A Walk Around A Very Big Lake

Date: Aug 31 – Sept 4, 2023

Participants: Toji Nakabayashi, Marlous Bood, Marko Smitran, Nelson Fretenburg, Jonah King, Mona Yu


Earlier in the summer, I had heard from my friend how his Garibaldi Lake Circumnavigation trip was possibly “the best backpacking trip of his life” (verbatim). Accordingly, I was inspired to attempt a similar trip over the Labour Day long weekend.

I’ve developed an unfortunate tendency to not use my brain as much as I should when hiking, since there has usually been a designated leader in situations requiring more serious navigation and route-planning. This trip, I decided, would be the perfect opportunity to start exercising some critical thinking. A couple of weeks in advance, I began planning the route, whereupon I discovered the fantastic pastime of scrolling all over Caltopo and neglecting work related duties for hours on end.

During this time, Marko and Jonah had begun planning a route as well. Here lay the dilemma – I wanted to go further the first night and camp on Fuscian ridge. Marko and Jonah instead wanted to stay at Helms Creek campground because Nelson was coming up later in the evening. Unluckily for Nelson, I didn’t have much sympathy for him because I knew he was speedy and had complete faith in his ability to meet us at any destination. Additionally, Marko insisted on bagging Cinder Cone, a glorified pile of scree, which he declared frequently and emphatically was to be the highlight of his trip. I wasn’t so sure.

We ended up agreeing to split up for the first two days and meet at Gentian Pass on the second evening. Marko, Jonah, and Nelson would stay at Helms Creek the first night (and very importantly – bag Cinder Cone) while Toji, Lous, and I would continue up to Fuscian Ridge.

Day 1: Toji, Lous, and Mona (Mona’s POV)

The objective of the day for us is Helms Horn – a pointy pile of notoriously loose volcanic rock. We soon diverge from the marked Helms Creek trail and head towards the ridge that will take us up the remainder of our elevation for the day. At the top, we drop our packs and approach the beckoning peak.

We arrive at the base of Helms Horn and begin scrambling. The first part is a short and fun gulley that opens up to a flat area around the corner. The next section gets trickier; it’s more exposed and the face has tons of loose rock, definitely some of the chossiest I’ve encountered. I take my time on this section, triple checking everything I shift my weight onto. Downclimbing this face is probably the crux as there are lots of holds, but… even more loose rock.

After an exciting summit, we retrace our steps, pick up our packs, and continue south to find a nice campsite. The section between Helms Horn and Fuscian is a very pleasant walk, especially under the sun. We briefly consider tagging Fuscian peak, but our grumbling stomachs prevail and we decide to leave it for the next morning.

It drizzles a bit after dinner, and I feel very lucky that it didn’t rain earlier in the day to deter us from Helms Horn. Watching the rain fall from the heavy clouds against the backdrop of the Tantalus Range is a memorable sight indeed.

Day 2: Still Toji, Lous, and Mona

We rise before the sun to pack up camp, hike up to the ridge, and enjoy a slow morning there.

Looking to the mountains in the south, some of which are our objectives for the next few days. From right to left (somewhat): Gentian in the foreground, the Table blending into the background, Garibaldi and Atwell in the very back, Guard, Deception, and The Sphinx.  pc: Mona

Looking to the mountains in the south, some of which are our objectives for the next few days. From right to left (somewhat): Gentian in the foreground, the Table blending into the background, Garibaldi and Atwell in the very back, Guard, Deception, and The Sphinx.
pc: Mona

We nap for a while, then a bit longer just for good measure. Many hours later, we finally start our day by tracing back and tagging Fuscian Peak. Feeling energised after accomplishing this first objective (and possibly also because of the absence of our full packs), we decide to go for Corrie Peak as well. Both peaks are solid type 1 fun and not very technical.

1:00pm finds us beginning our journey to Gentian Peak. The way up is fine; the way down is rather heinous. I suppose I can only blame myself for choosing an awful line, traversing across the steep slope of large boulders instead of shooting straight down on the north side. I am positive that the hoard of tourists on Panorama can hear the crashing of rocks we send down. Thankfully, there is no one else in the area.

The descent takes a lot longer than we imagine, and we make it only to the Panorama-Gentian tarn, which is fine by us. Lous, who is leaving Canada in a week, still gets to tick off her bucket list item of seeing the view of Garibaldi Lake from that angle.

