By Melissa Bernstein, with help from Cassandra Elphinstone and Ross Campbell
I never thought my first trip to Garibaldi Lake would be what went down on this trip. Before this trip, I had only been up to Garibaldi Park once, at Red Heather. There, I went ski touring for the first time ever, just before quarantine in mid-March (see Type 1.5 Ski Touring). Before this trip, I had heard of Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk as popular BC hikes, both with gorgeous views of Garibaldi Lake and the surrounding mountains. Never did I think my first experience visiting the infamous lake would be kayaking across its bright blue waters, walking on a nearby glacier, and sleeping in a cozy hut. I put quotes around “workhike” because I personally didn’t do that much work (except writing this trip report).
The main goal of this “work hike” was to paint the floors of the Roland Burton (Sphinx) Hut and in general assess the quality of the hut and outhouse. The hut is located in Sphinx Bay on the east side of Garibaldi Lake, sitting below The Sphinx, a peak that looks like the head of the mythical Egyptian beast. From my understanding, Garibaldi Lake sits upon the traditional, ancestral, and unceded land of the Skwxwú7mesh-uhl Temíx̱w (Squamish), Líl̓wat, St̓át̓imc Tmicw (St’at’imc), and Coast Salish peoples. Since we had two nights in the long weekend, an idea was proposed to attempt to summit The Sphinx. We did not summit The Sphinx and I definitely lost part of my dignity bushwacking, but we did get to kayak/canoe on Garibaldi Lake and see some amazing alpine flowers!
The group consisted of myself (Melissa Bernstein), Haley Foladare, Andrew Wilson, Ross Campbell, Cassandra Elphinstone, and Tom Curran. I was in the “on time” car with Haley and Andrew. An hour after our proposed meeting time, the other car showed up. My first impression of Ross was him eating plain lettuce at 8:30am from a large tupperware. Supposedly Cassandra had given it to him before they left The White House (not the American one but just as chaotic) and he had been munching on it the whole car ride. We eventually got our various paint supplies, boating gear, and glacier gear out of the cars and in or on our packs.
We started our hike up the “highway” that some call the Rubble Creek Trail. The hike up was a bit slow as we were carrying heavier packs than normal. We had some strange looks from other hikers. I enjoyed joking that we were out for a “day hike” and training for ski season. Andrew had an A-frame of 2x4s (with a life jacket around it for some extra powder float) on his pack. I had the broom, the paint tray, the kayak rescue gear, a life jacket, along with all of my camping and glacier gear. Ross had the kayak paddles. Cassandra was carrying the 40lb ORU on her back, along with 20lbs of other random stuff. Cassandra beat all of us to the “bus stop” by a solid 30 minutes. The “bus stop” refers to the sign/shelter at the intersection of Rubble Creek, Garibaldi Lake, and Taylor Meadows/Black Tusk/Panorama Ridge. She had an excuse for going so fast – she couldn’t stop. The kayak was “large and in charge” as my roommate would say. Fair point. Still, she’s a beast (and a super nice person).
We engaged in some high-quality faffing at the BC Parks’ dock/heli landing pad near Battleship Islands where we had lunch, applied sunscreen, and engaged in our first transition – to boats! Haley, through her awesome interpersonal skills she made personal connections with important BC Parks people (like David Whiteside) and managed to secure us access to two of BC Parks’ canoes for our workhike. The reason for our request was that we needed to do hut maintenance on the Sphinx/Burton Hut.
Boating across Garibaldi
The first task was to set up the foldable kayak. One cross bar was missing but it still worked. We used one of the tensioning straps wrapped around the middle of the boat to cinch it in place. It worked well.
Andrew and Haley took one of the BC Parks’ canoes and Cassandra and Tom took the other. Parks had recommended only two per canoe so I was in the kayak with Ross. I forced Ross into the front of the kayak as I had more paddling experience than him (Ross had never been in a kayak before).
A few notes about the kayak. Zero, for those nerds out there, the ORU looks like cardboard. First, the ORU gets a lot of attention from everyone who sets eyes on it. I don’t know if the boat is self-conscious or likes the attention. Second, if you’re in the back, it is mandatory to blame the kayak’s inability to stay straight to the person in the front. I use the GPS tracking app for outdoor enthusiasts Strava like my social media account, so of course I had to flex that I was kayaking across one of the most iconic lakes in British Columbia by tracking the paddle. Unfortunately, the GPS map does not show the severity of which Ross and I zigzagged.
