Rainbow Range, Tweedsmuir Park
July-August 2012 with Bill N, Nellie, Jen, Kate, Pat, Pierce and Paula (The Three Ps), Rich, and Margaret M, Debbie H and Sharell from Vernon and Eagle Lake. Rick was going to come with us but while at camp he decided it would be better that he get home and see a dentist.
The Rainbow Range trail was meant to be the site of the 2012 Nature Vancouver summer camp, but BC Parks refused our application. We held the camp instead at Butler Lake, in the Niut Range near Tatla Lake. Some of us weren’t going to be dissuaded, and we decided that we’d go into Tweedsmuir with a smaller group following the camp. Most of Tweedsmuir is in the Coast Mountains, but this section is an outlier that’s part of the newer (geologically speaking) Anahim Volcanic Belt.
Several of us came out of the camp and drove to Nimpo Lake Resort, where we met Rich who had driven up from Vancouver and Pierce who had been backpacking in Jasper. There we were able to do laundry, have real showers, and repack for the hike. It’s a nice and comfortable lodge, if rustic, but the seven or eight mosquito coil holders on the deck of our cabin gave us a pretty good hint of what we might expect if we stayed longer. Don’t worry, it could only get worse. In the morning Bill, Jen, Nellie and I headed for the Nimpo Bakery where we met up with Margaret, Debbie and Sharell who had driven from Margaret’s summer place at Eagle Lake, just east of Tatla. We hadn’t met them before, but Margaret came with excellent recommendations from Rick Gee and the Rameys – if she can hike with them, she can hike with us.
We got to the trailhead and rendezvoused with the rest of the team. Weather in the mountains can be rather unpredictable and this area is no exception. During week one of the camp at Butler Lake we had at least two days of heavy rain, one with hail, and there must have been some kind of winds in the valley because the outhouse at the trailhead had been trying to relocate itself.
There had been a major forest fire here a few years before, and in late 2010 when Don and I came up to recce the area for the camp committee there had just been another large one. Some fires were still burning not far from the highway, and the Octopus Lake trail which shares the trailhead with the Rainbow Range trail was still closed, and remained so in 2012. But the Rainbow Range trail had been cleared and was in good shape, both for the 2010 recce and the 2012 hike.
We started in through the burn, which was very quickly producing a wonderful array of flowers, particularly arnica and fireweed. The trail climbs fairly quickly out of the burn to an open plateau full of lakes. Most of them are officially unnamed; an old article by Bob Harris for BC Outdoors magazine (see map below) gave a number of them letters, the most significant of them being M Lake, known to some as Groundhog lake but officially known as McCauley Lake. This is the location of the very rustic campground where we’d spend our four nights.
The first lake after coming out of the burn I named Scaup Lake (Lake L in Bob’s article), and the second Ninety Minute Lake. Guess how long it took to get there.
Once out of the trees, the topography levels out into a plateau which, due to the abundance of cairns, I called Cairn Plateau. No, cairns are not always helpful in finding your way. I called the above one Wrong Way Tarn, as there’s a side trail to the left that can easily mislead you, and the one below I called Pintail Lake (yes, there were a few ducks around – but on the hike in our best bird was a Solitary Sandpiper high up in a conifer). At least one blog I’ve found identifies it as M Lake, supposedly because of its shape. Uh huh.
Our campsite, as I said, was at M Lake, or McCauley Lake as I’ll continue to refer to it. A mostly easy hike up on a gradual trail. There is a food safe and an open air biffy, surrounded by krummholtz with only one way in or out, the woods giving just enough cover as long as any passerby was looking away. Our plan for the camp was to set everything up a couple hundred metres down the creek from the lake, where there was lots of room and we’d be mostly out of the way of the general public. But with just twelve of us, and nobody else around, we just used the campsite at the lake. There weren’t a lot of other people around; we saw one group with horses and just two other pairs of hikers while we were there.
