I’m on a hiking roll, and just did another beauty—Brandywine Meadows and Mountain, at Whistler’s Callaghan Valley. This hike has an incredibly high reward-to-effort ratio, particularly if you have a sturdy 4-wheel drive vehicle. An easy walk brings you to a beautiful meadow surrounded by snow-dappled peaks. It’s crisscrossed with gurgling creeks and is currently ablaze in wildflowers—you’ll think you’ve landed on set in The Sound of Music. The trail beyond the meadow, to Brandywine Mountain, is more strenuous, but with so many gorgeous views it doesn’t feel onerous. And, if you don’t make it the whole way (we didn’t), it’s still an enormously satisfying hike.
Distance: 6.6 km return for Brandywine Meadows (from upper parking lot) and an extra 8 km return for Brandywine Mountain (from the meadows).
Elevation gain: 156 m to the meadow, 860 m to Brandywine Mountain
High point: 2213 m
Time: 2-3 hours return for the meadow, an additional 3-4 hours return for the mountain
Difficulty: Easy to meadow, difficult to Brandywine Mountain
Location: Callaghan Valley, about 10 km south of Whistler and 113 km north of downtown Vancouver via Highway 99 (Sea to Sky Highway)
Access: The Brandywine Forest Service Road, accessed off Callaghan Valley Road, is very rough, and steep in parts. We made it about 2 km shy of the upper parking lot in a Honda CR-V, but had a few tense moments. We parked at one of several pullouts and walked the rest of the way to the trailhead. There is also a lower parking lot that is apparently accessible with a 2-wheel drive (I question that), but this involves a longer, steeper and muddier hike to the meadow.
Resources: Squamish Hiking by Marc Bourdon provides an excellent description of the hike and directions to the upper and lower trailheads (highly recommended). Stephen Hui’s 105 Hikes also includes this hike but lacks detail.
The toughest part of the hike was getting to the upper parking lot trailhead. My friend Eva did an awesome job driving up the rutted forestry road (not a chance I would have done this). The last couple of kilometres have some deep cross-ditches; we wisely left the car on the side of the road and walked the remaining distance to the upper trailhead. This turned out to be no hardship at all with stunning views across the valley.
From the trailhead, it’s just a few easy switchbacks before the forest opens up to an idyllic alpine meadow. The trail, along the edge of the expansive meadow, is well defined and flat. It’s such a peaceful place; we only saw one other hiking group—a distinct advantage of a crappy access road.
As I looked at our mountainous destination ahead, part of me was thinking I’d be happy just hanging out in this postcard valley for the rest of the day.
But, Eva and her 23-year-old daughter Emelie weren’t going to let me off that easily. Brandywine Mountain lay ahead, promising extraordinary views and a heart-pumping workout.
At the far end of the meadow, a narrow but defined path follows a creek and climbs up an exquisite purple heather-covered slope. I’m convinced that the best landscape designers in the world could not create such an enchanting scene. Although we were gaining significant elevation, I was loving every second of this section.
All too soon, the bubbling creek and greenery gives way, first to rock fields and then to scree. The path peters out but there are a few cairns, and on a clear day the route up through the saddle is obvious. We picked our way up the mountain, focussing on foot placement as it would be very easy to twist an ankle on this uneven terrain.
The wonderful views back over the meadow, now far below, gave us lots of opportunity to catch our breath. We could see all the way to distinctive Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
As we crested one more snow pitch our jaws dropped—in front of us lay the most majestic panorama dominated by the volcanic spires of Mt. Fee. The ridge at the top of the saddle is both a magical and forbidding place. Looking out over the dramatic landscape with ominously named mountains like Pyroclastic Peak (part of the Mount Cayley volcanic field), had me conjuring up images of the smoking volcanoes and lava flows that shaped this region. It’s great lunch stop, or a turnaround point if you’re running out of time or energy.
We pushed on a little further, to the point in the photo below, but decided against the final climb to the top of Brandywine Mountain, which would have us traversing the edge of large snowfield. Intensely satisfied with what we’d seen, we had no regrets about leaving the peak for another day.
As usual, the way down for me was worse than coming up. I gingerly zigzagged down the steep slope, stressing that the loose rock would give way and have me tumbling down the mountain—thank God for hiking poles and the much easier snow patches.
On the way up, Emelie had spied a little glacial pond and had earmarked it for a dip. Yup, she went into that still partially frozen water! Eva and I were happy to bask in the sun. It was a nice reward after getting down the rocky slope in one piece.
The remainder of the hike, down along the flower-lined creek and through the meadow, was a peaceful finish to a perfect day in the mountains.
Next post: I have one more hike to share (The Gargoyles in Garibaldi Provincial Park) before I continue with Sri Lanka. I may never catch up!
I love Brandywine – it’s an wonderful area, but yeah, the climb up to the ridge is not easy. Those pink monkeyflowers are just gorgeous! And that view at the ridge…. I’d love to camp on that ridge, just to be able to wake up to that view…
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