As the most experienced paddler in the group, I proposed that we aim towards the point just east of Battleship Island and then cut across the lake toward Sphinx Bay. I wanted to avoid bad crosswinds. Luckily, there ended up being very little wind on the lake.
Soon after we got moving, Andrew asked Haley to fill up his Nalgene in the fresh blue waters. As Haley was dipping down to fill up the bottle, it slipped out of her hands! Now it is known that the lid attachment to Nalgene can come off, but that wasn’t what happened here. The powers of Garibaldi Lake sucked the bottle out of Haley’s hands. Oh well.
After some time, Tom was insistent on trying to “raft up”. We joined our boats together and held on, swaying slightly in the water. We had pretty much the whole lake to ourselves, except for a few other paddlers (we think Packrafts) off Battleship Islands. We took plenty of pictures on the lake. Looking up to our left (north), we could see small figures on Panorama Ridge. I bet the view up there was incredible but seeing things from the water is quite incredible.
Finding the hut
We landed on the obvious beach on the far side about 200m from the hut. We were greeted by two standup paddle boards (in which I said “SUP!” to) and a solitary hiker who had set up camp. I forget his name but he had been contracted to build the questionably useless (his words) bear caches at the Garibaldi Lake Campground a few years back and was on a solo traverse around the lake. We eventually unloaded the boats and left him with his book and private sandy campsite.
With our gear from the boats we engaged in mellow bushwhacking to the hut. I had seen some maps, but I was following other people’s lead. Soon the hut was in sight!
Burton Hut sits just behind the moraine on scree near the creek. The hut is not very well protected from seasonal flooding as past trip reports have reported flooding due to snow melt in the late spring/early summer. I didn’t notice any water damage to the hut, but then again I wasn’t paying that much attention. By the end of the day, there would be higher water levels in the marshy area between the hut and the creek outflow but I don’t think it would reach the hut. We saw no obvious visible signs of water or other damage in the hut. Although a mouse had started to eat away at some of the styrofoam insulation in the walls.
First evening at the hut
As a new VOC member, and only joining last spring, the Burton Hut was my VOC hut! I had seen pictures of the club’s infamous huts, but always packed full of people and not any of Burton/Sphinx. As soon as we arrived, we emptied Jeff Mottershead’s new cashbox. I noted Cassandra’s old Voile straps being used to stabilize the ladder to the upper loft.
We were all getting hungry after our mountaineering adventures for the day, so we started to cook dinner. I found a nice grassy spot next to the hut, Ross laid out his Thermarest pad (and where he stayed for the remainder of the trip), and Tom acquired the only piece of movable furniture nearby, a bench that was sitting outside the hut.
I forget what I made for dinner but I remember Ross made some sort of mixture of sidekicks and coconut milk powder. But the most memorable dinner was the dinner Tom made for him and Cassandra. What he called “curried salmon” was ultimately aka mac n cheese and dried canned salmon with some spices. After making it too spicy, Tom devised a plan to ease the spice. He thought it was a good idea to empty out the sugar from his bag of Sour Patch Kids into the pot. Cassandra deals with a lot of BS; carrying the ORU up the switchbacks, leading exec meetings through Zoom, and acting pleased with Tom’s cooking.
At dusk, I got my first glacier rope team introduction. We reviewed the basics of the self arrest position, rope team tie-in, and some other stuff. Everyone gawked at Jacob Grossbard’s glacier gear that I was borrowing. It was fancy but had no little clue of their uses. I recall a Micro Traxion that would prove valuable in case of a crevasse rescue. Spoiler – we didn’t need it!
Once it got dark, we set up tents with my tent closest to the outhouse. I ended up getting cold because my bag at the time was barely warm enough at +5 and wanted warmth, so I found shelter in the actual shelter at our site, the hut! I had the hut all to myself. Well, actually I shared it with a mouse. As I got into my sleeping bag, I told the mouse to “f off” and please not run over my face while I slept. Thankfully the mouse didn’t bother me and I woke up to a lovely view of the Sphinx through the window at the back of the hut.
At breakfast, we discussed two objectives for the day: 1. To paint the hut floors and 2. To attempt to summit the Sphinx. While Tom cooked, Cassandra took the lead on painting the hut floors. We estimated that the hut floors hadn’t been painted for at least 10 years. Roland had purchased water-resistant paint for his hut which someone had lugged up in their pack. I enjoyed sitting in the sun and talking with Ross who was still lying horizontally on his Thermarest. We eventually decided it was time to leave and set out towards The Sphinx.
