Awesome hike, above the treeline for 99% of the route, with probably the best wildflower display I have ever seen. Ever. But it comes at a price ($$$).
We paid the gondola fee (a not-insignificant amount), figuring it was worth it just for the views on such a fine day. From the Roundhouse station we walked down to the Peak Express chairlift and took that to Whistler summit and its giant Inukshuk. We descended on the High Note Trail (you descend quite a way - just keep going) which goes around the southern flank of Whistler Mountain and mostly following the 1900-m contour (small ups and downs). The views and flowers here were just fantastic. Black Tusk, Mt Garibaldi, Castle Towers and more laid out before you. At one point you can see the full extent of Cheakamus Lake - it's a beautiful glacier-fed green colour, and much better appreciated from up high than at its shore.
About half way round is an unmarked side-trail leading uphill - this is the Half Note trail, and you should ignore it. Just beyond here is one point which some might find unnerving. A big step down is needed to get from a rock to a metal bridge attached to the surrounding rocks. There is a rope to help out though. It was useful with us wearing overnight packs. We picked up the Musical Bumps trail at the base of Flute Summit. Up and over Flute, down the other side and up Oboe before dropping into Singing Pass and climbing out again before the final descent to Russet Lake.
There is ample camping at the lake, with many rock shelters to hide a tent behind. The Himmelsbach hut is clean and cosy, and is the only place to store food. Marmots can occasionally find a way through the wire to get underneath - chase them out and patch up the hole with rocks if you can. Note that marmots have also burrowed into the outhouse - I blocked up several holes here too, if nothing else to prevent the surprise of lifting the toilet seat and being greeted by a large furry rodent looking back at you (yup - it happened to me). To my surprise, the outhouse was well stocked with TP. Bugs were not really a problem - a minor nuisance at worst due to the constant cool breeze off the lake. But in places where there was no breeze (e.g. around sunrise/sunset on Cowboy Ridge) the mosquitoes were ruthless.
Once again I was disappointed to see all the evidence of camp fires including damaged trees. I just don't get it. Not to mention the evidence that not everyone can be bothered to walk 50 m to the outhouse...
On the return trip we took the other half of the High Note trail (the right-hand fork when descending from Flute) which goes through Symphony Bowl, steeply up and over Harmony Ridge, down into Harmony Bowl and then up again to finally reach the Roundhouse. Harmony Ridge is another wildflower hotspot, this time with great views towards Blackcomb. The trail here is steep and dusty - I wouldn't like to descend it with a full pack. It was a relief to finish that final ascent and down a serving of cold gelato :-) Then we took the gondola back down (in the rain - a series of thunderstorms had just hit the mountain), spotting a lone bear feeding on one of the ski slopes.
Note the total distance and elevation gain above - this is for the full out-and-back route over 2 days. You lose and re-gain elevation several times, about 100-200 metres each time. The elevation gain is not symmetric - you gain almost 100 m more on the return than on the way in. It's tiring, especially with an overnight pack on the hottest day of the summer. Make sure you take enough water and some way to replenish electrolytes. (We tried Nuun tablets for the first time and preferred them to Gatorade.) There is virtually no shade. We took about 6 hours each way - would be much less with just a day-pack.
The Whistler/Blackcomb website has a good list and description of the trails in the area, as well as a colour map and a basic wildflower guide.
But did I say how incredible this trail was? Well worth the wait - it's been five years since we first planned this hike!
Photos will come eventually, maybe even this year...!