As much as I love traveling around the world and exploring new exotic sights, there are moments when places in my own backyard just take my breath away. The views along the Black Tusk hike near Whistler, BC has many of these, including this scene.
I’ve known about this grueling hike for a long time. All the local guidebooks give this hike a difficult and strenuous rating- best stretched out over two days. My high school geography class had the option to do this overnight excursion where students would hike and camp at Lake Garibaldi. On day two after completing 820 m of elevation gain, you had another 1000 m to go before summitting the monolithic black tusk that stands almost 2000 meters above sea level.
Million Dollar Views
I may have spent a week in the wilderness sleeping under tarps back when I was 15, but I can honestly say I’m not as interested in camping now in my adult life! Unless we are talking about the French Alps style of hiking I did, where I slept in refuges and was served fondue and wine 😉. I’ll make the exception however, when I trek one day to Machu Picchu and Mount Kilimanjaro (both on the list), but until then, I’m sticking to day hikes. In this case, that meant a full-day and 11 hours of continuous hiking just to avoid hauling up a tent. (Note: 11 hours is recommended, but we did it in about 10 including a nap).
Although I’ve planned to do this serious hike with friends in the past, something always came up and it didn’t work, such as inclement weather. Plus I wasn’t sure if I would be physically able to do the whole trek in one day! Since this was my third Summer in a row of weekly Grouse grinds, and it was a special occasion, Eric’s birthday, everything aligned this time around to make this possible.
I invited our friends and weekly Grouse Grind gang with the promise of celebratory birthday dessert at the top – Dutch stroopwafels. These chewy, syrup-filled waffle cookies are amazing! Eric was the first person to ever introduce these to me and it was fitting to share these treats from The Netherlands with the group.
Planning and logistics:
This large group size meant that multiple people had hand-sanitizer, band-aids, sunscreen and tissues to share in case someone forgot theirs. A large group also means more group noise to scare off bears. Other bonuses? Ivy made healthy biscotti! Eric of course brought a ton of dark chocolate!
Another pleasant surprise? Multiple sheltered toilets on the hike, haha!
Here’s a breakdown (from Vancouver Trails):
Time: 11 hours
Distance: 29km (round-trip)
Elevation Gain: 1740 meters
Season: July – October
Dog Friendly: No
Public Transit: No
Approx. 1 hour 45 minutes from Vancouver
* Note, the turn off for Garibaldi can be tricky! It comes up way faster than you think, and I’ve missed this multiple times!
We started the hike right on schedule – 8:15 am.
Immediately from the trail-head start begins the uphill climb. It was a foggy morning and the group quickly split into two groups. When hiking, you never leave anyone alone. It’s not safe and just, not nice!
We would agree to stop and wait for each other at certain points. One thing I have to remind people who are faster, is that even though you get a break when you stop and wait for the “slower” group, you still need to give that group a chance to catch their breath once stopped!
The speedsters (weekly Ground Grind crew members Steve, Joe and James, plus Lily who I play weekly Ultimate Frisbee with).
There are several sign posts to indicate how far you have gone along the way such as the 2.5 km mark or 4 km mark.
The switchbacks can be brutal because you just go up and up, but I do fine them easier than the monotonous stairs I encounter each week on the Grouse Grind!
10:15 am: Our first break spot was at the junction where you can either go straight to Lake Garibaldi or continue past Taylor Meadows and ultimately the Black Tusk.
We were all incredibly cold while eating and I was wishing I hadn’t packed a frozen smoothie! Sarah and I had both come up with the same brilliant idea to freeze our water bottles (this was great when I went hiking near Las Vegas during their heat wave) but for today’s weather, I was kicking myself!
To combat the cold, we broke into a fast clip and trekked upwards.
Here they also had an outhouse with toilet paper!
Nazila carried her pro camera on this trip!
We took a long break for photos of the birds and to look at the campsites.
11:15 am: Just around the corner was where we caught the first glimpse of the Black Tusk as it peaked through the fog! There were several wooden walkways built to protect the new growth shrubs and a junction that split into different hikes: another place to detour to Lake Garibaldi. There would be one more split after this!
We wandered through a narrow dirt path passing grassy meadows and small shrubs that hid dewy berries underneath.
There were several other groups that had stopped to take photos here.
