Black Tusk in Garibaldi Park Whistler Hiking Trails
Black Tusk is a mountain of unbelievable beauty. It possesses the incredible distinction of looking more impossible to climb the closer you get to it. Even when you are close enough to touch its vertical, black and foreboding sides, you wonder in amazement how anyone can ever reach the top. It’s vertical on all sides. The barely distinguishable trail skirts its edge amongst a perilous scree slope, winding its way around its trunk.
As you clamour carefully along the trail you come to a chute heading almost straight up. Again, even this close you will wonder, as almost everyone else at this spot, “I don’t think this is a safe way to go.” Then you pause and look around. Many take solace at this moment at the view. Spectacular. Just spectacular.
Above the clouds, looking over the impossibly blue Garibaldi Lake, nestled in endless snowy mountains. There is even snow just below you, in the valleys of scree that crumbled from Black Tusk. The scree is black, very black. Contrasted with the snow, clouds, lake and sky, the view is breathtaking.
Most people don’t continue up the final chute to the top, it’s that scary. This is justifiable. It is unquestionably unsafe. Chunky rock holds pull free as you grip them. Above you jet black, jagged rocks tumble and ricochet down on and around you. And the view is so spectacular around you that it’s easy to justify turning around.
But the final ascent is not really that hard. Keep your head down, three points of contact at all times, slow and steady and you reach the top of the world.
Black Tusk's unmistakable shape looms over Whistler from many viewpoints. It lies between the two largest lakes of Whistler, Cheakamus and Garibaldi and accessed from both. The region around Black Tusk is in a word unbelievable. Like a scene out of Lord of the Rings, looking around from Black Tusk, the fantastic majesty takes your breath away. And this is just one of the many vantage points shocking in scope and believability.
The Extraordinary Origins of Black Tusk
About 170,000 years ago renewed volcanic activity in the area produced a lava dome within a cinder-rich volcanic cone itself over a million years old. Cinder-rich simply means that the cone formed out of explosive volcanic action and hardened, to some extent, in the air and therefore filled with air pockets and evidently light and weak in structure. The Black Tusk hardened inside this more easily eroded cinder cone so in the past 170,000 years the outer cinder cone has crumbled away to reveal the lava dome within. The Black Tusk itself is extremely crumbly as well as can be seen in the astonishingly consistent in size pieces of it tumbling down the majestic slopes all around.
Black Tusk Statistics
Black Tusk, the spectacular pinnacle of volcanic rock visible for hundreds of kilometres in most directions is at an altitude of 2319 metres (7608 ft). Along with the Chief in Squamish they are the most noticable peaks in the Garibaldi Range.
Black Tusk's Volcanic Past and Present
Black Tusk is within the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt also called the Canadian Cascade Arc. This volcanic belt contains mostly dormant volcanoes, though also includes the much alive and infamous Mount St. Helens in Washington State, in the US. Mount Garibaldi from which Garibaldi Park gets its name was an active volcano as recently as 9300 years ago. Also in the area but north of Black Tusk near Pemberton Mount Meager had multiple eruptions ending only recently, that is 2350 years ago according to recent studies. Meager now has become known in the region for it's alarmingly frequent mudslides that terrorize the Meager Creek Hot Springs below and the town of Pemberton further down the valley.
The Garibaldi Belt that encompasses Black Tusk is a result of the subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate under the North American Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone along the British Columbia coast. This fault zone is over 1000k long and moves at 10mm/year producing large earthquakes on average every 500 years.
Camping Options in the Black Tusk Region
Garibaldi Lake Campsites: The most busy camping option in the area is at Garibaldi Lake with 50 campsites with full service (water, security, etc) and fees (May 1 - Nov 15). The campsites are well laid out and disappear into the forest. All are steps from the amazing Garibaldi Lake with great, though very cold swimming. There is good fishing here for rainbow trout, which were introduced back in the 1920's.
