Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park
New this year, as of June 22nd 2016 reservations are required for camping at Garibaldi Lake campground and Taylor Meadows campground from June 29th-September 30th, 2016. Camping fees must be paid before entering the park. There are no cash payment options. You can pay online here.. In 2016 the trail to Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake was reasonably easy to hike through the quickly melting and tracked out snow in late May. Hiking to Black Tusk or Panorama Ridge before mid June this year will remain very challenging and potentially dangerous.
The main concerns are the shoe soaking sections of knee deep snow and the possibility of losing the snow covered trail and getting lost. The tracked out route keeps it relatively easy to follow, however for some this already exhausting trail, may become frustratingly painful to hike and dangerous to the unprepared.
It is surprisingly easy to absentmindedly set out on a trail like this without adequate clothing and decent pre-planning. You can quickly find yourself soaked with sweat, drenched socks and find yourself approaching hypothermia. It is doubtful that any week of the year passes without hiking, skiing or snowshoeing occurring in this part of Garibaldi Provincial Park. And owing to the large numbers of visitors a few unprepared hikers are often seen. Best to assume it will be very cold near the end of the trail and being dry and warm makes a world of difference!
Black Tusk is the extraordinarily iconic and appropriately named mountain that can be seen for several kilometres along the Sea to Sky Highway on the drive to Whistler. The massive black spire of crumbling rock juts out of the earth in an incredibly distinct way that appears like an enormous black tusk plunging out of the ground. Whether you spot it in the distance from the top of Whistler Mountain or from dozens of vantage points along the Sea to Sky Highway, its unmistakable silhouette is captivating.
Whether you see it from the highway or from closer vantage points such as Taylor Meadows, Helm Creek, Panorama Ridge or Garibaldi Lake, all views make climbing to the top look impossible. In fact, Black Tusk seems to look more impossible to climb the closer you get to it. Even when you are close enough to touch its vertical, black and crumbling sides, you wonder in amazement how anyone can ever reach the top.
About 170,000 years ago renewed volcanic activity in what is now Garibaldi Park produced a lava dome within a cinder-rich volcanic cone itself over a million years old. Cinder-rich simply means that the cone formed out of explosive volcanic action and hardened, to some extent, in the air and therefore filled with air pockets and evidently light and weak in structure. This lava dome which was to become Black Tusk, hardened inside this more easily eroded cinder cone, so in the past 170,000 years the outer cinder cone has crumbled away to reveal the lava dome within. The Black Tusk itself is extremely crumbly as well as can be seen when you near it. It looks as if erupting out of a uniformly sloping mountain of jagged, black boulders.
Black Tusk is within the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt also called the Canadian Cascade Arc. This volcanic belt contains mostly dormant volcanoes, though also includes the much alive and infamous Mount St. Helens in Washington State, in the US. Mount Garibaldi from which Garibaldi Park gets its name was an active volcano as recently as 9300 years ago. Also in the area but well north of Black Tusk near Pemberton, Mount Meager had multiple eruptions ending only recently, that is 2350 years ago according to recent studies. Meager now has become known in the region for its alarmingly frequent mudslides that terrorize the Meager Creek Hot Springs below and the town of Pemberton further down the valley. The last mudslide occurred just a couple years ago and was one of the largest in recorded Canadian history. Pemberton was partly evacuated as a result.
The Garibaldi Volcanic Belt that encompasses Black Tusk is a result of the subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate under the North American Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone along the British Columbia coast. This fault zone is over a thousand kilometres long and moves at just a centimetre per year, producing large earthquakes on average every 500 years. Black Tusk is accessible from three directions. From the nearby microwave tower (also visible from the Sea to Sky Highway), from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead, and from the Rubble Creek trailhead. Of the three routes, only the Cheakamus Lake trailhead and the Rubble Creek trailhead are officially used for access to Black Tusk. They have large and free parking lots equipped with an outhouse at each as well as big map and information boards. Along both trails you will find good signs indicating where to hike as well as kilometre markings.