Other than the descent from Gentian, the rest of the way to the tarn is a lovely amble through meadows filled with grouse. Silly little creatures, and very entertaining. We go for a refreshing dip in the tarn and take our second nap of the day.

We eventually make our way back and bump into Marko, Jonah, and Nelson at the top of Gentian. They begin to relay their own adventures of the past two days…

Back to Day 1: Marko, Jonah, and Nelson

Yo guys this is Marko. I would let Mona write this part because I am lazy af, but I am afraid that she won’t adequately describe the magnificent Cinder Cone. We did not just have a blast; it was quite possibly the best moment of my entire life.

The views are alright I guess.  pc: Marko

The views are alright I guess.
pc: Marko

We start off by summiting Empetrum Peak. From Helm Creek campsite, we aim straight for a prominent NE trending gully that is located just SE of the summit. It is fun ramble through solid boulder fields, and there is even some optional (class 2-3) scrambling involved. On the summit, beautiful 360° views yield to the main objective of the trip, Cinder Cone. We set our sights down the South ridge of Empetrum and make a beeline to the almighty cone.

As one embarks on the awe-inspiring journey of ascending the magnificent Cinder Cone, every arduous step is filled with anticipation and wonder. The climb through the rough volcanic terrain becomes a meditative dance with nature. The cool breeze and warm sun on your skin, combined with the distant echoes of geological history, narrate the story of creation with each passing moment. This journey culminates in a triumphant arrival at the summit, where a sense of achievement and oneness with the world envelops you. From this vantage point, you gaze out over the vast surreal landscape spread out beneath you, creating a memory etched in your heart forever.


Praise the almighty CONE  pc: Marko

Praise the almighty CONE
pc: Marko

An Odyssey: (Nelson’s POV)

After finishing my last day of work for the summer, I race up the S2S so I can join Marko and Jonah at the Helm Creek Campground that night. After making quick time up from the parking lot, I arrive at the campground at the reasonable hour of 9:00pm. With sleep on my mind, I set about looking for our red MSR tent. The only problem – there are at least a dozen red MSR tents scattered around the campground and no sight of Marko or Jonah. Now, I don’t know what you would do in this scenario, but I sure didn’t want to be known as the guy that woke everyone up in the campground. It’s quickly getting dark, so I start quietly calling out their names as I walk past each potential tent. After 45 minutes and 3 loops of the campground, I still haven’t had any luck. That is – until I hear a familiar sounding snore coming from my right.

It never crossed my mind that they would both be asleep already – I guess Cinder Cone really took the energy out of them.

Day 2: Still Marko, Jonah, and Nelson (Marko’s POV)

We take the same ridge the other group took to get to Helm-Fuscian ridge, and we are greeted by seemingly solid rock. Those trip reports always exaggerate things, I think to myself. We ditch our packs and head straight to the base of Helm Peak. As we make our way over, a strange thing begins to happen – the rock becomes more and more brittle, and more and more loose. No matter. The rock is loose, but at least the exposure is minimal – I think to myself as I crest the top of the first gully. But then I look ahead towards where we would be going, and my stomach does a front-flip.

A vertical wall of rocks with a perilous fall zone stands before me and the summit. While there are plenty of holds, none inspire confidence. As for the structural integrity – well, one fart and the whole thing will topple over. Nelson attempts the route first. He makes it about halfway up to the crux, before coming back down. He is confident he can make it past that point, but the downclimb worries him. Jonah makes it to the same spot, where he also pauses and rethinks his life decisions. He decides to bow out and proclaims that he will not be summiting Helm Peak that day. It is my turn to go. My stomach churns as I debate whether to go for the crux, and I finally decide to go for it. Nelson and I tag the summit, before starting the dreaded descent. The downclimb of the crux is scary, but with Jonah’s vigilant eye we are able to descend safely. Happy to have finished the worst of it, we skedaddle out back to our backpacks.

Reunited at last. pc: Toji

Reunited at last.
pc: Toji

We head up and over Fuscian, do an out and back to Corrie, before finally ascending Gentian Peak. We rest, taking in the breathtaking views.

“Movement I see movement!” Nelson exclaims. Sure enough there is a small orange helmet coming up the ridge. That is no one else other than Toji, absolutely cooking up the ridge. You see, I say cooking because he was basically marching up the slopes, but I also say cooking because he was wearing his rain jacket fully zipped up, with long pants and a helmet to boot in 24° C summer weather. Mona and Lous closely follow this sweat drenched adventurer wearing much more temperature conforming clothing.

