Hiking Brandywine Meadows and Mountain at Whistler’s Callaghan Valley

 

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Brandywine Meadows

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.

Hike information

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.

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Walking the last few kilometres to the upper parking lot trailhead

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.

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Trail through Brandywine Meadows

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.

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Wildflower season in Brandywine Meadows

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.

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Nature’s perfect rock garden

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Making our way up the heather-covered slope.

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.

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Out of the heather and onto the rocks

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Staying focussed as we climb up the saddle

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The snow patches are a nice break from the rocks and scree

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.

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View down to the meadow with Black Tusk in the distance

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.

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The incredible scene at the top of the saddle

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Looking toward the volcanic spires of Mt. Fee

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Deep valleys, glaciers and volcanic Pyroclastic Peak (on the right)

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A perfect lunch stop

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.

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Route to the top of Brandywine Mountain

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.

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Carefully negotiating our way down

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.

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Emelie goes for a dip!

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Basking in the sun after coming down the rocky slope

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.

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The way back down to Brandywine Meadow

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!

 

Categories: Activities, British Columbia, Canada, Hiking | Tags: , , , , | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “Hiking Brandywine Meadows and Mountain at Whistler’s Callaghan Valley

  1. Wow, look at those beautiful mountain views and meadows, I can only imagine what it feels like to hike through this beautiful landscape. Thanks for sharing and happy trails. Aiva xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I was reading I thought, “it couldn’t possibly get prettier than those perfect meadows,” but the views across the high, snow-covered peaks are just phenomenal. I’m trying to talk Tom into a BC trip as I write this.

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  3. Your pictures are postcard-perfect, every one of them. And I love your vivid descriptions of snow-dappled peaks, exquisite purple heather-covered slope, and greenery that gives way, first to rock fields and then to scree. How I would love to meander here. Down hill is always worse for me as well. I’ve just started using hiking poles in the past two years to ease the burden. Can’t believe that Emelie went into the partially frozen water. I would have remained with you and Eva in the sun

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad that hiking poles have become so common around here (no longer an “old person’s” aid). They’ve saved me from tumbles on several occasions and I hope they’ll keep the old hips and knees good for many more years of hiking. It was a beauty of a day. Thanks for your kind comments Lisa.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is …. I am at a loss for words … one of the most gorgeous hikes I have seen in North America. It could be the High Tatras in Slovakia or part of the Tour du Mont Blanc or on the Paine Circuit, just to name a few of the most picturesque hikes I’ve taken. As you might imagine, this whole post is following your last hike post right into my “future hikes” file!

    I finally leave a week from today for my own hiking spree – ten days in Idaho and Utah – but I can’t even hope for views like this! Wow …

    Liked by 2 people

    • As I’ve said before Lexie, I am very lucky to have all this great hiking close by. Of course not every hike is as good as this one. We had perfect weather, perfect wild-flower timing, no crowds, no mosquitoes…If you visit next summer we can do this hike (provided I can find a friend and a car that are confident on the access road). I must admit, living here makes me rather a hiking snob when I’m contemplating hikes in different parts of the world, though I almost always end up enjoying them and appreciating the differences in landscapes and hiking cultures (so civilized in the middle of an Alps hike being able to indulge in beautifully presented, delicious coffee and cake).
      Enjoy your hiking spree! I adore the scenery in Utah and have been on many fabulous hikes there. It has got to be one of the top states for amazing parks. I only know Idaho from driving through it, but it looks lovely. Happy hiking!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This looks absolutely magnificent! Wonderful photos.
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Mike Hohmann

    A beautiful hike, Caroline. I’ve just returned from a few weeks in Montana and Wyoming… alas not as rewarding as your picturesque day-hike.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It was amazing, Mike. I’m sorry that you’re not sounding too enthusiastic about your time in Montana and Wyoming…I know there’s some beautiful landscapes there.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Shannon

    How were the bugs? We camped up here one year with the kids. Didn’t get as far though. Gorgeous photos!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Surprisingly, there were very few bugs. I had anticipated the worst because our previous hike at North Skywalk in Whistler was super buggy. Morag and I went to Elfin last week and it wasn’t too bad there except around dusk.

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  8. A strenuous but rewarding hike 🙂 The last photo looks like a scene in Lord of the Ring. Simply beautiful!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Len. It was a gorgeous hike—Lord of the Rings meets The Sound of Music (quite the image I have in my head). I’ve never been to New Zealand, but apparently some of its landscapes have much in common with those in western Canada.

      Liked by 1 person

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