Hiking Skywalk North

Last week I said Tricouni Meadows might be my favourite hike of the season… then I did Skywalk North and now I can’t decide! After such a successful hike at Tricouni, I was enthusiastic to try another day hike. This time we decided on the Skywalk North Trail in Whistler – it doesn’t require any off-roading, but is a much longer trail with much more elevation gain.

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I’ve heard of the Iceberg Lake hike, which is quite popular, but I hadn’t heard much about the Skywalk trails, which I found in the 105 Hikes book by Stephen Hui. There’s a ton of hiking trails in the area and many mountain bike paths – the Skywalk trails consist of 2 loops with a shared middle section. The South Trail leaves from Alpine Way and the North Trail leaves from Mountain View Drive (both in Whistler). The South Trail is a bit shorter, but if you want to visit Iceberg Lake, they’re both probably about the same length because it’s a branch to visit the lake on the South Trail, whereas the North Trail goes right past it.

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So both trails are ~20km including the lake, though we tracked 22km on GPS, and over 1000m in elevation gain, so it is definitely a big hike and you should give yourself enough time to complete it. We started just before 10am and didn’t finish until just after 7pm. For the most part it’s not a very technical hike and it has a lot of flat sections, but this just means it does a lot of gain in a short distance, so it is steep.

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On VancouverTrails, it says it’s 7.5km to the lake, but my GPS tracked 9km and 900m of elevation gain, but I didn’t find this part of the trail difficult at all. The trail starts with a steep climb, then flattens as you walk through the trees along the river and past some waterfalls. Then you climb again up to the meadows where you meet the junction for the Skywalk South Trail. There’s an outhouse and a gorgeous view up to the glacier. It’s another 1km to the lake, which is the most technical part of the hike. You have to hike up through the boulder field to the base of the glacier. This was one of my favourite parts of the hike though because there were lots of wildflowers growing around the streams coming down from the glacier and it was very scenic!

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It took us about 3 hours to get up to Iceberg Lake. We barely saw anyone on the hike up to the meadows and once we left the lake, but it was fairly busy from the meadows to the lake. It was strangely cold on the day we visited though. Vancouver had been nursing a steady heatwave since mid July, but on the weekend we went, we got a brief cold spell and we had to layer up with fleeces and windbreakers at the lake. But not before I went for a swim!

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I pride myself on almost always going for a swim, no matter how cold the water is and this was no exception. I knew I was going to get cold fast once I stopped moving and my sweat cooled, so I stripped down to my swimsuit immediately. It was definitely some of the coldest water I’ve been in and I didn’t stay in for more than a minute. By the time I crawled out my body was already starting to go numb, but it was cool to briefly swim with all the bergy bits – that was a first for me!

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We hung out at the lake for a bit before continuing on. If you’re doing the South trail, you’ll have to hike back to the meadows, but the North trail climbs up over the pass on the right side of the mountain to continue into the sub-alpine. Unless you’re doing the shortest route (up and back on the Iceberg Lake Trail), I’d really recommend Skywalk North (though I haven’t done the South Trail yet). The hike up the pass was my favourite part of the whole hike because you get to look down on the lake and the glacier, which is a cooler vantage point than looking up on it.

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Once you get to the top of the pass, the trail flattens out again and you spend a lot of time hiking through meadow after meadow. We stopped at the top for a bit of a photoshoot and then took our time hiking down. What I liked about the North trail is that you get to spend a lot more time in the sub-alpine than if you just did the Iceberg Lake trail. There’s a great view looking out towards Whistler-Blackcomb, Wedgemount, and Pemberton and the alpine meadows were all in bloom with yellow arnica, purple lupins, white sitka valeria, and pink mountain heather. Plus by doing a loop you get to experience all new terrain!

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This part of the hike did take us a bit longer than anticipated. The down side to Berg Lake is that you eat your lunch when you haven’t done half of the trail, so it does make for a long afternoon. We hit Screaming Cat Lake around 4pm, which is a large lake before you start the downhill. I decided to go for a swim again and I was thrilled because Screaming Cat is not a glacial lake and is much warmer, so you can actually go for an enjoyable swim. It was still pretty cold, but once you got in, it was actually warmer in the water than out of it and we stayed in for a while, with both Lien and Brandon joining me.

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The rest of the hike was pretty painful for me. It’s been a while since I’ve done so much elevation gain in one day and my knees were starting to bother me. After Cat Lake you have to do about 850m of downhill, which gets progressively steeper. It’s still a very nice hike – the trees aren’t tightly packed, so the forest had a very sunny feeling, but my knees were both killing me. I got slower and slower and pretty much crawled down the last 2km. We added a bit more distance to take the less steep routes where possible to save my knees. Even still, it was just after 7pm when we exited the trail, which I thought was pretty good all things considered!