Still Day 2: But Now the Whole Crew (Mona’s POV)

Pie-aineering.  pc: Jonah

pc: Jonah

Shortly after we join up, Nelson pulls out a pie from his backpack and shares the exciting sport of pie-aineering with us – a term coined by a previous VOCer Richard So.

“noun /ˌpai-əˈnɪərɪŋ/ /ˌpai-nˈɪrɪŋ/

    • ​the sport or activity of climbing mountains with pies
    • to go pie-aineering
    • a pie-aineering expedition”

- excerpt from alpinebaking.com

After some delicious pie, we start heading down to Gentian pass where we plan to set up camp. As we make our way down, Jonah suddenly exclaims that he sees a bear further down the pass! Sure enough, a large animal is rustling in the bushes maybe 300m away from us. We wait in anticipation for the bear to emerge and – it turns out to be an extremely large marmot. We all have a good chuckle; maybe we didn’t have a bear sighting, but I bet you’ve never seen a marmot so fat you thought it was a bear. Maybe that’s even better.

At Gentian Pass, Marko, Jonah, and Nelson claim a large flat boulder to set up their cooking platform, leaving the rest of us peasants to resort to the ground. As we cook, we get to know each other a bit better, especially for those having just met for the first time today – namely, Nelson and Lous.

You see, prior to the trip, Nelson decidedly reached the conclusion that Lous is Quebecois. When asked why, he explained (with extreme confidence) that he instantly recognized her Quebecois accent over our pre-trip video call since he has family from Quebec himself.

Nelson showing bear-like prowess at climbing the tree while setting up a bear hang… pc: Mona

Nelson showing bear-like prowess at climbing the tree while setting up a bear hang…
pc: Mona

Lous is actually Dutch. Before 2023, she had never even been to Quebec. But on the first day before Nelson joined us, we all agreed to keep him in the dark to see how long we could keep up the charade…

We maintain our best poker faces as Nelson asks Lous what part of Quebec she is from. Without missing a beat, she replies airly, “Quebec City”. She proceeds to exchange a few sentences in French with Nelson and Marko, who both went through French immersion. Marko abruptly changes the subject and later tells Lous to avoid speaking any French to Nelson because her French is awful. Somehow, Nelson remains oblivious, and we gleefully continue our silly prank, sprinkling the occasional “merci” and “oui oui” into the conversation.

“Toji, can you pass the seasoning?”

“Ah, oui oui.”

A peaceful evening passes by in Gentian pass, concluding with some card games and a… questionable bear hang.

Day 3:

Picture perfect pancakes. pc: Nelson

Picture perfect pancakes
pc: Nelson

The third morning starts off with me racing to the cooking boulder to claim the platform for my own cook group. I sit there smugly, delighted at having won the non-existent competition that no one else knew they were participating in.

After a fine dining backcountry breakfast of pancakes and cinnamon buns, we set off for the looming Castle Towers. The grassy subalpine soon gives way to a vast and steep boulder field, which seems to stretch on for eternity. We eventually reach the false summit, where we meet up again with two speedy day hikers who had passed us on the way up.

One of them is called Julia, who happens to be from Quebec. Julia and her friend discuss the scramble with us, deliberating whether or not they want to give it a go. Apart from the ramp, the ascent up from the col looks looser than we expected and the final block looks difficult. We talk through the route and decide to give it a go. While some of us head for the true summit, Lous chats with Julia and quizzes her about life in Quebec to prepare herself for potential further interrogation.

Our concerns regarding the ascent up from the col ends up being futile as the rock is much more solid than we first assumed. We relay our experience to Julia and her friend via unintelligible shouting between the two summits, and they end up continuing to the true summit as well.

After we return from the summit, we rush to camp and hastily pack up our tents. It is 5:00pm. We still have to make it down to Sphinx Bay, and none of us want to be caught bushwhacking in the dark. But priorities are priorities, so Toji and I go for a dip in Gentian Tarn. Afterwards, we agree that the tarn is too shallow and rate the experience a 3/5.

