Back down at Wedgemount Lake, looking up towering Weart Mountain, there is an amazing glacier that connects Weart to yet another mountain, Cook Mountain. Cook Mountain is the easiest of all the peaks around. All other mountains around are very difficult, intermediate hikes requiring some expertise and very good health, whereas Cook is only moderately difficult. You do hike through quite a difficult boulder field much of the way and the trail is easily lost, but if you keep to the trail and a good pace its only about 90 minutes from the hut at the lake.
The Wedgemount Lake hut is located in the midst of the huge boulder field that cascades down from Cook mountain. Built in 1970 it has been well used and well kept as a base for hiking in this area. Despite the area being buried under metres of snow much of the year, the Wedgemount Lake hut is sometimes used in the winter. Wedge Mountain is a popular ski touring destination and can be reached on skis from Blackcomb Mountain, which of course lies next to it, with Whistler Mountain beyond Blackcomb.
The Wedgemount Hut is another aspect of this wonderful place that makes it an amazing place to hike. It is basic, but beautiful. It contains two large tables which are equally used as beds, a small window and a big loft area which could, though crowded, sleep four people. The hut could sleep six quite comfortably and eight a bit crowded. In the winter with snow outside, the Wedge Hut is extraordinarily warm inside. Kept clean by the rarely seen Garibaldi Park wardens, the hut has an outhouse close by that is up steep stairs, at least partly to keep it above the deep snow in the winter, but also to rise above the sewage tank below which is periodically helicoptered out.
The Wedgemount Hut is among the beautiful boulder field looking down on the beautiful lake below and the distant Wedgemount Glacier. A short, five minute walk down to the lake leads to some very picturesque and private rock outcrops perfect for diving in. Though even in the heat of July, the water hovers just over freezing. But its mesmerizing colour, brilliant turquoise, is dazzling up close.
Around the Wedgemount Hut there are ten amazingly luxurious, wooden tent platforms. All of them have great views and are beautifully situated to usually be well apart from each other. Having truck sized boulders all around makes them fairly easily separated. Up the hill from the hut, past the outhouse there are more tent platforms. Each, well hidden from below, so you have to follow the visible trails to find them. Despite being hidden they command great views as well and have the benefit of being near a little stream with excellent water.
Standing at the entrance to the Wedge Hut and looking down to the lake you might be able to make out several more tent platforms along the gravel shore of the lake. These are right on the edge of the lake with a stream running behind them. If you want a stunning view of the lake and glacier from your tent, this is the place to be. The glacier and lake fill your view, looking out from your tent and once in a while the soothing sound of the stream behind you is broken by the crashing of a rock slide across the lake. They happen fairly often. About every hour your heart skips a beat as the frightening rumbling sound of fridge sized boulders tumbling down to the lake.
The list of reasons why Wedgemount is amazing is quite long. The list of why is is not is pretty short. The trail is, by necessity, quite steep and very rugged. It has only a handful of highlights. A cute bridge 20 minutes into the trail over the crashing Wedgemount Creek is nice. The trees along the trail are often impressive. There are two massive boulder fields that make you stare for a minute. Some nice views back toward the Sea to Sky Highway from the trail. And the great view, though distant of Wedgemount Falls, crashing loudly 296 metres almost straight down.
The trail is fairly short if compared to other Garibaldi Park trails, at 7k, but it boasts the most elevation gain. Along the trail if you keep a good pace you will pass a few people who look like they are considering turning back. You may even see someone run past you on the trail, as Wedge-Runners, they are locally known, do the seemingly impossible. They can make the lake in about an hour.
A very fast hiking pace will get you to the hut in about 1.5 hours. A moderate pace takes a little over 2 hours. And if you are carrying a pack for staying overnight you may take 3+ hours to reach the hut. Coming down is considerably easier, however, the bashing your knees take from the jarring, downward hiking is for some, more painful than the route up.
The deep snow that accumulates over the long winter around Wedgemount Lake takes until July to melt. So don't be surprised to find a glaze of ice on the lake at the start of July. In 2011 there was ice on the lake until mid July, but that was unusual. There will be patches of snow near the top of the trail, early in July, but not so much inconvenient as it is a curiosity. Walking on snow in 22c heat is always fun. You won't need to bring too much water on the trail or at the top as there are frequent and excellent water sources.
July, August and September are the best months to hike Wedge, however, snow doesn't start accumulating again until November. There are annoying bugs to deal with during July and August. Mosquitoes and huge flies come out pretty strong. By September they have all but vanished, yet the beautiful weather remains. The grapefruit scented mosquito repellent you see for sale at most stores in Whistler seems to repel the mosquitoes surprisingly well.
