Garibaldi Lake Backpacking Trip: The Remix

I’ve been to Garibaldi Lake 3 times. The first time was a day hike in 2015 and it was what inspired me to take up backpacking in the first place! So I followed up that hike with a 3 night trip the following year where I camped at the lake and day hiked to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. In 2018, Carolyn convinced me to return on another backpacking trip over the Labour Day weekend because she still hadn’t been to the lake at all.

DSC06958

Both trips took place over 3 nights and had identical starts, but the itinerary diverged after that. On both trips, I went to work on Thursday morning and then drove out to the Rubble Creek trailhead in the middle of the afternoon, starting the hike at around 5pm. The trail ascends 800m over 9km and is a bit of a slog, but it’s a very well maintained trail and isn’t that difficult, so it usually takes us about 3 hours to get to the lake, even with large backpacks. My first trip was with Seth and Emily, but on this occasion I went with Carolyn and Brandon.

It was September at this point, so we had less daylight than my previous trip, which had been in early August. We needed our headlamps for the last kilometre or so of the hike in the woods, but arrived at the campsite before it was completely dark. The 3 of us are a pretty well oiled machine at this point, so we quickly set up camp and hit the sack for the night.

HOP_0753

On both trips I left on Thursday and took Friday off. I really like this approach because the park is inundated with people on the weekend, so it allows you to beat the crowds on the way in and enjoy at least one day of hiking with less traffic. Fortunately, Garibaldi does have a reservation system, so you are guaranteed a campsite so long as you book far enough in advance to get one. Don’t even think about coming up and trying to camp without a reservation – Garibaldi Lake has a full time ranger and they won’t hesitate to send you packing.

DSC06761

Since it was Carolyn’s first time at the Lake, she wanted to do both the Black Tusk and Panorama hikes. I love Panorama, but I vowed I was done with Black Tusk after the last time (it’s a scenic hike, but I’m not a fan of all the scree). We agreed in advance that we would split up on the first day. Carolyn would day hike up to Black Tusk and I wanted to try day hiking up to Mount Price. Brandon had already done Black Tusk as well, so he decided to join me. Since Black Tusk gets a lot of traffic and Mount Price doesn’t, it worked out pretty well safety wise, plus Carolyn ended up making some friends on her Black Tusk hike, so in the end we all had company!

The hike to Mount Price leaves in the opposite direction. Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge head back the way you came and then continue on the north side of the lake, but the Mount Price trail continues south around the lake. It’s not a well maintained trail as the crowds tend to gravitate towards the more popular trails, but wow, is Mount Price ever scenic!

DSC06789

We followed the trail through the trees along the edge of the lake where it heads further back into the woods. The first part of the hike isn’t too challenging and we made good time to the foot of Mount Price. There are nice views looking back at the lake and towards Black Tusk and we didn’t see any people on the way in. The benefit of this was that I got my first real sighting of a pika! I’ve since seen them a few other times, but this was the first time I saw one and we were very close to it, so I got a great view of this cute little furry creature.

DSC06783

We stopped at the base of the mountain for a snack and then continued on. From there, the trail get’s pretty difficult. It’s about 11km round trip from the lake (the same as Black Tusk), but I think this trail is more challenging. Once you start climbing up the mountain, it’s all a big boulder field and it is really easy to lose the trail (to be honest I’m not sure there’s even really a trail in this section). From the map, we could tell where we were headed – there’s Mount Price and Clinker Peak, with a smaller peak between the two. We more or less made our own path across the boulder field as we headed up towards the saddle between the peaks.

It is very steep and many sections have loose rock, so we took our time. Once you reach the saddle, it’s just one last push up the side of Mount Price. Mount Price is very definitive because it has a huge flat top. Once you reach the top, you can still easily spend an hour walking around the entire top of the peak taking photos, which is exactly what we did! Because the top is so large, you can’t really get a 360 degree view, so we made a wide loop.

DSC06832

The back of the peak looks out towards the Elfin Lakes/Opal Cone area and there’s an awesome view of Garibaldi Mountain. then as you make your way towards the front, you get a view of the back end of Garibaldi Lake and all the glaciers. Finally, you can see Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk at the front of the mountain. The views from Mount Price are totally out of this world! Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk get all the glory, but honestly, I think Mount Price might be my favourite – the only view that might rival it is the view of Black Tusk from the top of Panorama. As far as lake views go, I think the view from Mount Price is just as good as from Panorama.

