folks around. We laid around in the warm sunshine and ate a late lunch. Now for the hard part as usual – tearing ourselves away to head home. We reluctantly hoisted our packs and set off up the hill back to the pass. What a place to watch sunrise or sunset. Mind you, the whole area has quite a few knolls which would be equally good. We all agreed that we simply had to return (with Maria this time – that makes two trips for me to Rainbow Lake without her!) and spend a few days here.
And so we retraced our steps, the bright blue sky reflecting perfectly in Rainbow Lake. It was an aptly-named destination as we did indeed see every colour of the rainbow: red, orange and yellow leaves, green trees, blue sky, indigo and violet berries…. Mmmm, berries… Within a little over two-and-a-half hours, we were back at the car and headed for home. Remarkably, again, we saw no bears despite all the berries (and the known inhabitants of this area). Ah well, maybe we’ll see more next year.
We watched the light fade as we drove back down Highway 99, barely making it to Squamish as the last bright orange light illuminated Garibaldi. The best view was from the road, but there was nowhere to stop so we ended up waiting until we reached Tim Hortons by which time the light had faded. Well, we needed to stop at Tim’s anyway ;-)
Another hike, another lake, another beautiful day in the mountains.
Distance: 20 km
Elevation gain: 1000 m
Photos on Flickr