I’m so excited about a hike I did earlier this week that I’m taking a short break from my Sri Lanka series to tell you about Whistler’s Skywalk North (better known as one of the trails leading to Iceberg Lake). Despite the clouds and the voracious mosquitoes, Skywalk North was amazing and got me motivated to explore more trails of the Skywalk network. My hiking pals (Morag and Eva) and I love a hike with variety and this one gets top marks: The 23 km lollipop route (a loop with a short repeated section at the start and end) travels through cedar forests, alpine meadows, rocky slopes with dramatic views of the Coast Mountains, and a glacial basin with tumbling waterfalls and the turquoise-hued star attraction— Iceberg Lake.
Distance: 23 km (12.4 mi) Resources below specify 20 km, but my readings (confirmed by others) gauge it at 23 km.
Elevation gain: 1050 m (3445 ft)
High point: 1784 m (5850 ft)
Time: 9 hours (includes a lunch stop and short breaks)
Difficulty: Moderately difficult
Signage: Generally well marked, but a few sections have some confusing trail intersections. Note too, that the actual Skywalk North route does not officially start until about 3 hours into the hike (several other marked trails provide access). Use the resources shown below.
Resources: Stephen Hui’s book 105 Hikes and https://www.vancouvertrails.com/trails/skywalk-north-loop/. The latter has a more detailed description of the route, which I recommend printing out before you go.
Despite the significant length of this hike and the steady elevation gain (and loss on the way down from Iceberg Lake), I didn’t find it to be too strenuous. The trail builders have done a good job zigzagging the route up and down the terrain so that it is not overly steep in most places. It’s not technically difficult but the descent to Iceberg Lake requires extra caution. It’s a short, steep, muddy section with views to die for (which unfortunately might happen if you’re gawking at the scenery rather than watching your feet).
Being Vancouver North Shore girls, we do a lot of hiking in the deep forest (nothing wrong with that but we all crave a little “openness”). I didn’t take many photos (except of the beautiful wildflowers) during the first 2-3 hours of the hike as we pushed up through the forest, but it’s pleasant enough with some nice views down to Whistler and Green Lake.
I really enjoyed the section from Screaming Cat Lake up to the high point of the hike (just before the descent to Iceberg Lake). It meanders through alpine meadows dotted with little lakes and ponds—perfect bear country (though none to be seen that day). Screaming Cat Lake would be a great place for a refreshing dip on a hot day, but it was way too cold and buggy on our trip. Teaser views to Rainbow Mountain and its spectacular glacier made us very excited for what was to come.
Patches of snow still covered parts of the trail as we ascended to the alpine. The clouds partially obscured the mountain views, but it was beautiful nonetheless and made for a dramatic effect. Having said that, I definitely want to do this hike again on a sunny day.
The really epic part of this hike is the descent to Iceberg Lake. Rainbow Mountain and its imposing glacier are right in your face, and turquoise Iceberg Lake—way down below—makes a stunning statement against the whites and greys. Given that it was mid-July, we were surprised that so much of the lake was still under a thick cover of ice—another reason to do this hike again on a sunny day in August or September.
Once down in the basin, it was an easy walk across the rocks and snowy patches to a little knoll that overlooks the lake—the perfect lunch spot. We spent a leisurely hour admiring the view and chatting with a friendly hiking group from Squamish who call themselves the over-the-hill hiking club. Every Tuesday, they regularly get at least 20 people out on their hikes—impressive!
It was hard to tear ourselves away from our rocky perch on the lake and continue the hike back to our car (about three hours of downhill). I had low expectations for this last section of the hike after the thrill of Iceberg Lake, but I was pleasantly surprised. The pretty alpine meadows just below the basin were covered with flowers. The views back toward the glacier are phenomenal, and roaring 19 Mile Creek is a constant companion. There are a couple of short trail turnoffs leading to waterfalls views, complete with benches to give the quads a rest.
That last photo sums it up for me: there’s nothing like a fabulous hike with good friends. In case you’re wondering about the dented bucket attached to Morag’s pack, she was schlepping out stuff that doesn’t belong on the trail.
Next: I’m back in Sri Lanka—Galle Fort and Ella coming up.