HOP_0538

We hung out on the top for ages and had our lunch looking down over the lake. It was pretty windy up there, so we found a nice sheltered viewpoint while we ate. We started to see some more people on our way back down the trail (some of which were day hiking 27km from Rubble Creek!), but we didn’t see anyone else while we were on top of the peak.

As usual, the hike down was worse than the hike up. I’d definitely recommend poles and take your time – it’s steep and there’s a lot of loose rocks. There was still a bit of snow up there and it was September, so you definitely want to be prepared for that earlier in the season as well. The best views of Black Tusk are actually from the saddle and we had a little photoshoot on the way down (one of our favourite activities).

DSC06889

Unsurprisingly, Carolyn beat us back to the campsite and was taking a nap in the tent when we returned. Normally we’d be anxious to take a swim in the lake, but it was September and quite chilly by the time we got back, so we opted not to and instead hung out on the dock by the lake while we made dinner. The Ranger was fishing off the dock when we arrived, so we ended up having a big chat with him. Apparently there are tons of fish in the lake since it was stocked in the past and now, because of it’s alpine location, there’s nothing to prey on the fish. So while he has a big canned food cache in the ranger cabin, he likes trying to get fresh fish.

DSC06828 (2)

We had a big chat with him about the reservation system as well, which is how I know you will get kicked out if you try and camp there without a permit. I accidentally ratted out a few backpackers we’d seen heading up towards Mount Price (you can get a wilderness permit for sections of the park, which I assumed they had, but apparently Price is not included in this permit). He indicated he’d already kicked 3 groups out of the campsite that day and that he wouldn’t be following the Mount Price campers, but if he saw them having a fire later, he would boot them out. Apparently you can see it all the way from the campsite and because he has a boat, he knows the secret quick trail up Mount Price that can only be accessed from the water. Anyways, trail reservations and camping restrictions exist for a reason people, please follow them.

After that we befriended a few Newfoundlanders that were also staying at the campsite! I was wearing a Newfoundland toque, so they asked me about it and then of course we discovered that Carolyn knew one of them and that we’d all studied engineering at MUN around the same time (classic occurrence TBH). So we had a fun night chatting as the sun went down over the lake while enjoying Brandon’s infamous thai chicken curry.

DSC06940

On Saturday morning we got up early and had breakfast at the lake before taking down camp. Carolyn still wanted to visit Panorama Ridge, but because I wanted to try and do something different than my previous trip, I had no trouble convincing her that we should make it a through-hike and end at Cheakamus Lake. So we lugged our packs with us away from the lake and back up towards the Panorama Ridge trail. The trail between Garibaldi Lake and Panorama is still one of my all time favourite trails. What I love about it is that pretty much the entire trail is incredibly scenic. You pass through the alpine meadows towards Black Tusk and then branch off and continue across the open plains towards the ridge.

DSC06974

The trail in this section is relatively flat, so it makes for a pretty easy hike until you hit the ridge. When we reached the branch that goes up towards Panorama, we ditched our packs in the woods and repacked our food and essentials into our day packs (if you’re caching your pack somewhere, take all your food so that bears won’t be attracted to it, and of course, always have the essentials). So we had lighter packs to climb up towards the ridge.

DSC06993

It’s not a long trail to get up to the ridge (1-2km I believe), but it’s definitely steep. This is one of my favourite parts of the trail though because it has the most stellar view looking back at Black Tusk! I love the view looking down at the lake too, but it’s always so windy and crowded up there that I somehow enjoy it less. We had a nice stop at the top though where we layered up and ate our lunches looking out over the lake and surrounding glaciers before heading back down.

HOP_0804

On the way back, we had our second photoshoot with Black Tusk. Carolyn decided she wanted to get a picture that looked like her sitting on Black Tusk, so Brandon spent forever trying to manipulate the picture to make it look like Carolyn’s throne with mixed results (it’s a lot harder than it seems!) so we just resorted to taking pictures of us crushing it instead.

Once we retrieved our packs again, we were into new territory and I was very excited about it. At the start of the hike, we met at the Cheakamus Lake trailhead and left Carolyn’s car there, driving Brandon’s back to the Rubble Creek trailhead. So instead of looping back to Garibaldi Lake, we would be continuing on to Helm Creek.

HOP_0839

From Panorama Ridge, the trail to Helm Creek looks like a bit of a barren wasteland, but I found it so interesting to explore! It’s pretty open, so I could see it being really hot in the summer, but it was September, so not bad when we visited. The weather forecast had been a little bit mixed before we left and we’d been anticipating rain, but to date we’d fortunately been spared. We continued past Helm Lake and followed the creek down through the wilderness. Traffic reduced significantly as soon as we left the ridge and we were back to having the trail to ourselves. After that all we saw were a few trail runners who were doing the entire pass in a day!

