Spectrum Peak

February 21, 2022


Whistler, BC

“Spectrum Peak” is rather just a bump on the west slopes of Rainbow Mountain but boasts about 200 m prominence above Spectrum/Rainbow saddle. This peak does meet the international peak-bagging criteria to be considered as a separate peak (100 m prominence) but the name is just another unofficially-assigned one by bivouac.com. In this particular case the name was chosen according to the “Rainbow theme” of the area. As you all know that I do not, and will never buy these “bivouac names” because I simply do not believe in naming peaks or any geological feature without the approval by the government’s officials. However, this peak had gained fair amount of attention in the last few months thank to a few trip reports and a group rescue, such that the name had started to stick on the internet. Instead of calling it “Peak 1817” I’ll just follow the trend to call it “Spectrum Peak”.

Holly and I were struggling to find a suitable objective on the last day of this Family Day long weekend. I needed to be home no later than 8 pm for some late-evening work and the conditions weren’t the most ideal neither. The area with the least amount of recent snowfall was Sea to Sky but I was running out of winter objectives in this corridor. I remembered “Spectrum Peak” was still a viable option even though this objective would be rather lame. I threw out the idea of climbing the south face gully (45 degrees) instead of the standard east slopes route. I’m not really a route person but this would make “Spectrum Peak” sound slightly more attractive hence an easier sell for Holly. At the last minute Andrew K. joined the team but he wasn’t keen to climb the couloir. Our plan was to do the approach together and decide on the route choices after evaluating the conditions in field. We decided to do the approach from Whistler Olympic Park which is considerably shorter than Rainbow Lake trail but involved some complicated logistics with the park’s gate. The gate time was from 9 am to 4:30 pm so we only had a little bit over 7 hours of time to complete the ascent. Holly volunteered to drive and that was a relief for me, as the gate hour suggested we were doomed to get stuck in the long weekend traffic gong show on the return. Even the morning traffic was decently heavy.

“Spectrum Peak” via east face and down south face couloir. GPX DL

We eventually managed to start the ascent at 9:20 am. The trail to Hanging Lake was extremely icy thank to the volume of the skiers’ traffics. Holly and Andrew hiked the whole trail to Hanging Lake with microspikes while I opted to just use snowshoes. My MSR Lightning Ascents 25′ were broken but I estimated the conditions were still firm enough that I did not need to haul the 30′ powder shoes. The amount of fresh snow was greater than expected, but still in the reasonable range. We took our first break at Hanging Lake. It was sunny but very cold thank to the Arctic outflow.

Andrew had done this approach and led us through the initial maze of junctions
Holly following up. The forested approach was steep and boring
“Spectrum Peak” and the south face gully in view
Other groups of skiers were also taking their first break on Hanging Lake

Most, if not all of the skiers’ tracks were heading for Gin Peak or the divide between Rainbow Mountain and Gin Peak. The Gin/Rainbow divide could be used to approach our objective, but that would be indirect. I made the call to leave the skin tracks to break our own trail heading straight towards “Spectrum Peak”. The plan was to use a shallow gully system and the going was mostly straightforward as the creek was very filled in. The trail-breaking was easy such that it did not take us long to arrive at the broad basin south-east of “Spectrum Peak”.

Andrew plodding across Hidden Lake after abandoning the skin tracks
Into our approach valley, looking back at Alpha Mountain etc. on Tantalus Range
Andrew continuing charging up the direct approach valley.
Looking back at Holly marching up.
Andrew nearing the treeline zone
Our first unobstructed view of Rainbow Mountain’s west slopes

The three of us had a discussion about the conditions and the decision was to head up the east slopes standard route together, as the signs of reverse loading suggested a higher probability of finding wind slabs in that south face gully. The Arctic outflow north winds were howling like crazy. After wrapping to the east side of the peak we ascended a series of 35+ degrees rolls. This entire face would be prone to avalanche in the right conditions but not on this particular day. The snow conditions on this face were rather scoured and firm making some easy conditions for snowshoeing. We made the summit in about 3 hours from the parking lot.

Holly plodding up around to the east side of “Spectrum Peak”
Holly just about to ascend Spectrum’s east face
The terrain’s a lot steeper than the photo suggested
Andrew charging up like a mad man.
Andrew and Holly tackling probably the steepest roll
Looking back to see skiers skinning up Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Lake in the foreground
Powder Mountain is that dome of snow
Mt. Cayley massif with “Pyroclastic Peak” being that pointy spire
Andrew on the summit of “Spectrum Peak”
Alpha Mountain, Serratus Mountain and Mt. Tantalus from L to R
As you can see it was very windy… Brandywine Mountain in the background
The ski hills in Whistler-Blackcomb resort
Daisy Lake to the south
The Black Tusk in front of Mt. Garibaldi massif
Holly on the summit of “Spectrum Peak”
Holly in front of Rainbow Mountain

As always a trip with Holly meant at least 1-2 hours on the summit. This time we did not linger that long thank to the Arctic winds but we still stayed for over 45 minutes. Andrew and I were shivering so we had to move on. Andrew decided to descend the same route but Holly and I wanted to check out the south gully. After traversing to the gully’s entrance we found the conditions to be better than expected with no wind slab forming. We took the snowshoes off and donned crampons. The gully appeared steep so we each used two ice tools to down-climb. After leading into the gully’s proper I told Holly to drop in first since this way she could gain experience faster. The down-climb was short and fun. We then boot-packed down the SE slopes. I thought we could just walk to where Andrew was waiting, but the snow was too deep for that. We had to stop in the middle of a steep slope to make a crampons-to-snowshoes transition.

Even descending to the gully’s entrance involved some steep terrain
Me dropping in a direct line into the S. Face couloir
The initial drop-in was the steepest
Holly dropping into the south face gully
Holly down-climbing to my rest spot
Holly continuing dropping into the couloir
About 2/3 of the way down the couloir, looking up
Me finishing the couloir down-climbing
Holly was full of joy after the down-climb
Descending the steep SE slopes
Holly descending to where Andrew and I were waiting

After regrouping with Andrew we easily plodded back to Hanging Lake where we were joined by tens, if not hundreds of skiers. Everyone else was going for Gin Peak and Rainbow Mountain and we were the only group on “Spectrum Peak”. We descended Hanging Lake trail on snowshoes until running out of the soft fresh powder. To descend the steep and icy trail on snowshoes would be a painful fair so we took the shoes off. Holly and Andrew donned microspikes. I did not have microspikes so simply just boot-packed, slipped and slid my way down the trail, taking at least three massive spills along the way. This was one type of terrain/condition that micropikes would have their use. I could have donned crampons but I was too lazy to dig them out from the bottom of the backpack. We eventually made back to the parking lot before 4 pm. The drive home was as horrible as expected. It took us over 3 hours to drive from Whistler back to downtown Vancouver. The Lions Gate delay was about 1 hour and the downtown traffic was also a shit show. I eventually made back to White Rock at 8 pm in time for work but with no spare time for anything else.

Almost back to Hanging Lake. The slope behind was probably skied 200 times…
Holly plodding back across Hanging Lake
Looking back at Hanging Lake. Skiers were still doing laps …
Andrew dropping in below Hanging Lake
Back onto those steep and icy trails
Holly in the forest. The descent was slippery and required concentration
Long weekend Monday at 5:30 pm. Oh well…
We got to watch sunset near Lions Bay