All week the weather forecast had been promising a sunny Saturday, and to our continued amazement, the forecast turned out to be correct. Unfortunately Maria couldn’t make it due to an Achilles tendon injury :-( so it was just me, Andrew and Carollyne. I left home a little after 7 am and by 7.30 we had crossed the Lions Gate bridge and were on our way. A gorgeous blue-sky morning drive saw us turning off the road at about 8.45 am, to be greeted by a line of cars extending from the locked gate to half way back to Highway 99. We turned around and pulled in against the left-hand snowbank, and were soon joined by another three cars! We pulled on our gear and left the car just before 9 am.
A short trek up to the end of the ploughed section in front of a gate then we turned off to follow the road to the summer parking lot. I expected this stretch to be easy with hard-packed snow, maybe even a little icy, so I had my Yak-Trax with me. But I was wrong. The storm that had brought the metre of fresh snow to the high ground had also dumped on the road and from the outset we were in knee-deep powder. We put on our snowshoes and even tried breaking trail for a short distance to avoid the skiers up-track but soon gave up on that idea. I decided that I didn’t care what the skiers thought: there was no way I was going to make life infinitely harder by breaking a new trail.
Even then it was still a bit of a slog. The snow was soft and it occurred to me that skiers have the advantage here with better weight distribution. But we rounded a bend and the sun streamed into our eyes, warming us and spurring us on. Forty long minutes later we reached the summer parking lot having covered a little over 2 km and gained 200 metres of elevation. For perhaps the first time ever, I looked back across the valley to the mountains opposite, which I now recognized as Cloudburst and the Tricouni-Cypress area. It was a beautiful sight in the bright morning sunshine.
A new map greeted us at the real trailhead which graded the terrain according to the CAA ratings. Fortunately for us, everywhere on our trip today was rated Simple. We set off into the trees, following the tracks of the skiers and snowshoers before us. The route followed the summer trail, switchbacking up in the first couple of hundred metres before settling into a long steady rise. We crossed a couple of small but still open creeks and passed by the huge splintered Douglas fir that had come down a couple of winters ago. After what seemed like an age, we reached the 2.5 km marker and turned uphill sharply to our left to begin the main series of switchbacks. In reality we had made good time, covering the 2.5 km in less than an hour, but it felt like our pace was glacial.
Up and right and up and left and up etc. To my surprise, the going was a little tricky in places, thanks to the narrow trail cut by the skiers. The slope here is quite steep and as we gained height, the consequences of a slide worsened. All of us lost our downslope footing at one time or another as the soft snow gave way underneath. My heart raced at the time, not wanting to slip down the steep slope. I don’t think we would have gone far today as the snow was soft but even then, hitting a tree is still hitting a tree, and I would prefer to avoid that if at all possible…
Eventually the trail levelled out and we turned away from Rubble Creek. Our progress was steady, and to be fair quite good given the conditions and our condition! It’d been a long time since any of us had hiked for so long and I was beginning to wonder if I could make it at all. We paused frequently to catch our breath. Here and there we had keyhole views towards mountains and/or the Barrier. At one point we had a grandstand view of the Barrier as it loomed over us, a view which I don’t remember seeing in the summer. Up and up we went and passed the one memorable switchback which has a good view of the Barrier, at least in summer. On reaching this (and after picking our way past the skiers who’d stopped for lunch) I thought we were only a matter of minutes away from the Taylor Meadows junction. I was glad because I was seriously running out of steam. Well, sure enough it was a matter of minutes: just many more minutes than I expected! It was another 20 minutes before we reached the junction and it was time for lunch. We hiked on a bit further to the Barrier overlook, where we emerged from the trees into warm sunshine and tramped down a patch in the snow to sit and eat and enjoy the spectacular view in front of us.
I dug out my soup, bread and cheese and scoffed the lot. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a flask of soup so quickly in my life :-) I followed up with some liquorice allsorts and some trail mix, and I felt my energy returning. Then time to spend a few minutes relaxing in the sun. I hauled myself back to my feet and waded off through the snow to find a private spot, only to discover first-hand the perils of tree wells… Fortunately I stayed upright and it was only one leg that disappeared into the void to my left. Getting back out was hard work due to the deep, soft snow. I figured I’d gone far enough away from the others and decided not to struggle any further into the trees.
We retraced our steps back to the trail and picked up the way to Taylor Meadows. No snowshoers had gone this way and we only had a pair of ski tracks to follow. The snow was soft (surprise surprise!) and the going was difficult. Since it was so soon after lunch, I set only a moderate pace but within 20 minutes I was seriously beginning to doubt my choice of route, and we were all ready to give up. We were resting every few dozen steps. The ski tracks led us on a winding route through the trees, initially following the summer trail but soon leaving the markers behind. I knew that we were still heading in the right direction, though, so I wasn’t too worried. To my surprise, we rediscovered the trail as we neared the meadows.
After a long and tiring 90 minutes we broke out of the trees into Taylor Meadows and were rewarded with beautiful views of the white, snow-plastered Black Tusk. We walked on into the centre of the campground with the best views and spent the next 20-30 minutes soaking in the scene before our eyes, taking photo after photo after photo… This was why I had insisted on taking the detour to Taylor Meadows. Looking at the map afterwards I realized that it added another 100 m of elevation gain and a couple of km to our day. But for me, the view of Black Tusk was well worth the effort.