HOP_0851

I had a lot of fun walking this section, we crossed the river several times and ended up having another photoshoot with Black Tusk as we continued around the back of it. Between this trip and some others I’ve done in the area, I think I’ve seen Black Tusk from every possible angle! Eventually though my feet started aching and the last few kilometres to the campsite were a bit rough. The vegetation increases as you head towards the Helm Creek campsite and the barren rocky outcrops turned back to meadows.

DSC07034

The campsites at the lake are all nestled along the trees and have decent privacy, but the Helm Creek Campsite is pretty much just a big open field with some tent pads. Unlike the lake, these don’t always sell out and there were a lot of empty tent pads, so if you really want to visit the park and can’t get a site, you could consider hiking in from Cheakamus Lake and staying at Helm Creek. I don’t like tent pads and prefer to set up on the ground, but tent pads are often constructed to protect the native vegetation, so we made sure to use it and always stick to the trails instead of stomping through the meadows.

Helm Creek isn’t as scenic as the lake campsite, but you can see right up to the back of Black Tusk from the meadow, so it’s still a gorgeous site. Being out in the open though, it was definitely the coldest night in the tent. We had dinner and then decided to go to bed pretty early as we were exhausted from all the hiking. Tent pads create a bit of a draught under the pad so it took us a while to warm up and fall asleep – I’m not sure if poor Carolyn warmed up at all. It rained a little bit overnight, but that ended up being the only rain on the trip, so we consider ourselves pretty lucky.

DSC07045

Sunday was our last day and the only order of business was to hike back towards the car. The trail goes back into the trees pretty much right after the campsite, so there’s not much to look at and we made good time on the trail. The trail length and elevation are pretty similar to the way in, but this trail has a long flat section along the Cheakamus River at the end, so overall it’s steeper. Once you get down the mountain, most of the elevation is done and you can either hike in towards Cheakamus Lake, or back towards the parking lot. Like most trips, we intended to go see the lake, but it was our 4th day and we were all pretty tired, so in the end we opted to skip it. We went back the following year and spent 3 days at Cheakamus Lake though, so no regrets!

And that concludes the trip! I haven’t been back to Garibaldi Lake since, but I have very fond memories from both of the trips I made there! I’ve explored most of the trails in this section of the park now, but it’s just so scenic I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again. I’m hoping my next trip there will be a snow camping trip as I’ve never seen the lake in the winter! I took an insane amount of photos on this trip, so here’s a few more to end the post.

DSC06835
HOP_0525
DSC06986
HOP_0636
HOP_0819
DSC06999
DSC07015
HOP_0829
HOP_0868
DSC07036
HOP_0897
DSC07053

Kayaking Gulf Islands

Seth and I have really gotten into kayaking over the past few years and try and go on a 2 night trip once a year. Our first trip was Sechelt Inlet on the Sunshine Coast and the last two years we have been exploring around the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. It’s a huge reserve, so there’s lots to explore! Last year we spent two nights exploring Pender Island and this year we took the ferry over to Vancouver Island and left from Sidney Marina over the Labour Day weekend.

Some of the larger Gulf Islands campsites are reservable, while the smaller backcountry sites are first come, first serve. I decided to book 2 nights on Sidney Spit, which is about an hour paddle away from Sidney. It has ~30 sites and is only accessible by boat, though most people opt to take the Sidney Spit ferry over to the island rather than paddle there themselves. I wasn’t totally sure what itinerary I wanted to follow, so I booked both nights and then played around with some ideas for where we could explore while we were there. Obviously paddling one hour to the Spit doesn’t make for a super exciting kayak trip, so we wanted to explore some of the other islands.

My initial thought was to paddle to D’Arcy Island for the second night. D’Arcy island is about a 10km paddle south from Sidney Spit at the opposite end of the island. However, as it got closer to the kayak trip, it looked like the final day was going to be pretty windy. I didn’t want to risk having a long paddle back in the wind on the final day, so we looked at some other options. It’s a bit far to explore as a day trip (20km), so instead we decided we would spend both nights on Sidney Spit, but day paddle to Rum Island, which is located at the end of a little group of islands on the north side of Sidney Spit, which would be more like 10-12km of paddling.