Losing my dignity to bushwacking
The first part of the journey was traversing the subalpine brush along the north side of the creek/lake. While Andrew enjoyed bushwacking and nothing fazed Cassandra, Haley and I needed some more convincing. Thankful for Cassandra and Ross’ verbal encouragement and the feeling of being pulled by an invisible leash by Andrew and Tom, we made our way along.
Soon, the brush got very thick. According to The Brush and Bushwack Rating System by Mark Dale, a plain text HTML webpage, I would rate the bushwacking BW3. BW3 is described as “Heavy brush. Hands needed constantly. Some loss of blood may occur due to scratches and cuts. Travel noticeably hindered. Use of four-letter words at times.” Thanks Mark.
We encountered many little creek crossings in the bush. One was really bad. I remember being right in front of Ross and my right foot dropped into the cold water on a slippery boulder. I turned back to Ross with a face of fright, looking to him for some sort of motivational expression. I got none. I made it through. Oh, I guess you might’ve figured it out, but Ross was now (mostly) vertical and not on his Thermarest anymore.
At this point, I decided that my poles were completely useless as I needed my hands to grab onto branches and boulders to stabilize myself. My borrowed hiking poles, fancy and from Jacob again, got shoved in my outer water-bottle pockets.
As we pushed onwards with perseverance, I started to get the hang of it. I felt my bag pulling at times, getting caught on various subalpine plants. Fun fact, if you’re traversing terrain that is angled and the plants are angled 90 degrees to their slope, it does not allow for easy human travel. I had to angle my body to the angle of the plants which probably looked weird if anyone could see me.
We finally got out of the bush to a flat, sunny area! Victory at last! Or so I thought until I took off my pack and realized I made a big whoopsie! I had lost one of Jacob’s brand new poles. I felt horrible. I wanted to find it so bad. I went back into the bush for about five minutes along with my new friends to try to find it, but it was hard to find the exact path of where I went and also we had probably been going for at least 30 minutes since I last remember having the poles on my pack. I gave up. It was a hopeless search. Jacob’s pole was now like Andrew’s Nalgene, part of the Garibaldi Park ecosystem.
Intro to creek crossing
We soon came across our first major creek crossing. Tom, Cassandra, and Andrew easily traversed. Haley decided she would just walk across barefoot. It worked. I didn’t want to cut open my feet so I followed Ross’s lead and went directly across. I didn’t have waterproof boots or gaiters at the time. I learned that glacier water is freezing cold.
After the physical and emotional trauma from the first major crossing, it was time for lunch. Haley, Ross, and I warmed up our feet and wool socks in the sun while we ate.
We had another two creek crossings to do. I used the same technique of going for it and suffering for a few minutes after. I learned that wool socks are wonderful. Haley kept her shoes on and thus didn’t suffer any major trauma.
On my first glacier
We eventually got to the base of the Sphinx Glacier. The glacier was all ice except for a snow bridge here or there. Like all glaciers, there were beautifully open crevasses. We had our fair share of faff transitioning. Luckily for me, I had snagged a pair of universal crampons from the clubroom and had practiced putting them on at home. Stepping foot on a 20-30 degree icy slope with crampons for the first time was an experience. I soon trusted my life with the metal things attached to my feet.
We hiked up, hiking pole in one hand and ice axe in the other. It was easy to avoid the giant crevasses. Like what I’ve been told about ice climbing, the motto of “don’t fall” was important. Hopping across open crevasses was still a bit spooky. I learned that snow bridges are notoriously dangerous. You might think it is stable, but it may not be. Aka be careful.
We found a blue balloon on the glacier. It must’ve been a sacrifice from a young kid in a land far, far away to the almighty Sphinx. In case you’re wondering, the balloon was no longer inflated.
At about 2:00pm, our set turn-around time, we were substantially less than halfway to The Sphinx. It was hard to tell the exact distance with the convexities in the glacier. There was also the problem of finding a route, if it existed, through the maze of snow bridges. I don’t know if a September summit of Sphinx would even be possible. Probably someone had done it before.
As we were turning around, Tom thought it would be a good time to practice using ice screws. I tried to pay attention but was getting increasingly freaked out at the sounds the glacier was making. There was some rock fall from the glacier to our left, up to Mt Carr, north of the Sphinx.
Cassandra and Ross talked about previous winters skiing on the Sphinx Glacier and thinking it was like any slope, ignorant to the massive crevasses. Seeing it in summer was quite exciting for them.
An Exciting Discovery
When we made it back to our transition spot, I convinced the group to try a different route on our way back to the hut. Instead of taking the northern approach like we did on our way up, I proposed we went south of the creek and lakes.
