Hiking Skywalk North

Last week I said Tricouni Meadows might be my favourite hike of the season… then I did Skywalk North and now I can’t decide! After such a successful hike at Tricouni, I was enthusiastic to try another day hike. This time we decided on the Skywalk North Trail in Whistler – it doesn’t require any off-roading, but is a much longer trail with much more elevation gain.

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I’ve heard of the Iceberg Lake hike, which is quite popular, but I hadn’t heard much about the Skywalk trails, which I found in the 105 Hikes book by Stephen Hui. There’s a ton of hiking trails in the area and many mountain bike paths – the Skywalk trails consist of 2 loops with a shared middle section. The South Trail leaves from Alpine Way and the North Trail leaves from Mountain View Drive (both in Whistler). The South Trail is a bit shorter, but if you want to visit Iceberg Lake, they’re both probably about the same length because it’s a branch to visit the lake on the South Trail, whereas the North Trail goes right past it.

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So both trails are ~20km including the lake, though we tracked 22km on GPS, and over 1000m in elevation gain, so it is definitely a big hike and you should give yourself enough time to complete it. We started just before 10am and didn’t finish until just after 7pm. For the most part it’s not a very technical hike and it has a lot of flat sections, but this just means it does a lot of gain in a short distance, so it is steep.

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On VancouverTrails, it says it’s 7.5km to the lake, but my GPS tracked 9km and 900m of elevation gain, but I didn’t find this part of the trail difficult at all. The trail starts with a steep climb, then flattens as you walk through the trees along the river and past some waterfalls. Then you climb again up to the meadows where you meet the junction for the Skywalk South Trail. There’s an outhouse and a gorgeous view up to the glacier. It’s another 1km to the lake, which is the most technical part of the hike. You have to hike up through the boulder field to the base of the glacier. This was one of my favourite parts of the hike though because there were lots of wildflowers growing around the streams coming down from the glacier and it was very scenic!

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It took us about 3 hours to get up to Iceberg Lake. We barely saw anyone on the hike up to the meadows and once we left the lake, but it was fairly busy from the meadows to the lake. It was strangely cold on the day we visited though. Vancouver had been nursing a steady heatwave since mid July, but on the weekend we went, we got a brief cold spell and we had to layer up with fleeces and windbreakers at the lake. But not before I went for a swim!

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I pride myself on almost always going for a swim, no matter how cold the water is and this was no exception. I knew I was going to get cold fast once I stopped moving and my sweat cooled, so I stripped down to my swimsuit immediately. It was definitely some of the coldest water I’ve been in and I didn’t stay in for more than a minute. By the time I crawled out my body was already starting to go numb, but it was cool to briefly swim with all the bergy bits – that was a first for me!

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We hung out at the lake for a bit before continuing on. If you’re doing the South trail, you’ll have to hike back to the meadows, but the North trail climbs up over the pass on the right side of the mountain to continue into the sub-alpine. Unless you’re doing the shortest route (up and back on the Iceberg Lake Trail), I’d really recommend Skywalk North (though I haven’t done the South Trail yet). The hike up the pass was my favourite part of the whole hike because you get to look down on the lake and the glacier, which is a cooler vantage point than looking up on it.

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Once you get to the top of the pass, the trail flattens out again and you spend a lot of time hiking through meadow after meadow. We stopped at the top for a bit of a photoshoot and then took our time hiking down. What I liked about the North trail is that you get to spend a lot more time in the sub-alpine than if you just did the Iceberg Lake trail. There’s a great view looking out towards Whistler-Blackcomb, Wedgemount, and Pemberton and the alpine meadows were all in bloom with yellow arnica, purple lupins, white sitka valeria, and pink mountain heather. Plus by doing a loop you get to experience all new terrain!

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This part of the hike did take us a bit longer than anticipated. The down side to Berg Lake is that you eat your lunch when you haven’t done half of the trail, so it does make for a long afternoon. We hit Screaming Cat Lake around 4pm, which is a large lake before you start the downhill. I decided to go for a swim again and I was thrilled because Screaming Cat is not a glacial lake and is much warmer, so you can actually go for an enjoyable swim. It was still pretty cold, but once you got in, it was actually warmer in the water than out of it and we stayed in for a while, with both Lien and Brandon joining me.

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The rest of the hike was pretty painful for me. It’s been a while since I’ve done so much elevation gain in one day and my knees were starting to bother me. After Cat Lake you have to do about 850m of downhill, which gets progressively steeper. It’s still a very nice hike – the trees aren’t tightly packed, so the forest had a very sunny feeling, but my knees were both killing me. I got slower and slower and pretty much crawled down the last 2km. We added a bit more distance to take the less steep routes where possible to save my knees. Even still, it was just after 7pm when we exited the trail, which I thought was pretty good all things considered!

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We drove back to Squamish and had a delicious meal before heading back to Vancouver. I don’t think I got home until 11pm, so it was a very long day, but I really loved the hike! It’s a lot of work, but high reward and a lot of time spent in the alpine! Definitely recommend for those long summer days. Though I’d be wary of going on a really hot day – a lot of the hike is exposed and it’s a lot of climbing to do with no shade.

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