canada,  pnw

gatorade blue | panorama ridge via helm creek

19 miles . 4700 ft gain . 6998 ft high

Garibaldi Provincial Park

Since I began exploring Washington, I yearned to discover British Columbia as well. After all, they are neighboring states/provinces and both feature the magnanimous Cascade range.  But just as I deep dove into the Washington Cascades, the US-Canadian border closed due to the pandemic. So I relinquished all my dreams to visit the mountains up north. The borders have since been open for a while now and through Instagram, I’ve been influenced to find the cool wooden platforms to camp on. Ideally overlooking a beautiful lake or glacier. As a weekend opened up for Hannah and I to backpack, she found one last campsite along the Helm Creek with the end destination of Panorama Ridge. I knew nothing and said yes. Tends to be our relationship, we trust each other to find the prettiest places no questions asked barring technical difficulty.

Helm Creek Campground
Fall colors starting to appear

Smoke had still been an issue so we had to play everything by ear. We had booked two nights at a local hostel in Whistler to make the most of the weekend between being a city tourist in Vancouver and day hiking by Whistler. We hiked to Wedgemount Lake (perhaps I’ll do a proper post on it later) in preparation to tire ourselves out before the backpacking trip.

The Helm Creek trail starts off quite flat for the first mile on the way to Cheakamus Lake. But the turnoff to go up to Helm Creek doesn’t allow for a visit to the lake. Once you cross the Cheakamus River, the uphill begins. But fear not because the switchback are only about 800 ft of up before a decently mellow trail straight to camp. Considering it was late August I was pleasantly surprised by the red foliage we saw entering camp. We were one of the first few folks so we got our pick of a large pad fairly close to the bathrooms and bear hangs. The water access is close to the north side of the campground and is labeled! Everything was so well organized unlike most backcountry campgrounds in Washington.

We took our time to set up camp on the lovely dirt-free, elevated platform and had lunch. By early afternoon we were ready to stretch our legs again. We were only half way to our destination and naturally, wanted to see sunset there, meaning a late start is fine. The trail continues mellowly until the lakes beneath Black Tusk. From Black Tusk Lake, the real climb begins. The trail is well marked but there is quite the uneven terrain on the rocks as you make your way up. It seemed like half the people were camped at Garibaldi Lake and the other half at Helm Creek with us.

The Rainbow Ridge of British Columbia
Helm Lake, fire effects and fertile land
Black Tusk

At this point, the sun still wouldn’t set for nearly 3 hours so we went ahead to make dinner to kill time. We went with the trusty salmon pesto pasta. By the time dinner was over, most people had headed down and some finished their dinners as well. There was one group of gals who were having lots of fun taking each other’s pictures and we were hopeful they’d stay till proper sunset but they left about half an hour before.

Left alone, we continued on to the true highpoint which offered a bit more view of the Helm Glacier on Gentian Peak. I fully enjoyed the view of Garibaldi Lake and Mount Garibaldi from here. Plenty of stacked inuksuk to see as well as your standard giant cairn marking the top.

Mt Carr
Hiking through the smoke

Worrying about getting past the rocky, more technical bit before the Helm Creek main trail, we didn’t linger long. A few more pictures and off we went. I’d honestly say the whole hike back to camp was the fastest we’d ever hiked together. Fueled by adrenaline, as Hannah would call it. I’m no fan of the dark and potential scariness so I was happy to keep up with the speedy pace. I think that generally speaking, we were in a relatively safe area and traveling with someone makes the situation less risky. Either way, we were so excited when we got close to camp and could hear other voices.

We locked up our remaining smelly objects in the bear cache and promptly made our way to bed. The next morning was fairly relaxing with just a hike out. We set an alarm but we really didn’t need it because the sun woke us naturally and our campground soon was warmed by the morning sun. The hike out was peaceful and enjoyable, especially the last flat mile to the car. What was a big precious two days was rewarded by the best kind of hike out. Thanks to Hannah for planning this trip!

  • Overnight reservations required for Helm Creek and any Garibaldi Provincial Park overnight camping
  • Day passes required for trailheads Cheakamus Lake (shortest to Helm Creek) and Rubble Creek (shortest to Garibaldi Lake)
  • BC Parks rangers will check passes at an entrance booth before you drive all the way to the trailhead.
  • For a peace of mind, bear spray is a good idea if you are planning to hike back in the dark, especially by yourself. During the day, it’s plenty busy, bears are less of a problem.
  • The Helm Creek campground has 20 pads and both bear bin lockers and bear hangs to share, at the time I was there but the method can vary. You can use your sleeping bag stuff sack or tent bag for a bear hang if you don’t have a proper bag.

Photos taken on Canon 5D Mark IV

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