I love the great outdoors, but sometimes it can be a pain getting there without a car. And even when you do hire a car, the parking is carnage – just look at Joffre Lakes.
So I was excited when we reported on a new pilot project by Parkbus, running an express bus along the Sea To Sky Highway delivering hikers to nearby provincial parks.
The pilot only ran for three days this year, but I managed to hitch a ride on one journey along my favourite road in the world, up to Garibaldi Provincial Park.
The destination I had in mind was to Garibaldi Lake – an 18-km round trip, with a strenuous hike uphill making up most of the trail. But I hoped the gorgeous, turquoise glacial lake, described by Vancouver Trails as “one of the most scenic destinations in British Columbia,” would be worth it.
So, here’s how my day at Garibaldi panned out…
Neverending uphill treadmill
Alex Z. Berlyand, who founded Parkbus with Boris Issaev, was riding the bus when it pulled up to collect us in the early hours of Saturday morning outside MEC.
Berlyand, who is clearly a lover of the great outdoors, describes the provincial parks along the Sea To Sky as stunning.
“We want to improve public access to outdoor destinations and encourage people to explore, discover and treat these places with respect,” Berlyand told Daily Hive. “We believe that parks shouldn’t look like parking lots and that each and every one of us is responsible for the protection and conservation of our natural heritage.”
Quite. Unfortunately, due to the inevitable road work in Stanley Park, the highway did resemble a parking lot. But once we hit the Sea To Sky it was smooth sailing.
After several stops up the Sea To Sky, we finally arrived at Garibaldi Provincial Park, located between Squamish and Whistler.
Berlyand bid everyone farewell and shouted, “I’ll see you on the trail!” Yeah, right.
Unsurprisingly for a guy whose profession is all about the great outdoors, Berlyand was soon so far ahead of us, we stood no chance.
OK, now fair warning. I’m sorry to break it to you, but the hike up to Garibaldi Lake begins with 6 km of unceasing switchbacks that make leg day seem like a breeze. This constant climb drives you both gradually uphill and a little insane. I did my best not to look crazy in the photos. Not sure how well that worked out…
Sure I look all happy go lucky in the photo above, but that’s because this was fairly near the beginning of the climb.
Also, I’m armed with brand new retractable, hiking poles, and they made the climb a tiny bit easier. I highly recommend them.
Regardless, it felt like the switchbacks would never end. Unhelpfully, the signs don’t always note how far you still have to go.
Thankfully, we’d switched a tracking app on, so we had some idea how far we had to hike to reach the lake.
Still though, an hour later, we were still climbing up those switchbacks…
Not sure how I’m managing to look so happy in the above photo, despite being on what felt like a never ending uphill treadmill. The wonders of the great outdoors eh?
Gorgeous Garibaldi Lake
Finally, after conquering the switchbacks, skipping over paths strewn with tree roots, and passing a couple of glacial lakes obscured by the forest…we reached Garibaldi Lake.
Emerging tired and hungry onto a wooden deck that runs along the lakeside to the campsite, the view was almost unbelievable.
I stopped on a small footbridge to admire it, then turned around and saw this beautiful river, flowing quietly through the forest nearby.
It had taken us an hour and a half to get here, but it was worth every drop of sweat and every steep switchback. This is bliss, for so many amazing reasons.
Not only was Garibaldi Lake the climax of our hike, it was also the amazing culmination of volcanic and glacial activity – and a hell of a lot of lava.
Garibaldi Lake is almost entirely surrounded by volcanoes and mountains, its waters fed by the Sphinx Glacier to the east and the Sentinel Glacier to the south.
It is lava from those volcanoes that form The Barrier, a dam which holds Garibaldi Lake in place, as well as small islands around the edge of the lake, near the trail.
About as far round the lake as you can get on foot, busy Battleship Island is the most recognizable of the lava islands littering the shore.
Unsurprisingly, its lava outcrops to the lakeside using rocks. Because who wanted to wander along a battleship made entirely of lava on the shores of a glacial lake?
Like all glacial lakes, Garibaldi Lake’s turquoise colour comes from glacial flour, tiny bits of rock created by glacial erosion, which flow into the lake suspended in the meltwater.
Somehow knowing the science behind that deep, sparkling blue water made it that much more special. This lake felt like millions of years in the making, and I felt incredibly lucky to be there in that moment.
Black Tusk and beyond
Of course, eventually the time came to leave, or we would miss the bus home. Not that it would be such a hardship to be stuck in this heaven, but we had no campsite reservations…
Once we’d torn ourselves away from the glittering waters, we took a slightly different route, walking towards Taylor Meadows campsite, and into the shadow of Black Tusk.
The detour didn’t take us far into the Taylor Meadows area, but it was enough to take in the huge peak from afar, while we passed campsite huts along the way.
Black Tusk, seen in the distance in these photos, is the top of an extinct stratovolcano, a lava column formed about 170,000 years ago.
It’s also the next big hike I’d love to do around Vancouver. That may take a little longer though. Next time fellow hikers, next time.