The Black Tusk Trail Race: 25k of fun (but wet) running!

Black Tusk Trail Race [Sept 19, 2015]

By Birgit Rogalla, Elliott Skierszkan and Micheal Stone


While many of us VOC’ers spend our weekends rambling about the mountains, there is a select few of us who decided to join Artem Babaian’s ”Black Tusk Trail Race” and see how fast we could traverse the ~25 kilometers between Cheakamus Lake and Rubble Creek in Garibaldi Park, as a trail run. With various amounts of training under our belts, fourteen of us set off for the trail race on a rainy Saturday morning to see how we would do. The main logistics involved three teams, starting at opposite ends of the traverse, and swapping car keys along the route to make sure everyone had a ride home, and creating ”care packages” of goodies left behind in the cars for the enjoyment of fellow runners after finishing the run. The original intent to include a summit of the Black Tusk along the route were canned due to highly inclement weather conditions. Here, are the different perspectives on the trip offered by each of the teams!

Part 1: Team YOLO

Artem Babaian, Kasia Celler, Jeff Taylor, Kevin Woo, Birgit Rogalla

By Birgit Rogalla

For some of us the story of this race starts months ago. For some of us it started last Tuesday.

Allow me to start this story by describing to you one way in which someone can come to find themselves involved in a trip such as this. On Tuesday evening I walked into the clubroom to return some gear while the pre-trip meeting for this trip was happening. As I looked around I made eye contact with Artem (we’d gone running a few times last winter) and I soon realized I had made a mistake. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the couch and ‘listening in’ on the meeting (“you don’t have to make a decision right away”). Fast forward to Saturday morning. My alarm went off at 5am and I cursed my rash decision making. How did I get myself into this? Well, here we go.

This trip had a tiny amount of faff for team YOLO. We were ahead of schedule on car pick-ups and even had time to get gas + coffee (the most faffy part of the trip… a lot of gas stations in Squamish are closed in the morning). I think it’s fair to say all of us felt some apprehension and jitters but also plenty of excitement. As we pulled up to Rubble Creek parking lot someone commented “oh look, we must not be so crazy, there is another runner.” The other runner turned out to be Kevin who was meeting us there.

We started from the Rubble Creek parking lot 40 seconds after our planned start time of 8am. It was overcast and the afternoon promised heavy downpours. Enough motivation to get going quickly. The first chunk was a steady uphill to Taylor Meadows. Kasia and Kevin sped up the slope, while some of us were feeling the lack of training. It was soon clear that jogging the flatter bits and fast hiking the rest of the uphill was the way to go. Once at Taylor Meadows, the woods opened up into beautiful clearings. There was a steady drizzle, occasional wind, and cool temperatures. It all made for ideal running conditions. As we settled into a steady trot, we were stunned by brief glimpses of Garibaldi Lake and the surrounding areas. Shortly after the junction to Panorama Ridge, we ran into team Dad’s SUV. High fives went all around, we shared quick stories and swapped keys. From there the trail led down to the Cinder Flats, a plain of small volcanic rocks that resembled a track. A few minutes later we ran into team Marvin, took a few pictures and swapped keys as well.

The trail went pretty much all downhill from there. The path wound through the trees with enough roots to make you pay attention to your feet and plenty of muddy sections with skid marks. It wouldn’t have been a trail race if there weren’t roots. One section of the downhill had loose dirt due to ongoing trail work. Jeff, in his fivefingers shoes, giggled the entire way at the softness under his feet. Artem sped down the slopes and flew through the turns, sometimes using trees to slow down. At the end of the downhill we crossed a bridge and from there it was a short relatively even path to the cars. Just before 12pm all of team YOLO had arrived at the Cheakamus lake parking lot (24.5-29 km depending on who you ask). We opened the trunks to wonderful care packages containing beer (for the non-drivers), cookies, and other goodies. Soon after, we drove back to the Rubble Creek parking lot and joined the other groups.

On the drive back to Vancouver our hearts were content and our minds started to wonder about what would be next. I think it’s fair to say that this trail run was much more doable than we expected. Many thanks go out to Artem for organizing and to everyone else for making it so much fun! Next time, I promise I’ll train.

