Posts Tagged With: vancouvertrails

Garibaldi Lake Backpacking Trip: First Timer

Garibaldi Park is hands down, one of the most beautiful provincial parks in the lower mainland. I’ve been to the lake on 3 separate occasions in the last 5 years and I really felt I experienced something new on every single trip. The first time I went to Garibaldi Lake was in 2015 as a day trip and it’s what inspired my desire to start backcountry camping. It was so beautiful at the lake that I really wanted the opportunity to stay there overnight. So the next year, I bought myself some backcountry gear and did a 3 day trip with Seth and Emily, who had just finished her bachelor’s degree and was visiting for the summer at the time.

Both times I’ve backpacked to the lake have been for 3 nights, which I think is a good length. I left work early on a Thursday and we drove out to the trailhead, aiming to be hiking by 5pm. I think we were a little bit behind, but we were certainly on the trail by 5:30pm and it took us about 3.5 hours to hike to the lake without any detours. 2016 was the first year that Garibaldi introduced the backcountry booking system, so we did have a campsite booked, but we decided to take Friday off to get ahead of the crowds and have one day with fewer people.

It’s a rough walk up to the lake for sure. It’s a pretty easy trail, but there is significant elevation gain (~800m) and the trail is pretty much constant switchbacks with no views for the first 6-7km. After that it gets a little more varied and less steep, before you finally reach the lake and hike in along the edge to the campsite. If you are hiking in a little later, like we were, be prepared to hike in the dark and have lights with you. Fortunately, we reached the campsite just around dusk and got to see the glacier at the back of the lake lit up pink with the alpen glow before night set in.

Hiking in Thursday night gave us two full days in the backcountry before we had to hike out again, so we planned to hit Garibaldi’s other two most popular attractions, Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. I was most excited for Panorama Ridge because I’d seen so many amazing pictures of the bright blue waters of Garibaldi Lake as seen from the ridge looking down on it. So we decided to day hike to Panorama on Friday. We had each purchased a small daypack from Mountain Warehouse that we had stuffed into our big packs, so we crammed them full of all our day items.

It’s a bit of a rough start to Panorama Ridge when you leave the lake and have to hike back up over the bank, but after that the trail levels out a lot and has beautiful views of the alpine meadows. Panorama Ridge is about a 15km round trip hike from the lake and definitely ranks as one of my top 5 hikes. At first you hike through alpine meadows until you reach the base of Black Tusk, and then the trails branch off and you loop right the edge of Black Tusk Mountain down towards helm creek. You can’t see Black Tusk from this part of the trail, or Garibaldi Lake, but you can see down into the Valley and up to your final destination at the top of the ridge. I went during the August long weekend, so there were lots of wildflowers in bloom along the trail.

The last 2 kilometres of the trail are more difficult as you start climbing up towards the top of the ridge. It’s a steep trail and it can get quite crowded. Even though it was a Friday, it was still pretty busy, but I was glad we did it first. The view from the top is unbelievable and you should absolutely time your trip to eat up at the top so that you can hang out for a while. The view of Garibaldi and the surrounding mountains and glaciers is incredible, but it’s really the view back towards Black Tusk that took my breath away. I don’t think that view is showcased quite as much. I was anticipating and expecting the beautiful view of the lake, so I was surprised by the equally beautiful view looking back at Black Tusk and could never quite decide which direction to face!

I definitely think a day hike is the way to go for Panorama though. I know some people do Panorama as a 30km round trip, but I can’t imagine doing this unless you were a trail runner. It must be at least a 12 hour day to do the whole thing and that doesn’t leave much time to enjoy the views or the lake. Panorama Ridge was a whole day affair for us.

The year we went, there was still a lot of snow going up the side of the ridge towards the top. On the way up we could see some butt marks in the snow coming down from the top and Seth was really keen to slide down the snow on the way back. I think whether or not this is possible probably depends on the conditions when you visit, but I would absolutely recommend AGAINST it either way. Me and Emily were swayed by Seth’s enthusiasm about sliding down and decided to give it a try. But it’s a lot steeper than it looks and a lot longer. Once you start sliding down it’s really hard to control your speed and you’re pretty much committed to going the whole way. It is so cold to slide down a snowbank in your shorts and because we started picking up to much speed, we were forced to try and slow ourselves down with our hands, causing both our hands and butts to go totally numb for hours (yes. hours, I am not exaggerating). So yes, we did slide down, but I would not repeat the experience.

