When plans to hold the annual summer camp in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park fell through, some of us decided to do a backpacking trip to the area following the first week of camp. Eight of us came from the camp and were joined by four others, and on July 30 we hiked in on the Rainbow Range trail from Heckman Pass and spent four nights camped by a large lake variously known as McCauley Lake, M Lake, or Groundhog Lake. This was a moderate hike, measuring 7.76km on GPS with elevation gain of about 250 metres, and with full packs and at a leisurely pace it took us just under three hours to hike to the lake.
The Rainbow Range is part of the Anahim Volcanic Belt of mountains, a volcanic complex which intrudes on the Chilcotin Plateau, and as such is separate from the Coast Mountains which constitute the bulk of Tweedsmuir. The lake is one of many situated on a high subalpine plateau, with a number of small patches of trees to break the wind which blows almost constantly across the plateau from the Coast Mountains. This wind was key in helping reduce the number of mosquitoes and black flies, and when cooking and eating it became a bit of an art to find a spot with the right balance of shelter from the wind and of relief from the bugs. The Coast Mountains were visible in the distance to the west and south; to the east is the Tusulko River and beyond it a long range of peaks dominated by a high rounded and fluted summit known as The Molar.
After setting up, several of us explored a bit further north up the plateau from the lake to see what was there. The plateau appears to rise to a low summit just north of the lake but in fact it continues to rise for some distance; we contented ourselves with finding a good patch of partially albino lupines and a family of Horned Larks.
The trail is reported to divide above the lake into a low route nearer the river and a higher route but we found it sketchy, and following the cairns was a routefinding challenge. On day two, we headed up the valley to explore toward the pass at the head of the Tusulko. This pass is informally known as Three Valley Pass, with lakes draining east to the Tusulko, west to Young Creek and north to Beef Trail Creek
Trying as much as possible to avoid the many wet and muddy spots, we crossed below the pass and walked up the peak north of the Molar and overlooking the pass. From there we were able to see clearly the intricately coloured Painted Ridge, the highlight of the Rainbow Range.
Day three began wet, cold and windy, and those of us who ventured out were happy to do a large circuit of the plateau, where we lost count of the number of lakes, meadows, ridges, and snowpatches. On day four, with improved weather, we made for the pass again and keeping a higher and dryer line we found our way near the end of the plateau and up the back. What had appeared to be a low plateau extending north from the campsite eventually turned out to be as high in elevation as the ridge we had climbed on the second day, and with even more open views north to Painted Ridge, west to Crystal Lake and Mount Mackenzie, and south to Octopus Lake and the Turner Lake - Ptarmigan Lake area in the south of the park.
On the final day we hiked out, and with the weather turning hot and sunny we gave thanks that we weren’t hiking in in that weather (32 degree high in Tatla Lake). The forest near the trailhead burned in 2010, and several of us took advantage for some last photos of the blackened forest and the flowers that have sprung up, particularly asters, arnica and fireweed.
In addition to the lupines, flower highlights included inky gentian and three species of lousewort (bracted, Langsdorf’s, and bird’s beak lousewort).
We found two White-tailed Ptarmigan, one with four or five chicks. Pipits, Horned Larks and Grey-crowned Rosy Finches were in two or three locations, Golden-crowned Sparrows regularly sang near the lake (along with the odd White-crowned, Savannah and Fox Sparrow), and on the lakes hiking in and out were Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. One day we returned to our lake to find five Horned Grebe there. One medium-sized raptor we watched from a distance near the Tusulko River was determined to be a Merlin. Hoary marmots were common but few other mammals, least of all any bears nor any recent sign of them.
For more photos, including some from the September 2010 recce trip, click HERE
Birds seen or heard
Canada Goose (flyover), Barrow’s Goldeneye, Horned Grebe, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Merlin, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Three-toed Woodpecker, Rufous Hummingbird, Clark’s Nutcracker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, American Pipit, Horned Lark, Pine Siskin, Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Golden-crowned Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Fox Sparrow
Plants in flower (partial list)
Agoseris aurantiaca - orange false dandelion
Arenaria capillaris - threat-leaved sandwort
Arnica cordifolia - heart-leaved arnica
Arnica mollis - hairy arnica
Artemisia norvegica - mountain sagewort
Caltha leptosepala - white marsh-marigold
Campanula lasiocarpa - mountain harebell
Castilleja miniata - common red paintbrush
Cassiope mertensiana - white mountain-heather
Cerastium arvense - field chickweed
Draba lonchocarpa - white draba
Draba paysonii - Payson’s draba
Dryas octopetala - white mountain-avens
Epilobium angustifolium - common fireweed
Epilobium hornemannii - Hornemann’s fireweed
Erigeron compositus - cutleaf fleabane
Erigeron peregrinus - subalpine fleabane
Gentiana glauca - inky gentian
Hieracium gracile - slender hawkweed
Leptarrhena pyrolifolia - leather-leaved saxifrage
Kalmia microphylla - western bog-laurel
Luetkea pectinata - partridge-foot
Lupinus arcticus - arctic lupine
Myosotis alpestris - mountain forget-me-not
Oxyria digyna - mountain sorrel
Pedicularis bracteosa - bracted lousewort
Pedicularis langsdorffii - Langsdorf’s lousewort
Pedicularis ornithorhynchus - bird’s beak lousewort
Penstemon procerus - small-flowered penstemon
Petasites frigidus - sweet coltsfoot
Phacelia sericea - silky phacelia
Phyllodoce empetriformis - pink mountain-heather
Phyllodoce glanduliflora - yellow mountain-heather
Platanthera dilatata - white rein-orchid
Polemonium pulcherrimum - showy jacob’s-ladder
Potentilla flabellifolia - fan-leaved cinquefoil
Ranunculus eshcholtzii - subalpine buttercup
Sanguisorba sitchensis - Sitka burnet
Saxifraga bronchialis - spotted saxifrage
Saxifraga lyallii - Lyall’s saxifrage
Saxifraga tolmiea - Tolmie’s saxifrage
Sedum lanceolatum - lance-leaved stonecrop
Senecio triangularis - arrow-leaved groundse
Sibbaldia procumbens - creeping sibbaldlia
Silene acaulis - moss campion
Symphyotrichium (Aster) foliaceus - leafy aster
Tofieldia glutinosa - sticky false-asphodel
Trollius albiflorus - globeflower
Valeriana sitchensis - Sitka valerian
Veratrum viride - false hellebore
Veronica wormskjoldii - alpine speedwell