03-May-2001 -- While creating the confluence index for British Columbia, I
had noticed that 50N 123W was near the town of Whistler(famous for the best
ski resort in North America), and appeared to be located fairly near to a
trail which I had not been on, but which branched off an easy trail that I
was familiar with.
Ealier this year, on a visit to a friend(Ross) in Whistler, I went on a
snowshoe outing along the road that leads to the easy trail's parking lot,
but the road itself was not open, being covered in snow.
I went up to Whistler from Vancouver on the evening of Tuesday, May
1st, because I was going skiing on Whistler Mountain the next day with Ross.
On the trip up, there was just enough daylight left to check out the gravel
road to the trail's parking lot. I found that with the use of 4-wheel drive to get
through some patches of snow, I could get to the parking lot, which started
me thinking about a confluence attempt.
On Wednesday, May 2nd, Ross and I had a wonderful day skiing on
Whistler - there was a 207cm mid-mountain base, it was sunny, and there were
no lineups! At one point we went up the Peak chairlift so I could get a view
across the Cheakamus valley towards the confluence area, to try and assess
the amount of snow on the ground.
That evening, I decided to attempt the confluence the next day if the
weather held. This wasn't planned, as I had gone up to Whistler to ski, and
hadn't really expected the road to the parking lot to be clear of snow yet.
Also, I hadn't refreshed my memory about the terrain around the confluence,
and I hadn't brought any topographic maps with me, although I did have my
GPS, and snowshoes. I've created a map image of the trip(
Picture #6, which is a fairly large image
), to help illustrate the following narrative.
On Thusday, May 3rd 2001, the weather, while not a clear sunny day,
wasn't too bad. I drove down Highway 99, turning off at Cheakamus Road(0
KM), opposite the entrance to Function Junction(Whistler's industrial park).
Just 0.4 KM up the road, I turned left onto the Cheakamus Lake Forest
Service Road. At 2.2 KM, to the right, there is a trail off the road that
leads down to a suspension bridge over the Cheakamus River. On the other
side of the bridge are trails in the Whistler Interpretive Forest which can be used for
cross-country skiing in the winter, or mountian-biking in the summer.
At 3.9 KM is Crater Lookout. This provides a view across the valley to
the extinct volcano crater that holds Logger's Lake. At 7.7 KM is the
parking lot, which is the trailhead for the Cheakamus Lake trail, which is
part of Garibaldi Provincial Park. For more about the park, you can check
official BC Parks webpage
and there is more information at
Natural Resources Canada
At 10:45AM I set out from the trailhead, which is at an elevation of
820 meters(2,700 feet). Within 15 minutes the trail is into old-growth
forest, and is quite easy, with little elevation gain. At 1.5 KM there is a
signpost, and I turned to the right there, down towards the Cheakamus River.
A few minutes later I was at the bridge over the Cheakamus River(
), which has replaced the old hand-operated cable-car crossing.
Across the bridge, the Helm Creek trail rises steeply in a series of
switchbacks. It often appears from the GPS readings that the trail isn't
going in the direction of the confluence at all. At 12:20PM I stopped for
lunch beside a small creek. This was a good spot, not just because of the
timing, but also because I needed to put on my snowshoes at this point.
There had been patches of snow along the trail, but now the snow was
completely covering the trail.
The trail continues climbing, while slowly heading in a more westerly
direction, until it reaches a ridge above Helm Creek. It then continues
up this ridge, more or less paralleling the creek. Initially, following the
snow-covered trail on snowshoes was fairly easy. There are trail markers,
and where there were gaps between the markers, I usually had clues such as
fallen logs that had been cut for the trail, along with some snowshoe tracks
from someone who had been up the trail recently. I'm not sure how long the
tracks had been there, but it can't have been more that a few days, because
it had snowed a few inches earlier in the week, and although in places the
old tracks had been covered, they could often be seen as a sort of "ghostly
impression" in the fresh snow.
