Cheakamus Lake Backpacking Trip

Cheakamus Lake Backpacking Trip

Trip report by Christine Thuring

From Thursday to Saturday (June 16-18), a small group of five backpackers enjoyed the trials and tribulations of early summer in Garibaldi Provincial Park. The wildflowers were quite behind schedule, there were 5 active bears in the area and the snow line was surprisingly low. Still, we had a fantastic time. 

Our home base was the Cheakamus Lake Campground (at 850m elevation), where we occupied two sites, separated by a thicket of dogwood and hawthorn. We hung a tarp at the larger site, which had room for three tents, and did our cooking there. We were very diligent with Leave No Trace principles: not even the stem of an apple was left behind! Park operators had informed us there were five active bears in the area. While there was much scat confirming recent and local bear activity, the only mammals we saw were Douglas squirrels and chipmunks.  

The hike in and out is a mere 3 km at a gentle elevation gain/loss, a perfect way to warm up our backpacking muscles. It turned out this lower elevation was the only place to see wildflowers, due to the snow line which covered the ground higher up at around 1250m elevation. Even with our heavy packs, we were frequently stopped in our tracks by flowers, whether on the ground or on shrubs. For those who have been botanizing further south, the higher elevation and various microclimates required cognitive adjustment, as most plants were weeks behind schedule!

Thanks to their exceptional abundance, we now have a good understanding of the different species of Solomon’s seal and the twisted stalks. As well, we affirmed an easy botanical distinction between blueberries and huckleberries in late spring: if the flowers emerge with or before the leaves, you’re likely looking at Alaskan or oval-leaved blueberry; if the flowers emerge after the leaves, it’s likely a huckleberry.

In spite of the cool temperatures and frequent rain, many of us plunged into the glacier-fed Cheakamus Lake, some in the morning, others after the day’s hike. Both campsites were lakeside with stoney beaches. The resident commonloons sang and yodeled at random (at all hours of day and night), and were often spotted fishing in the waters opposite our sites. We were also delighted by a small population of sandpipers (spotted?), who flew low to the water and issued cute “peeps”. The resident common loon couple came by to inspect our camp one morning, too.  

On the Friday, we day-hiked up the Helm Creek trail. Due to the considerable snow cover at about 1400m elevation, we turned around before arriving at the Helm Creek campsite. Where we had planned to have lunch with a view of Black Tusk. As a result, we didn’t see any subalpine flora and fauna, all of which are still under the snow. That being said, we did notice a few green stalks and tips of false hellebore emerging from the forest floor. 

Unfortunately, the Garibaldi backcountry around Cheakamus Lake / Helm Creek got shut down the day after our departure (June 19th) in an “emergency closure”. Apparently, the problem bear who closed down the Garibaldi backcountry last year is back in action (as a “stalker”, see video). We learned from the Park rangers that a live trap would be set up, and the bear would likely be euthanized. On our arrival to the parking lot, we were impressed by the live trap waiting at the trail head, a frightful cage on wheels. As though to add salt to our wounded hearts, we noticed an apple core on the ground beside the car next to ours, as well as bits of trash. 

We feel deep remorse for the likely demise of this bear (i.e., “the 5-cent solution”). While we were careful to Leave No Trace, this is not the case for all humans. Sadly, it is human sloppiness that leads to the tragic equation: “a fed bear = dead bear”. We hope that all Nature Vancouver members help to exemplify and speak up for these principles whenever appropriate, and recalling that there is always room for improvement, too. Here are a few take-away points:

  • The principle of “repackaging food in reusable containers to minimize waste” is especially relevant to micro-waste (e.g., the corners of food wrappers, so prevalent on most trails!) 
  • Washing up: we washed dishes well away from our campsite and dumped the greywater in the pit toilet; brushed our teeth with minimal toothpaste and swallowed it afterwards;
  • Store food, garbage and all odorous products in facilities provided on site (bear hang or locker cache). Practice campsite hygiene both on-site and while away and never leave food unattended on site.
  • Don’t throw apple cores, banana or orange peels into the bushes or off the sides of trails. They may be “organic”, but it takes years for them to rot away under such conditions! Crucially, all of our human “things” attract bears, which is dangerous for them. 

Overall, our fantastic couple of days in the backcountry ended with sobering reflections on the impacts that human beings have on our world. See more photos from the link below:

Comments are closed.
Nature Vancouver