11-12hrs, about 27km round-trip
Cumulative elevation gain: 1200m total round-trip
Cumulative elevation loss: 1590m total round-trip
We have done this trail as an overnight, staying only one night at Russet Lake. We wanted to stay for 2 nights, but unfortunately, all the Saturday night campsites were already booked through the Garibaldi Park reservation system. We had no idea that all of Garibaldi Park was now fully going by reservations, as it used to be only Garibaldi and Taylor Meadows areas… so make sure to book your spot ahead if you want to stay anywhere in Garibaldi now! It was about 13$ per person for camping per night, up to 4 people for one tent spot. There is also a cabin at Russet Lake, which can sleep about 8, and is first-arrived, first-served within the people who paid and reserved for the camping.
There were many trail options for us to take in order to get all the way to Russet Lake. To be honest, it was a bit difficult to get a clear idea of the terrain, difficulty and elevation gain/loss on these trails. Because the trail is divided into so many sections, I found partial information, length and times and tried to get a good overview of which path we would be taking. There are basically 4 ways to get to Russet Lake : 1. Taking the Singing Pass trail up, then turning left at the junction towards Russet Lake (about 1300m of elevation gain until the junction over 11 km), 2. Taking the Pika Traverse/Half Note Trail/Burnt Stew Trails to cut through towards the Musical Bumps trail, 3. Taking the High Note Trail starting from the Roundhouse (top of the gondola) towards Harmony Lake and then the Musical Bumps, and 4. Taking the High Note Trail starting from the top of the Peak Chair and then the Musical Bumps trail. We chose to hike on our first day with option #4, by taking the Whistler gondola up (63$/person, save 5$ if you book your ticket online a few days before, OR you get 25% off if you are with someone who has an Edge Card or a Season Pass), then walking to the Peak Chair Lift, going up with the lift at the top of Whistler mountain and hiking this portion of High Note Trail until the junction with the Musical Bumps, and then all the way to Russet Lake passed the junction with the Singing Pass Trail.
We knew that by taking the Peak chair option, we would add about 2km to our first day route. We also knew that it was the most scenic way to head to Russet Lake, so here we went along. I found it difficult to find specific information on the elevation on the High Note Trail. Most descriptions states that the High Note Trail loop is about 3-4hrs on 10.7km with about 260m elevation change. However, on the first day, we did only one portion of the High Note Trail, as we continued forward to the Musical Bumps trail. Do note that the High Note Trail, in cumulative elevation, will have you go up about 315m, and down about 710m (over the 10.7km). There are a lot of up and downs on this trail, and to be honest, I was happy that we started from the Peak chair down, and came back on the second portion of the trail on the second day (as I wouldn’t have enjoyed going downhill on that second portion of the trail, which is quite steep and rocky).
So after going up the Peak chair, you will already have great views of the valley and the Black Tusk. Right away, you will start your descent on the High Note Trail and slowly start enjoying views of Cheakamus Lake all the way below. The first portion of the trail is a long and quite steep downhill, with lots of sand and loose rocks. I would definitely recommend good hiking shoes with good tread, and definitely avoid running shoes here ; especially if you are carrying an overnight pack! You will slowly start seeing the multiple ups and downs on the trail – which is just the beginning!
After about 2 hours, you will go downhill and arrive at the trail junction with the Musical Bumps. This is also the junction where you can keep heading on the second part of the High Note Trail towards the Roundhouse to complete the loop (which we took on our way back). From here, the views just get better. You will go up to Flute summit and then back down between Flute and Oboe, then hike back up to Oboe summit, and then downhill again until the junction with the Singing pass (after about 3hrs). The up and downs are around 100-200m each time, which definitely adds up considering the long distance of the trail.
After passing the junction with the Singing pass, follow the sign to go uphill towards Russet Lake. From there, you will have about one hour left. You will mainly go uphill until you reach the construction site for the new hut being built as a base for the Spearhead Traverse. The hut is located at the highpoint between the Singing Pass junction and the lake. Right after the hut, you will go downhill along the lake and arrive to your final camping destination!
There were about 12 tent spots of different sizes at the lake, around the hut and near the outhouse. Some spots were bigger than others, and we had to search a little bit in order to find one that would fit comfortably our two 2-person tents. We debated a little bit about which path we would take on the way back, as we were concerned about the amount of uphill to do on the trail we just came from. After deciding that the Singing Pass would most likely kill our knees, we chose to come back through the Musical Bumps, and finish the second part of the High Note Trail towards the gondola.
On the way back you will see amazing views of the Cheakamus Glacier, as you get back on the Musical Bumps trail. After descending the Flute summit, you will turn right at the junction on the High Note Trail. We followed the signs towards Symphony and Harmony Lake, which took us on another series of 2 up and down hills. The last uphill to the Roundhouse was quite strenuous for me, as my blisters were raging and my energy levels quite low at that point.
This is definitely one of the trails with the best views I have done in the area – however, make sure you have a lot of water and sun protection, considering that you will be in the alpine at all times with no shade. I would not say this is a moderate trail for an overnight – I think the distance and the elevation gain and loss overall makes this a difficult hike to do with a heavy backpack!