Fall is one the greatest times to hike and I often find myself saving my favourite trips for the September and October months. Whether it’s going the distance on a crisp day or worshiping the sun in the alpine on one of those bonus “summer-like” days, autumn is a great time to explore.
Many alpine hikes in BC have a short window of being snow free and depending on the winter previous may be snow free for only a few months. Fall guarantees access, and the only snow comes from the sky.
One of my favourite areas to hike is in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Prime for day hikes and overnights, the park offers a number of access points with an impressive area of 1,950-km2. This fall my wife and I headed up for a couple of nights with some friends.
We started at the Rubble Creek Trailhead, just 29-km outside of the Whistler Village. BC Parks has invested a lot of money into rebuilding the trail and it makes for a great ascent with an overnight pack.
The hike up to Garibaldi Lake is 9km and takes about 3 to 4 hours. We set off shortly before 10am and started the hardest part of a backpacking trip: the beginning. It’s the heaviest our packs will be and it always seems like a long way to the reward.
But after a few switchbacks, our bags began to feel lighter and we settled into a conversation that matched the rhythm of our steps. The first reward of getting outside is the ability to catch up with friends.
Once at the lake we peeled off our boots and settled in for the day. We recharged with a snack on the dock and an extremely quick dip in Garibaldi Lake to cool off. Despite it being fall, the sun was still warm. It was nice to get another swim in before winter officially arrived.
Garibaldi Lake boasts one of the most breathtaking views in the Vancouver area. I’m always amazed that within a 1-hour drive from the downtown core and a 3-hour hike in from the parking lot, one can finds themselves here.
With an early start, you can make a simple day trip out of it and get back to the parking lot with daylight to spare. The hike is, in my opinion, a must do, and was the first stop on our 3-day adventure.
With the sun gone it was amazing how cold things got and it was a good reminder of why you always want to be prepared in the backcountry. After a well-deserved dinner of pasta and a couple cups of tea, we headed into our tents for bed.
The next morning we got an early start and made our way towards Taylor Meadows and our big goal for the day: Panorama Ridge.
As you start to make your way to Panorama Ridge you begin to see glimpses of the lake, and you start to realize it’s even bigger than you first expected. At the junction to Panorama Ridge we stashed some of our heavy items and took a detour to the top.
Panorama Ridge, as the name suggests, offers a full 360° line of sight. With a view of the Campground, Black Tusk, and the entire Garibaldi Lake, you begin to understand just how big this place really is.
As we made our way down from the peak, the sun started to come out and Black Tusk began to peek out of the clouds. We grabbed the gear we stashed at the junction and started our way through the Cinder Flats and towards the Helm Creek Campground.
It was a long day of hiking. Lucky we wore our Liberty Ridge Hiking Boots. We quickly grabbed some tent spots and had dinner. Helm Meadows is an underrated spot, in my opinion. It might not be as breathtaking as the Garibaldi Lake Campground, but it provides a great view of the Tusk.
It’s also less crowded, more secluded, and I often find there are only a couple of groups camping each night. After dinner we reflected on the day and gazed at the stars, with nothing but Whistler a few kilometres away the stars made for great entertainment until bedtime.
The next morning we packed up and made our way down the final section of our journey. The hike from the Helm Creek Campground to the Cheakamus Lake Parking Lot is mostly downhill. It was a short day compared to the previous but it was a nice change of scenery. Dropping down into the Cheakamus River along side Helm Creek the trail is less traveled and more “raw” than the other trails we had hiked.
The technical nature kept us occupied from daydreaming about fresh vegetables and cold craft beer at the end of our journey, at least that’s what I was thinking about.
If you’re heading out to Garibaldi, here’s a few tips: Make sure you pack out what you pack in and stay on the trail at all times, especially in the Alpine. If you’re staying overnight be sure to purchase a permit from BC Parks, either at the Parking Lot with cash or cheque, or online with a credit card.
It costs $10 per night per person. While using the campgrounds, please leave them better than you found them and use the bear cache. Store food and toiletries properly; remember you’re in Black Bear country.
November brings an extra hour of sleep, but we lose an hour of daylight. It also means hikers find themselves getting stranded in the dark. The week after we change our clocks in the fall is one of the busiest for BC’s Search and Rescue. Many groups find themselves being paged multiple nights as the sun is setting.
So please be prepared! Bring a headlamp and give yourself ample time to make it back to the car. It’s better to be sitting in a Café or at your favourite local brewery an hour earlier than expected than calling for help an hour later.
Which summits will your Keens take you to?