The above photo is looking west across the lake toward the Coast Mountains. This is on a high open plateau, and nothing much stops the wind. I first tried to put up my tent near this spot but found it too rocky for my old non-self-supporting REI A-frame, and found a good grassy area further from the lake but not from the wind. I’m really glad nobody took video of me trying to get my tent established in that wind, but I did eventually get it set up. And the best thing about the wind is that it gets rid of the mosquitoes.
Which were formidable. The food safe is located next to a screen of trees which were just tall enough to fix up a couple of tarps, and the leeward side of the trees became our kitchen and dining area. The mission was to find a sweet spot just far enough into the trees to avoid getting your food blown to Anahim Lake, and just far enough out to avoid being eaten alive.
After we set up camp, we wandered a bit further up the trail, which is supposed to divide, with one branch continuing along the plateau heading to The Molar and another dropping down to the meadows of the Tusulko River and then to its headwaters at Three Valley Pass. After a while there was no real sign of either, but we got a good idea of the lay of the land and where we could hike for the next three days.
On day two, we headed back up the trail and looked for the trail going up to the pass, which is home to a couple of small lakes. We found a reasonably good route down from a low draw which had several Horned Larks in it, which we gave the name of Horned Lark Alley. Somewhere around there we also had a family of White-tailed Ptarmigan, which didn’t appear to be very worried about our presence and let us walk right up to them.
Bob Harris gives the name Lake N, but the lakes are now officially known as de Macedo Lakes. We never did find the supposed trail to the pass but it was mostly easy picking a route through the upper reaches of the creek near the pass (lower down would have been an abomination of willows). From there we scrambled up the summit shown on the map as 2048 m, then down and over to the Viewpoint just to the north.
About the Rainbow Range. Yes, this is called the Rainbow Range trail, but it only takes you where you can SEE the Rainbow Range. To actually get to the Rainbow Range is a longer multi-day slog, better done on horseback. But from the viewpoint we were able to pick out the amazing colours of the volcanic rock in the distance.
Day three, the first of August, was wet and socked in all day. The Three Ps went off somewhere else together, a couple of others puttered around their tents for the day, and the rest of us decided not to go high but spent the day wandering up and down a few low ridges on the plateau and around the lakes. And there were quite a lot of them.
It wasn’t much of a scenery day but it was enjoyable rambling around. And the flowers were good but there was nothing special.
This is on one of the ridges looking toward the pass, with The Molar on the left, the ridge we’d been to the day before just right of centre, and McCauley Lake and the camp somewhere off to the right.
The weather cleared up for day four, and we headed back up to explore The Molar. It’s probably the easiest and most gradual ascent to a peak that I’ve ever done; from McCauley Lake, it’s just a steady walk up a rocky plateau. But the last bit got steep, and we found ourselves on an exposed ridge which we managed to work our way around to another open viewpoint. The actual summit was only another ten or twenty metres higher but was somewhat rougher; Rich worked his way up on his own, but found it a bit risky, and the rest of us gave it a miss.
On day five we packed up and headed out. The camp had been downright cold and most of this hike wasn’t much warmer, but this day got hot, and by the time we got to Tatla Lake it was 32 degrees. The various members of our group went our separate ways; Bill, Jen, Nellie and I accepted Margaret’s invitation to spend the night at one of her cabins at Eagle Lake, where she plied us with beer, ciders and coolers. White Pelicans and Sandhill Cranes on the lake. We made a very early start the next morning to drive home; we got to the Lee’s Corner Cafe in Hanceville for breakfast, and walked in just in time to hear them playing O Canada for Rosie MacLennan’s gold medal in trampoline at the Olympics in London. We drove home via Farwell Canyon and Gang Ranch, with a couple of good birding stops before the canyon, some great scenery up to the canyon and then from Gang Ranch on, but in between much of it was pretty tedious. And it just got hotter from Clinton to Hope; Lake of the Woods north of Hope had cars parked along the side of the road for about half a kilometre.
This map is from the Hiking Trails – Rainbow Range article by Bob Harris, published April 1981.