We left Vancouver on the 9am ferry from Tsawassen and went straight to the marina in Sidney. We rented from Blue Dog Kayaks and while we were filling out the paperwork I had a nice chat with one of the staff about where we were planning to paddle, asking about her favourite places. She said that she didn’t really like Sidney Spit because there are a lot of people and boat traffic, and that Rum Island was her favourite place to camp. There’s only 3 sites and because of its location, it’s great for whale watching. We didn’t make any decisions then, but I started toying around with the idea of staying at Rum Island instead. I knew we wanted to be at Sidney Spit for the second night because it would make for the shortest paddle back in the wind on Monday, but there was nothing stopping us from going straight to Rum Island on Saturday.

DSC07755

We decided to explore around some of the islands first while we mulled over where to stay for the night. When you leave the marina you can paddle up to the Little Group islands, which is north of the spit. Generally all the islands we wanted to explore kind of circle Sidney Spit, so it gave us time before we had to decide where we wanted to sleep. It was super calm in the marina, but pretty windy once we started paddling up to the islands. Overall I was a bit nervous about this trip because there’s a lot of open water paddling between islands and we didn’t have much experience with that. We stayed close to shore the entire time we were on Pender and while we did cross Sechelt Inlet a few times, it had been a pretty calm day.

It was definitely windier than I liked, but still okay for paddling. It was sometime after noon when we set off, so there was a fair bit of boat traffic zooming back and forth and we did get a bit sloshed around by the wake. Seth had trouble with steering in the waves since he never uses a rudder, and while I didn’t have trouble steering, my kayak seat wasn’t super well designed and I found it hard to get comfortable so that I could engage all the right muscles for paddling. Eventually we figured it out and made it work, but they weren’t my favourite kayaks. I still say Pender Island kayaks have the best rentals I’ve seen to date.

DSC07798

Anyways, it was a lot of work paddling, so we stopped at the biggest island in the Little Group and had lunch. I admitted that I was feeling drawn to the idea of camping at Rum Island that night instead, but was concerned about the long paddle to get there. We decided to set out towards Forrest Island, which is closest to the end of Sidney Spit, and then make a decision. We saw some seals lounging around the rest of the Little Group islands and made the crossing over to Forrest Island. We were definitely feeling the burn of the wind and not having kayaked in a while, so we mulled over what was the best decision. I was curious about Rum Island because I knew Sidney Spit was going to be very busy and I thought it might be nice to have a quieter night. But with only 3 campsites on the island and it already being 2pm, I was concerned we wouldn’t find somewhere to camp and I definitely didn’t have the energy to kayak all the way back to Sidney Spit after. Seth was more into going to Sidney Spit because he didn’t want to have to put up and take down camp twice, plus his logic was that we could still visit Rum Island as a day trip.

DSC07778

We agreed it was probably better to head to Sidney Spit, but as soon as we pushed back off the beach I started doubting myself again and even though Seth wanted to go to Sidney Spit, he made the call that we would push for Rum Island. He could tell I wanted to go and said that we were more likely to regret not going, so lets just do it. Aside from one other couple we’d seen at Little Group, there were no other kayakers around, so he reasoned it was likely there would be space for us.

It was a longer paddle than going to Sidney Spit. We had to do a water crossing over to Domville Island and then again to Gooch Island. We did it in one go and then took a break at a beach on the end of Gooch Island. Now that we’d committed, I felt much more sure of my decision and was excited see what Rum Island was like. We’d paddled up the south side of Domville Island, which was one of the hardest sections because a strong headwind funneled down toward us, but it was much more calm when we switched to the north side of Gooch Island. Seth spotted some cool ducks along the way and finally we landed on Rum Island. It’s not really a true island as it’s attached to Gooch, so we beached our kayaks between the two.

DSC07767

Fortunately for us, there were only two other tents at Rum Island and we happily took the 3rd site. No one else showed up, so it was a pretty ideal evening and we only had to share the island with 3 other people. I do love the Gulf Islands, especially all the arbutus trees. We were surrounded by them at our little campsite and had a great view looking out into the strait. I also love that all the National Park campsites have picnic tables for each site, a real novelty in the backcountry! These remote sites are not monitored full time by Parks Canada, but there were 2 outhouses with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and there’s a self registration box to pay your $10 camp fee when you arrive. There’s no predators on the Gulf Islands, so there’s no bear cache.

The one downside was that the wind was blowing right into our campsite, so while we’d been warm on the water, it was pretty chilly at camp. We decided to go for a little walk around the island to explore. It’s not very big, but you get beautiful views of the water and the little lighthouse at the end of the island. Otherwise, we took it pretty easy for the night. It’s easier to bring more luxuries when kayak camping, so we each had a little camp chair, which we set up to enjoy the view with a cold beer from our small cooler. We had chili for dinner and spent the rest of the evening watching the sun set over the rocks. We didn’t see any whales, but it was still a gorgeous evening. Once the sun went down, we went to bed early, having one of the best night’s sleep in tent, sleeping for almost 11 hours!