We finished the day with one of my favourite activities, a swim in the lake! If you don’t walk far enough in around the lake, you might never know that there’s a dock, but if you want to swim, this is absolutely where I’d recommend you go because then you can save yourself the torture of having to wade into the freezing, glacial water, and just jump in. I think I swam in the lake every time I’ve been up there and while it is freezing, it is one thing I would recommend! The cold water is so nice on your aching muscles and it makes for a great photo!

On Saturday we hit up Black Tusk. We would have preferred to stay at Garibaldi Lake all weekend, but unfortunately the campsite had been full for Saturday night by the time we booked, so we packed up everything and moved to Taylor Meadows on Saturday morning. Taylor Meadows is about 1.5km away from the lake and has traditionally been used for group and overflow camping back before the reservations were introduced. Now you can book all the campsites online and while it’s frustrating if you’re not fast enough to nab one, it does remove the stress of wondering whether you’ll find somewhere to pitch your tent for the night.

It was the BC Day weekend and as expected, it was a lot busier on Saturday. Taylor Meadows is nice, but it definitely can’t compare with the lake. The campsites have much less privacy and are all crammed together in the meadow. We decided to eat lunch in the hut and then started on the Black Tusk hike after lunch. Black tusk is a bit shorter than Panorama Ridge, but it has more elevation gain. The weather was cooler on the day we did Black Tusk as well. You hike in to the same junction, but instead of hiking around the mountain, this time, you hike up it. I wasn’t expecting to see the Lake from Black Tusk since you can’t see it from Panorama at all until the very top, but you can actually see the lake from a lot of the Black Tusk hike, which was really nice. There was still quite a bit of snow on Black Tusk though, even in August, so we did have to cross several snowy sections on the way up.

What I didn’t realize until the way down, was that the official Black Tusk hike actually ends about halfway up to the ridge (there’s a sign that marks the end of the hike – which I did see, but thought it was just an info board about the hike). So we kept going to the top of the ridge at the base of the tusk. It is definitely rough going in that last section. It is all scree going up to the ridge and every step you take you feel as if you’re sliding half a step back. Emily and Seth hated it and I didn’t particularly like it either. We pushed to the top of the ridge so that we could see the views on either side of the mountain, but Emily and Seth refused to go on from there. There is one last section that goes right to the base of the tusk and I really wanted to see it, so I braved the last 10-15 minutes up the slope on my own.

But that’s where I quit. I know there are people that climb Black Tusk, some of which bring actually safety and climbing gear, and others that just free hand it. I’m not one of those people. I’ve heard stories of how dangerous it is, so I opted to give it a pass. But, I did get beautiful views of the tusk and looking out around the surrounding area on both sides of the tusk.

I have been back to Panorama Ridge since then, but that will probably be my one and only time up Black Tusk. It was a cool hike, but I’m not a huge fan of all the scree, so it’s one I’m happy to tick off my bucket list and move on from. But never say never I guess, I could probably be convinced to return on snowshoes.

And that was really it for our Garibaldi trip. We returned to Taylor Meadows and hiked out the next morning. It was Sunday when we hiked out, so there were still an insane number of people hiking in, and it’s kind of fun to watch all the day hikers sweating it on their way in while you hike all downhill with your pack and your sweater still on.

Overall, I do have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Garibaldi though. I definitely love it in that it is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring, but it’s also mistreated by a lot of its visitors and that is really frustrating. I’ve had more than one “leave no trace” rant on this blog, but Garibaldi and Joffre are particularly bad for garbage. Please please please, respect the beautiful nature that we all share and pack out all your garbage! Do not leave garbage in outhouses as that attracts bears. If you can pack it in (uphill) full, then you can definitely pack it out empty.

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Semaphore Lakes Backpacking Trip

I already wrote about my one night backpacking trip to Tenquille Lake, but I also did one night at Semaphore Lakes in the same trip. I decided to split up the trip into 2 blogs though because the two trails are not actually related and writing about them together would make for one really long post. We visited Tenquille Lake and Semaphore Lakes on the Canada Day long weekend in 2016. In hindsight, we easily could have spent 2 days exploring around Tenquille Lake, but instead we hiked out from Tenquille on the second day and did Semaphore for the second night.

