Red Rock – 040303
The crimson crags of Red Rock loom like a sentinel above Lillooet.
This familiar landmark provides a spectacular vantage point offering panoramic vistas of the town below; the striking confluence of the blue waters of Cayoosh Creek with the muddy brown Fraser River; and the ever-changing play of sun and shadow on the surrounding mountain peaks.
The hike to Red Rock is an experience to savour. It takes you from dry hillsides dotted with Ponderosa pine and up into stands of Douglas fir. Balsam root in season, juniper, several varieties of wild berries and wild roses can be spotted along the way.
Listen for the sounds of chickadees, nut hatches and pileated woodpeckers. A Lewis’s woodpecker, a red-listed (endangered) woodpecker, has been spotted near the trail. You could be rewarded with a glimpse of this rare bird, which can be identified by its dark, iridescent green-black back, rosy breast and red face rimmed with black.
Red Rock is not red sandstone. Instead, it is Mariposite, a kind of nickel silicate. Red Rock gets its distinctive red colour from the oxidized iron on the outside of the rock. Mariposite is found in the Shulaps mountain range northwest of Lillooet and at the base of the steep slopes of Fountain Ridge, directly across the Fraser River from Lillooet and Red Rock. Long before the Fraser carved its deep path through this rugged valley, a swath of Mariposite ran from Red Rock’s outcrop across to the base of Fountain Ridge.
The hike to Red Rock is rated moderate, with sturdy shoes and good general health required. But there was once a more challenging way to reach the top of Red Rock.
In the early decades of the 20th century, Lillooet celebrated Canada’s July 1st birthday with a community event called simply, “The July.” One of the highlights of ‘The July’ was a gruelling foot race up to Red Rock. Fleet-footed competitors would run up the mountainside, complete a circuit around Red Rock and then descend pell-mell to Lillooet. Chief Bill Machell’s father was one of those competitors. Chief Machell says his father never won the exhausting race, but he was justifiably proud to have finished it.
The best hiking time is in the morning. Do not try to hike this trail on a hot July afternoon. Also avoid doing this hike in the rain because you will encounter numerous muddy spots and your shoes will feel as though they each weigh fifty pounds. Always bring plenty of water. Black bears have been spotted in the vicinity, so be alert and stay on the road, do not veer off.
On a scale of ‘Easy’, ‘Moderate’, ‘Difficult’ and ‘Most Difficult’, the Red Rock trail is rated Moderate. You can do it in running shoes, but hiking boots certainly do not hurt, and a hiking pole is helpful in navigating the slippery slopes near the top. You can estimate that this will take you one and a half to two hours for the climb to this majestic lookout, with a much quicker return trip of approximately one hour. This represents the average time a fit adult hiker takes to complete the trail, with occasional short stops for drinks, snacks and rest.
Remember, Red Rock is farther than it looks. But the gorgeous scenery is well worth the effort!