Taylor Meadows Campsite: gets very busy at times as well with 40 campsites with full service (water, security, etc) and fees (May 1 - Nov 15). There are some small rivers close by but no swimming. The draw for Taylor Meadows camping is the wonderful location. It lays in a beautiful forested meadow full of hills and flowers and views of the towering Black Tusk. It has a less crowded feel than Garibaldi Lake does, though bear in mind that even when crowded these campsites don't feel crowded - they are just that organized and thick with trees and hills. Also, if you were to feel crowded, you could easily wander in any of several directions and become immersed in the wonderful forest and beautiful desolation in these vast meadows.
The Helm Creek Campground is smaller than the others at 9 campsites, however it is in a beautiful setting on the quiet side of Black Tusk, though 1.5 hours away from the approaches to Black Tusk. Helm Creek is another beautiful campground. Most of the 9 campsites are next to the beautiful Helm Creek. The main draw of this campsite is that it is on the quieter side of this area and can be approached from Cheakamus Lake.
The trails through Garibaldi Park are in such a vast area that suitable places far into the wilderness away from anyone, to put up a tent are limitless. People bivy on top of Black Tusk, put up a tent on the far slopes of Panorama Ridge, or tent in any number of other places. Being located in British Columbia means that you are never far from a creek, river or lake wherever you hike in Garibaldi Park.
The Three Main Trailheads to Black Tusk
#1 - Directions to the Black Tusk Trail at Rubble Creek
The most popular direction to get to Black Tusk is from the Rubble Creek parking lot 25km south of Whistler. Look for the well marked turnoff to "Black Tusk(Garibaldi)" sign directing you to turn left. The free parking lot is 2k up this road. Hiking from the parking lot - 6.5k From the trailhead you will come to a junction. Right goes to Garibaldi Lake, left goes to Taylor Meadows. A good idea is to take one way on the way up and return the other way. From Garibaldi Lake to Black Tusk is a further 6km. Both are roughly the same distance. Notice on the picture to the right that Garibaldi Lake Campground is 3k and Taylor Meadows Campground is 1.5k but that is because the trail runs through Taylor Meadows Campground whereas you must leave the main trail for 1.5k to reach the Garibaldi Lake Campground. If you don't detour to Garibaldi Lake then both of these routes are about the same distance.
Black Tusk Trailhead (Rubble Creek)
#2 - Black Tusk Trailhead From the Cheakamus Lake Trail
The less popular yet arguably superior route to Black Tusk is from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead. The well marked, often deserted trail takes 2.5 hours to get to the beautiful Helm Creek campground. From Helm Creek to the top of Black Tusk is another 2.5 hours. Travelling through spectacular scenery and an improbable looking approach, well off the beaten track.
At the lights at Function Junction (8k south of Whistler Village), turn left, then after 500m you will see a sign on your left for Cheakamus Lake. Follow this unpaved road for 8k to the Cheakamus Lake trailhead. Follow the Cheakamus Lake trail for 1.5k until you see a sign directing you to turn right toward Helm Creek. Follow the signs from here.
From the Helm Creek campground to the summit of Black Tusk takes about 2.5 hours by travelling through spectacular scenery and an improbable looking approach, well off the beaten track.
Black Tusk Trailhead Via the Cheakamus Lake Trailhead
#3 - Directions to Black Tusk From the Cheakamus Valley Microwave Tower
One relatively unknown route to Black Tusk is via the Cheakamus Valley Microwave Tower. This is possibly the easiest and shortest route but requires reaching Black Tusk from a little used, and unmarked direction.
There is currently some wrangling going on between the Whistler Hiking Trails Task Force and the Resort Municipality of Whistler to open this access for hikers, however the matter seems stalled by bureaucratic obfuscation. This is a shame as the road is quite good and already maintained to a high standard.
So for the foreseeable future hikers will need to park at the gate about 5k from the Microwave Tower and hike it. There is room for about two vehicles there. There are signs leading to the gate which are quite straight forward.
Find your way to the turnoff from Highway 99 to Cheakamus Lake and instead of following the west side of Cheakamus River, follow the east side.
Once reaching the Microwave Tower you simply walk in the direction of Black Tusk as close as you can.
There is no trail of course, but as you are in the alpine there is no foliage to block your way so you just have to look down on the terrain and plot your course.
The Cheakamus Valley Microwave Tower Near Black Tusk