As I was pretty eager to get back to the hut before dark, I went ahead with Andrew and Ross. Haley, Tom, and Cassandra split off into their own group.
Shortly after, I heard screams from behind me, followed by joyful cheers. Cassandra had found the fabled Dryas! Dryas octopetala is the species of alpine flower that Cassandra is studying for her PhD. After two trips in August to Mount McGuire with Haley and Tom searching for Dryas, where the herbarium records said it existed, Cassandra had stumbled upon some in Garibaldi Park! It was an exciting discovery!
Back to the hut – more water
Circumnavigating the south side of the two upper lakes and creek proved quite pleasant. There was one dangerous creek crossing. With my super awesome balance skills, I rock hopped across the fast currents. I learned that when you really want to get back to your campsite before dark and you’ve already committed to the route, you have to just “send it” as the youths (and climbers) say.
With views of Garibaldi Lake, the scree slope turned giant boulder-filled hillside was actually quite pleasant. For those that have ever gone on a trip with Andrew, you know that he only has one speed – fast. I was and still am extremely grateful for Ross, who stuck with me in the bushwacking, the glacier, and on the hike down to the hut.
Eventually, and after I yelled ahead multiple times, Ross and I caught up with Andrew. There were some marshy plants (whose name I forget) to wack through and then we were at our final challenge for the day – crossing the lake/creek. Ross, Andrew, and I decided to commit to the wet and walked perpendicularly across the calmest creek water we could find. I recall my pants getting completely soaked, but the water only skimming the underside of my pants. The creek floor was smooth, except for a few larger rocks, which unfortunately none of us tripped over. We dried off our pants in the sun and completed our quick walk back to the hut.
A while later, we see Haley, Tom, and Cassandra. They have hiked all the way to the opening of the lake! I walked up to the creek edge to say hello and I found an amazing discovery. Besides from the blue balloon we found earlier, the glacier had provided me with another gift. I had found a perfectly placed beer standing at the creeks edge. He chuckled and asked me to bring over his drink. He drank while we watched the comedy show that was unfolding… I mean undressing. It was a bit hard to see in the setting sunlight through the creek opening, but I quickly realized that Tom was no longer dressed – thanks for the heads up! Supposedly he’s toned it down over the years. Details were hard to make out (thankfully) with the glaring sunlight. Tom swam across while Cassandra carried packs upstream to a slightly narrower and rockier crossing. Haley decided to swim as well. Through all this, Ross, Andrew, and I had first class stadium seats to the whole show.
Evening paddle and sunset
It was soon decided that it would be more convenient to load up in the morning if we brought the boats up the creek entrance and docked them near the hut. I volunteered to start getting the boats. In the ten minute walk to the beach, I called out “hey there, bear bear, please don’t eat me” over and over again.This phrase (although altered slightly) I learned from my uncle (kinda) who lives in Alaska. Unfortunately, for the purposes of this trip report, I didn’t encounter any bears. I tipped over a canoe and started back towards the creek.
At the hut, I picked up Cassandra and Ross and I shuttled them back towards the beach to grab the other boats. The “commute” back to the hut had no traffic. We spent some time stopped, or as stopped as one can be in a boat, documenting the paddle. Cassandra learned how to do the “J” and “C” strokes in the canoe.
After docking the boats, we joined the rest of the crew on the moraine in between the hut and the lake for dinner. Andrew was already on his second box of Annies. I made one of my favorite meals that night. It was something along the lines of couscous, canned salmon, cherry tomatoes, minced garlic, butter, and some other things that tasted good.
Soon night fell, and I retreated to my minimalist shelter with the mouse. That night, there was a loud windstorm. While Andrew and Haley got thrashed around in their bivy sacks, I was woken up many times from the hut door being rattled from the wind. Thankfully, by the time I couldn’t control my bladder anymore and ventured out to the outhouse, the wind had calmed.
Hut observations and documentation
In the morning, we did final hut maintenance which included painting, outhouse floor scraping and painting, documenting, and faffing. To contribute, I proudly painted the door sill as my major contribution to the trip. I also reinstalled the fallen window off the outhouse. I am very proud of that one.
For breakfast, I recall Tom making a very spicy (and interesting for some other reason I can’t remember) ramen and Cassandra putting on her best (and frequent) face mask that she loved Tom’s cooking. Also worth noting is that Ross was still affixed to his Thermarest, days later.
I got the opportunity to start the new hut journal and signed the opening page blurb “your friendly VOC exec”. I felt a bit scandalous but less so because Cassandra and Haley told me to do it. Haley took some pictures of the last journal, started in 1996, while we debated if we should take the journal and bring it to the clubroom or leave it in the hut. We left it.
