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Brew Lake is beautiful mountain lake just a short drive south of Whistler and is relatively unknown and seldom hiked. Laying at the base of Mount Brew, Brew Lake lays in a massive alpine valley of enormous erratics. On first seeing Brew Lake it looks serene, yet wild and hostile. The lake is surrounded on one side by idyllic tree covered hills and lakeside cliffs and on the other side a brutal looking wasteland of huge boulders sloping up from the lake to the skyline. Hiking into this wasteland of erratics reveals an amazing paradise of small, island forests, cute streams and endless worlds within worlds to explore. You find yourself wandering along like a kid mesmerized at what you will find next.
Brew Lake itself doesn't come close in wow factor to the postcard-perfect alpine lakes such as Wedgemount Lake, Joffre Lakes, Cheakamus Lake or Garibaldi Lake, but I does beat these lakes in other aspects. Because Brew Lake is outside of Garibaldi Provincial Park few people have heard of it. More often than not you will have both the lake and entire valley to yourself. An increasingly rare occurrence elsewhere that gives the place a quiet calm and that strange and satisfying feeling that there are no other humans for quite some distance.
You have that exhilarating wilderness feeling that sometimes gets lost on other Whistler area hikes when you start the trail from a parking lot packed with cars. The fact that the Brew Lake trail doesn't have a parking lot or proper trailhead actually makes it more mysterious, adventurous and in some ways more fun. Brew Lake is shallow and absolutely crystal clear. Mesmerizingly clear. You can look across the lake and see smooth and rounded rocks scattered across the lake bottom. The lake is also relatively small at just a few hundred metres across and unexpectedly warm to swim in. Breathtakingly cold lakes are the norm in the Whistler area, but Brew Lake is an exception.
Try swimming in Wedgemount, Joffre, Russet, Cirque, Cheakamus or Garibaldi Lake for any length of time and you will be shivering cold. You can manage a minute or two swimming in these lakes, but certainly not 20 or 30 minutes as you can in Brew Lake. There are even some massive, flat topped erratics in the lake to swim to and lounge on. The sun makes them amazingly warm on a sunny day. The edge of the lake surrounded by grass areas littered with erratics making it tricky to find a spot for a tent, but easy to find a place to sit. Once you do find a place for your tent, further exploration reveals countless other great spots. Grassy clifftops, clearings at the edge of streams.A third aspect of Brew Lake that beats the local, alpine lake competition is the hike itself. It is amazing. Comparable in difficulty to the Wedgemount Lake trail, though two kilometres shorter and packed with things to see. From the dozen or so amazing viewpoints on various plateaus steps from the trail to the endless gnarled, weather-beaten, yet captivating forests of twisted, mangled, huge and bewildering trees.
Over and over along the 5 kilometre trail you stop and stare in wonder at how a huge tree, 30 metres tall can have an absurd, sideways L-shape in its trunk big enough to stand in. You see it over and over until eventually you work out that when these trees are young they spend most of the year under metres of snow. Over the years they grow at an unusual looking right angle, as if growing sideways. Eventually the tree grows big and thick enough to not have the snow push it over and it grows vertical again. But of course it keeps this hilarious L-shape as it continues to grow. You start spotting the smaller ones everywhere you look. The trunk comes out of the ground one metre, then one metre horizontal, then one metre vertical again. Hilarious. Absurd and hilarious.
Another remarkable highlight of the Brew Lake trail are the boulder fields along the continuously steep route. Over and over, you climb over and in between truck sized boulders absurdly crowded together from centuries of crumbling from the alarmingly steep cliffs above. Often, you stop and lean against a cliff to catch your breath only to notice that it is not a cliff, but instead a ridiculously enormous boulder that is perched on the edge of a cliff of other sized boulders, themselves perched on a cliff of boulders. None of which look capable of supporting what is above it. And all of which look likely to collapse in a cataclysmic instant that would forever leave you under a mile of mountain. Strangely the chaotic brutality of these sections of the Brew Lake trail are also some of the most dramatically beautiful. Seeing boulders, some the size of houses as far as you can see. Giant mangled trees crushed between them. Then in a few steps you are back in the forest, clinging to tree roots as you scramble up steep tunnels of forest squinting to see the next orange trail marker. Every so often you emerge from the jungle tunnels to a flat clearing, oddly dry and hardly any trees. What trees there are are ferociously hardy looking krummholz.
Once again, you eventually work out the reason for such unusual little places in the otherwise lush forest. These places exist on relatively recently deposited, house sized boulders. Centuries have smoothed the surrounding areas over into lush forests, but some of these bulges are too high in the ground. The soil is thin and any trees that take root have to survive on what become like small desert islands. Dry and hot all summer and only the hardiest of trees survive. Twisted, gnarled krummholz occupy these eerie and numerous, dry plateaus. The Brew Lake trail, which has at least three access points, none with signs, however, the trail itself is well marked. So once you find the trail markers you will have found the Brew Lake trail. The various ways are not very straight forward and active logging in the area seems to effect the access points almost yearly.
Brew Lake in the past was often reached by starting at Brandywine Falls Provincial Park and hiking along train tracks for a couple kilometres before reaching a barely marked Brew Lake trailhead at the edge of the train tracks. This access is long and tedious, parking is a big problem, and of course walking along the train tracks is illegal. There is a better and shorter access point further up the Brew Lake Trail, accessible from the Brew Main Road and seems to currently be the shortest summer hiking route (as of September 2013). This area is home to the Whistler RV Park and Campground, and despite the logging road leading to the unmarked trailhead to Brew Lake, it is not too difficult to find. From the Sea to Sky Highway (16 kilometres south of Whistler Village at Village Gate Boulevard), turn right onto Brew Creek Road. See the map below for detailed directions and parking and trailhead locations. This route is considerably shorter than the longer, train track trespassing route that has been used in the past.