The reason we picked Semaphore Lakes for the second night is that it’s super close to the Tenquille Lake trailhead. Instead of having to drive on the 4WD Branch 12 road though, it’s located just off the Hurley Forest Service Road, shortly past where the Branch 12 side road is (see my Tenquille Lake blog for more detailed directions). So you can get to this trailhead with 2WD.

Semaphore Lakes is a much shorter trail, it’s about 5km round trip to the lakes and back, but don’t be deceived because there is still 300 metres in elevation gain in the short 2.5km, so it does make for a pretty steep hike up to the top. With our packs, it probably took us about an hour and a half to reach. We had a bit of a late start hiking in to Semaphore because we had a personal issue come up that required us to drive back to Pemberton between the two trails. Then when we finally got back to the Semaphore Lakes trailhead in the late afternoon (and had all our packs on ready to go), Brandon realized he left his REALLY NICE Nikon DSLR camera on the side of the road at the Tenquille Lake trailhead when we were packing up the car. So we had to drive back up and down the 4WD access road, but fortunately his camera was still sitting there patiently waiting for us!

So I think it was after 5pm by the time we finally started hiking in to Semaphore and it started to rain on us in the last half hour. In my early backpacking days I had a bit of a “rain” phobia because I was terrified of my clothes and sleeping bag getting wet and being stuck freezing cold in the mountains. Actually, this is totally a valid fear and one I go to great lengths to protect myself from. I actually carried an umbrella with me on the entire 50km Juan de Fuca trail because I was afraid of the rain getting my clothes wet on the first day of our 4 day hike. I’ve since chilled out because I’ve acquired some better gear to protect me against these scenarios, but I remember when it started raining on the way to Semaphore I pretty much ran the last 20 mins to the lakes because I was terrified that our tent would get wet because Seth had failed to purchase himself a backpack cover. He thought a garbage bag on top of his pack would work fine – spoiler alert: it didn’t.

Anyways, in retrospect, the rain was a bit of a joke. It was really just sun showers and not a proper downpour, but when we got to the lakes we pretty much threw the tent up as fast as possible and chucked all our gear inside. Me and Seth were still using my parents ancient tent at this point, which is a tee-pee style tent and not very spacious, and I have this really funny memory of the two of us just sitting in the tent staring at each other waiting for the rain to stop because there wasn’t enough room to do anything else.

Brandon travels in style ALL the time, so he and Carolyn were next door happily setting up their mansion while we just stared at each other in angst – me because I was annoyed about the rain and Seth because he never really wanted any part of the trip to begin with. Eventually Carolyn and Brandon got their house all set up and invited us over for dinner, as if we had anything better to do LOL, and we climbed into their nice space and cooked supper poking out through the vestibule. This is like textbook ‘what-not-to-do’ because you don’t want your tent to smell like your dinner and attract bears. I want to say, “but we were rookies and didn’t know any better”, but we did know better, so I really have no excuse. I’ve since purchased a lightweight tarp for future trips, so problem solved next time.

Anyways, the rain did let loose after that. Fortunately we were all set up by that point, so none of our gear got wet, but it did result in a pretty early night. We failed to bring cards, so I ended up reading a bedtime story to everyone instead. I basically yelled at Carolyn and Brandon for 30 mins between the tents so that they could hear me over the sound of the rain, and those kweens just fell asleep on me in like the first 5 minutes, rude.

So our evening at Semaphore left a little to be desired after our awesome night and campfire at Tenquille, but I have no regrets because the rain moved on overnight and the clouds cleared out in the morning. So I woke to the sun shining on me and the most beautiful view of the lake through my tent door. I was afraid of the clouds rolling back in again, so I got up pretty early and me, Carolyn, and Brandon went for a little exploratory morning walk around the area. You could absolutely spend 2 nights at Semaphore Lakes as well because there’s so many other mountains nearby to explore during the day. Since it was only the first weekend in July and we were at a pretty high elevation, there was still a lot of snow around, so we just explored the immediate area, but it had some truly lovely views of the lakes and surrounding mountains.

One of the benefits to Semaphore Lakes was that it has a lot less people. Don’t get me wrong, there were still other campers, but there was a lot less than Tenquille and they were a lot more spread out, so it didn’t feel crowded at all. It also had significantly less mosquitoes than Tenquille Lake, so that was a blessed relief. The clouds did roll in again pretty quickly though, so we didn’t stay too long and packed up our gear after a quick breakfast.