Part 2:  Team Dad’s SUV

Michael Stone, Hannah Jensen, Pascal Nigge, Jake Jones, Nick Uleryk-Carvalho

By: Michael Stone

The day started with immediate panic. Upon waking up I discovered that the SUV our team was named after had disappeared from outside my house, hopefully towed, maybe stolen.

However, this would not prevent team Dad’s SUV from running the Tusk, so Plan B was activated: the Suzuki hatchback. This confusion led to a slight delay, but everyone was on time at their pick-ups, and we were able to gain back some lost time on the highway with no traffic. Five 6ft tall guys in a small car was not the most comfortable experience, but some good tunes and anticipation kept us going. Hannah was supposed to ride in my SUV that has seven seats, but the Suzuki only has five. Luckily she able to drive herself up, and we made it to the Cheakamus trailhead with no problems.

Started running at 8:10am. The big question was pacing, none of knew for sure if we were going too fast or too slow, but we quickly decided that running the flats and speed hiking the steeper bits was the way to go. The trail started off as what could best be described as a sandy line through the woods. Getting into the alpine meadows was a nice change of pace, less ducking around bushes and hopping over mini-creeks.

The cinder flats were the highlight of the run, it’s rare to see a large open area with no vegetation, almost like a giant beach or moonscape. It seemed a little strange that we hadn’t bumped into anyone else on the trail yet as we crossed the flats, but this quickly changed as we ran into team YOLO near the turnoff for the Tusk. After exchanging keys and swapping snacks, we began our descent.

We decided to take a detour out to the lake, adding an extra kilometer that was well worth it. This lead to the toughest part of the run, down the switchbacks to Rubble Creek. On the way we bumped into the VOC group doing a two-day hike along with many other people who gave us stares of what I can only assume were jealousy. We were finishing what they had only begun. Luckily, the parking lot came into view at just the right time. Hannah and I finished in 3:30hrs, with the rest of the team just a few minutes behind. Hannah’s watch later mapped our route at 28.7kms.

The care packages were a nice touch; baby bananas and carrot muffins were clear winners. The other team coming in our direction arrived in not long, followed by the arrival of our cars from the Cheakamus lot. Nick and Artem were generous enough to share some brews, which should be a post-(almost)-marathon staple.

Even though the weather was a 5/10, this was still an awesome trip. Doing it in one shot seemed preferable to slogging it out over two days. There was talk, perhaps joking, of working towards a 50km run in the future. We’ll see where that goes.

Part 3: Team MARVIN (aka Team Rowdy Monks)

Nina Schuback, Kang Wang, Janine Copp, Elliott Skierszkan

by Elliott Skierszkan

Our original crew of five dropped to four the day before the race, when Arran Whiteford decided not to run due to concerns of over getting injured from a lack of training. Fair enough – I also had the same concerns as I had not run for at least two if not three months prior to this event, and doing 25km run cold turkey could be a recipe for disaster … Nonetheless, as the instigator of Team MARVIN’s presence on this trip with a big email invitation to my running friends six months ago, I had the obligation to show up, so I did! I was also extra motivated by my teammates Kang and Nina’s enthusiasm for the trail race. They both run to UBC several days a week, so I knew they would be up for it, and could ask them to carry me if my knees, quads or calves failed!

At 6AM I rode by bike down to Nina Schuback’s house where Kang and our fourth team member, Janine Copp, met us and we took off for the trailhead with ‘Marvin’ the Honda Civic hatchback.  Other than heavy rain, poor visibility and fog, the drive up was uneventful. We arrived at the trailhead on the Cheakamus Lake side shortly after 8AM. Not seeing the other VOCers (team Dad’s SUV), we had a quick discussion over what was actually worth bringing and set off at 8:23 (that’s the official start time!). We all brought warm layers and rain gear and emergency shelter due to the inclement weather, and were collectively uncertain of how we would fare on this big trail run traverse that was not something any of us had completed recently.

