Garabaldi Provincial Park Day 1: Panarama Ridge

Day 1: Parking Lot to Helm Creek Campground to Panarama Ridge

I did this hiking weekend once with the children’s mother long before kids.  I guess we were about 28 at the time and I had really great memories of the trip so I wanted to do it again.

A friend of mine had just returned from Europe and she was up for trying this hike so we set out a plan to go on the August long weekend, 2016.

Rushing Cheakamus River on route from the parking lot about 1 hour into hike.

I had to do a little research on this trip but fortunately this is one of those hikes where there are a lot of people around so you don’t have to worry quite as much with respect to getting lost.  The trails are well marked and also well worn.

Saying that, my friend really didn’t have a clue about how to pack for a trip like this one so I had to give her a list.  And she will read this post, sorry 😉

And we of course brought the 10 essentials for hiking.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Essentials

There are two ways to do the hike to Panorama Ridge.  You can either camp at Helm Creek or continue further towards Whistler and then hike in to Taylor Meadows or Garabaldi Lake.   I don’t know the exact numbers for those campgrounds but it’s somewhere around 150 spots in both combined and they were all full so we selected Helm Creek. The camping was $10 per night per person and a ranger came around and checked our reservation which I found surprising.

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Helm Creek Campground before everyone showed up.

We left at 6 AM the Saturday of the August long weekend so that we could get to the campground early,  secure a spot and then hike Panorama Ridge.  Once we got off the main highway the drive to the parking lot was a long gravel road that was fairly uphill cutting off more elevation gain then going to the other parking lot (about 8 km of gravel road).  My car is just a small 4 cylinder but it did fine on the road.

The hike to the campground from the parking lot is 8.5 km.  It starts out very easy as you hike through some really beautiful forests.  You cross Cheakamus River on a bridge and it is a spectacular rushing glacial fed river.  I imagine the water was about 5 C still in August.  This part of the hike was incredibly enjoyable.

We kept hiking and then we hit the elevation gain.  This part was fairly difficult.  Fortunately for me I had just finished a 2 week long excursion with the kids that involved 90 km of hiking so I was in really good hiking shape.  She struggled on the uphill portions but still enjoyed it.  I would say this part of the hike was moderate to difficult.  The trail is well marked, well maintained and the trees are really spectacular.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures to share of this part of the hike.

We arrived at the campground at 9 AM after passing a lot of people leaving.  Their advice…‘I hope you brought a lot of bug spray.  The bugs are unreal!’.  When we got there the sun was up and the bugs weren’t too bad.  We set up our tent on a tent pad thinking that was the only place you could stay.

I think that’s what they intended but somehow the website responsible for reservations never cut off bookings.  So after we arrived many, many, many other people arrived too.  They camped on the meadow area that’s usually considered environmentally fragile.  The campground itself is really beautiful with a creek running right beside our tent.  Great for getting water and the water tasted great.  We used chlorine pills and did not filter it.

After setting up our tent, having a snack and packing our lunch we set out for Panorama Ridge.  By the time you get to the campground you are basically in a valley.  The hiking from the campground to the start of the ascent to Panorama Ridge was really beautiful.

You are always near a stream and the meadows are full of green and flowers.

There is also another glacial lake that’s picturesque.

The hiking through this part is easy.  It was made much easier by leaving most of the weight back at the camp.  I always bring a sleeping bag though and all the other essentials in case someone gets injured.

View of Black Tusk in the background hiking to Panarama Ridge.

The trail head to Panorama Ridge was 7.5 km from the campground.  Once you get to the trail head that’s when the difficult hiking starts.  The trail starts uphill fairly gradually and then gains steam.  The whole time you are in the wide open so you can enjoy the spectacular views all the way up the trail.  The worst thing that can happen on this trip (like it did to my kids and their mom earlier in the summer) is you get cloud cover and then you can’t see anything.

Once you get a short way up the trail you encounter snow.  My friend was wearing sneakers and she was okay.

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You basically just put one foot in front of the other and trudge through the snow.  When you stop to look around though you might think you are in heaven.  You reach the peak after hiking for 2.6 km.

When we got to the top I was amazed by the view.  I actually commented that it is the most beautiful view I have ever seen in my life.  Here are a couple of pictures that do not do it justice.  Absolutely spectacular!  The lake below is Garabaldi Lake.

You can see we were lucky with the conditions.  At the top you can look over to Black Tusk and see that it’s much higher in elevation.  It was a bit cool at the top but we were in t-shirts and sweat covered.  There were probably 20 people or so at the top and we passed people all the way along.  We ate some lunch at the top and enjoyed the view.

One of the really cool things about this hike is that you can slide back down part of the decent.  We brought plastic bags and hiked a bit further up to where the slide started.  This was the first really outdoors thing I’d done with my friend.  So we start sliding and I’m thinking it is the most amazing thing ever.  We got going quite fast….imagine the fastest you ever slide on a toboggan fast.

We were both digging in our feet a bit and the snow/ice chunks are flying up your legs.  It’s freezing and exhilarating at the same time.  Well I look at her and she’s terrified.   I start yelling ‘did in your heals’.  Finally we come to a stop.  I’m laughing my head off.  She’s still smiling but still a little terrified at the same time.  We continued all the way to the bottom.  I have no idea how far it was but it was a long ride.  Here’s a picture of the bum slide path.

So now are butts are soaked but it was a fantastic hike.  We headed back to the campground and got there late afternoon.  That night we ate a huge amount of pasta.  And then the bugs came.  No lie.  You could not even stand it outside.  They were all over you.  We retreated to the tent with about 2-3 hours of daylight left to play cards.

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I figured on this day we hiked 8.5 + 7.5 + 2.6 + 2.6 + 7.5 = 28.7 km and it was a great day.  Panorama is rated as a difficult hike but it’s very doable.  Looking around at the campground most people were younger in their 20’s like I was the first time we did the hike.  You need to be in good shape to attempt it but not amazing shape by any means.

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