DSC07826

We got up around 8am, but I happened to wake up right at sunrise for a pee break and caught a beautiful glimpse of the sun coming up over the strait. The water was dead calm in the morning and we were excited to start paddling. Everyone got up and departed around the same time because I think we were all anxious to take advantage of the easy paddling after how windy it was on Saturday. My experience over the years has generally been that morning and evening are the best times for paddling. The wind tends to come up in the middle of the day, so I prefer to get up early on kayak trips.

We decided to head back towards Sidney Spit on the south side of Gooch Island this time and we paddled around Rum Island to check out the lighthouse, spotting some oystercatchers hanging out on the rocks. Seth did his Masters thesis on oystercatchers, so we love seeing them in the wild. They’re pretty hilarious with their giant carrot-looking bills and they made this adorable squeaking sound. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with kayaking because paddling in the wind is so exhausting, but there’s really nothing more enjoyable then drifting along on a really calm day. We took our time heading down Gooch Island and saw both a mink and a deer around the edge of the island. We also saw some dolphins swimming along in the Strait, though sadly no whales. We did catch a glimpse of a whale while having breakfast, but it never breached the surface, so we couldn’t tell what kind of whale it was, only see its wake as it swam along.

DSC07840

It was a much easier paddle back to Domville Island this time and we spent some time exploring the end of the island. There’s a little island called Ruby Island and lots of rocky shelves that were completely covered in seals. We always try to keep our distance with seals, but they always seem to get spooked anyways and drop into the water. One tip is to always approach them from the side and never head on as this makes them nervous, but even doing this, they usually prefer to observe us from the water. We took a break at the end of Domville Island this time and in the interest of switching things up from the previous day, decided to skip paddling up the island again and instead crossed over to the south side of Forrest Island. There’s a bunch of rocks at the end of the island that we thought looked promising. As a kayaker, you learn to always check out the little rock clusters because you’re almost always guaranteed to find wildlife there. Again, we found tons of seals and some cute little terns and a bunch of cormorants hanging around. We followed Forrest Island along the south until we were across from the tip of Sidney Spit and then made our last open water crossing for the day.

DSC07850

Even after the many open water crossings of this trip, I’m still not really a fan. It was so much easier on the second day, but overall it’s a lot less fun than paddling along the islands. Sidney Spit is definitely an interesting place. I could see why frequent paddlers in the area wouldn’t love it, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to experience both Sidney Spit and Rum Island as they feel like they are worlds apart from one another. Google maps doesn’t show the full Spit as parts of it are underwater when the tide comes up, but when the tide is low, you can walk several kilometers along the spit from the main island to the lighthouse at the end. It was low tide when we landed on the end of the Spit. The inside curve of the spit is super popular among sailboats and yachts and there were tons of people enjoying a day an the beach. There was no one at the end of the spit or down the other side, so we decided to hang out there for a bit and have lunch.

DSC07892

Even though there was little wind, it was very choppy at the end of the Spit where the water meets from both sides. It was a bit of struggle to push the kayaks back out into it, but only took a minute to paddle back to the relative calm of the inner part of the spit. We continued kayaking up the Spit, stopping again to check out some tidepools and counted 25+ oystercatchers hanging out and scavenging along the low tide. The wind had started to pick up, but once we reached the lagoon part of the island, it was dead calm again and we paddled into the beach next to our campsite.

I’d only made the reservation about 2 weeks prior, so I couldn’t really believe my luck in getting what I would consider prime camp spots. Like I said, most people come in on the passenger ferry, which is about a kilometer away from the campground, so they have to hike their gear in, but we had campsite number 1, which is located right next to the beach, so we were able to just pull up on the beach and unload right to our campsite. Besides us, there was only one other site that had kayaked in. It was a family of 4 and they happened to be right next to us.

DSC07880

It was still pretty early in the afternoon when we arrived, but unlike Rum Island, it was really hot. The lagoon shelters the campsite, so there’s very little airflow coming in and the sun just beats down on you. We set up camp and then hung out in the shade for a bit. We didn’t want to let the afternoon slip by, so we decided to go on a little hike along the lagoon trail. After having completed this hike, I have to say “lagoon trail” is a bit of a misnomer. It does track around the edge of the lagoon, popping out on the beach on the west side of the island, but there are approximately zero lagoon views. Seth pushed his way through the shrubs to catch a glimpse, but mostly it’s just forested. It wasn’t too disappointing though because the beach on this side of the island is pretty much deserted. All the crowds hang out along the spit, so we had a nice walk along the sandy beach to pass the time.

