Date: Jan 28, 2017
Participants: Geoff Zenger + a large BCMC party led by Bill Maurer
Difficulty: 2 (mostly easy slopes, short steep section between 21 mile creek trail and valley)
Report: Four years ago I posted a trip on the BCMC trip list for a “mid-winter two-fer”, to go up Mt. Sproatt, traverse over to Tonic Peak, and ski down the hanging valley to the Rainbow Lake trail. Unfortunately, I was very sick the week before the trip and Bill Maurer volunteered to lead the trip in my stead. Since then, he has organized a repeat of the same trip each year, trying a slightly different route every time, but never managing to make it to Tonic from Sproatt without running out of time. This year, I managed to have the date free and decided to join in, and Bill decided that the route would be attempted in reverse: first ascending Tonic, then heading to Sproatt, and skiing back down to Whistler.
A couple logistical mishaps resulted in the party leaving West Van more than 30 minutes late, and so it was about 9am when we finally left the parking lot at the Whistler Cemetery and started our way up the 21-mile creek trail. The trail towards Rainbow Lake had seen traffic since the previous snowfall, and the going was easy and quick. Approximately 400m past the outhouses, we found some flagging to the left to the trail and started our way up towards hanging valley.
At this point we were on the left side of a gully, and we learned later from our descent that it would have been easier to ascend to the right side of this gully (but important: still to the left of the main creek flowing out of hanging valley). Not far up this slope we encountered a cliff band and we were able to work around it to the left, but this necessitated a brief bootpack up a steep snow slope. On top of this slope, we worked our way to the right, into broad open bottom of hanging valley. At this point the weather started to warm up towards 0 degrees as the sun came out. Beautiful! This is also where we had our only real scare of the day, when we noticed that 2 members of our party had disappeared and we began to worry that they had followed some older tracks up the ridge heading directly to Mt. Sproatt. A lengthy discussion ensued, and just as we had decided to press on and hope to be able to see them on top of Mt. Sproatt, they caught up to us as it turned out that one of them had had to stop to fasten his bindings more tightly to his skis.
The touring up hanging valley was both easy and very pleasant, and at its head we turned slightly to the left to head up towards the col between Mt. Sproatt and Tonic Peak. In retrospect, we would have had a more direct route had we ascended through the trees at the head of the valley. From near the col we turned right and pressed onwards to a little knob in the distance. Many of us wondered why we were heading there rather than to the taller peak to the right, but our dear leader insisted that it was indeed Tonic Peak. On reaching “Maurer Knob” however, the GPS was checked and sure enough we were on a minor knob and had to backtrack to begin our ascent to the real Tonic Peak, which we reached at about 1:40, for a total ascent time of 4:40.
The day was clear and beautiful, and from the summit we had great views of the Spearhead Range, Rainbow Mountain, and all of the peaks south of Callaghan Valley. A quick glance at the time combined with some participants expressing concern about the difficulty of skiing on the descent led to an easy decision to not try to summit Sproatt as well and so we could relax a while on top. We left the summit after 30 minutes, quickly skinned across the summit plateau, and had a fantastic run straight down into the head of hanging valley on wonderful powder. Here we decided to stick just to skiier’s right of the main creek, and soon found ourselves at the end of the valley. Here things got dicey for some of our less experienced skiiers, as descending to the Rainbow Lake trail was essentially a side-slipping clinic. Nonetheless, everyone made it down to the trail without mishap. The trail itself resembled a luge track, with many ups and downs, causing headaches for our splitboarder and our newer skiiers, but we persevered, and by 4:30 we were back at the cars.
Many thanks to Bill for organizing, and thank you to everyone else for a great day out in the mountains! Since having a baby my days out are limited, and it’s wonderful to have days like this with great company and great skiing on those days I do manage to get out. The route is certainly not a classic, but it is close to home, had great snow, and got us all to a summit that we hadn’t visited before!