Wedgemount Lake is an amazing place to sleep without a tent. You will often see people on those beautiful wooden platforms in sleeping bags asleep under the stars. Though the Wedge Hut is quite amazing, it is often empty during the summer as people tend to bring tents in case it is full, then end up using their tents on one of the great tent spots. The drawbacks for the hut are just that it is a bit dark inside and its about a 8 minute walk to reach fresh water. The hut is free to use and there is no reservation system. The parking lot at the trailhead is quite large and also no charge.
Camping in Garibaldi Park is generally very good and at Wedgemount Lake the facilities are spectacular. There are 20 designated tent spots and each one with a million dollar view of paradise. Half of these spots are located near the Wedge Hut, up along the dramatic scree, boulder and enormous erratic field about 300 metres from Wedgemount Lake. These tent spots are made of beautiful, wooden tent platforms and arranged to maximize both privacy and view. Nestled in alpine trees about 50 metres up the slope from the hut, three wooden tent platforms hide. Closer to the hut, nestled in the massive erratics are three more platforms. The more you explore among the gnarled and dramatically beautiful krummholz, the more perfectly positioned tent platforms you find. Down at the shore of Wedgemount Lake, just across from the foot of the glacier are several wood framed, gravel tent platforms lined majestically along the shore. Strategically positioned to line your tent view directly across the lake to the breathtaking Wedgemount Glacier. The wonderful silence broken only by distant waterfalls and the occasional rock slide from across the lake. The foot of the Wedgemount Glacier is just a short walk away.
Helm Creek in Garibaldi Provincial Park
Helm Creek is a beautiful, meandering creek that winds its way from beyond Black Tusk, down the valley to the wonderful campground that takes its name. From the Helm Creek Campground it descends further along the Helm Creek Trail, until it joins the Cheakamus River near where it leaves Cheakamus Lake. The location of Helm Creek Campground has two tremendous advantages. First it is just a great location. About halfway between Cheakamus Lake and Black Tusk it lays in some amazingly scenic areas. Beautiful, climbable mountains all around. Amazing fields of snow that run all the way to the base of Black Tusk.
Rivers, creeks and waterfalls everywhere you turn. The campground area along Helm Creek itself is very nice. A large, grassy field ringed by trees and Helm Creek cuts a wide path through. The area really has no trails except the Helm Creek trail that runs past it, but there are infinitely numerous directions you can wander. Exploring in any direction takes you to more and more pristine, green fields, streams, pocket lakes and mountain views.
Though most just use it as a base to extend onto Black Tusk, it is a great base for so much more. Helm Peak, Corrie Peak, Cinder Cone, Empetrum Peak as well as the more frequented Panorama Ridge, Black Tusk and Garibaldi Lake. The second great aspect of Helm Creek as a campground is that it is quiet and serene when compared with the other two area campgrounds. Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows are very busy all summer long. In fact there is a posting part way up the trail to Garibaldi Lake indicating how crowded it is and if it is full.
The reason that these two campgrounds are so much more busy than Helm Creek is not that they are nicer, but simply that their trailhead is closer to Vancouver where the bulk of the hiking traffic emanates from. The trailheads are only about 30 minutes apart, but that makes all the difference. For the serenity and accompanying beauty, Helm Creek Campground is well worth the extra 30 minute drive.
The trailhead for Helm Creek is the same as for Cheakamus Lake, so a beautiful multi-day hike can easily be done from here. Camping at Cheakamus Lake one day, then Helm Creek another, then Taylor Meadows another as you explore the huge array of spectacular sites in Garibaldi Park. If you are ambitious for a tougher hike you can link several hikes together, and in fact begin your hike at the Whistler Gondola. From there hike the amazing Musical Bumps via the High Note Trail out to Russet Lake. Another gorgeous mountain paradise and has a similar hut to Wedgemount Lake. From Russet you can descend down Singing Creek (rough, not well established trail) for 3k and arrive at the Cheakamus Lake Campground furthest from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead. Then you can hike 9k to Helm Creek.
The Helm Creek campground is smaller than the others at 9 tent platforms, however it is in a beautiful setting on the quiet side of Black Tusk, though still 1.5 hours of hiking to get to the approach to Black Tusk. Helm Creek is another beautiful campground. Most of the 9 tent platforms are next to the cute, small and rushing, 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.
At Helm Creek you find yourself in a remote and quiet valley in the midst of paradise. From the trail junction in the campground you see the enticing sign indicating what is around you. The nice, well marked trail continues to Panorama Ridge in 7 kilometres. Black Tusk in 9.5 kilometres or Garibaldi Lake in 9 kilometres. All of these destinations branch off the main trail that ascends away from Helm Creek.