I wish we could have gone swimming, but the timing wasn’t really right. It was right at low tide when we arrived and the lagoon gets pretty gross at that point. It’s all shallow stagnant water with marshy grass. However, when the tide comes up, it cleans out the lagoon debris and moves up over the sandy beach, making for great swimming – it was just too late in the evening at that point to want to go for a dip. Instead, we decided to take the kayaks out for a short sunset paddle. We paddled across the lagoon to watch it set behind the horizon, and then headed back to the campsite as the light disappeared. This was just before the smoke from the US fires started to move into BC, so it was an amazing orange sky!

DSC07974

The one thing that hung over us for the entirety of the trip was our Monday morning paddle. I was keeping a close eye on the weather and Sidney had actually issued a wind warning for Monday, with winds gusting up to 70km/h. 20km/h is generally acknowledged as the threshold for kayakers, so I was keen to get out of there as fast as possible in the morning since we had to do a 3km open water paddle. It was still calling for wind early in the morning, but my experience has been that its usually pretty calm if you go early enough. We decided we would get up at 5am, aiming to be on the water by 7am.

It was pitch dark when we got up. There was definitely some wind, but it looked manageable. The trickiest part is that in the lagoon, it’s usually calm and it’s not until you paddle further out that you get an idea of what the weather is actually like. It started to brighten up shortly after 6am and by 6:30am, we were pushing back from the beach to start our paddle. I love paddling early in the morning, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve been on the water before sunrise.

DSC07926

It was a bit of a struggle to paddle up out of the lagoon. We followed the sandbar to the edge of the spit and although it wasn’t very wavy, we did have a pretty strong headwind to push against on our way out. It wasn’t too strong that we couldn’t push through it, but strong enough to give us an early morning workout. According to Seth though I was super speedy, which tends to happen when I’m anxious about something and my adrenaline kicks in.

We stopped for a break at the end of the spit to prepare ourselves for the paddle across to Sidney. Our plan was to assess the crossing from the end of the Spit and we had come prepared for the event that we wouldn’t be able to make it (brought enough food and water for an extra night), but fortunately it wasn’t looking bad yet and we were optimistic it might be a bit easier than paddling out of the spit since we’d no longer be paddling into a headwind. We were right. It was a bit choppy pushing off the spit, but the water was pretty calm going across the strait. It was certainly easier than it had been when we’d started paddling on Saturday and we had the advantage of being ahead of all the other boat traffic, so there was no wake on the water. It ended up being one of our nicer open water paddles. We took our time to avoid tiring ourselves out in the event the wind did pick up, but we ended up doing the crossing in about 45 minutes and pulled into the wharf in Sidney at 8am.

DSC07914

Since it was still early in the day, we decided to stick around Sidney for a bit. We had a nice second breakfast at an outdoor patio on the main street and then did a bit of shopping. I had no idea that Sidney is also known as “booktown” and has a ton of bookstores lining the main street! So we ended up visiting two shops and I went home with my bag a little heavier and my wallet a little lighter. We had a 4pm ferry reservation, but we didn’t want to wait that long, so we tried to catch the 12pm instead. It was super busy at the ferry terminal with all the long weekend traffic, so we did not make the 12pm ferry, but we did get the 1pm and were happy to have a few more hours to relax at home!

So overall, it ended up being another great kayaking trip! I probably wouldn’t rank it as my favourite because of all the open water paddling, but I’m glad we decided to stay at two different campsites and I had a lot of fun adventuring around the area. There’s still a lot more campsites and islands to explore in the Gulf Islands, so we’ll definitely be back!

DSC07756

Elfin Lakes Backpacking Trip

Now that I’ve finished my Manning Park mini-series, I decided to write about my first backpacking trip to Elfin Lakes. I’ve hiked to Elfin Lakes 4 times and camped there 3 times, but my first trip stands out as my favourite trip up to the lakes.

It was the Labour Day long weekend in 2017. I really wanted to do a fun backpacking trip for the whole weekend, but everyone seemed to have other weekend plans and no one would commit to hike up there with me for 3 days. To this day, I’m not really sure how I managed it, but somehow I convinced Brandon, Karen, and Grant to rotate up there with me. Karen is my oldest friend – she likes coming on day hikes with me and has done some backpacking in the past, but is a little more nervous about venturing into the backcountry. But Grant was enthusiastic about it, so I convinced the two of the them to hike up with me and stay for Saturday night. I have tons of extra gear, so Karen agreed to borrow some and give it a try. I still can’t quite believe I got them to come up with me, but they did and we had a great time!