If the snow had been more consolidated, it would have been fun to explore a bit further, as I know that even better views of the Tusk lay ahead, but venturing off trail was simply too hard. Taking a dozen steps in the deep powder was all it took to tire me out. Even the snowshoe hares were having difficulty judging by the depth of their prints. I made a snow angel for Maria as I know she would have not hesitated to drop backwards into the downy snow. Of course, getting out of that was even more difficult than my tree well experience earlier. Every move I made just dug my bum deeper into the snow and it was with considerable difficulty that I managed to get back to my feet without destroying the work of art I had just created. Finally on my feet, I had to take a photo of the snow angel below Black Tusk :-)
We set ourselves up for a group photo before continuing on our way to the lake. As we headed down towards Taylor Creek we passed a pile of supplies to be used for repairing the outhouse and I was very happy to see ski tracks leading the direction I was intending to go. We followed them down to a snow bridge over the creek, steering well clear of the deep open holes over the creek. I peered into one of them and was stunned to see the wall of snow extend right down to the water level. It must have been 3 metres deep, and the prospect of falling in there was quite scary.
The tracks led us up and out into the meadows again, soon reaching the old cabin which marked the beginning of the trail I had planned to take down to the lake. More fantastic views of Black Tusk here, and a pair of bunny tracks. But the most amazing thing was the huge mass of snow on top of the cabin. If you didn’t know the cabin was there, you’d probably think that the snow was covering a huge boulder. Venturing round the back of the cabin all we could see was the very tip of the roof, covered by more than 2 metres of snow.
We turned to follow the ski tracks again as they led in exactly the direction I wanted to head. I was glad to make use of the tracks, even as they led us on a slightly steeper descent than I would have done had the going been easier. After about 20 minutes of heading downhill we met up with the trail to the lake. Hurray! From here we traipsed through the trees again, eventually dropping down to Rubble Creek, crossing a snow bridge and getting our first views of the mountains across the lake. Castle Towers loomed large and bright white against the azure blue sky.
As we reached the lake we got our first taste of the cold wind and we hurried along to get far enough out on the lake to find sunshine. And then suddenly we were there, with the entire lake laid out before and the surrounding mountains tempting us to go further. We ventured a hundred metres or so onto the lake and we each found our own spots to take photos. Then it was time for a hot drink and I poured my hot chocolate powder into my flask, shook it up and drank it all down in record time. That was swiftly followed by some more liquorice allsorts :-) and some trail mix. Carollyne offered round some beef jerky which went surprisingly well with the sweet mixture I’d just had.
Gradually the shadows caught up with us, the wind had done its work cooling us off and looking at the time we figured we should get moving again. It was 4.25 pm and my fingers were freezing. I think I say this almost every time, but despite my cold fingers, I was reluctant to leave. If only there was an easy way to spend more time up there, explore further, soak up more of that fantastic view. (Of course, if it was easy then the place would be trashed.) We turned around and followed our footsteps back across the lake, back along Rubble Creek and into the trees once more. We soon reached the point where we had descended from Taylor Meadows and continued on towards where Taylor Creek cascades into Lesser Garibaldi Lake. Well, it usually does anyway. Today it was totally frozen and snow-bound. I picked my way down a short, steep slope to the lake while Andrew and Carollyne followed the trail round to the creek and a gentler line down the lake. We followed tracks along the western edge of the lake, and noticed a set of snowshoe prints heading directly across and into the trees opposite. We later found out were from a group that had set out before sunrise this morning.
Once we reached the end of that lake, it was only a matter of a few metres before we joined Barrier Lake, the setting sun lighting up the trees as we crossed. Andrew was hanging back and got a really nice photo of Carollyne and me crossing the lake. We reached the end of the lake and could see the gulley by the Barrier bathed in golden light. We stopped to take more photos, and the sun dipped below the western mountains just as I caught a final glimpse of the Barrier itself in pink evening light. I ducked back into the trees and rejoined Andrew and Carollyne at the Taylor Meadows junction. We met a group of three girls heading up to camp at the lake, and wished them a glorious chilly moonrise :-) Another group appeared, this time from behind us and it turned out to be a Club Tread outing. They had set off at 5.30 am with the goal of summitting Mt Price, but ran out of time on Clinker Peak. They disappeared ahead of us in the gloom, headlamps reflecting brightly off the snow.
We checked our watches again: 5.45 pm. We guesstimated that we’d be back at the car around 8 pm, and set off. I held off putting on my headlamp for about half an hour until I found I was lurching all over the place, stumbling on dips on the snow because I couldn’t see the path very well :-) After that it was mostly a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, counting down the switchbacks. For the last km or so I counted steps, hoping that would take my mind off the fact that my legs were tired and my feet were sore. I got surprisingly close, reaching 1000 steps about 50 m before the summer trailhead.
Once back at the summer parking lot we looked up into a dark sky filled with hundreds of stars. Wow! It was the clearest night I could remember in a long time, and in retrospect I wish I’d had the patience to set up the camera for a long exposure shot. I switched off my headlamp again and spent much of the journey back to the car marvelling at the sky, until the surrounding trees were too high to see much. Then it was back to counting steps and after what seemed like an age we reached the end of the road. Woohoo! We were back at the car at almost exactly 8 pm. And I was glad: I was quite cold by now and hungry. We piled our gear into the car, called Maria to let her know we were on our way back, and headed for fries and coffee in Squamish. The drive back was quiet and we made very good time back to Vancouver. I got in the door at 10.20 pm, just as Maria reached Horseshoe Bay on the ferry.
Phew – that was a looong day, eleven hours on the trail itself. Time for a hot shower and a warming drink ;-) But what a spectacular day it was.
Distance: 24 km
Elevation gain: 1100 m
Photos on Flickr