Rubble Creek Classic 25k - Running in Garibaldi Park, Whistler
One fantastic attribute of this run, is that it is a linear route and doesn't ever cover the same ground twice. The route allows for some variation as you come to a couple forks in the trail, which, if taken, allow you to pass along the edge of Garibaldi Lake before rejoining the official, Rubble Creek Classic route back to Rubble Creek.
The route is very challenging and the terrain, wonderfully varied. You run the first 1.5 kilometres, virtually flat along the Cheakamus Lake trail until you reach the Helm Creek trail that branches off to the right. Follow this trail as it ascends relentlessly up to Helm Creek where it levels off slightly, then continues up into the beautiful alpine. The huge and beautiful Black Tusk, very impressive in the distance, always on your right. You eventually leave Black Tusk behind and enter Taylor Meadows. From Taylor Meadows to the Rubble Creek trailhead is a constant downhill run.
The Rubble Creek Classic, the longest running trail run in Whistler, dates its beginning to back in 1985. In over 25 years the route has changed little, though the finishing times have gotten considerably shorter. The current record is an amazing 1:50:51, set in 2012 by Edward McCarthy. As trail running gains in popularity, the Rubble Creek Classic seems to be showing up more and more on the elite runners of the world, or at least BC's elite runners. The previous record of 1:56:45 was posted in 2009 by Phil Villeneuve.
There are plenty of creeks and streams along the route so you can refill water often along the way frequently if needed. This route is reliably free of snow, about the second week in July to late October. Depending on the late season and early season snowfall, you may find the trail free of snow enough to run in late June until early November.
You can find a recent trail report from Parks Canada here showing a rough estimate of how much snow is on the trail. They hike the trails fairly consistently and report back on the snow levels. They do an amazing job keeping the info up to date, however, even a week later the snow levels can be radically different.
Often you will be hesitant to run this trail with a report of 1.5 metres of snow at Taylor Meadows and run the trail less than a week later and find little or no snow at all on the trail. Some patches of snow in Taylor Meadows in shady areas may cause the report or the fact that much of the trail is in direct sunlight. In short, expect to run through some patches of snow(pictured right), well into July, and considerably more the earlier in the summer you go.
Regardless, however, expect to get some areas of knee deep snow if you run in early summer, and especially if Parks Canada reports late season snow. A great way to deal with the snowy patches is to begin your run very early, while the snow is frozen from the previous night and allow you to stay on top of it instead of postholing your way through it. If you begin before 7am you should be able to keep dry as you will pass through the alpine before the sun gets high in the sky, softening the snow. The muddy sections along the trail are not significant enough to worry about. You will find several, easy to avoid patches along the trail and BC Parks crews have been upgrading the trail quite a bit with boardwalks along bad sections.
Route Description and Trailhead Parking
From Village Gate Boulevard in Whistler Village, drive south on the Sea to Sky Highway(99) toward Vancouver for 8km. At the lights at Function Junction, turn left, about 300 metres ahead you will see a sign on your left for Cheakamus Lake. Follow the unpaved, potholed road for 8km to the Cheakamus Lake trailhead. Parking is free and the parking lot has an outhouse as well as some picnic tables overlooking the Cheakamus River far below. There is also a nice, large mapboard at the trailhead as well as some BC Parks, Garibaldi Park information. See below for directions to the Rubble Creek trailhead.
The Cheakamus Lake trail begins by ascending for a couple hundred metres into the trees before leveling off and meandering along a relatively flat route through a beautiful and deep, old, and enormous, western redcedar forest. Just 1.5 kilometres from the trailhead you will see the trail sign indicating to turn right to continue toward Helm Creek. The trail descends quickly down to the huge and crashing, Cheakamus River and the bridge across it.
The bridge is very solidly built and has great views left and right and even below. After you cross the Cheakamus River you immediately start climbing steep switchbacks. See the Cheakamus Lake trail map below, 2k appears just past this bridge and notice the switchbacks to come along the trail as you rapidly gain elevation.