20170902_130115

Before we left, I desperately wanted them to have a good time so they’d come out again with me in the future, so I loaded my pack up pretty heavy, gave Grant the pot and stove, and pretty much left Karen to just carry her personal gear. It’s an 11km hike up to Elfin Lakes, which is definitely a bit on the longer side for some hikes. The elevation gain is pretty reasonable spread over the 11km, but it is still a steady climb for most of the trail and it was a really hot day. The first part of the trail is 5km along an old service road. It’s not the most scenic, so it can be a bit of a slog to hike over. But everyone survived and we stopped for lunch at the Heather Hut.

From there things got fun. We continued on along the rest of the trail, which is incredibly scenic as it travels further into Garibaldi Park. Karen was pretty beat out towards the end, but she still did the whole hike no problem! So Karen, please remember, you are your own worst critic when it comes to outdoor activities and you are awesome. Pretty please come backpacking with me again some day!

20170903_091157

Elfin Lakes has one of my favourite campgrounds, which is probably why I keep going back. I’ve camped there 3 times, but I’ve still yet to sleep in the hut. There’s 50 tent pads running along the hillside meadow and they provide a truly epic view out towards the rest of the park and the surrounding mountains. We set up my 3 person tent, which was definitely cozy for 3 people, and dipped into Karen’s massive snack stash. She had every kind of snack you can imagine, so long as it had chocolate. Her trail mix was basically just a chocolate smorgasbord with the occasional nut thrown in – not a bad decision in my opinion!

We wasted away the afternoon lounging on the tent pad and went for a swim in the lake. Elfin Lakes is completely fed by snowmelt and rainwater, but it’s pretty shallow, so by the end of August, it was actually really warm. I made fettucine alfredo for dinner because it is Karen’s favourite meal – I had to use powdered milk, but it actually turned out surprisingly well! It’s the only time I’ve gotten to make it in the backcountry because Emily and Carolyn don’t like dairy and Brandon always makes thai curry chicken. We enjoyed watching the sun set over the mountains and looking at all the stars that came out on what was an awesome cloudless night. I tried to convince Karen that we should sleep with the fly off to look at the stars, but she was worried about getting cold, so we left it on and did our best to get some sleep with 3 people crammed in the tent.

20170902_191143_HDR

The downside of leaving the fly on is that it creates a bit of a greenhouse effect when the sun does finally peak over the mountains in the morning. So it got pretty hot in the tent pretty fast, which was successful in getting us out of bed in the morning. The plan for Sunday was for Karen and Grant to pack up and head back down to the car and for Brandon to drive out early that morning and meet me at the lake for noon. Karen and Grant had an even easier hike out because Karen got to leave some of her borrowed sleeping gear behind for Brandon so that he could hike up faster and Grant got to leave the cookware behind. So with his sleeping pad, tent, and all the cooking supplies already at the campsite, Brandon had a pretty empty pack on the way up. I had just told him he had to bring up our supper.

Karen and Grant expected to see Brandon on the way down, but they must have missed him when they took a break in the Heather Hut, because they never did see each other. Brandon had a late start leaving Vancouver, but he somehow hiked up the entire trail in just 2 hours and still met me right at noon at the lake! I had a very lazy morning, went for another swim and did some reading while I waited for Brandon. I made lunch in time for his arrival and we quickly ate our wraps and hit the trail again for a day hike.

HOP_6335

Brandon is truly a machine. He hiked 11km that morning just so he could meet me to continue hiking. We both really wanted to go to Mamquam Lake – admittedly, noon was a bit late to be leaving for Mamquam, which is another 22km round trip from Elfin lakes, but we decided to try it anyways and set off with a good spring in our step.

Unsurprisingly, we never made it to Mamquam. It’s usually cooler in the mountains and it was the first weekend in September, so we weren’t expecting such hot weather. It ended up being somewhere between 30-35 degrees during the afternoon. That’s too hot for hiking on any day, but it felt even worse on the trail to Mamquam, which is extremely dry and dusty and is completely open. There’s no shade to be found anywhere on the trail and as we started to climb up the switchbacks on our way up Opal Cone, it was pretty exhausting. It’s still a beautiful hike, but we felt pretty small as we crawled our way up and around the cone.

