We arrived at the Whistler Olympic Park gate, which was closed at 8:30am. Usually I'm working on Mondays, but this was the holidays, and I forgot that the ski area is only open at 9am on weekdays. Oh well, we would drive back down to the Alexander Falls parking lot, and figure out a way to the trailhead from there. Officially, you are suppose to get a "trip form," either printed in advance or from the gate, whether you park inside the ski area, or at Alexander Falls, in addition to paying the $15 parking/access fee. More information about that on the Whistler Olympic Park website.
We wandered through random snowshoer trails, and across and along the ski trail up to the daylodge. I like to park outside the ski area, so you're not constrained by the early 4:30pm gate closure. I wish there was a more direct way up to the Hanging Lake trailhead, but I didn't find it, and we ended up spending twenty minutes just getting up to where most people park. That's ok though, now we were passing people on the trail through the forest, and we didn't have to stress about getting back to the car.
This area is getting very popular, and rightly so. It offers easy access to treeline, with some nice open slopes to ski. I waited at the lake with Hans, looking over at Rainbow Mountain and thinking how nice it looked in the sunshine today. When Lisa Mike and Darek arrived at the lake, we all decided to leave the busy slopes of Gin Peak, and head over to Rainbow Mountain to poke around.
We climbed up the southwest slopes, which were already tracked out by a group of heli-skiers from the day before. Rainbow is a popular place for heli-skiers. It offers long mellow runs and close enough to Whistler to save on some fuel costs. All the customers always seem to be happy bum-wiggling down the 20 degree slopes. As we climbed up towards the glacier on the south side of the mountain, the views of the Callaghan Valley opened up. There was a thin layer of clouds at mid-mountain levels, with the summits of the Tantalus Range and Squamish-Cheakamus divide just poking out above them.
At this point, we started talking about doing a traverse of Rainbow Mountain. There were a few options. Either ski back down the same way (not very interesting), or continue down the North Glacir and then ski out to Alpine Meadows. We were lucky that Lisa's parents were in Whistler, and would must likely pick us up and then shuttle us back to Alexander Falls. It would be reasonable to call Whistler Taxi too!
We skinned up the south glacier, which was also tracked out by the bum-wiggling heli-clients. It was a bluebird day, and the holidays, and the whirlybirds were out in force today. There were heli's flying into the Soo Valley, towards Metal Dome, and at least two or three close to summit. As we crested the sastrugi-plastered col, we chatted with one of the heli-guides. He explained that there was a movie shoot happening on the summit, and that it was a fairly regular occurrence. He asked me where we were skiing, so not to poach our line. It turns out they had already ski the north glacier, and they were on their way down the south glacier. But the East Glacier hadn't been skied yet, and he said it looked filled in.
From the col, we traversed east, and then skied a steep pitch down towards the flat bench above the East Glacier. The snow was wind affected, firm and chalky. Definitely not powdery on this exposed slope. We shuffled across to the top of the East Glacier, enjoying the views across the valley of Whistler and Wedgemount Lake area. This is a long run, dropping a 1000m down into the head of Nineteen Mile Creek. The upper pitch rolls over, with some pronounced convexity's further to skier's left. I've skied it before, so I went first leading the way down. There were still some hazards on the run, some exposed rocks, and chunks of ice. But in between that, the powder was very nice, and the snow improved as we dropped down (more sheltered from the northerly winds). There's a steep headwall below 1800m, and unless you like skiing frozen waterwalls and rocks, you'll need to traverse hard skier's right to ski a broad gully down, with a steep slope lingering above you.
The snow was pretty awesome here, and we all had fun skiing down towards Iceberg Lake. I'm sure the slopes around Gin Peak were fun that day, but it was quite nice to ski a longer line, instead of a few short laps above the lake. We continued gliding the valley, staying on the south side of Nineteen Mile Creek. I didn't bother to put my skins back on, but there's a flat section below 1200m, for about a kilometre before reaching the Flank trail. Snow coverage was thinner here, and there was some tedious shuffling. We followed trail markers, for the summer Skywalk trail.
Coverage on the Nineteen Mile Creek road was thin, with a few open waterbars. I could just barely clear them with some speed, but my tails would still slap the snow as I leaped over them. We made it out to the end of Alpine Way with the last light of the day, and Lisa's dad was already there waiting for us! So awesome, thanks! We all piled into the mini-van, and cruised back to the Callaghan Valley to complete the shuttle. That was a fun day, an accidental traverse of Rainbow Mountain and a nice ski descent to compliment it.
Unloading skis at the Alexander Falls parking lot
Rainbow Mountain as seen from Hanging Lake
Hans above Hanging Lake
Looking back at the ski slopes above Hanging Lake
Skiing up the southwest side of Rainbow Mountain
Some wind effect higher up. It's always wind blasted up here.
Mike skinning up.
Lisa with the Callaghan Valley behind her
Hans breaking trail up to the south glacier
Lisa and Mike with Tricouni behind them
Mike and Hans crossing the south glacier.
The Black Tusk
Cool sastrugi formations near the col
A silhouette of Hans with Weart to his left
Mike skiing the steep pitch
All those skinning photos were a lie. We actually just took the helicopter up here. =)
Exposed ice on the East Glacier
Lisa skiing down the upper part of the East Glacier
Whirly-bird heading home
Mike finds the powder on the East Glacier
Looking back up the run, about 2/3 down
Hans goes first, dropping down into Iceberg Lake
Mike skiing down
Stoked! We skied from the centre down to the far left side next to the rock buttress
Crossing the flats at the head of Nineteen Mile creek
Alpenglow on Wedge Mountain
The South Face beckons
Weart and the Armchair Glacier