The microwave tower, though very close to Black Tusk, and has a good gravel road to it, is blocked several kilometres away by a large vehicle gate. This is potentially a good way to hike to Black Tusk, however this annoying gate makes what should be a short hike, a long and tedious one. Also, there are of course no signs indicating where to go once you reach the microwave tower. This route is currently being considered to be opened to allow vehicles to park at or near the microwave tower, however, little progress has been made so far.
The Cheakamus Lake trailhead route to get to Black Tusk is a good option as it is quiet, serene and takes you over the beautiful Cheakamus River via suspension bridge and through the wonderfully remote Helm Creek campground. It is, however, quite long at over 15 kilometres each way to the summit of Black Tusk and part of this route is unmarked, requires some route-finding, and a wet crossing of . It is a good option if you are keen on avoiding crowds as the beautiful Helm Creek campground has only about a dozen tent platforms and more often than not, are mostly deserted. is also the gateway to quite a few great great hikes. A quick look at a map indicates several accessible mountains close by as well as Corrie Lake.
The most popular, scenic and direct hiking trail to Black Tusk is from the popular Rubble Creek trailhead, just off the Sea to Sky Highway, just 30 minutes north of Squamish. As this trailhead is also the best route to access , and , it is sometimes very busy and some weekends find both campgrounds full. The Rubble Creek trailhead is easy to find, just keep your eye out for the large highway sign that reads, "Black Tusk(Garibaldi)" along the side of the Sea to Sky Highway 25 kilometres south of Whistler Village. The huge and free trailhead parking has a map and information board as well as an outhouse.
Rubble Creek is so named because of the large boulder field deposited from The Barrier is previous, massive debris flows. The last occurred 80 years ago, when partly gave way and an estimated thirty million cubic metres of rock crashed down near the now, Rubble Creek trailhead. The Barrier can be viewed along the trail to just past the y junction after the 6k mark along the trail. A sign indicates the short path to the viewpoint. The trail from Rubble Creek starts off by quickly ascending along a wide dirt path inside a deep forest. For the first 6 kilometres you only catch glimpses of the sky through the the deep and thick forest. Several switchbacks along the trail continue until you get to the first fork in the trail about 6.2 kilometres from the trailhead. Right takes you to past the Barrier, Lesser Garibaldi Lake and then to Garibaldi Lake (in 3 kilometres).
There is a nice mapboard at this trail junction which gives you a good chance to plot your course. A good way to hike if doing a one day hike is to take this left fork through Taylor Meadows and then return via Garibaldi Lake for a swim near the end of the journey. The Taylor Meadows route is also slightly shorter to Black Tusk than the direction and therefore gets you to your goal quicker.
If you take the left fork toward What immediately comes into view towering in the distance is Black Tusk and the wooden boardwalk through is in a beautiful valley of gnarled, weather beaten trees, endless green meadows and in July and August, alpine flowers as far as you can see. continues straight as Black Tusk looms far ahead and to your left. This is where you will start taking photos almost continuously of Black Tusk, and probably not stop until you touch its sheer black sides. Though you are only half way there, from now on the views from the trail are amazing, varied, and progressively better.you will finally escape the heavy forest cover and emerge to spectacular scenery in about 20 minutes.
Just past Taylor Meadows the boardwalk ends and the dirt trail crosses a creek and then past a small, locked BC Parks building and another trail junction. The trail to the right leads to Garibaldi Lake and campsite area in 2 kilometres. The trail that continues straight goes to Black Tusk(5.5k), the Panorama Ridge(7k) and much further away, Helm Creek(9.2k) and Cheakamus Lake(18k). The views along this 2 kilometre section of trail between this junction and the Black Tusk junction are beautiful. Green meadows, flowers everywhere you look. Distant snow capped mountains and the starkly beautiful Black Tusk towering to your left.
The next junction you come to has a nice mapboard and more nice kilometre markings and direction signs. Once again you can turn right and head towards Garibaldi Lake or continue straight for Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge, Helm Creek and Cheakamus Lake. There is an outhouse here and ropes along the edge of the trail here to try to keep hikers on the trail. The area is ideal for camping with a beautiful creek and endless flat grassy areas, however a sign indicates not to camp here in order to not damage the fragile alpine areas off the trail.