The very steep and unpleasant traverse before we reach the forest.  pc: Mona

The very steep and unpleasant traverse before we reach the forest.
pc: Mona

While researching for the trip, I came across multiple reports calling the bushwhack down from Gentian Pass “heinous” and “full of deadfall”. We end up following the route outlined in a Club Tread Trip Report (Garibaldi Lake Circumnavigation July-31-Aug-2-2015), which calls us to maintain elevation around 1800m until we hit the forest by traversing across steep boulder fields, then descending by connecting more boulder fields as much as possible down to the bay. I find that the most difficult section is traversing the boulder fields before reaching the forest, as the rocks are just too small to provide any structure and the slope is over the angle of repose. For the most part, the descent isn’t too bad and we arrive at Garibaldi lake just as the sun is setting.

We all immediately head towards the lake and jump in, the cool water a welcome relief after two hours of bushwhacking. This swim is probably one of the highlights of my trip, and definitely one of my favourites of the summer. We splash around in the water as the sun gradually disappears, and I feel a sense of renewal at the sight of expansive water and mountains in every direction. Sadly, Lous and I can’t seem to properly sync our 2013-esque mermaid style hair flips and end up being the last to leave the water long after sunset.

Even though the sun has set, our evening has barely begun. Tonight, we are having a much anticipated cook-off. Leading up to this dinner, Marko, Jonah, and Nelson have been hinting at a multi-course menu. I’m a little worried since Lous, Toji, and I only have one dish, albeit a very high quality one: gourmet pizza, complete with fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, and other veggies. As I prepare the dish, I realise that fresh mozzarella three days into the trip might not be my best idea ever, and I can only hope that everyone’s stomach stays strong.

Dinner turns out to be mostly a success all around. Our pizza is scarfed down in seconds with the only feedback being “more”. The other team makes a delicious flatbread appetiser, scrumptious pad thai, an extra dry martini (gin with the most imperceptible dash of vermouth, no garnish), and a not-so-successful creme brulee. (They burnt the milk.) We never end up reaching a consensus on the champion, although I believe that we won. Afterall, the saying goes: “quality over quantity.”

Day 4:

10/10 views  pc: Mona

10/10 views
pc: Mona

I start my day with a scenic morning poop, featuring views of Sphinx Glacier and the book worms.

The rest of the morning goes something like this:

8:37am – We leave the hut.

8:41am – I get stung by a wasp.

8:42am – Lous gets stung by a wasp.

8:45am – We cross the creek.

8:47am – It starts raining.

All in all, a great start to the day.

From the creek, the plod up to Guard-Deception col is mostly uneventful, other than the ominous clouds and periodic rain that keeps rolling in. We want to tag both peaks, but with the impending weather we realise we might only have time for one. We decide to attempt Guard first since it’s closer, hoping that the clear weather window will hold. We split up, those staying behind finding a nice large rock to shelter behind.

Prior to the trip, I couldn’t find much information about the route up Guard. The information I did find varied from pictures of people sending the scramble in ski boots to stories of people getting long-lined out of the area, both being VOC trip reports no less. (For those curious: “A Day to Remember” and “The Engine and The Guard”) Rest assured, I do not have plans to scramble anything in ski boots in the near or far future; I don’t even think I’ve completely mastered walking down the resort stairs yet. Anyways, I figured it would be one of those things I would just have to find out for myself.

This first section of note is a small scree gully that drops onto a semi-exposed platform. The final drop is a little reachy, especially if you aren’t super tall. We go down one by one down this portion, taking care to not send too many rocks down. The next portion involves some steep sidehill traversing then an ascent towards a sub peak. Unfortunately, the rain hits us before we reach the subpeak, and we decide to turn around. Conceding to mother nature this time, we promise to come back for both Guard and Deception another day.

Making our way back down. Our route takes us out left of the frame. Glorious views of the Table and Sentinel Bay in the background. pc: Nelson

Making our way back down. Our route takes us out left of the frame. Glorious views of the Table and Sentinel Bay in the background.
pc: Nelson

Once the decision has been made to turn back, we make haste to meet up with other members who have been waiting patiently for us at the col. We shelter with them behind a large rock to grab a quick bite before heading down to Sentinel Bay. As we descend on steep grassy slopes, we discuss the best way to tackle the last challenge for the day – hiking up to Table Ridge.

Admiring the view while planning our next move. pc: Marko

Admiring the view while planning our next move.
pc: Marko

The glaciology huts offer us some much appreciated shelter for an hour while we eat our late lunches. Some of us take more care than others to avoid the mouse droppings that cover every surface. Lots of food, some half hearted attempts to dry gear, and one whole Irish Jig later, we are once again on our way.

