Black Tusk

September 9, 2007

The trail is wide and it goes through a forest of Douglas fir and hemlock. After 25 minutes you will start to see cedars and very soon you will cross a small creek -- the only source of water before the lakes --.

After 6 kms you will reach a junction, the right one goes to Garibaldi Lake, the left one goes to Taylor Meadows and Black Tusk Meadows.

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After 7.5 km from the start, you will reach Taylor Meadows, one of the two designated camping sites in this area. Taylor Meadows Campground offers a day use cooking shelter, equipped with 2 picnic tables, a wash sink with grey water disposal cooking counters, 40 tent platforms, food hang facilities and pit toilet facilities. Camping is not permitted in the shelter. You need to bring your own cooking stoves.

From Taylor Meadows Campground you will have the first view of Black Tusk.

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Taylor Meadows Campoground

After leaving the campground and a short descent to cross Taylor Creek you keep walking through the meadows from where you have more views of your final destination.

The Black Tusk is one of those unmistakable landmarks that one seems from just about anywhere on the Squamish to Whistler corridor. Because of its ubiquitous presence, it looms large in the hearts and minds of valley-bound hikers.

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Black Tusk

The trail goes through meadows that in summer are resplendent with wildflowers, and in autumn are ablaze with fall colours.

In the 1920s, '30s and '40s, Black Tusk Meadows was home to large camps each summer. Supplies were brought in by packhorse and the impact of all those horse hooves eventually wore a deep rut in the fragile meadow environment.

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Black Tusk and Meadows

To avoid the first rut, later packhorses followed a route parallel to the first and created a second rut. Much work has been done in subsequent years to restore the meadows. But a big part depends on conscientious hikers staying on the designated trails and off the meadows.

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There is another junction two kilometres after Taylor Meadows Campground that goes to Garibaldi Lake. Five hundred meters after this junction the trail to Black Tusk goes left. The straight one leads to Cheakamus Lake.

Steadily the trails goes upward through more meadows, passing little streams along the way.

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Feel free to ocassionally turn around and see the ever-expanding view as you gain more and more elevation.

The Tantalus Range is a small but spectacular subrange of the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains in southern British Columbia. The origin of the name, as well as the names of many of its peaks, are from Greek mythology.

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Tantalus Range

For various crimes King Tantalus was banished to the underworld (Hades) where he spent his days up to his neck in water with delicious fruits hanging over his head which were wafted away whenever he tried to grasp them - hence the word "tantalize". The Tantalus Range peaks were considered especially attractive and tantalizing to the early Vancouver mountaineers.

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Eventually, the trail leads from lush meadow to rocky talus and, an hour or so from the junction, you arrived at a level shoulder well below the Tusk with ample views and a good excuse to have a break.

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Top: Garibaldi Lake
Middle and bottom: Black Tusk

You may be able to see hoary marmots. Hoary marmots are the largest North American ground squirrels and are often nicknamed "the whistler" for their high-pitched warning issued to alert other members of the colony to possible danger. The animals are sometimes called "whistle pigs." Whistler is said to be named for these animals.

Unlike most animals their size, hoary marmots are not shy around humans. Rather than running away at first sight, they will often go about their business while being watched.

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Hoary Marmot

Among geologists this area is know as the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt. This belt is the northern extension of the Cascades Volcanic Belt in the United States (which includes Mount Baker and Mount St. Helens) and contains the most explosive young volcanoes in Canada. The Garibaldi Volcanic Belt includes the Bridge River Cones, Mount Cayley, Mount Fee, Mount Garibaldi, Mount Price, Mount Meager and the Squamish Volcanic Field.

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Black Tusk Lakes, Garibaldi Mountain and Garibaldi Lake

On a sunny day, there is no end of the awesome views of Garibaldi Lake, Panorama Ridge and tiny Mimulus and Black Tusk lakes below.

The turquoise color of these lakes water is due to glacial flour suspended in the meltwater coming mostly from the glaciers. Rock flour, or glacial flour, consists of clay-sized particles of rock, generated by glacial erosion or by artificial grinding to a similar size.

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Black Tust and Mimulus Lake (Black Tusk Lakes) and Panorama Ridge

From here, it's hard to imagine that there was once a time when these bluffs where once undersea, remnant fossils are still found occasionally.

Follow the route to the saddle east of the Tusk on a steep climb up. Twenty minutes later of slogging up rock you will arrived to a narrow saddle.

