Rainbow Lake Loop

Evening Magic

Even though I only had one full free day during my time at Whistler, I managed to sample a wide variety of activities throughout the region. After doing the Armchair Traverse, I got up early and dropped off Kelly at the start line for her race. I had a few hours to kill before the first aid station, so I drove over to the Stuwamus Chief and had a great time on Alpine Bypass, an adventurous scramble linkup of various climber trails, via ferratas, and easy rock climbing published by Eric Carter. Highly recommend if you like exploring and soloing low 5th granite!

Slabs on the Stuwamus Chief.

The next evening after work, I got to finally do some actual rock climbing in Squamish, cragging at the Smoke Bluffs with a few friends who were in the area. It was my first time climbing granite cracks harder than 5.8 in a full year, but it turns out I still know how to climb (sort of)!

The Zip (10a).

For my final evening, I wanted to go for a run closer to Whistler. One guy had mentioned Lord of the Squirrels, a famous biking trail. I did not want to do an entire biking trail because they are usually way too windy, loose, and have brake bumps, but I figured out a way I could link the alpine section of that trail with Rainbow Lake for a loop.

I began at the Rainbow Lake Trailhead but quickly turned off left on biking trails. After a few miles, I turned right and started climbing up a very faint, overgrown trail towards Mount Spratt. I passed some surprised hikers who exclaimed I was the first person they had seen all day. They would be the last people I would see.

This trail is pretty rough, but it got me into the alpine. I swatted mosquitoes as I finished a final little off trail section to crest the shoulder of Spratt and join up with the Lord of the Squirrels.

I am LORD OF THE SQUIRRELS.

Suddenly, I entered an absolute wonderland of granite tarns, distant views, and heather meadows. The ponds reminded me much of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and the Iron Cap region specifically. But pockets of wildflowers resembled the Glacier Peak Wilderness. And the distant glaciated peaks called to memory the mighty North Cascades. It was the best of the Cascades, all at once. The biking trail winded across the land and I followed, entranced by this magical land I had stumbled upon.

Fields of lupine.

I love evening runs: the light is always soft and the temps cool. I had just a few bars, headlamp, jacket, soft flask, and filter in my waist belt. Part of me wished I had brought a real camera, but I wanted to move light and (moderately) fast.

Rainbow Mountain infinity tarn.
Inspecting this squirrel kingdom from the high point.

After cresting a high point near Tonic Peak, the terrain became fantastically lush with wildflowers and natural springs. The meadows here could give the Glacier Peak Wilderness a run for its money.

Meadows and the distant Tantalus Range.
I love the warm light on the flowers. Not bad for a cell phone camera!

Eventually, I joined the trail “Pot of Gold” and descended towards the pass above Rainbow Lake. This was one of the most beautiful sections.

Meadows and Rainbow Mountain.

While all seasons are great, nothing hits quite like golden hour on a summer evening in a wildflower meadow. I lost the last bit of sunlight as I walked around the shore of Rainbow Lake, watching the clouds above reflect in the still water. Usually, progress and the pursuit of that feeling of perfection are intertwined with pushing my physical boundaries and long days out. But this run, this little evening run, ranks amongst the best runs I have ever done. I similarly felt that feeling of fleeting perfection in the moment, in the place and my actions. In a way, that is what I am always searching for, although I did not expect to achieve it so easily this time around. I am learning more and more that things do not have to be hard to be epic. Perhaps epic is not the right word – powerful?

Dropping down to Rainbow Lake.
Beautiful creek flowing into the lake.

As I jogged down, descending into the darkness, my complete peace was broken by a helicopter buzzing just above the treetops. I figured it must be searching for someone. As I got lower down and entered an open logging road, the helicopter seemed to see me and follow me for a while before deciding I was not who they were looking for.

At the trailhead, there were a few people standing restlessly, saying that a friend had not come back. Unfortunately, I had to give them the bad news that I did not see any signs of people coming down from Rainbow Lake. It definitely hurt to tell them that. I later learned that people had been concerned about her “mental wellness” and she still has not been found.

Up until the sad ending, I was having a magnificent evening. There is something special about going out with no understanding of an area, no expectations, and just being open to what the mountains have to offer. In this case, I found some of the most beautiful and calming scenery I have seen anywhere. It felt like the perfect evening and the perfect way to wrap up my time in Whistler. I will definitely be coming back for more!

The Rainbow Lake Loop

Notes:

  • The route was about 17 miles and 4500 ft gain. It took me about 4.5 hours moving at a pretty decent pace (I never really sat down).
  • Keep your eyes out for the trail that turns right and climbs up to Mount Sproatt. It is not marked and overgrown, but obvious right after crossing a stream.
  • You could add on side trips like a climb up Rainbow Mountain!

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