Before long, we are ascending the formidable scree slopes of Table Ridge. The rocks skittering down behind me are a constant reminder of the imminent risk of sliding down the steep face. In the steepest section, I find myself on all fours, desperately seeking traction and often resorting to the tried-and-true method of “drop to the ground and hope that the sheer surface area of your body will prevent sliding”. Ever so gracefully, some of us more so than others, we make our way up.

The rest of the way to Table Meadows is less eventful. We sing, pick blueberries, and admire the gorgeous view of the Table that is completely hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Upon arriving at Table Meadows, we find that all the tarns have run dry. Everyone else seems quite nonchalant about this, confident that they can make it through dinner, breakfast, and probably half of our hike tomorrow before our next water source. I don’t share their same optimism and am on the verge of a little hysterical fit before Nelson discovers a shallow pool further back with some swampy water. Crisis averted, I happily let my filter do its thing before joining the rest of the group for dinner.

The clouds finally relent for a period, and we get our first close up glance of the Table. Dinner conversation moves towards hotly contesting whether or not the spot on the Table is a patch of snow or a hole (it’s a hole), and lauding the greatness of the “John Wall” dance song.

Ok, about this John Wall thing – it would not be a complete trip report without the mention of this dance. When we met up with Marko, Jonah, and Nelson on the second day, we discovered that the three of them had the habit of breaking out into the John Wall dance and song at the frequency of at least two times every single hour. We were completely baffled by this phenomenon that seemed to resemble cult-like behaviour. By the fourth day, despite our best attempts at resisting their conversion efforts, the rest of us had also begun – unwillingly – joining them in their ritual. It turns out this John Wall song is something that Nelson got stuck in his head before the trip, whereupon he decided that it was imperative he blessed us with it too. For readers who are curious, the song is “Do The John Wall” by Troop 41. Be warned – watch at your own risk.

In the evening, we break into the remainder of our Baileys portions. For some of us, it’s a tiny bottle; for others, it’s a whole 1L flask. As darkness settles over the meadows, we inadvertently break into dance to some 2010 hardstyle tunes playing from DJ Jonah’s phone. Yes, this was probably partially induced by the Baileys. We dance the night away for more than an hour before the more responsible members of our group decide it’s time to clean up and get ready for bed. I love dancing, and this was a main highlight of the trip for me.

Marko and Nelson set up a much more successful bear hang this time round.

Day 5:

After some inevitable faffing, we hike and bushwhack our way up to the Price-Clinker col. Clinker is a surprisingly fun peak to climb, with many optional scrambling routes on decently solid rock. We explore for a while before we return to the rest of the group and summit Price together. The views of Garibaldi Lake are still breathtaking even after five days. We stand triumphantly on the summit of Price, relishing in the knowledge that it is mainly downhill from here.

The walk down from Price to the campgrounds is long, windy, and tiresome. We go for one last dip in the lake before hitting the Rubble Creek Trail. The presence of people and wide paths feels strange and jarring.

2km into the descent, I feel the slightest urge to use the washroom. Not wanting to hike back up, I decide to wait until I reach the parking lot. By 3km, the slight urge has turned into a full blown nausea-inducing pain. I mutter a brief explanation to Toji and start running down the trail. The pain is so intense that I have to pull my hip belt away from my stomach. I blow past bewildered day hikers until I can no longer run for fear of shitting myself in the middle of trail – a very real concern at this point. I briefly consider using my wag bag, but the switch backs are a little too close together to find an obscure bush. Half speed walking and half hop/skipping, I reach the trailhead in a record time of one and a half hours. I have never been so relieved to see an outhouse. Upon exiting the outhouse, I see the rest of the group at the bottom, having also run down the trail to try and catch up with me.

Lesson learned: use the outhouse at the top of the trail and don’t eat fresh mozzarella three days into the trip.

This entry was posted in Hike, Trip Reports and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Walk Around A Very Big Lake

  1. Jonah King says:

    Stonking report from Mona. I’m loving the image carousel!!

  2. Toji Nakabayashi says:

    Sometimes you wanna feel like a pizza being baked while climbing mountains. Will have to bag the mythical cinder cone myself another year :)

  3. Julian Larsen says:

    Glad your trip went as well as ours! That was an entertaining trip report, kinda wish I posted the full length version of mine now…

  4. Anton Afanassiev says:

    Looks like a sick trip, makes me want to bag some of those peaks myself…

Leave a Reply