Overall, it was a great foray into backcountry camping and though we had some challenges, they were not enough to deter me from wanting to try it again and I ended up doing 2 other backcountry trips that summer! I would definitely love to go back to both of these trails as a more experienced hiker and check out some of the other surrounding trails in the area.

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Tenquille Lake Backpacking Trip

Tenquille Lake is a lesser known trail in southwestern BC, located near Pemberton, but it was the first trail I ever did on an overnight trip! Before my visit to Tenquille lake, I had never been on a backpacking trip before. I’d done lots of camping and hiking growing up, and I even went on a 5 day hiking trip to Machu Picchu in 2013, but it was my first time being wholly self-sufficient and having to carry all of my gear with me (in Peru we had horses to take the bulk of our gear). Well… I mean… I was mostly self-sufficient. I definitely couldn’t have done it without Brandon’s expertise, but I still carried most of the gear I needed for the trip.

3 years later I’ve completely fallen in love with backcountry camping and I have gotten a lot better at it, so don’t be afraid to take that first trip if it’s something you want to try. It’s important to be as prepared as possible, but you can also learn by doing. As long as you practice “leave no trace” camping and take your “10 essentials”, everything else can be learned with time!

The ideal scenario for your first time camping is to have a Brandon, by which I mean, an enthusiastic friend who has more gear and knowledge than you and is willing to help you out while you learn and accumulate your own gear. Gear is a killer when you start off backpacking. It is really expensive and deciding what to purchase is intimidating because there are so many choices and you want to buy the right gear without bankrupting yourself. Fortunately my parents already had some backcountry gear that they loaned me, but it was all really old, so while it saved me a lot of money initially, it also weighed a lot and caused us a lot of grief to carry when we were just getting used to backpacking. So if you can find a friend who’s able to lend you a tent, sleeping pad, or stove, it will definitely alleviate some of the strain of having to buy all your gear at once.

Tenquille Lake is what I would like to credit as the birth of my really close friendship with both Brandon and Carolyn. We’d all hung out together before and gone on the occasional hike or ski trip, but backpacking really cements a friendship and because Seth doesn’t really like carrying a big backpack, I’ve spent most of my backcountry experiences with either Carolyn or Brandon or both. Brandon is a great person to have with you in the backcountry because he brings endless optimism and enthusiasm and he makes the best backcountry thai chicken curry you’ll ever have in your life… actually, forget the “backcountry” part, it’s the best thai chicken curry, period. And me and Carolyn just get each other. We operate on the same schedule, we get what the other likes and dislikes, and I will confide with her about pretty much anything and everything. We’re both on a secret mission to tell every woman about the miracle that is the divacup and how it changed our lives. Plus, she’s obsessed with fresh vegetables and nothing improves a backcountry meal like fresh stuff.

But back to Tenquille Lake. Since this was my first backcountry trip ever, I somehow convinced Seth to join me. I don’t think he had a very good time, but he still came. Brandon was our spirit guide for the trip and even though she hardly knew us, Carolyn was not deterred from joining us on a 3-day trip into the wilderness. I’m pretty sure we ended up at Tenquille Lake because it was one of the first trails listed in my hiking book and I basically looked at the first page and was like, “that looks great, let’s go there!” However, the trail in my hiking book was actually an 18km round trip hike with 1400 metres in elevation gain, which in retrospect, was totally BONKERS for a first hike.

Fortunately, Brandon, in his infinite wisdom, found out that there was a second trail that you could access with 4WD that was only 14km. I still don’t know what the elevation gain was on that trail, but having done a lot of hikes since then, I can guarantee it was WAY LESS than 1400 metres. Brandon lives for any trail with a 4WD access road so that he can play around in his Toyota 4-Runner, so he was thrilled to check out the shorter trail. For those interested in hiking either trail, the 18km trail is accessible by car from Lillooet Forest Service Road and the trailhead is located directly after you cross the Lillooet River. The second, shorter trail (which is the one we did) is located at the end of a 7km long forestry road that definitely requires 4WD. This is known as the Branch 12 entrance. Basically, you continue up Lillooet Forest Service Road and take the right fork up the hill onto Hurley River Forest Service Road until you reach Branch 12 on the right-hand side of the road (after the switchbacks).

