Season: July to October
Musical Bumps Route 9 km o/w; Time: 7 h
Fitzsimmons Creek Route 11 km o/w; Time: 8 h
Elevation Change: Roundhouse to Flute Summit +152 m Flute Summit to Russet Lake -945 m Russet Lake to Singing Pass +305 m Singing Pass to Whistler Village -610 m
Topographical Map: 92 J/2 Whistler.
A full-colour plastic map of the entire Garibaldi Region is available from Lower Mainland bookstores. Published by International Travel Maps at a scale of 1:100,000. They forgot to include a scale but that's 1 cm = 1 km. The only other drawback is contour intervals are based on older government charts expressed in feet rather than metres. Conversion yields intervals of 61 m, not exactly a dream number to navigate with.
Access: [See Getting to Whistler.] The Whistler Express gondola will be found on the edge of the main village. The trailhead to Singing Pass starts from British Columbia's premier four-season resort community. Visitors and newcomers to the West Coast may want to combine this moderate backpacking trip with a day or two spent exploring and relaxing in Whistler Village afterwards. Mountain biking, river rafting, golf are just a few of the summer pursuits popular here.
Until recently most hikers reached Singing Pass via the Fitzsimmons Creek access road, driving to within 7 km of the alpine pass. Washouts along the old logging road now preclude vehicle access. And while hikers and mountain bikers still use the road most visitors to this part of Garibaldi Provincial Park follow the "Musical Bumps" route instead. While purists and the very frugal may insist on reaching the trailhead on foot, trudging up through the open gashes slashed out of the forest for skiers makes for pretty dull hiking. The majority grudgingly dish out the astounding $21 required to ride the Whistler Express gondola up to the Roundhouse restaurant at the top of the mountain. The lift operates daily during high season from the last week of June through to the last week of September.
With most, but not all of the elevation already gained, check the map and information board after unloading to find the start of the Harmony Lake Trail. While trails snake around either side of Whistler glacier the left fork via Harmony Lake is shorter. After reuniting, the route scoots up and over one of Whistler Mountain's sprawling shoulders before dropping down again to Burnt Stew Lake. M-m-m... What's for lunch? The trail rises again up and around the "Musical Bumps," past krumholtz, threading a path through seemingly endless rocky meadows. The faint path first skirts around to the east of Piccolo Summit then cuts over the top of 1981 m Flute Summit just a kilometre away before finally weaving 1½ km back around to the north and east of Oboe Summit.
Typically, during July and August the meadows are alive with a brilliant pastiche of wildflowers: splashes of yellow, purple and blue, white and red against the backdrop of glacial Cheakamus Lake far below and distant crags draped in ice. Stay on the trail to avoid unnecessary damage to the fragile alpine landscape.
After rounding Oboe Summit the route drops down again to Singing Pass less than a kilometre away. Just prior to reaching a You Are Here sign complements of BC Parks note the return trail via Fitzsimmons Creek branching off to the left.
Continue on, the best views can be had from a ridge just a mere 500 metres beyond Singing Pass. When drinking in the panorama of snow and glacier-covered peaks note Russet Lake nestled at the base of Fissile Peak. Make for the acorn-shaped cabin at the north end of the lake to set up tents. The cabin was built by the Alpine Club of Canada whose members frequently ascend the peaks and ice fields hereabouts. Unless planning to join them on the precipices, Russet Lake is the end of the road for backpackers.
Retrace the two kilometres back to Singing Pass where hikers are confronted with a choice. The shortest route back is the way you came, 8 km up and over the Musical Bumps to the gondola which, incidentally, ceases operations at 8:00 PM every evening. The loop route paralleling Fitzsimmons Creek is longer [10 kilometres] and while it passes through a delightful old-growth forest, half of the route passes through some of the forest industry's finest clearcuts. On the upside it's downhill all the way.
From Singing Pass the trail drops down through alpine meadows parallel to the course of Melody Creek. Gradually the stunted bonsai trees of sub alpine merge into a forest with trees getting larger as you drop into the valley. As you turn away from Melody Creek the forest becomes a mature stand of timber.
The boundary of Garibaldi Provincial Park is easy to recognize as the forest beyond it has been obliterated. The view does not improve for the rest of the journey though just past the boundary check out an abandoned gold mine at trail side. The gaping cavern, shored up with heavy wooden beams, and rusty ore cart rails are reminiscent of some cheesy western movie and seem somehow out of place here in the British Columbia outback.
Soon after the mine you'll reach the parking lot from which hikers traditionally accessed Singing Pass. An alternative route drops from the parking lot directly down across Fitzsimmons Creek picking up a service road along the fringes of Blackcomb Mountain. Though more scenic, this less direct route entails crossing Fitzsimmons Creek which may be a torrent early in the season.
Except for a few washed out sections the 5 km from the parking lot to Whistler Village are uneventful. Stay alert for black bears which tend to proliferate in clearcut areas. The end of the dirt road joins Blackcomb Way just behind the main bus loop in the Village. Splurge a little if you can afford it and soak all the trail dust off in a private hot tub. Budget accommodations are also available.