In just a hundred metres further another fork in the trail takes you left towards Black Tusk(3k) or straight toward Panorama Ridge(4.5k), and you begin ascending steadily through patches of forest occasionally breaking to reveal amazing views of Garibaldi Lake to your right and Black Tusk on your left. This section of trail, from this junction to Black Tusk is fairly steep and the most challenging. You will cross dozens of tiny creeks so water is never in short supply. This section of trail is often snow covered well into July, however, the snow is hard-packed, easy to walk on, and the trail is hard to stray from.
As you approach Black Tusk you will begin walking on the massive scree slopes that surround it. On a sunny day you will immediately feel the warmth from the black rocks underfoot. Due to the increasing elevation the temperatures will have noticeably fallen quite a bit as compared to Taylor Meadows, however the heat from the black rocks on a sunny day more than counter this drop in temperature. You will likely find yourself putting on a sweater after the Black Tusk junction and then taking it off again once you near Black Tusk and feel this heat rising from the ground. The steep scree slope leads to a ridge adjacent to Black Tusk. To your left the obvious route takes you to Black Tusk and the increasingly sketchy route along the edge of its base. Following this route you will occasionally look straight up and while marvelling at the enormous, vertical edge of Black Tusk, wonder about odds of one of the millions of crumbling chunks of Black Tusk dropping from high above, onto your head.
As you scramble along the edge of Black Tusk you come to a chute heading almost straight up. Then another chute, this second one is marked with an orange trail marker. Again, even this close you will wonder, as almost everyone else at this spot, and say to the person hiking next to you, “I don’t think this is a safe way to go.” Then you pause and look around, taking in the view, spectacular. Just spectacular.
Above the clouds, looking over the impossibly blue Garibaldi Lake, nestled in endless snowy mountains. There is even snow, more accurately a glacier just below you, in the valleys of scree that crumbled from Black Tusk. The scree is black, very black. Basketball sized boulders litter the glacier far below. Contrasting colours of the snow, clouds, lake and sky, the view is breathtaking. Most people don’t continue up the final chute to the top, it’s that scary looking. This is justifiable. It is unquestionably unsafe. Chunky rock holds pull free as you grip them. Above you jet black, jagged rocks tumble and ricochet down on and around you. And the view is so spectacular around you that it’s easy to justify turning around here. But the final ascent is not really that hard. Keep your head down, three points of contact at all times, slow and steady and you reach the top of the world.
Black Tusk Trailhead and Parking Details
Dogs are not permitted on the trail to Black Tusk or any other Garibaldi Provincial Park trails out of courtesy to the local animals. There are a large number of black bears in the park and encounters with dogs result in unpredictable and potentially dangerous conflicts. All Squamish hiking trails outside of Garibaldi Park are dog friendly. North of Rubble Creek you will find Whistler's Valley Trail and Lost Lake Trails are dog friendly. For a look at some of the best dog friendly hikes in Whistler try here.. And for some more challenging dog friendly hikes try here..
Garibaldi Lake Campsites: The most busy camping option in the area is at Garibaldi Lake with 50 campsites with full service (water, security, etc) and fees (May 1 - Nov 15). The campsites are well laid out and disappear into the forest. All are steps from the amazing with great, though very cold swimming. There is good fishing here for rainbow trout, which were introduced back in the 1920's. : gets very busy at times as well with 40 campsites with full service (water, security, etc) and fees (May 1 - Nov 15). There are some small rivers close by but no swimming. The draw for Taylor Meadows camping is the wonderful location. It lays in a beautiful forested meadow full of hills and flowers and views of the towering .
The most popular direction to get to Black Tusk is from the Rubble Creek parking lot 32k north of Squamish. From Garibaldi Way (the last intersection before leaving Squamish, near Canadian Tire), heading North on Highway 99, toward Whistler. The well marked turnoff to "Black Tusk(Garibaldi)" trailhead is 32km on your right. The free parking lot is 2k up this road. Hiking from the parking lot - 6.5k From the trailhead you will come to a junction. Right goes to , left goes to . A good idea is to take one way on the way up and return the other way. From Garibaldi Lake to Black Tusk is a further 6km. Both are roughly the same distance.