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Here you can have views to Helm Valley, Cinder Cone and mountains beyond such as Corrie Peak and Mount Davidson.

Black Tusk Mountain is a sacred mountain by the local Indigenous Squamish. It is known to them as the "Landing Place of the Thunderbird", home of the legendary Thunderbird. The rock was said to have been burnt black by the Thunderbird's lightning.

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Cinder Cone is a cinder cone that has a small crater on the west side of the Helm Glacier. Cinder Cone is surrounded by cinder flats and its crater is filled with melt water during the summer. Cinder Cone gets eroded easily by melt water during the spring, washing the pyroclastics into the Valley of Desolation. Cinder Cone produced a 9 km long lava flow during the early Holocene.

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Cinder Cone and Helm Glacier

If you have any discomfort with precipitous places, this can be your turnaround point. You have the option to go right along the ridge to a perfect perch for lunch.

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Columnar Peak and the Gargoyles

On the previous picture you can see my hiking partner going towards a mass of black rock columns compressed together, this was once molten lava.

It is thought that the Black Tusk was one of the first geologically modern features to form in the Garibaldi area - an ancient volcano born 25 to 26 million years ago. As millennium after millennium passed, wind and weather wore away the softer ash and rock of its gentle slopes, leaving only the volcano's hard basalt core.

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Mimulus Lake, Panorama Ridge, Sphinx Glacier, Garibaldi Lake and Mount Garibaldi

The upper summit area at the top can only be reached by scrambling up a short but exposed rock chimney to reach the south summit. The true summit, only about a meter higher, lies just to the north across a precipitous drop. It is rarely climbed, requiring a rappel of about 10 m (30 ft) into a notch followed by a loose and dangerous reascent up the crumbling lava. On the northern side of the north summit stands an isolated and intimidating rock formation known as the "Bishop's Mitre", which is rumoured to be unclimbed.

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Base of Black Tusk

You can see as far as Howe Sound. Spanish explorers observed the sound in 1791 and named it Boca del Carmelo. Captain George Vancouver entered the sound in 1792, and named it after Admiral Earl Howe. Vancouver also named Mount Garibaldi, the triangular-spired volcano at the head of the sound, for the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was popular with liberal British opinion at the time.

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Howe Sound and Tantalus Range

Mount Tantalus is the highest peak of the Tantalus Range, and is probably the most spectacular peak which can be viewed from the Squamish highway, well known for the spectacular snow covered face. Opposite to what many people believe, the first ascent was not made via Lake Lovely Waters but directly from Squamish River up the Rumbling Glacier. Glacial retreat has made this approach route possibly unclimbable or at least very difficult in its lower reaches today (not to mention the bushwack).

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Mount Tantalus (2603 m - 850 ft)

Black Tusk Mountain currently hosts two significant glaciers, in large cirques carved into the northeastern and northwestern flanks of the broad cone below the lava pinnacle. Both glaciers start from about 2,100 m (6,900 ft) and flow northwards to below 1,800 m (6,000 ft). The glaciers are heavily covered in rocky debris due to the crumbling nature of the Tusk's rock.

Besides Taylor Meadows campground, to reach the mountain there is a second route from the north that travels by way of Helm Lake. A third option approaches from the west, from a microwave relay tower located at about 1,800 m (6,000 ft) on the western flank, which is reached by a dirt road from the Cheakamus River valley.

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Hiking Trip Statistics

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Region: Howe Sound / Squamish
Difficulty: Advanced
Time: 9 hours
Distance: 23 km (14.56 miles)
Elevation Gain: 1610 meters (5282 ft)
Hiking Season: August - October
Camping: Yes
Dog Friendly: No
Public Transit: No

1. 49.9575 - 123.1202 Elev: 606 m - Parking Lot
2. 49.9486 - 123.0870 Elev: 1350 m - Junction, go left
3. 49.9572 - 123.0519 Elev: 1635 m - Junction, go left
4. 49.9688 - 123.0410 Elev: 1976 m - End of "official" trail
5. 49.9738 - 123.0442 Elev: 2216 m - Base of Black Tusk

Download route in GTM format available for free at www.gpstm.com
Download route in plain text

How to get there

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To get to the trailhead, drive north on Highway 99 and 35 kilometres from Squamish, watch for the BC parks sign, turn right immediately after passing Rubble Creek and drive 3 kilometres to the parking lot. Do not forget to pay for the parking.

Driving distance from Vancouver: 96 km (60 mi)
Driving time from Vancouver: Approx. 1 hour 45 minutes

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