Articles online rave about Cirque Lake, a lake that’s tucked away in the Callaghan Valley of Whistler. It’s supposed to be amazing, so Nikki and I were intrigued. We thought it could be fun to scope it out, and think about bringing a larger group there on a Girls Gone Wilderness adventure.
Of course, others were less interested in all the effort required. To get there in summer months, you must canoe / paddle board / kayak across Callaghan Lake, then take a short trail from there. Fun!! As soon as the mention of multiple sports were mentioned, Nikki and I were stoked.
So we loaded up the Suby with 2 paddle boards, snowshoes, (we figured there would still be a lot of snow this year in July) and a beer. Onwards to Callaghan Country!
Driving up the Callaghan Lake Forest Service Road felt strange. I spent many a winter day hauling ass up here on skate skis, so it was weird and a bit too easy to be driven up.
Getting to Callaghan lake, it was beautiful. With all the focus on Cirque Lake, it’s easy to be surprised by Callaghan. A few people were camping there, and there was generally a really nice vibe.
FML, Unexpected Adventure
As we paddled across Callaghan toward the Cirque trailhead, we remembered the advice from online: “paddle to the waterfall, then see a clearing in the trees to the right, that’s where the trailhead is.” Should be no problem. After a 25 minute SUP journey, we transitioned to looking around for the trailhead, getting off the SUP and walking around all places “right” of the waterfall, and there was nothing. After a futile 20-30 minutes of paddle – search, look at low-res map, paddle – search, we decided to ask for advice from the pair of kayakers who were floating nearby. Sure enough, they had been there, although it had taken them four hours, when the guides online said it would be two. The kayakers did a lot of bushwhacking, and it sounded like they didn’t find any sign of a trail until they found the scree field. Their advice was to bushwhack to the right of the waterfall. When I asked if we should bring the snowshoes we had strapped to our SUPs, they said there was snow most of the way, but no. I disregarded their advice. Having paddled the snowshoes all the way, I was bringing them if there was any snow!
I knew following people who had clearly gotten lost and taken 2-3 times longer than I wanted to wasn’t ideal, but we had no other information. We couldn’t see any sign of a trail, and the map we had was way too low-res. A GPS track would have been ideal, we just didn’t think it would come to this. So, we decided to follow the other misguided people’s advice. FML.
Entering the bushwhack phase, a special kind of hell transpired. A combination of flies and aggressive mosquitos swarmed our faces, especially our eyes and ears. (Side note: I don’t use bug spray.) We were bushwhacking through a marshy area, up and down gullys, while being eaten alive. I have never before encountered a situation where I was tested to my limit in such a short amount of time. It got so miserable that at one point, I asked Nikki if we should just call it a day and turn back. Who cares, it’s just a lake anyway?! We decided it was time for a snack before anything else.
A Little Snack Does Wonders
Glucose does wonders to the brain and general morale. As soon as the snack went down, we decided to continue another 10 minutes to find the scree field, as it should be really close, and the kayakers had said that the scree field navigating got way better. This is such a tiny hike (300 meters gain, total) that we should be really close to the lake by then.
And of course, as soon as we got into this headspace, we found a tiny trail — the trail!!
While the mosquito / fly massacre continued, we weren’t bushwacking hopelessly at the same time, so it became tolerable. Following the trail, we found the scree field, enjoyed views of Callaghan Lake below as promised, and we made it to the lake from the scree field in about 20/30 minutes. (At this point, I remembered that I’ve already been to Cirque Lake, on touring skis in winter.) I was glad to have my snowshoes, as there was some traversing on snow which became much more fun and less cautious with any sort of traction. The icy, snow-lined lake was indeed pretty, but I was actually more enamoured with the huge and sparkling Callaghan Lake.
On the way back, we paid special attention to follow the trail all the way back. After the scree field, the path got thinner and thinner. At first there was tiny orange flagging every so often, then it became animal trail-like, snow-covered, and devoid of any markers. Blending in with the ground around it, it was extremely hard to notice, and we understood why it was impossible on the way in. Emerging at the paddle boards after about 30 minutes down, we were stoked to avoid the bushwhack entirely on the way down, and finally discover where the “trailhead” lies.
Getting back to the paddleboards, I removed the beer from its natural cooler in the cold lake, and off we paddled back across Callaghan, searching for a bug-free area in this paradise to down it. All in all, this trip was hilarious and super fun. It tested us in new ways, and turned into an adventure we weren’t expecting. Definitely not bringing a big group here!
Things I would do differently!
- Note follow the “route-finding” of misguided people who were clearly lost. Instead, have a GPS track of the route. It will save 1 hour of bushwacking!
- Bug repellant!!!!
- The best decision I made was bringing fleece pants. Pants were crucial for bug protection, having fun sliding in the snow, and for warmth when we got up higher.
- Bring orange flagging tape to re-mark the route and trailhead as I go to help the next people!
- Have 2 beers instead of 1.
For anyone who wants to do this and avoid the bushwhack / mosquito hell, the “trailhead” is in between two streams of the waterfall: it’s to the right of the main waterfall stream, and to the left of a smaller outflow. (Mind you, this is in early summer after a big snow year.) Of course, you will not see a trail sign or any indication of a trail there, but it is the path of least resistance, with minimal alder.