HOP_6327

After Opal Cone, you descend down into a bit of a crater. There’s a small lake from melting snow, but it feels a bit other worldly as you walk across all that barreness. We continued walking across the sweltering alpine desert, but when we reached a sign that said it was still 4km to Mamquam Lake, we finally decided to admit defeat. I’m sure Brandon would have continued on – lots of times he encourages me to push myself further on the hikes we do – but sometimes he also needs for me to be the voice of reason. 4km didn’t sound like that much more, but with the round trip it would be another 8km. If we turned around now, it would still be a 27km hiking day for Brandon and 16km for me. At the time I was breaking in a new pair of backpacking boots and I feared we’d just be getting ourselves into trouble to push forward in the blinding heat. Plus I really wanted to swim in the lakes once more and if we kept going it would be too late by the time we got back – though in retrospect, I could also have swam in Mamquam.

HOP_6345

Anyways, we decided to call it there, took a break to have some snacks, and then turned back. My only regret is that we went straight back and never finished Opal Cone by going up the short side trail to the summit. So I definitely still need to go back some day and go the whole way to Mamquam.

We had a bit of a debacle on the way back though. We were hiking around the edge of the cone heading back towards the switchbacks when Brandon decided it was time for a pee break. I continued on along the trail to give him some privacy, but when I reached the end of the first switchback, I decided to wait for him. It was still a pretty busy day on the trail, so I waited at the end of the switchback while people passed me. After a while I started to wonder what was taking so long and where Brandon was. I’d been waiting around for the better part of 15-20 minutes and he hadn’t shown up. Brandon always hikes in a cowboy hat and bandana, so he’s pretty easy to recognize on the trail. So I started asking everyone coming down if they’d passed an Asian cowboy at any point in the last 10 minutes and consistently got the answer no. I’m a bit high strung on a good day, so this was when I started to panic a little bit.

HOP_6362

It’s a pretty steep trail, so I was worried that with so many people on the trail, Brandon had tried to go too far into the trees and had fallen. I headed back the direction I’d just come, calling for him and trying to listen for his whistle. I walked all the way back to where he’d stopped to pee and there was no sign of him, which was when I really started to panic. At this point we were like 18km into the wilderness and I had no way to call for help. I started heading back towards the switchbacks again and as I passed people coming up, I finally got some answers.

Turns out when he was trying to catch up with me, Brandon found a little shortcut past the first switchback and while I’d been waiting for him at the first switchback, he’d been further down waiting for me at the second switchback. When the people I’d talked to saw him as they continued down, they immediately recognized his cowboy hat and told him I was further back looking for him. He started climbing back up to me at the same time I turned back to go look for him and when I finally switched directions again, I had someone stop me and reassure me that my “cowboy” was fine and he was coming back up for me. We were soon reunited, but it ended up being about a half hour that we were separated and it really struck home how easy it is to get in trouble in the backcountry. One little misunderstanding resulted in a lot of confusion for both of us. So we agreed no more shortcuts in the future unless we attempt them together.

HOP_6418

We made it back to the campsite shortly before 5pm and had just enough time to go for a dip in the lake before it started to cool off again. It felt great to wash all the dust and sweat off after a long day of hiking in the dry sun. Brandon made his infamous thai chicken curry and we ate while watching the sun set over the mountain. We were a bit giddy after our long day of hiking, so we decided to stay up and take star photos. I’ve mentioned before that I prefer taking photos on my camera to my cell phone and since 2012 I’ve been using a Sony compact system camera. When I bought it in 2012, there weren’t very few mirrorless cameras on the market, but I picked it because it was kind of like owning a lightweight DSLR camera. Now Brandon actually has a DSLR and I would never debate that his takes better photos than my mirrorless, but I’ve generally been satisfied with my Sony.

At the time though, I’d broken my camera just a few weeks earlier when I was hiking in Newfoundland (banged it off one too many rocks), so I didn’t have any camera (hence the dicey quality of the first few pictures in this post – the rest are credited to Brandon). But I was anxious to learn about star photos, so we messed around for a few hours with Brandon’s camera. It was another cloudless night of course, so it wasn’t hard to convince Brandon to sleep with the fly off. That was my first time sleeping with the fly off – I’ve done it several times since then, but Elfin Lakes is still my favourite. So we fell asleep gazing at the stars and ended up sleeping quite late in the morning without the ‘fly sauna’ to wake us up when the sun came up.

HOP_6458

By the time we did crawl out of our tent, half of the tent pads had emptied and people had already packed up and left. We took our time over breakfast and packing up our gear before finally leaving to hike back down. We split the gear evenly on the way back, so it was a much easier hike than on the way up. We hiked down pretty fast and were relieved when we could finally jump in Brandon’s 4Runner and blast the AC for the rest of the car ride home!