During this part of the trail from the bridge up to the ridge, the GPS
reception was at times poor, at least in part because of the thicker forest
canopy. As I progressed up the ridge, the trees became smaller and more
thinly spaced, and I was able to maintain a tracklog.
The higher I got, the more I realized that this confluence wasn't "just
up the trail from the bridge", which is how I had remembered it from my
brief research weeks ago. I had thought the confluence was very near Helm
Creek, and that the trail was also near the creek, but this trail just
didn't seem to want to go towards the west, but continued to head more or
less due south.
By this point there was enough snow on the ground that any signs of the
trail were gone, other than the trail markers. Even with these, were it not
for the remnants of the old snowshoe tracks, I would have spent too much
time trying to re-locate the trail in the numerous places where the trail
markers are too far apart, and would have had no chance of making the
confluence with the time I had remaining.
While still gaining in elevation, the terrain wasn't as steep as the
early going, but I figure that was balanced by my dwindling energy. From
time to time the trail dipped down into what may have been covered
creekbeds, so I may have crossed a few frozen creeks.
I had been telling myself that 4PM should be my time to turn around and
head back, and although I wasn't at the confluence, it was close enough that I
didn't want to quit just yet. I had reached a point in the
trail where I was at a latitude of 50N, with the confluence to the west.
The trail seemed to continue towards the south, so I decided to just head
As much as possible I kept heading west, only changing direction as
needed to make the navigation as easy as possible - no sense crashing
through trees and risking falling into a tree well when you can just go
around them. Once again I believe I crossed a couple of frozen creeks.
I was getting really close now, and of course just as I figured I was a
couple of minutes from my first confluence, I came to a steeper gully.
Looking at the map, I'm sure this was Helm Creek. The approach side was a
fairly easy, being a somewhat steep open snow-covered slope, but on the other
side it took a bit of work to get up the steeper, and tree-covered slope.
Once up the slope I could see the terrain opening up, and a few minutes
later arrived at my first confluence, which was also the first primary
confluence for British Columbia! The confluence is at an elevation of 1,536
meters(5,040 feet). The day before, my friend Ross had suggested that if I
made it, I mark the spot with a rock cairn, but I wasn't about to start
digging through what looked to be about 2 meters of snow!
Despite a few glimpses of blue sky on the way up, the weather had been
mixed, with some light rain falling at times while at the lower elevations,
and light snow at the upper. By the time I reached the confluence it was
snowing lightly, with a bit of a breeze, and it was 4:50PM.
is from the confluence looking SSW towards The Black
Tusk(2,316m), with Empetrum Peak to the right. The Black Tusk is a spire of
volcanic rock over two hundred meters high, and is the remnant of a small
volcano, perhaps the conduit for lava within a cinder-rich volcano. The
loose cinder has eroded, leaving only the hard lava core.
is a closer look(zoom lens) at The Black Tusk.
is a frame capture from my video camera, looking SE to, I believe, Helm Peak, which seems to
have a crater at it's top.
is the usual proof picture.
I was getting cold, and it was late, so I didn't stay long at the
confluence. I had the last of my one liter of water, and headed back. At
least it was all downhill(except the gullies), and I had my own tracks to
keep me on the trail. I was back to the lunch spot at 7:30PM, and took off
the snowshoes. I crossed the bridge at 8:20PM(that's when I took
), and was back at the parking lot at 8:45PM.
It was a longer day than I had expected, but it was rewarding to make
it. After all, how many other people have had their first confluence on
snowshoes at over 5,000 feet, including views of 3 volcanoes along the way?
Maybe someone else will do it during the summer and add their pictures and
experiences. The scenery in the park is beautiful, and worth a visit even
if the confluence isn't on your list.
I managed to make it back to Ross' house in time to watch the final
vote on the final night of the Survivor II television show, complete with BC
apple cider, and a pizza, and after the show ended, some chocolates for desert
after a nice hot shower. A great day of skiing followed by my first(and
BC's first primary) confluence - what a great couple of days!