The Sproatt Alpine Trail
Mount Sproatt, or as it is known locally as simply "Sproatt", is one of the many towering mountains visible from Whistler Village. Above and beyond Alta Lake, directly across from Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain, you will see this quiet giant. Its unremarkable appearance hides the growing network of trails that stretch through some startlingly beautiful terrain. Free of snow enough to hike by most by mid June this year(2016). Expect plenty of snow sections until the first week in July.
Next time you walk through Whistler Village and cross the pedestrian bridge(with Village Gate Boulevard below you), you will see Mount Sproatt in the distance. It is the rocky giant, abruptly steep on one end and gently sloping on the other. At its summit you may be able to make out the small weather recording structure.
What you can't see from Whistler Village is the extraordinarily beautiful alpine paradise that lays beyond it. Lakes and tarns everywhere you look. Fields of alpine flowers and wonderfully mangled, yet strikingly beautiful forests of krummholz. Hostile looking fields of boulders and absurdly placed erratics the size of RV's. Beyond, of course, endless stunning view of distant, snowy mountains.
From the towering elevation of much of the Sproatt Alpine Trail you often look across or even down on distant mountains. Rainbow Mountain looks incredible from much of the trail. Four teeth-like, jagged grey peaks in a row that face you from Rainbow Mountain, just 5 kilometres away look enormous.
A couple kilometres closer you spot Hanging Lake and the Lord of the Rings style valley that stretches 2 kilometres from its shores to the abrupt cliffs at your feet. Several times along the trail you see the clearly defined ski runs on Whistler and Blackcomb and once in a while you can spot Alta Lake and Whistler Village.
Though a hive of snowmobile and ski/riding activity in the winter and spring, Sproatt is infrequently hiked in the summer. The reason for its lack of popularity is that it is comparatively difficult to access. There are several ways to reach it, though none are clearly marked and most require bushwhacking and some careful planning to navigate. That was then. The future of Sproatt looks far more inviting as new trails are constructed every year and there is a massive 10 kilometre multi-use, hiking and biking trail being built right now that spans this enormous and challenging terrain.
In 2014, the Sproatt Alpine Trail was flagged and construction began. The new trail begins 1.4 kilometres from the Rainbow Sproatt Flank Trail trailhead in Function Junction. The trail is already quite easy to follow, though it is constantly steep and winding. Though you are mostly in deep forest, occasionally you emerge to fantastic views of the valley below and Black Tusk beyond.
The Sproatt Alpine Trail is being built by volunteer and paid trail builders from WORCA(Whistler Off Road Cycling Association). Construction is underway from both ends of the trail. One end being the Function Junction, Flank Trail end and the other being the Callaghan Valley, Northair Mine end, more than 10 kilometres away. If you don't mind a bit of a drive and a couple kilometres of very bad forest service roads, then the Northair Mine end is the more scenic and easier choice. The alpine terrain from that end is spectacular and if you manage to 4x4(or atv) close to the trailhead, then the amazing alpine views are less than an hour away on foot.
The Function Junction end the Sproatt Alpine Trail is the more convenient and easier end to get to from Whistler Village and destined to be the more popular trailhead. As trail construction continues into 2015/2016, there will likely be no trailhead signs or mapboards at either end of the trail until 2016. The construction still to do on the trail is for the most part ramps, bridges and wonderfully elaborate features to make it into a world-class bike trail.
If you are hiking the trail, however, it is effectively ready to go already(with the exception of signs and mapboards). You will likely encounter "Trail Closed" signs on the Whistler end of the trail up beyond the Flank Trail until the summer of 2016. These closed signs are up to keep bikers off of the unfinished route. If you are on foot, however, you will be OK making your way through the unfinished sections of trail.
The Sproatt Alpine Trail - Maps & Camping Info
Parking for the Sproatt Alpine Trail is easy to find on the Whistler(Function Junction) end and difficult and confusing on the Callaghan Valley(Northair Mine) end of the trail. If you don't have a 4x4 vehicle and don't want the hassle of finding the trailhead, then the Whistler side is your best bet. To get to the trailhead for the Flank Trail which leads to the Sproatt Alpine Trail, drive 7.6k south of Whistler Village. At the traffic lights at Function Junction turn left onto Cheakamus Lake Rd, then immediately left again in the the huge parking lot for the Cheakamus Community Forest(aka Interpretive Forest). Park here then walk or bike to the Flank Trail. If you have a 4x4 and don't mind some adventurous logging roads then you should use the Callaghan Valley(Northair Mine) end of the trail. This end of the trail is spectacular right from the start and the logging road to access it is pretty amazing as well. The logging road gives you almost constant views looking down on the Callaghan Valley and the hiking trail from this end opens up to the alpine much faster than the Whistler end of the trail. Depending on how close you park to the trailhead, you could be in the alpine in as little as 30 minutes. On the Whistler side this takes about 2 hours to reach the alpine. See the parking and trail maps below for more parking details.
