Helm Creek, 3-6 Sep 2010 (Part 2)

Sunday
At some point in the night the rain stopped, and the temperature plummeted. As the day dawned, I had a sense that the skies were clear, but that was probably more like wishful thinking. I stayed in my sleeping bag until I detected sunshine on the tent, only then being convinced that it was worth getting up! I pulled on some clothes and my boots and was greeted by clear blue sky and a white frosty campground. The sun had just peeked over Gentian Ridge, still white from its fresh dusting of snow and was deliciously warm on my face.

Helm Creek, 5 Sep 2010

We ate breakfast in the sunshine, collected our food and water for the day and set off for Panorama Ridge. The first part of the hike was simply retracing our steps from yesterday. We passed our dinner-spot just before reaching the edge of a small lake at the base of the Cinder Cone. We looked across the lake to where we had hiked yesterday, looking beautiful in the morning sun. Mind you, the clouds were already rising and drifting in front of Black Tusk. It was looking like we were not going to get the clear views we were hoping for. A pity, but then being in the backcountry is about more than just views. It’s the experience, the Being in being outdoors. I love it.

We passed underneath the Cinder Cone and reached the Cinder Flats, where we had to cross – you guessed it – Helm Creek. Here the creek was braided into a dozen streamlets and the trail led us round to a point where rocks had been placed strategically in order to cross the creek. Except the group of trail runners that came jogging by missed most of the crossing and spent a few hilarious minutes trying to find a way across. Maybe it was unfair of us, but we couldn’t help but laugh at them as they splashed their way over the creek, leaping sections of the creek that were just that little too wide to leap. Of the dozen or so runners that passed us, I don’t think a single one of them made it across with dry feet. We stepped onto the rocks to reach the first island, found the next set and then the next set etc. We made it without even getting the soles of our boots wet.

Panorama Ridge, 5 Sep 2010

OK I have a confession to make: while I admire the fitness and stamina of trail runners, I don’t have a high opinion of them in general. Personally I think that they take a cavalier approach to being in the backcountry. They carry little food and water and certainly not enough layers or first aid gear to survive a night. I’m also not convinced of their backcountry ethics, having seen them run onto meadows without hesitation in order to get around hikers. Spending time at high elevation has really brought it home to me how short the growing season is, how fragile the environment is. I get annoyed when I see people not taking care to mitigate their impact. Running over the meadows is not like squashing a few daisies in someone’s back garden. Grrr. So excuse me if I take some small delight in watching these runners fill their shoes with glacially-frigid water.

Anyway, rant over. We continued over the flats, the trail a long straight bee-line over the cindery ground. The trail crossed a snow patch and climbed gently to reach Helm Pass. Here we turned left (at the obvious trail junction!) to head up to Panorama Ridge. So, having ranted about trail runners I now have to admit that, sadly, hikers are often no better. In the meadow to our right was a group of half-a-dozen tents, in a place where it’s inadvisable to walk, let alone camp. A group of guys stood around smoking. Clearly they’d wanted to camp overnight and found that even the Taylor Meadows campground was full. Officially they’re supposed to then turn around and go home, but most people won’t do that. The problem is not so much that they were camped where they shouldn’t have been, it’s that the environment cannot sustain repeated beatings by the numbers of people that visit the Garibaldi Lake area. There just isn’t enough time to recover – you can’t simply throw down a load of new seed and water it for a few weeks and watch it grow back.

We put it out of our minds and began ascending the north ridge to Panorama Ridge. We gained elevation quite quickly and soon had great views over Black Tusk and Mimulus Lakes, Helm Lake and pass and beyond to where we were yesterday on Empetrum Ridge. It all helps us attain our big-picture view that we like. We left the trees behind and pick our way up the flagged trail over rocks and talus. It was much easier going than I remember from the last time back in 2006, and following the trail was easy, despite a few snow patches. I remember getting lost at a couple of points on the ascent and having to pick our way through loose rocks to regain it. No such issues today.

Panorama Ridge, 5 Sep 2010

The views behind got better and better, despite Black Tusk spending most of its time in the clouds. The vivid greens of the meadows when lit by sunshine was a joy to see. We reached the final ascent as the old trail from the west joined us and we got our first view of Garibaldi Lake. A marmot sat in classic pose against the blue water.

Aah, Garibaldi Lake. The hike to the lake shore is great in itself, but there’s nothing like getting above the lake and seeing that stunning blue-green colour. We couldn’t help but say `Wow’. It was so much more impressive than we remember. Perhaps it’s because most memories these days are defined by small photos, but cresting the ridge to be confronted by this massive expanse of blue was breathtaking.