The great thing about starting at Cheakamus Lake was the flat 1.2 km section to warm up with no elevation gain. We crossed the beautiful aqua waters of the Cheakamus river under a light drizzle, and met the trail up Helm Creek, which had been rebuilt quite recently. The trail was in excellent condition – one could run it with their eyes closed and not trip on rocks or roots. That was good news for me because my glasses were too fogged up to be of any use. This section of the trail was steep so we mostly speed-hiked up the switchbacks taking occasional breaks to regroup and admire the stunning mossy rainforest.

Without a doubt, breaking out above tree line near Helm Creek campground was the ‘wow’ moment of the run. Fall reds filling the subalpine vegetation were superimposed with the gray clouds, green trees and mountaintops which were mostly shrouded in fog. The trail flattened here, and it felt awesome to be cruising along in the alpine under such a cool landscape! The wind picked up but the rain mostly held off, and soon enough we saw some brightly-clad runners coming our down way from the pass: team Yolo. We all got energized from meeting our fellow runners coming in the opposite direction. We had a nice quick chat, swapped high fives (and car keys) and took a couple group photos (thanks Kevin) before setting off again as the winds were now howling and it was pretty chilly once we stopped.

We picked our way through the beautiful alpine lakes around the Cinder flats (below the Cinder Cone volcano) and got to the midway km marker and high point of the traverse pretty quickly. After that, it was an uneventful jog back down, one foot in front of the other. We regrouped along the way, including a quick stop at the new Taylor Meadows cabin. It seems BC Parks is just buzzing with activity in the area! Trail re-building is in full swing, which is a little surprising to me seeing as the trails are so well used there, and very neglected in other areas! The grade steepened for the Rubble Creek switchbacks, and I was once again amazed at how popular this hike is, even on a rainy, rainy Saturday. We zoomed passed many parties and I felt like the less seasoned hikers struggling up the switchbacks with monstrous packs were gawking at us runners like we were some sort of mythical creatures of the woods that they had never seen before. Quads burning hard, I just kept my mind on zipping down one switchback after another. This portion of the trail just never seems to be that enjoyable, but we all got to Rubble Creek pretty quickly, to the cheers of team Dad’s SUV, who had been waiting for us for about a half-hour.

Everyone swapped stories and we had AWESOME food thanks to everyone’s “care packages”, highlights of which were craft beer, brownies and muffins among a plethora of other goodies.

All things told it was a really fun event. Purely Type 1 fun, as we discussed afterwards. The general consensus seemed to be that it was a lot easier than most of us anticipated. I think when one is used to counting kms of flat, city running, the difficulty of trail runs is overestimated because the kms fly by as you are enveloped in the beauty of your run, and also using a much wider variety of muscles than the stomping and thomping of flat city runs. The excellent conditions of the trails removed the need for any navigation or technical technique. Somehow all three teams completed the event in more or less the same amount of time, meaning we weren’t stuck waiting at the trailhead for hours, which we we were perhaps bracing for.

It was also awesome to have done a full traverse that is typically done as an overnight weekend hike, and be done by Saturday lunchtime, leaving us the whole weekend left to do other things such as nurse one’s sore legs; or maybe do laundry, or groceries, or dinner parties or not wake up at 5 AM, stay warm, and other such weekend activities in which one may indulge when not adventuring in the mountains.

Thanks everyone for the great attitudes, to Artem for organizing a fairly complicated car-shuttling program, for all for delicious care-packages and for making this a really memorable, albeit record-short, trip!

Concluding Remarks

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations on reading a very long TR! For what was a very fun trip, here are a few photos to thank you for reading (or at least scrolling) all the way down here! You should join on the next trail ”race”, you might be surprised at how fun alpine running can be!


photo Micheal Stone

Team YOLO meets Team Dad’s SUV. (photo Micheal Stone)



photo Kevin Woo

Team YOLO then crosses Team Rowdy Monks. (photo Kevin Woo)

photo Kevin Woo

Team Yolo is ready to run!  (photo Kevin Woo)

Also, Kevin made some films of the run, which you can check out here:

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