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We drove back to Squamish and had a delicious meal before heading back to Vancouver. I don’t think I got home until 11pm, so it was a very long day, but I really loved the hike! It’s a lot of work, but high reward and a lot of time spent in the alpine! Definitely recommend for those long summer days. Though I’d be wary of going on a really hot day – a lot of the hike is exposed and it’s a lot of climbing to do with no shade.

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Hiking Tricouni Meadows

This might be my favourite hike of the year to date! I’ve been doing more exploring around the Squamish River area in the past few years and have had Tricouni Meadows on my radar for a while. I was keen to visit it as an overnight, but have almost exclusively done overnight trips this year and needed a break, so we opted to do it as a day hike instead. I was a little bit disappointed to have limited time to explore the area, but excited to get a taste because it is incredibly scenic!

The most important thing to be aware of with Tricouni Meadows is access. There’s a lot of mixed information about the forestry road on the internet, so definitely come prepared with the right vehicle if you want to drive the whole way to the trailhead. Conditions can vary year by year as well, so take this information with a grain of salt and check more recent sources if you’re doing this hike beyond 2022.

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Tricouni Meadows is located off Branch 200, off Squamish Valley Road. Squamish Valley Road is easily accessible and you drive past the bridge, the High Falls Creek Trailhead, and the hydroelectric facility, taking the right fork onto Branch 200. This is where things get variable. I’m no expert on vehicles, but Brandon is very knowledgeable and his assessment was that the road is in relatively good condition at this point. You don’t really need 4WD, but you may want a bit of extra clearance and good tires. SUV’s can likely handle it, but even the early part of the road isn’t in very good condition for cars. There was a station wagon stopped less a 1km in when we drove it that ended up turning around.

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The first 2 switchbacks are quite steep, but the condition of the road doesn’t require 4WD. Once you get up the switchbacks, the road really isn’t that bad for the first 7km. But if you want to get past the creek at km 7, you definitely need the proper set-up. There is a huge wash-out with a very steep and narrow dip in the road. Since it’s only 3km to the trailhead from here, most people had opted to park along the road and walk the rest of it. There were a lot of big trucks like the Ford F-150, that while they had high clearance, are very long and couldn’t do the washout without grounding out on the back.

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Brandon drives a Toyota 4-Runner – he sized up the washout for a few minutes and decided he could do it. Brandon loves off-roading and I did think he could probably do it, but I’m much more cautious and was nervous about this approach. He gave it a go, to much nervous yelling and swearing on my part, but was able to get down and out of it. He did ground out right on the back of his rear bumper, but there were no large rocks and so he didn’t get any damage. I think the shrubs actually did more damage to the vehicle as the road is very narrow and they were constantly scraping along the doors.

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In any case, the road still isn’t too bad after the washout until the last kilometre or so. It becomes very rocky after that and 4WD is definitely needed for the last portion of the road. But Brandon was thrilled when we finally made it to the parking lot to find we were only the 3rd car that had made it up there… and they were all 4-Runners! We’re pretty early in the day and when we exited the trail there were a lot more vehicles: 5 4-Runners, 2 Tacomas, and 2 Jeeps. So my recommendation would be to just park at the wash-out unless you are experienced. Honestly, driving up is barely any faster from this point, but it does conserve your energy.

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So with that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual hike, because it’s a really good one! There are two trails heading up along either side of high falls creek to Tricouni Meadows. They share one trailhead, but branch from each other almost immediately. The trail on the right (east side) is the original trail, which follows directly along the creek. This trail is known for being extremely muddy, which is why I suspect the second trail was developed. The second trail branches left (west side) and crosses the creek to ascend up to the meadows through the boulder field. It’s a slightly longer trail, but will take more than slightly more time because you go through the boulder field almost the entire hike.

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We opted to take the boulder field trail up and didn’t regret it. It’s a bit more technical, but it also has beautiful views of the mountains. There were still some wildflowers in bloom and we took our time since it was quite hot. The downside is, there’s very little shade and it is steep towards the end, so just take your time. It took us between 90-120 minutes to get up to the first lake.

I definitely recommend bringing 2 hiking poles for this hike because there are a lot of stream crossings. I managed not to get my feet wet by staying nimble, and Brandon kept his feet dry despite walking through the water because his boots are extremely waterproof, but Lien did get wet feet on some of the crossings. The first crossing when you start the hike is a bit tricky depending on water level, and then we crossed back over when we got to Pendant Lake, though this was an easier crossing.

