Before You Go
There are two very important things you need to know about this hike. You will need a car to drive you 45 minutes south of Whistler, up the dusty and potholed 8km access road to Callaghan Lake (which means you can camp in style), and you will need a boat to cross the lake to begin your hike to Cirque Lake. Preferable a kayak or canoe, but if you’re mad enough (like we were) then you can attempt it in an inflatable dingy.
As with all hikes you will need decent shoes and an extra layer in case it gets chilly at the top. Cirque Lake is literally the coldest lake that I’ve ever been in, but bring a swimsuit and towel if you’re brave enough to swim. Pack plenty of food and water, you can get fresh water from the river if you run out.
This beautiful lake is high in the mountains of the Callaghan Lake Provincial Park. The campsite itself is nothing more than a dusty car park with an outhouse and a boat ramp but you can hunt around to find some hidden spots right on the edge of the water. You can also take your belongings in your boat to one of the secret spots further along the shore.
You can spend the afternoon paddling around the lake in the sun, enjoying a beer and the view before heading back to your tent to cook some delicious dinner. None of that dry, tasteless food for you today my friend, with a car you can bring a whole cool box full of sausages, burgers and marshmallows to roast on a campfire.
Before you set off in the morning you can make yourself a good breakfast with whatever is left from the night before and pack up your things to leave locked in the car. Take only the essentials: camera, water, snacks. If you have a dry bag, use it. If not, wrap your things, including your socks and shoes, in a few plastic bags for your lake crossing, just in case.
It’s about a half an hour paddle to get to the other side of Callaghan Lake if you’re in a kayak or a canoe. Our journey took a while longer as the four of us were squished into an inflatable dingy with mismatched paddles. Just head straight across, you’ll eventually be able to see the faint line of a waterfall crashing down the mountainside, that’s where you’re going, and it looks impossible to climb.
The hike up to Cirque Lake is very difficult and extremely steep to begin with, you gain 300m elevation in only 2km. At some points, it’s almost impossible to follow the trail and you just have to make it up as you go along. It’s marked with sporadic pieces of ribbon or an Inukshuk every now and then… but we still left the trail a few too many times.
You start with a nice walk into the forest before climbing straight up, through mud and fallen trees and rocks until you stop to catch your breath and turn around the see the whole of Callaghan Lake stretching away beneath you, it’s surprisingly big, blue and beautiful.
After climbing across a huge rock slide, back into the trees and along a sketchy slope you get your first glimpse of Cirque Lake. It feels like you’re a million miles away from civilization when you stand over this glacial lake surrounded by mountains with the river crashing back down the way you’ve just come.
The trail isn’t clear how to get down to the lake, the way I went meant I ended up having to go in it, just for a second, and it’s the coldest water I’ve ever, ever touched. My flatmates were brave enough to swim in it. I sat there and made the most of the peaceful silence while eating lunch and admiring the clarity and colour of the lake.
We took a slightly different route on our hike back down to make it easier on our knees, and it was much quicker going back across the lake as we had the wind behind us. Back on the shore, it was simply a case of deflating our trusty boat and driving home. It’s a difficult but rewarding hike, and you can’t help but feel like you’ve been on a huge adventure!
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