Cirque Lake in the Callaghan Valley Whistler Hiking Trails
There is something magical about starting a hike in a canoe. A childlike sense of adventure and novelty. The hike to Cirque Lake begins with this sense of excitement. Sheltered by mountains is eerily calm and mesmerizingly clear. You slip away from the shore in tranquil silence as if floating on air. The other end of this once glacial valley is the trailhead. Hidden in the forest and so little used as to remain invisible until you stumble onto it after repeated aborted attempts to find it. The key to finding it is to aim toward the waterfall in the distance. Cascading almost straight down a couple hundred metres from its starting high up the steep mountains.
Still a couple kilometres away, it’s so steep and falls so far as to seem unnaturally loud from halfway across the lake. Keep aiming toward the waterfall in the distance. The closer you get, the less likely it will seem to be the correct way. To the right the valley slopes away in a much more inviting angle. Keep toward the waterfall though and get ready for the next hour of clinging to the scarcely visible, though well flagged trail that snakes upward, often at a 50 degree incline, astonishingly close to that majestic waterfall. Your destination is one of those fantastic forces of nature, a cirque lake.
A perfectly arranged glacier is required to form a cirque lake. A magical combination of size, a certain slope and more unexpectedly, a certain angle away from the sun. In the northern hemisphere, this means the glacier must be on the northeast slope of the mountain, away from the suns rays and the prevailing winds. Thick snow protected in this way grows thicker into glacial ice, then a process of freeze-thaw called nivation, chews at the lower rocks, hollowing out a deep basin. Over a thousand winters you are left with a magnificently circular lake with steep slopes all around. If you arrive at Cirque Lake, near Whistler, BC on a favourably sunny, summer day, you will almost certainly fall silent, gaze in wonder at this spectacular place, and feel in that moment that this place is as perfect as it is possible for a place to be.
Directions to the Cirque Lake Trailhead From Whistler:
The trailhead to Cirque Lake is found at the far end of . The Callaghan Lake turnoff is 20km south of Whistler Village. From Whistler drive 20km towards Vancouver, then turn right at the sign for Whistler Olympic Park. Drive up the beautiful, winding road for about 8 minutes. The sign for Callaghan Lake will be just before Whistler Olympic Park, you will turn left, cross a bridge and drive a bumpy logging road for 8km. This logging road is usually deep with snow until mid June. In 2011 there was a metre of snow as of June 30th at the Callaghan campsite. For conditions on this road and the Callaghan campsite visit the Callaghan Lake Provincial Parks Page. There is lots of parking at Callaghan Lake, an outhouse, boat launch and several nice campsites.
To reach the very hidden trailhead to Cirque Lake, paddle your canoe towards the waterfall far off in the distance. Not until you are only 50 metres from the shore, nearest the sound of the now hidden waterfall, you will see a small clearing jutting out from the shore, this is the trailhead, despite it not looking like one. Pull your canoe up here and drag into the bushes. Only a few metres into shore you will notice an obvious trail. There are even plenty of tree markers on the way. From here it is only an hour hike to the lake, though even steeper than the Wedgemount trail. About two thirds of the way to the lake you will reach a large, steep boulder field and have to decide to bear left or right around a vertical cliff. Both ways will get you to the top. Both are treacherous. But the route to the right is slightly less frightening.
At the lake finding a piece of ground suitable for a tent is hard, though two can be found with difficulty. One in the gap in the cliffs where the lake first spills out, and another high up on the cliff to the right. Both are equally spectacular, and you will quickly notice an incredible phenomenon of the Cirque. The wonderful stillness of the air. The cold mountain winds don't penetrate the cirque, yet the sunshine pours in. Outside the cirque you will need a jacket and sweater on a summer day. Inside it's the warm, serene shelter of paradise.