We reached the first summit on the ridge, along with many other hikers, and stood a moment to take in the view. The high mountain peaks were enshrouded in clouds, with only the lower flanks visible, but most of the slightly smaller (yet still high) peaks were clear: Mt Price, the Guard, the Table etc. It was clear, if hazy, the last time we were here. We’ll just have to go back on a clearer day ;-) Not that there was a shortage of things to look at. Switching to the telephoto lens, we snapped detail shots of Black Tusk and the deeply-crevassed Sphinx Glacier in particular. I love glaciers and still have a hard time believing that I can hike within reach of them. We peered down at the Burton Hut in Sphinx Bay and the three lakes draining the glacier above. That’s a place we’d like to see up close, but unfortunately it’s more of a winter destination since crossing the lake is a lot easier than hiking up and over all the peaks along the way.

Panorama Ridge, 5 Sep 2010 Panorama Ridge, 5 Sep 2010

We followed the trail east to the actual peak of the ridge and ventured a short distance further to find a sheltered spot to enjoy our lunch. Lying back after eating with the sun on my face was luxurious. We brewed a cup of tea and were packing away our gear when a voice called out to us. `Are you Andy?’ said the unknown hiker. `Yes’, I replied cautiously. `Hi, I’m Pardeep, from LiveTrails.’ And that’s how we met Pardeep, writer of excellent and entertaining trip reports on the LiveTrails website. His enjoyment of hiking shines through in his writing and it’s always a treat to read about where he’s been.

We joined him and chatted for a few minutes. It turned out that he, too, had the idea to explore further along the ridge, as far as a viewpoint over the Helm Glacier, so the three of us walked on. The ridge sloped downwards and we lost about 100 m of elevation in total as we searched for a good viewpoint. It looked like we could have found a way all the way down to the glacier and then down into the Helm Creek valley back to the tent, but we thought we’d save that for another day.

We marvelled at our view of the glacier, at which point Pardeep had to leave as he was meeting a friend somewhere along the trail. We explored a bit further, but the descending clouds and cool breeze persuaded us that it was time to head back as well. We retraced our steps, climbing back to the now-deserted summit. We savoured the view of the lake one last time, taking the time to capture enough photos to stitch into a grand panorama, and began our descent.

Panorama Ridge, 5 Sep 2010

Heading down was uneventful, easy even and we lost elevation quickly reaching the treeline again in what seemed like very little time. To our delight, the group of tents from earlier had gone. I wondered if they had been told to move by a park ranger. I hoped so. Dinner time was approaching, and we kept our eyes open for a flat sheltered spot to eat. A loud piercing whistle greeted us as we rounded the next corner and a marmot scampered over the rocks barely 5 m from us. I recorded a short video, hoping to capture it whistling but it bounded away in silence. A few yards further and there was our dinner spot, behind a line of subalpine fir, and overlooking Helm Pass and the route back to the campground.

No rain tonight, just a cool breeze, and we enjoyed our dinner in peace and quiet. Pardeep re-appeared briefly along the trail 50 m or so ahead of us and we shouted our greetings as he headed back towards Taylor Meadows. We brewed a final hot drink before cleaning up and packing away our stove, rubbish and leftover food. We sauntered back to the tent, arriving a short while after sunset. We hung our food and settled down for another cozy night in the tent.

Monday

More rain in the night but it had mostly stopped by the time we dragged ourselves out. Or maybe we didn’t drag ourselves out until it had stopped :-) I’m never sure which way round that should be. No sun to warm us this morning and we were glad to be packing up. Water had pooled on the boards underneath the tent but our makeshift groundsheet (a rain poncho from Canadian Tire :-) meant that it hadn’t soaked through. But it did make it difficult to keep our gear dry as we packed up.

We made use of one of the vacant tentpads to eat breakfast and chatted with some of the other campers, including another Brit who had moved to Vancouver 10 years ago. The rain threatened again and we took the chance to pack away the wet tent as quickly as possible. By 10 o’clock we were ready to go as a heavy damp mist rolled in over the campground. No views to say goodbye to this morning, and we set off back into the forest.

Our pace was steady and easy going on the soft trail, though it was a bit slippery in places. We made good time on our descent, passing through the rain forest section again. I stopped to get a few photos this time, still amazed at finding these trees up here. Then more downhill, down and round the switchbacks to reach the bridge over the Cheakamus River again. Of course it felt like we had made it, but in reality we still had another half-an-hour to get back to the car. Now we were on a busy trail, encountering numerous families with children hiking in to see the lake.

Helm Creek, 6 Sep 2010 Helm Creek, 6 Sep 2010

This stretch lasted forever, as the last few km back to the car always do. Then the rain began in earnest… We hurried our tired legs back to the car, eventually reaching it – hurray! We stuffed our gear into the car, I changed into drier, cleaner clothes and we headed home. Another fabulous long weekend away. I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect taking this trail in to the park, but I’m sold on it now. The route in via Helm Creek is a much nicer trail than the Rubble Creek approach. Considerably quieter too which only adds further to its appeal. We will return… :-)

Total distance: about 48 km
Total elevation gain: about 1900 m
Photos on Flickr

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