There’s nothing like a new trail in town to get people talking.
This autumn the word is out about the new alpine hiking experience on Rainbow Mountain, dubbed the Skywalk Trail.
“A lot of people are out there hiking it,” said Kurt Mueller, who spearheaded the Skywalk project. “People are definitely out there discovering it on their own. It’s a really beautiful trail. I might be getting attached because I’ve worked on it so much, but this is as good as anything in the Rocky Mountains, especially the upper alpine stuff.”
Skywalk is now linked to the north end of the Flank Trail, accessed from the Rick’s Roost trailhead at the top of Alpine Way in Alpine Meadows. After a steep hike up to the Flank for about 90 minutes, a freshly built connector, known as “Escape Route” forks off the Flank shortly after the bridge over 19 Mile Creek. The Escape Route gently climbs to the top of the tree line and connects with Skywalk once you’re in full view of the alpine zone of Rainbow Mountain.
“(The work) was all done by volunteers, mostly Alpine Club of Canada members,” said Mueller. “On average we had about 10 people up there on a daily basis. We had a camp up there for about two weeks and most of us stayed up there. Myself and Mitch (Sulkers) were actually up there for a week before we set up the camp, just sleeping in our tents.”
Whistler has been long overdue for a new alpine hiking experience with routes like the Rainbow Lake Trail falling into disrepair in recent years. The poor condition of hiking specific trails in Whistler was presented in a report to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) after Mueller formed the Hiking Trails Task Force (HTTF) in 2011.
The call was heard by the municipality, which paid for three loads of materials to be delivered to the Rainbow alpine via helicopter. The result is an expanding network of alpine hiking trails that extends all the way from the Flank to Screaming Cat Lake with extensions planned towards the south end of Rainbow as well.
Now that Mueller’s “pie in the sky” idea for a new alpine hiking trail experience has become a reality, the next step is to make sure the trail will stand the test of time. That means relying on the respect of Whistler’s locals and visitors to only use the trails for foot activities like hiking and running.
“It’s a very fragile trail,” said Mueller. “It’s not machine built, it doesn’t have a hard surface. It cannot withstand any bike traffic. That’s our biggest worry.”
Mueller points to the example of Howler, a nearby trail that was originally intended to be multi-use for both hikers and mountain bikers, but has had to be abandoned as a hiking trail due to excessive erosion.
“We don’t have the solution,” said Mueller. “We can only ask for understanding and education and see if this can co-exist with the mountain bike community. Many of our people are mountain bikers ourselves, but we know this trail is not for downhilling or mountain biking. It’s just not built for it.”