This stretch of the trail is the most relentlessly steep section of trail you will have to endure. Also, it is the most uneventful as you weave through deep and dark, though serene and untouched forest. The forest smells of a beautiful BC forest, however the enormity of the trees ensures that the sky is seldom seen. The trail along this section is mostly loose dirt, some boulders and frequent huge tree roots.
The trail begins to flatten gradually as you near Helm Creek. Helm Creek comes into view just past the 8k mark and you emerge from the forest into the beautiful meadow that the campsite platforms ring the edge of. The beautiful Helm Creek flows just a few metres from the main path and this is an excellent place to stop for water. The creek is clear, clean and came from snow and ice just a few kilometres up toward Black Tusk.
Black Tusk finally appears as you enter the campground at Helm Creek, and will now be a constant sight for the next several kilometres. The trail continues, keeping the Helm Creek, wooden tent pads on your right and the outhouse you will pass on your left. The narrow, dirt path ascends up into the trees and veers to the right avoiding Helm Creek for a while before finally crossing one of its many feeding creeks over a small bridge. Crossing a second small bridge, you come out into the alpine and it is here that the Rubble Creek Classic trail becomes less gruelling, constantly scenic and comparatively easy. The trail, far less steep than the previous 11 kilometres and the views are breathtaking and in every direction.
You also get to gauge your progress by the size and distance of Black Tusk. It disappears between plateaus along the trail, only to reappear much closer as you gain another high point. This is the wonderful section of trail where you effectively reach the summit of the trail. You will still come to some more long and demanding ascents, however, it is here that you will pass the point where the descents outnumber the ascents.
As the terrain levels out with Black Tusk very near on your right you will come to the source of Helm Creek, Helm Lake. Flowing through a moonscape of brown and mostly lifeless rocks, a wide and easily crossed river flows into Helm Lake. The trail looks hilarious as it abruptly stops at this river as if there once was a bridge. Stepping from boulder to boulder in the river allows you to keep dry and continue through the rocky and flat terrain.
Running in between Helm Lake and Black Tusk Lake, the lifeless, brown terrain gives way to lush green forest again. The trail juncture to Panorama Ridge is here, though going straight, the sign points to Black Tusk, Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake. Finally as well, the signs start indicating the Rubble Creek Parking 12k.
You have come 14k according to the sign. Though BC Parks signs are often off a little bit or at least rounded, you will notice that almost a full kilometre has been added in the rounding. Evidently the signs are decades old and placed there before the advent of absurdly accurate gps devices. Either way it rounds, you are well past the half way point. If you are not racing against time, Black Tusk Lake is an excellent place for a glacier cold swim.
The trail from here to Taylor Meadows is through a beautiful forest and endless meadows of flowers with Black Tusk on your right and Garibaldi Lake soon to appear on your left. The trail is often narrow, but smooth from decades of hikers. The flowers appear in fields of white, yellow, blue and sometimes all three. Another trail junction appears as the trail to Black Tusk runs perpendicular from the main trail. Another minute further and you reach the trail fork that you can take left to get to Garibaldi Lake or continue straight to Taylor Meadows. Taylor Meadows is the Rubble Creek Classic route. There is an outhouse at this junction, as well as another one 2k further at the Taylor Meadows Campground.
The trees give way to the beginning of Taylor Meadows and views all around of snow capped mountains. Mountain peaks stretch to the ocean if you could see that far. The Straight of Georgia and Pacific Ocean are just 80 kilometres away, however only white mountain peaks are visible to the horizon. Wooden boardwalks run through much of Taylor Meadows keeping you above the sections of mud. Taylor Meadows Campground appears along another long stretch of boardwalk and mercifully flat terrain. You are now 8 kilometres from the end and all down hill and with frequent kilometre markings to keep you motivated to run. Dark forest and plenty of switchbacks take you to the finish line at Rubble Creek, 24.5k from the Cheakamus Lake start.
Rubble Creek Parking/Trailhead
From Village Gate Boulevard, drive south, toward Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway(99). The well marked turn off to Black Tusk(Garibaldi) trailhead is 25km south of Whistler on your left. Easy to spot if you keep your eyes out for the big green "Black Tusk(Garibaldi)" signs. From the highway a 2 kilometre, paved road takes you to the large parking lot/trailhead at Rubble Creek.