Helm Lake and Panorama Ridge

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Backpack to Helm Creek, Helm Meadows, Helm Lake and Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park – September 2012 with Anne, Bill N, Ming, Laura S, Carol N, Daphne, Jen and Rick, Bengul and Murat.

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On a typical Labour Day weekend, the Garibaldi Lake and Black Tusk Meadows area attracts hordes of day hikers and backpackers; Helm Creek is the quieter “back door route”. It’s a bit more effort to get there on the unpaved Cheakamus Lake Road, which can be unpleasant at times especially late in summer. The hike up is as much of a gruel as the Garibaldi Lake trail, and the camping may not be quite as scenic. But you can hike up on the Saturday of a long weekend and find a place to camp, in a campground that’s busy but not crawling with people.

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The campground at Helm Meadows is less developed than the ones at Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows and on this weekend the population was counted in dozens rather than in hundreds. The tent platforms were still all occupied though most of us prefer setting up on the ground instead, where in many places like Garibaldi Lake you don’t even have that option.

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On Sunday, we headed up to Helm Lake and Pass with the goal of walking up Panorama Ridge. Not far from the campground, the trail climbs and breaks out into alpine meadows, then runs through the weird Cinder Flats – a large glacial outwash plain but composed of small volcanic rocks. Helm Lake is a wide and shallow lake between Cinder Flats and Helm Pass.

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Helm Lake looking back toward Whistler

The eleven of us were slowly making our way up to the pass with our day things in our overnight packs when we were passed by a runner carrying nothing but a camelback. It turned out to be my then boss, who it seems had run all the way up in a couple of hours, either from the trailhead or possibly all the way from Whistler. Some people are too fit for their own good.

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Just across Helm Pass are Mimulus and Black Tusk Lakes. You go left for Panorama Ridge, right for the Black Tusk, and straight through for Black Tusk Meadows, Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake. Most of us headed up Panorama Ridge, with one person not keen on scrambling who continued on to Garibaldi Lake. She came back later with a report that there were indeed hordes of people in that area, and the rangers were telling people that the campsites were full and that they needed to move on to Helm Creek.

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Panorama Ridge and Mimulus Lake

My first real alpine hike when I moved to Vancouver was to Garibaldi Lake and up through the meadows to do Black Tusk. Black Tusk was fun to do once, and not as difficult as I’d heard it described (hey this rock stays put, not like the shale in the Rockies) but having done it it’s not a priority for me to do again. After my first winter and spring of exploring the mountains on the North Shore and some of the Fraser Valley, this was the first thing I saw that compared with the Rockies. 

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Mimulus

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Black Tusk and Helm Lake from the pass

I hiked in via Taylor Meadows one day around 2000 or so and made my way through snowy meadows to the base of Panorama Ridge, but hiking by myself and with a fair bit of snow on the ridge I turned back not far up the ridge. This day there was some snow but not enough to stop us, and we all made it all the way up (except for our deserter).

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It was one of those days that the light was perfect and the photos mostly made themselves.

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A lot of people hike up the Garibaldi Lake trail to the lake and just look at the lake from the shore. That view is nice but this is much better.

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More Mimulus

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The trail up the ridge was fairly busy but it was only a fraction of the crowds that were at Garibaldi Lake. After a leisurely lunch we headed back down and met up with our deserter, then hiked a kilometre or so toward the Black Tusk Meadows to wallow in the wildflowers before we headed back toward the pass and to our campsite.

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The Mimulus species we have here are now more properly known as Erythranthe, and have been moved from the family Scrophulariaceae to Phrymaceae. I don’t think the name of the lake is likely to change, and I’m not going to change.

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Even more Mimulus

It seems that a lot of people hike in earlier on holiday weekends and leave on the Sunday, because the majority of people at our campground had struck camp and headed home by the time we got back. Or maybe this crowd had a weather report and knew that it would cool off that night. I didn’t notice it getting especially cold overnight, but we woke on Monday to a frost that was heavy enough to seriously weigh down the fly on my old A-frame tent (which was retired after this trip) and I’m sure that Ming appreciated that MEC gave her a four-season tent when she went to rent one and that the extra weight was worth it.

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Once the sun hit, the hike out was pleasantly warm and we enjoyed some good looks at mushrooms (which we didn’t eat) and berries (which we did, some taking rather more time coming down the trail than was called for). I was the only one who saw the black bear who vamoosed into the woods when I surprised it not far above the Cheakamus River bridge.

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