We decided to do the trip on the Canada Day long weekend and drove out to Pemberton on Saturday morning with the intention of hiking to Tenquille Lake on Saturday night and Semaphore Lakes on Sunday night (I’ll write a separate post for the Semaphore Trip because otherwise this one will be way too long!). It was probably around 1 or 2pm by the time we reached the trailhead, so make sure you leave early if you’re planning to do this one as a day hike because even though the forestry road is only 7km, it really slows you down. I was rocking a pretty heavy backpack because me and Seth were using my parents old 10lb tent, but Brandon carried the stove and fuel and a fair bit of the food, so it definitely could have been worse. Carolyn was sharing a tent with Brandon, so I’m pretty sure she just had air in her pack because Brandon loves to share gear, but not carrying the weight.

I’ll admit, I’m a little foggy on the details of the trail 3 years later, but I do remember a fair bit of uphill through the woods at the start of the hike that eventually transitioned into undulating meadows. We didn’t get great weather on the trip and it was pretty cold at the lake for July, but the rain stayed away, so we really couldn’t complain. It was overcast on our first day, which is probably why it felt so cold. One of the things I do remember though, is the mosquitoes (henceforth known as “skitties”). Oh boy, were they ever bad at Tenquille Lake. It would have been nice to take it easy on our first major backpacking trip, but every time you would stop on the trail, you would be completely swarmed by skitties, so we pretty much would only stop to put on more bug spray. It definitely got better when we made it out of the woods and to slightly higher elevations. I didn’t find it too bad at the lake, but Seth would likely disagree with me. They must not like my blood type that much or something, because they more or less left me alone at the lake, but Seth had no respite and Brandon let him borrow his bug hat to try and keep them away. We don’t know Seth’s blood type, but the skitties love it.

One of my main motivations for picking the trail (besides stumbling upon it and thinking it looked nice), was that I thought it was probably far enough away from Vancouver that there would be less people, and that combined with the 4WD access road, there wouldn’t be very many people camping.

I can really be a dummy sometimes. But hey, it was my first backcountry trip and I’d still only been living in BC for 2 years at this point and I didn’t realize just how crazy everyone is for the outdoors here! There ended up being probably about 60 people in a campsite that’s made for 30 because it was a long weekend and a single Meet-Up group of 30 PEOPLE decided to visit the lake that weekend. It was a little overwhelming for my first time in the backcountry, but because of the overflow of people (and our late start), we ended up getting, what in our opinion was, the best campsite at the lake!

So I don’t condone this now that I’m a little more seasoned. When possible, you really should camp at the campsites or in a location that will cause the least harm to the surrounding area. At Tenquille, you’re not allowed to camp in the meadows because they are extremely sensitive, but because of the surplus of people in the actual campground, we were forced to find some overflow space, and yes, it was in the meadows. We avoided any untouched meadow and stayed only on the trail, but we did find an area that had obviously been used many times before for overflow camping and didn’t have any alpine vegetation anymore, so that’s where we camped. In the pictures it kind of looks like we’re in the middle of the meadow, but there was a trail there and about 4-5 campsites that are hard to see because of the surrounding vegetation. I’ve gotten a lot more sensitive about these things the more I backpack, so I always try and camp where I won’t have an impact on plant habitat.

Despite the shoddy weather though, I absolutely loved Tenquille Lake. I’ve come to appreciate this trail more since I was first there because it really is the perfect mix of alpine lakes and alpine meadows. Alpine meadows have become pretty much my favourite backcountry scene, and Tenquille has both the lake, surrounded by mountains, and the alpine meadows next to the lake. This was also one of the rare backcountry hikes I’ve done since I moved here where we were actually permitted to have a campfire. Most provincial parks prohibit campfires in the wilderness and by early July, we’re usually into full fire ban, but this was one trip where we went early enough to have a campfire. I’m realizing now that Brandon must have carried an axe up there on top of all his other gear, so thanks again Brandon!

We definitely had to layer up at the lake because it was really cold, but I became totally enamoured with getting away from the city, eating with a kick-ass view of the lake, and waking up to see the sun just poking over the top of the mountains. We didn’t see the sun very much on this trip, but it did come out for about an hour both mornings, so I got up pretty early on that trip because I wanted to photograph our surroundings with the brief glimpse of sunshine and blue sky. Both days it clouded in by 9am, but we got a few hours of sunshine before the clouds snuck back into the mountains.

So all in all, it was a wonderful first trip into the wilderness. We did the somewhat strange choice of hiking back to the car and then doing another overnight hike to Semaphore Lakes (instead of just one 2 night hike), but more on that in a later post!

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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