12:00 pm: Then we passed by our final junction – here there was another map and surprise, another toilet! This is good to know so you don’t have to worry about peeing in the bush.
The geography around us was stunning with lush meadows and colourful flowers. Strange and beautiful sights were hidden beneath leaves like this crab shaped mushroom!
This particular stretch had some level trails but soon, the constant uphill would continue.
This was where the trail got pretty steep and rocky as we crossed a few streams. There was a bumpy boulder field we had to traverse as well, but right after we crossed, we got our first view of Lake Garibaldi from above.
Simply stunning: the vivid blue of the glacial lake below looked like an instagram filter had been permanently imposed!
Continuing along admiring more of these views.
1:00 pm: We decided to break for another snack at this point. Eric advised everyone not to load up on a food here because then we would get groggy and the final uphill would be that much harder. Plus, from a psychological point of view, it’s more rewarding to have that victory meal at the very top and fully indulge and relax there. Sarah stopped eating after that, haha.
1:30 pm: We climbed longer and I was really starting to feel the heaviness burn in my legs now. I could see the end in sight though: the massive toothy structure that erupted into the sky. Just in front of it was a relentless sea of rocks. We reached a sign that indicated the end of the official trail. From here, we were going into “unmarked” territory.
The Final Climb
Two steps forward, one step back. Every step had to be thoughtfully placed and you needed to accept that this was a slow process and that you would slide. Walking was a struggle but with the final destination right above me I carried on and I focused on stepping in someone’s previously carved foot hole – kind of like when you are walking in the snow and you try to follow the imprint.
There is Ivy making her way up – she had just purchased these hiking poles from MEC the day before!
1:55 pm: The 360 degree views were out of this world. It had taken several hours to get to this destination, but I felt like I had been dropped off in a completely foreign land. The colours and textures were so varied and different from what we typically see in local north shore mountain hikes. I could probably tell someone I was far off in Mongolia and they might believe me 😉 Sarah and I talked about being real explorers in a distant place.
At the Summit
We made it! Sarah with her arms up in victory! From here, there is the option to climb up the chimney.
Eric had done this climb 10 years previously. Back then it was technical hike, and now with erosion, it can be downright dangerous. The people that did make it to the top had climbing gloves. A friend of mine had another friend that fell down the chimney breaking several ribs and had to be helicoptered out. The helicopter took 4 hours to arrive and I can’t even begin to imagine how excruciating the pain must have been! For that reason, I was more than content to stay right at the base.
With a few of the ambitious ones wanting to make the climb to the top, we parted ways momentarily. Two others decide not the take the risk (always a smart choice to know your limits!) and opted to detour to Lake Garibaldi while we ate our lunch up here.
Some tourist planes fly over this beautiful peak and this particular plane flew in super close to us!!
We broke out the celebratory food and enjoyed sharing the goods. Sarah had packed a tasty and dense cornbread, Ivy and Christian had many varieties of dried fruit and white chocolate bark and Eric and I had the dessert!
The edges here are narrow are extremely precarious. I took a quick shot to remember how steep and jagged the rocks were. Afterwards, I sat horizontal so that there would be less of a risk of slipping. We had built up quite the sweat trekking up here but got cold fast just sitting here so everyone needed their windbreakers at the top.
When laying down however, the wind blows above you and you’re left with the warm sun radiating down on your skin. We laid like this for awhile. Until the adventurous group of 3 returned and we all had more of Eric’s birthday stroopwafels together.
2:45 pm: Now would be the real test.
6:15 pm: At the bottom, we all congratulated each other for an amazing day together. Almost everyone made it to the final viewpoint, and even those that didn’t, still got rewarded with spectacular views.
We were a diverse group of enthusiastic hikers and the hardcore cardio machines (marathon runners) were sore the next day too! I love that this hike can be done in a single day as long as you’re properly equipped (food, water, clothing) and then you can shower at the end, followed by restful sleep in your own bed! Of course, long Summer daylight hours are required to do this in the safest way possible 🙂
Completing this hike in one day was one of my requirements before seriously considering summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I guess I am one step closer to fulfilling that dream now! Until then, I feel fortunate to live in Vancouver, BC where we have access to breath-taking mountain hikes that open up new worlds and challenge us to new heights. Hiking up to the Black Tusk truly makes one feel like they are living on the top of the world!