Waterfalls and getting wet :(

A severely bruised tailbone, an insane number of bug bites and some wet undies later (it's not what you might be thinking...), I can still say that I'm glad I hiked the Rainbow Trail. I had read about this off-the-beaten track trail in a tourist "magazine" I picked up at the airport in Vancouver and had decided immediately that I had to see it for myself!

I got a slightly later start than I wanted to, so I knew I would have to hustle to make it to Rainbow Lake, the turnaround point for the 16 km/2700 ft elevation gain trail. I was anticipating a hot, sweaty climb since the weather was in the 30s C in Whistler Valley. However, the temperature dropped almost immediately as I entered the old-growth forest and followed the path that snaked alongside an icy river. Within 15 minutes of hiking, I found the aptly-named Rainbow Falls...it was so unexpectedly and breathtakingly beautiful, that I literally felt the wind knocked out of me. In spite of the time crunch, I took a break to let the roar of the rapids and the spray from the freezing-cold water pound the tension I hadn't even realized I was carrying out of me.

The trail continued the uphill climb until I broke through the trees and encountered a plaque informing me that this watershed was the source of all Whistler Valley's drinking water...some of the freshest tasting and naturally cleanest in the world. This was accompanied by a reminder to not swim or to throw garbage or other debris in the river or lake system...and to dig latrine pits FAR from the water if need be. Yes, folks...this is foreshadowing.

After about two hours of hiking vertically, I got my first inkling that this wasn't going to be just "a walk in the woods." I got to a small stream rushing downhill and while taking pictures and admiring the sound of the surge of water, I realized that I no longer saw the path ahead of me. Then I realized that the "stream" actually WAS the path. The snow runoff was so substantial that it had taken over the trail! I managed to find where earlier hikers had beaten a small footpath into the brush on the other side of the path/stream and managed to cross with only mildly damp feet.

Up and up and up I climbed...the only wildlife I encountered was a squirrel that squeaked angrily at me until I was out of sight and about 800 million and 1 mosquitoes. I genuinely think they were trying to nibble me into smaller morsels so they could just carry me away in pieces, but no such luck. I kept slathering on "natural bug repellent"...a stinky mix of citronella and other herbal crap...but to no avail. After all that, I can honestly say screw carcinogens!! Bring on the DEET!

Well, as I smacked and scratched and flailed my arms, I realized that the path was getting muddier and muddier and then snowy patches started popping up here and there. And I was running out of steam. Just as I was starting to get discouraged, the trees faded away and an amazing Alpine wetland opened ahead of me. The dirt trail became a wooden boardwalk that took me up and over the icy water and mud. The mosquitoes receded into the shadows and I got a second wind. Certainly, I was swollen and scratching like a leper, stinky, covered in mud, but I felt like I must be getting close to Rainbow Lake...the turnaround point!!

Surprisingly, two hikers on their way back down the trail asked me to take their photo and as I scratched and shot pics, they asked me if I had ever hiked the trail before. They seemed slightly cagey as I said no and asked how far was left to the lake. They let me know that it was probably another hour's hike with a solid mile of that hour through an area where the path was completely covered in snow. They didn't say it in so many words, but I could tell they thought I wasn't going to make it to the lake on my own.

They were right. As soon as I reached the snowline, I lost track of where I was supposed to be going and which way the trail led. The stubborn achiever in me desperately wanted to continue, but common sense ruled the day. I was tired, itchy, and would soon be lost in the snow if I kept going. So, I turned around. I didn't make it to Rainbow Lake, but had seen so many beautiful sights along the way (and lost so much blood to bugs) that I decided that I was not a failure for calling it quits early.

The descent went a bit quicker than the ascent, but the bugs were worse even than on the way up, if that's possible...so the descent may have gone more quickly because I was practically running from the blood-suckers. Well, it was bound to happen...I was going too fast on too-tired legs and my thoughts were elsewhere. So, when it was time to cross the stream/path, I slipped on a rock and flump! Before I knew what had happened, I was flat on my butt and up to my waist in icy, rushing water. Brrrrr! Once I got my bearings and managed to stand up, I realized that everything from the waist down hurt. Bad. Those rocks did not make for a soft landing...luckily though, the icy water kept the swelling from being too terrible.
Moments before biting the dust...or rocks...

The remainder of the hike in sopping, cold socks, shoes, pants and undies was substantially less comfortable than it had been just moments before. But, I made it. And I even laughed about it...two days later.

Honestly, though, I saw so much amazing natural beauty and had so much time to think and reflect on where I've been and where I'm going, both literally and figuratively, that I would hike the Rainbow Trail again in a second. I didn't make it to the destination I thought I was shooting for, but the journey wound up being its own reward.

And to the people of Whistler Valley, if your drinking water tastes funny over the next day or two...sorry. That would be me...it was an accident :)


  1. Sweet! You weren't kidding, I LOVE the pic of the rainbow falls :)

  2. DEET all the way baby!