Chasing the end of summer on Rainbow Mountain (VE7/SL-078)

Across the valley from Whistler, BC, on the west side of the highway, lies the Callaghan valley and the Whistler Olympic Park where the nordic cross country and ski jump events were held for the 2010 winter Olympics.  Today it is maintained as a training and recreational facility for winter sports.  It is also a convenient place to access great backcountry skiing off Gin peak (VE7/SL-112).  In the summer the facility is mostly closed except for a few intrepid hikers, training camps, and wilderness tours.  During what has been the last week of good weather before the fall rains come, I went up Rainbow Mountain (VE7/SL-078) with a friend.

The winter route to Hanging lake and Gin Peak was established shortly after the Olympic park was opened in 2007 and, for the first year, people ski touring from the parking lot were asked to stay off the carefully groomed cross country ski trails.  Unfortunately this routed them behind the biathlon shooting range, which is in regular use by various teams and clubs in the winter.  This was quickly recognized as a bad idea and that route was abandoned in favor of one that required minimal sharing of the trail and no exposure to live gunfire.

In the summer, of course, there’s not much activity beyond a few training camps.  We decided to skip the typical but circuitous access routes from the Medley Lake recreation site or Alta Lake road in Whistler and instead try the more direct winter route out of season.  This would quickly prove to be another bad idea and we spent an extra 90 minutes bush bashing our way up steep terrain and dew covered underbrush.  Soaking wet we made it to the rocky saddle above Hanging Lake just in time for lunch.

The valley below Rainbow is lovely and a fantastic destination on it’s own, especially as the fall colors start to turn.  Leaving the valley, the trail turns into a boulder field and any it becomes an exercise in moving upward.  On the coast most fields of Granite scree are quite stable, this one was not.  With boulders shifting under our feet we had to be very careful as we made our way up towards the upper glacier, and then onto the ridge leading to the summit.

We arrived an hour after we expected and 25 minutes before out turn around time.  I quickly set up the HF gear and started calling on 20m.  Band conditions were such that I almost exclusively got into Arizona that day and was fortunately able to knock out four contacts (only one regional) in 20 minutes before I had to pack up and we began our descent.

Choosing to avoid the winter route, we instead followed a much more well established trail back towards the Medley lake recreation site.  Descending more than 1700m and traveling more than 13km we encountered darkness just as we exited the forest onto the gravel resource road that would lead us back to the car.  Despite the dark there was enough of a moon that we didn’t need to pull out the headlamps.  A quick 3 Km jog later and we were at the car and ripping into the chips and water that we’d stashed before we left.  Burritos at Mag’s 99 Mexican Cantina followed shortly after.

Trip Stats:
Total elevation gain/loss: 1,766m
Total mileage: 23.6 Km
Contacts: 4
Total time: 10:18h
Cost of a Sweet Ancho Pork Burrito Maximus: $12.25 (before tax)



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