I read about this trail on the Whistler Hiatus website and it sounded like a great intermediate hike for August. The site did warn that this trail is not fully completed yet- there is an organization working on building the trail at the moment and they are not estimated to reach completion until Summer 2016.
With this being the case, I made sure I had a good map of the area before setting off. Even with the map and excellent cell reception, finding the trail head itself was a mission.
The website had mentioned that an easier option for this trail is to start from the end of a forestry service road near the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley. If this option is taken, you avoid a large chunk of uphill along the Flank Trail from Function Junction. And hey, as much as I like hiking, if there’s an easier option I’ll usually take it.
“Easier”. Hmmm. Turns out finding this forestry road is an adventure in itself. After making the mistake of entering the Whistler Olympic Park (and paying the $5 entry fee), we discovered the forestry road actually branches off Callaghan Valley Road before you reach the Park. When driving towards the Olympic Park, take the last right turn before you round the bend to the Park entrance. It is signed as the Northair FSR- it had a different sign that I can’t quite remember now. Follow this road along and take a few left turns. The map on the Whistler Hiatus website is quite useful.
With a little luck you’ll end up at the Northair Mine, which is worth stopping to see. You’ll need to turn left off the main track and drive about 500m to reach the mine. A dirt bike track has been built over the top of some of the old ruins from the mine and it looks like a great two-wheel playground. The quarry has been filled with water and on the day we were there people were in swimming.
We made the mistake of following the road along near the water, thinking we were heading up towards the start of the Sproatt Trail. Instead, this road gets increasingly narrow and the wash-outs were insanely deep. Even with our high-clearance Jeep we had trouble on some of these creek crossings and finally admitted defeat after scraping some (hopefully) non-essential metal parts loose on the bottom of the car. We decided to turn around, which is always a bit of a struggle on narrow forestry tracks. After retracing our path back to the mine, we went back to the “main” forestry track (where we had turned off to see the mine) and continued up the road (which has a few larger rocks but nothing anywhere near as bad as on the other road). We eventually came to a sign that read: “No automobiles past this point”. We parked the car and headed off up the road, passing a gentleman that was working in some machinery on grading the road. I’m glad to see that they are improving the quality of the road here, as at the moment this access to the trail is really only limited to those with high-clearance vehicles.
Shortly after heading up the road we came across a crooked sign with a map of the area. The road from here on was under cover of the forest, which was a welcome relief considering the mercury was hitting 29 degrees Celsius. The road climbed steadily through the forest until we reached the Canadian Wilderness Adventures’ snowmobile hut (after a brief run in with a black bear that was more interested in finding more berries to munch on than us). There were a few different trails and ATV tracks branching off the main road, but if you keep to the main road you will reach the hut, no worries. The hut has a beautiful outlook over a lake and I could imagine it would be a great place to stay in the winter.
It was here that we got a bit confused as to where the trail continues. As the Sproatt Alpine Trail is not yet complete, there is no signage. In the below picture, the hut is located at the end of the main trail/ road that you can see in the left of the image. We eventually figured out that you need to come back to where this photo is taken from and take the trail branching off to the right, into the darkness of the trees. If you follow this you will very shortly see the start of the brand new track and a map on a tree showing the intended final trail.
From here on the trail is wide and level, winding its way up through the forest until it emerges into an alpine meadow that is sprinkled with small tarns and large boulders.
Gin Mountain is on the left and the trail continues up to a ridge where there are beautiful views back over the Callaghan Valley. On the ridge-top, the newly created trail comes to a halt. Small machinery, hoes and other implements lay strewn around, evidence that workers have been recently active in the area. The continuing small, original trail is easy to see, however, and we continued along the ridge, following the small pink flagging. Tonic Lake lay in the valley to the left, with Rainbow Mountain looming large in the background. There were large poles indicating the valley is a main water source for Whistler. No motorized vehicles, camping or swimming is allowed in the area enclosed by the poles.
The trail continues along the ridge, but becomes a little indistinct in a scree field (in the distance in the below picture). When you come to the base of this scree field, traverse it to the right and you’ll pop out on the top at western edge of a small lake.
From here, we completely lost the trail as the terrain is very rocky and there were no visible flags to mark the way. However, with basic route-finding skills you can find your way across the rest of the ridge and across to Sproatt Mountain. We did not travel over to Sproatt Mountain, so I cannot attest as to whether there is an actual trail that picks up again further along. The map did show a winter trail that comes up from the Sproatt/ Flank Trail in the valley to the summit of Sproatt Mountain, but we ran into a fellow hiker on the trail who said he’d tried to find it the previous summer with no luck at all. Our original plan had been to find our way down to Rainbow Lake and camp at Hanging Lake, but with no obvious path down to the valley we decided to stay the night on the ridge.
We found an ideal spot just outside the ‘non-motorized vehicle’ boundary so I believe it was OK to camp and swim where we did. Before dinner, we went for a quick swim in the small lake, which was surprisingly fairly warm.
Backcountry dried meals served as our dinner, and Whistler and Backcomb Mountains as the backdrop. A large Hoary Marmot shared the view with us as we ate.
After a good night’s sleep, we had a slow start to the morning. Filtering, boiling water and waiting for it to cool can be quite a process! I made a mental note to do this whole process the night before on my next overnight camping trip.
Around 10am we packed up and travelled back towards the car, stopping for a few selfies on the way 🙂
Overall, this was a great weekend adventure. We didn’t have definite plans when we set out as we had no idea how complete the trail was. But sometimes the unplanned trips turn out to be best ones!