For actual hut updates, we documented damages including the hut door strike plate that had been bent from the wind (and probably other nights). I am worried that there will be substantial snow drift in the hut come February-ish when the first winter campers cross the frozen lake to the hut. We removed an old red propane heater where the mouse had made itself a little nest. It’s now in the clubroom. I have a hunch it might last longer than the very expired ketchup bottle I found (and promptly threw out) last time I visited the clubroom. Also, we left the new ultralight broom I hauled up on my pack. Tom “discovered” the depth of the “pile o’ shite” when he dropped his whole roll of toilet paper in the toilet. Thankfully, the outhouse does not need to be moved for a few more years. In future years, the outhouse floor needs to be replaced and the whole outhouse should probably be repainted with water-resistant paint.
Final paddle, paparazzi, and hike down
We did a final sweep of the hut and outhouse, put all the items back into the hut, and loaded up the boats. The paddle back was pleasant. We took our time exploring the waterfalls along the coastline. I was nervous about the headwind, but there didn’t seem to be any. In fact, I was able to do the same thing I did on the way to the hut – not paddle and complain to Ross that he wasn’t paddling correctly. Just kidding. I did paddle… usually.
We passed through Battleship Islands and neared the heli-pad/dock. We somewhat kindly forced sunbathing tourists to move so we could unload the boats. Before we disassembled the kayak, I took the opportunity to snap some pictures for a future campaign to get the VOC sponsored by ORU kayaks, so more adventures like this one can happen for years to come. Also, the new version of the double kayak is only 20lbs, instead of 40lbs. I tried it at MEC the other day. It’s stupidly light. They also make a legit carrying harness, which is way better than the 1980s external frame the kayak is usually affixed to. I had to compete with hoards of tourists turned paparazzi to snag some photos of the cardboard boat.
After the faffing was done with the boats, it was time to eat… lunch? It was mid-afternoon by this point. I have noticed a trend with VOC activities that folks just power through and eat very late lunches. In this particular lunch, I remember feeding Tom and Cassandra an apple that I had lugged up. They had run out of food even with Tom’s “creative” cooking tricks. I got shit earlier in the trip for bringing such a heavy food item, but we were bringing a 40lb kayak so I didn’t feel like it mattered much. Andrew donated his Western Family peanut butter to Tom and Cassandra’s cause as well.
For those that know me, you would know that I like garlic. My favorite form is sauteed garlic from my amazing IKEA garlic press, ideally in a pasta dish. I also like roasted garlic. Minced is OK. During this lunch, I tried something for the first time in my life – whole raw garlic. Either Cassandra was that hungry or she actually liked the sharp flavor. I did not enjoy it.
The hike down was relatively uneventful, except for the fact that we passed almost all of the day hikers and Tom skinny dipped in Barrier Lake (no one is shocked by this, I know). The trail markers for every km closer to the parking lot were my inspiration. I was so ready to be done. My feet hurt really bad near the end of the trail. The outhouse at the parking lot was a welcomed sight.
Eventually, everyone got down, we sorted out the various gear, and drove back to the city. Driving back with Haley and Andrew was nice. It was a great weekend with great people and a great deal of work done (well, not really by me but that’s ok).
I hope to visit the hut when Garibaldi Lake freezes over later in the winter. I also don’t think I like winter camping much because I don’t do well in summer camping… I might have to wait till next winter to visit the Burton Hut with snow. Oh well, I know there will be a friendly mouse waiting for me.
That’s all folks!
I want to extend some thank you’s
- Haley, for inviting me on this trip even if it was just for my knowledge of how to assemble the ORU
- Ross, for not getting mad at me in the kayak/not tipping the kayak. Also for giving me emotional support through the bushwacking, glacier travel, and general hiking.
- Cassandra, for being a welcoming, knowledgeable, and inspiring person. I want to love something as much as you love Dryas
- Tom, for providing constant entertainment (and knowledge)
- Andrew, for being optimistic with bushwacking and leading the pack
- Friendly park rangers and relevant people at BC Parks for letting us borrow your canoes!
- Isaac Borrego, for letting us borrow paddles and kayak safety gear. It was very much appreciated!
- Jacob Grossbard, for letting me borrow your fancy glacier gear which we only really gawked at and didn’t end up using… which I’ve been told is a good thing. And sorry again for losing your pole. Note: I did replace them. I’m not an ass, or at least I try not to be.
- The mouse in the hut, for not crawling on me while I was sleeping
Fore more photos (and some videos), click this link