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There are several lakes dispersed throughout the meadows. You can hike Pendant Lake, Spearpoint Lake, and Reflection Lake on your way up to Tricouni Peak, or Pendant Lake and Tricouni Lake on your way to Seagram Lake (requires wayfinding). We didn’t have much of a plan when we went up and stopped immediately at Pendant Lake to go for a swim and have lunch. Pendant Lake was probably my favourite of the 3, it has a beautiful little island in the middle and is shaped like a heart from above. The water was quite cold, but that didn’t stop me and Lien from taking a dip. Pendant also had a ton of wildflowers growing along the shore of the lake, which made it incredibly scenic!

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From there you hike up about 50m in elevation to get to Spearpoint Lake. This is the smallest lake, but has several flat areas to pitch a tent (something that’s mostly missing from Pendant Lake). We decided to save our swim in Spearpoint for later and continue up to Reflection Lake. Brandon floated around the idea of going all the way to the peak, but I didn’t really think we had time, so we decided to just start with Reflection Lake.

It’s another 100m in elevation gain to Reflection Lake, but the trail is infinitely more challenging. There’s not really a marked trail at this point and you pretty much just scramble up over the boulder field. There’s a beautiful waterfall, but it is very steep and not obvious where the trail is. Before the waterfall, you need to cross to the right side of the river and follow the landslide up to a cairn. This was by far the sketchiest part of the trail as it’s very steep and there’s a lot of run-out. I almost gave up and turned around, but decided to push on.

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Once you get up over the waterfall, there’s another boulder field, but it’s much easier to navigate and we soon made it to the lake. There are several creek crossings in between though, which is why I say to make sure to bring poles. There weren’t many campers when we arrived, but a lot showed up after us. Some set up at Spearpoint Lake and a lot were continuing up to Reflection Lake. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of flat spots anywhere really, so I recommend coming early and being prepared to get creative. Personally, I wouldn’t hike my big pack up to Reflection Lake.

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We abandoned the idea of going to the peak and instead chilled at the lake while watching other hikers start up over the scree. Despite the scramble up to the lake, I would say the view from Reflection Lake is worth it. You can see all the way to the peak from there – it’s very exposed alpine scree and boulder field. I’m not super keen on going all the way to the peak now that I’ve seen it, because there is limited trail and it’s mostly a technical scramble, but I could probably be convinced (likely by Brandon) to return and attempt it on an overnight trip (camping at one of the lower lakes). Instead, we had some more snacks and went for a swim in Reflection Lake, which is definitely the coldest of the three.

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There were a lot of mosquitoes when we visited, so be prepared for that. Brandon invested in a thermacell after we got eaten alive at Assiniboine last year and I have to say that it is worth every penny! We never go anywhere without it now and it made hanging out at the lake much more enjoyable. Brandon has the rechargeable one, which I think is the most effective, but I have the backpacking version (which uses isobutane) and also really like it – honestly you can’t go wrong with either!

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Of course, hiking back down was more nerve-wracking than the hike up, though more straightforward in terms of route finding. We stopped at Spearpoint Lake this time to go for our last swim of the day. Me and Lien swam in all 3 lakes, but Brandon just dipped in at Spearpoint. They’re all cold, but Spearpoint is the smallest and therefore slightly less cold than the other two. At this point there were A LOT of people exploring the area and the campsites, which were totally empty when we arrived, were completely filled up. We weren’t particularly early (starting the hike just before 11am), but it makes a big difference in getting a good site, so I recommend going earlier rather than later. There are no facilities though, so come prepared to dig catholes and I strongly recommend a bear can or bear bag as there are no good trees to make a cache.

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I’m definitely keen to return and spend a few days in the area, there’s a lot to explore! I’d like to visit Tricouni Lake and Seagram Lake, but it was too much for 1 day hike. It was around 5pm when we left Pendant Lake and we decided to take the muddy branch back to the car in hopes of saving some time.

The trail starts off pretty well and it’s definitely faster than descending through the boulder field. There are several mud pits along the way, but they were relatively dry and easy enough to walk over, so I didn’t get too muddy. Overall, the first 2 thirds weren’t too bad, but the last third was definitely a sloppy mess. I was ankle and calf deep in a few places, so I can only imagine how muddy it would be in the wet season (it was mid August when we went). I would only attempt the muddy trail in the height of dry season – otherwise stick to the boulder field. That said, it’s definitely faster and it only took us an hour to get back to the car.

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All in all, I loved this hike! It’s not the easiest to visit because of access and it has smaller crowds than a lot of popular hikes, but there were definitely more people there than I was expecting, so I think it’s growing in popularity. In addition to the mud, there are a lot of stream crossings, so I’ll probably stick to this one during the dry season, but I can’t wait to go back again!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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