A Lake A Day, Part 2

August 20th – 23rd, 2018, Garibaldi Provincial Park

A Tour of Garibaldi’s Lakes; Wedgemount, Elfin, and Mamquam

I awoke to a smokier view, the mountains becoming more unfocused as I sat on my wooden balcony reading, enjoying the slow morning I was allowing myself to have. Having befriended the group of five SFU students who were also hiking to Rampart Ponds, I waved as they started hiking, while I continued to linger over my oatmeal.

Towards Opal Cone

I’d never been past Elfin Lakes before, so I was excitedly unsure of what to expect in the 7km to Rampart Ponds – the new Mamquam Lake campsite – I’d read online that there was only 300 meters elevation gain so when I started out just after 11:00 am I was expecting an easy walk. I’m not sure what happened, maybe it was the heat, the smoke, the actual change in elevation, or not knowing the trail but the 7kms kicked my butt. It started out easily enough, winding around the side of a mountain before reaching a clearing that showed the trail making a big loop and drop down to a raging creek before disappearing into the haze on the other side in large steep switchbacks. I felt like I was stopping every ten feet and panting in the stuffy heat so that by the time I reached the top of the switchbacks I was sweaty and a little frustrated with my seemingly slow progress. Taking what felt like my thousandth pause I looked up, watching my new friends from earlier trying to follow an old path up the scree on the southwest side of Opal Cone, seemingly stuck (they told me later they had to backtrack down to the trail). Following along the base of the cone I finally reached the junction; 1km to Opal Cone or 3km to Rampart Ponds. Leaving my pack at the junction I scurried up to admire the smoky views backtracking to collect my pack, I followed the sign towards Rampart Ponds, entering the other-worldly volcanic rock field.

Looking Back at Opal Cone

I kept repeating only 3kms left as the trail started sloping down again, surprised that for the first time that day someone was coming towards me on the trail, a day hiker conquering the whole 40kms in one swoop, who upsettingly informed me that there was another valley to climb before the campsite. A couple minutes later, he was proven right, as I found myself staring down another valley and watching the very narrow and collapsing trail wind down and across another river before disappearing yet again into the haze. I took a break at the river to wash my face, collect water, and soak my feet before pushing myself up the last hill. It took me over 4 hours, but I finally made it, arriving to a deserted Rampart Ponds, an exposed slightly morose area made up of twelve dirt tent pads facing Atwell Peak, Opal Cone, and Mt. Garibaldi and its Glacier.

About an hour later my new friends – the five SFU students – arrived, looking as exhausted as I felt. Being able to laugh off the weirdly difficult day we’d all experienced as a group, lightened the mood around camp. It was nearly six and making a group decision we decided to go down to the lake for an evening swim, we didn’t think it was that far – the signs were a little confusing saying it was only 250m to the lake, turns out that was referring to elevation – so we headed out. After about fifteen minutes we were all questioning where this lake was, hoping it wasn’t the large lake we could see in the distance, long story short, it was. Two of the guys turned back, one from blisters, the other so he wouldn’t be alone and the four of us left kept going, half an hour – and 2kms – later we reached Mamquam Lake, picturesque under the shadow of Pyramid Mountain. Half an hour later we pulled ourselves away from the beach, jogging to make it back up the mountain before it got too dark. The sun was setting as we reached camp, rushing into dry clothes before we got too cold. Dinner was a humorous affair, eaten in the light of our headlamps, second helpings made of oatmeal, pasta, chili (pretty much anything that hadn’t been eaten yet). Happy and full I curled up in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of falling ice from the glacier.

Alpine Wild Flowers

With about 20 kms back to the parking lot all of us were up early – the SFU five were also hiking out – we planned to hike together but their pace was slower than mine, so I was just starting to pack up as they headed out. I caught up with them just after the junction, forging ahead as my feet were no longer sore and I was feeling good. They caught up to me as I sat beside the river taking my first break and enjoying the cold water, passing me to take the lead up the steep dusty stairs. It seemed to take no time at all before the Elfin Lakes shelter came into view, stopping for lunch we sat around a picnic table, snacking and rummaging through our packs for warmer layers as thick fog surrounded us. The threat of rain followed us all the way back to the parking lot, fog blocking all chances of views. Rounding one of the final bends we came face to face with one of the fattest black bears I’ve ever seen – people had been warning us of bear sightings since we arrived, but none of us had heard so much of us rustle – standing as a group we talked and waved our arms, the bear watched us for a couple minutes approaching slowly before lumbering up the side of the trail and into the wood. It was a beautiful moment, just us and the bear and it kept smiles on our faces all the way back to the cars.

Total Distance:64 Km
Total Elevation Change:3360 m

They invited me for burgers back in Burnaby, so goodbye was only temporary. It always surprises me how easy it is to meet people on the trail, there’s something about the fresh air and mountains that brings people together.