There are dozens of amazing places to put up a tent around the Sproatt Alpine Trail, though none are marked or maintained. This is the wonderfully, wild alpine of Whistler, so you simply spot an amazing cliff outcrop, serene tarn, or majestic alpine lake, and set up your tent. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that much of the Sproatt alpine north and east of the trail is part of Whistler's water supply and camping is not allowed. There are mapboards that show the watershed areas, but an easy way to understand where you can and can't camp is by looking at the flow of water where you want to camp. If the streams and lakes around you flow toward Rainbow Lake and Twentyone Mile Creek, then you can't camp. The dividing line is the ridge that runs from Mount Sproatt to Tonic Peak, then bends north to Gin Peak. Rainbow Lake and Twentyone Mile Creek are north and east of this ridge, so camping is OK, west and south of this. The entire trail from Function Junction to the alpine is good for camping and there are endless beautiful, rock outcrops/cliffs to camp, though water is often not convenient.
Many Whistler area hiking trails are not dog friendly, however the Sproatt Alpine Trail is. It is however, very close to Whistler's water supply so dogs may be prohibited in the future as the trail becomes more popular and the impact of dogs in the area becomes more apparent. The Sproatt Alpine Trail runs through the snowmobile prohibition zone, which seems to indicate that dogs will be not welcome in this area as well, however there are no signs mentioning this. When trailhead signs are installed in 2015, there will likely be a mention of dogs, but at present there is not. As with choosing your campsite out of Whistler's watershed, you should keep your dog out as well.
There is an alpine hut near the Callaghan Valley(Northair Mine) end of the trail. It is owned by Canadian Wilderness Adventures as their snowmobile hut. Canadian has a tenure in the area to run snowmobile tours here in the winter. There is a lock on the door, however it has an amazing view of the valley below and Sproatt Lake, and stopping there for lunch on their sundeck is very scenic. Out of courtesy to Canadian Wilderness Adventures, you should not disturb anything of theirs. There is a nice trail from the hut to Sproatt Lake that you will see from the hut's sundeck. It descends down the valley and only takes about 8 minutes to the lake. The hut is located just past a trail junction and large clearing where you will see a large mapboard and atv tracks through the mud and grass. The new Sproatt Alpine Trail branches off to the right just before this clearing and the hut is straight past the clearing and mapboard(see map below).
The Sproatt Alpine Trail - Trailhead Directions
To get to the Function Junction - Flank Trail trailhead that connects to the new Flank Alpine Trail, zero your odometer at Village Gate Blvd and drive south(toward Vancouver) for 7.6k. At the traffic lights at Function Junction turn left onto Cheakamus Lake Rd, then immediately left again in the the huge parking lot for the Cheakamus Community Forest(aka Interpretive Forest). Park here then walk or bike to the Flank Trail trailhead. Follow this easy and wide trail as it climbs quickly into deep forest. In about 15 minutes you will cross a creek and the trail bends right, then left, then ascends quickly(see map above). Look for the trail on your left here before the trail bends right again and levels off. There may be a small ribbon in the trees here and soon there will be a large trail sign and mapboard. From here you will see trail markers quite frequently and the trail is fairly well worn. You will come to a fork in the trail in about 20 minutes, be sure to bear left at this fork and continue.
The Sproatt Alpine Trail - Callaghan Valley Trailhead
To get to the Callaghan Valley(Northair Mine) trailhead to the Sproatt Alpine Trail requires some 4x4 driving and some tricky navigating. You may be able to drive to Northair Mine without a 4x4 as you occasionally see a car parked there, there are a couple deep washouts 2 kilometres before the mine. These washouts are no problem for an average 4x4, but a car would have considerable difficulty. Also, the trailhead to the Sproatt Alpine Trail is almost 4 kilometres past the turnoff to Northair Mine and the old FSR road quickly becomes narrow, steep and plenty of boulder sections. There are several good places along the way to pull out, park, or turn around and surprisingly, there are only a few mild washouts. A good idea if you are not keen on difficult 4x4 roads is to either park at Northair Mine and walk or drive the first kilometre and park at one of the clearings along the route. The worst part of the road between Northair Mine and the trailhead is about 1.6k to 2.2k where it becomes quite narrow, steep and the boulders and ruts are big and deep. Past this section the road becomes surprisingly good for the remaining 2k until nearer the trailhead. By way of comparison, my Jeep Grand Cherokee made it fairly easily. Keep in mind that there are no trailhead signs except a large mapboard sign for the Sproatt Valley. It is huge and hard to miss, despite falling over and sliding into a gully. For directions and maps to Northair Mine click here, then use the map below to drive or walk to the trailhead.
There are several hiking trails and sights to see around the Sproatt Alpine Trail. The Rainbow Trail to Rainbow Falls and Rainbow Lake can be found further along the Flank Trail near Rainbow Park in Whistler. The Madeley Lake Trail runs over the top of the Sproatt Alpine Trail and connects Madeley Lake to Hanging Lake and then to Rainbow Lake. Hanging Lake can be reached by and unmarked, though fairly easy alpine route off of the Sproatt Alpine Trail(see the first map above). Northair Mine near the Callaghan Valley end of the trail is a surreal little world in the mountains. There are cement foundations adorned with graffiti, two lakes and all sorts of curiosities to explore. Northair Mine is a great place to camp if you can manage to get your vehicle past the washouts on the bad forest service road to it. Alexander Falls, one of Whistler's most amazing waterfalls to see is easy to drive to, without a 4x4. The Callaghan Valley has several other great places to hike. Callaghan Lake Provincial Park has some short trails at this beautiful lake as well as free campsites. Cirque Lake is a challenging, though short trail that begins at the far end of Callaghan Lake. The Ring and Conflict Lakes trail also starts from near Callaghan Lake Provincial Park.