Black Tusk is one of the premier climbs anywhere in the Southern BC region. It’s sheer, razor sharp appearance is visually stunning and stands alone among the many peaks that surround the Whistler, Blackcomb mountain range. The peak of the Black Tusk hike is clearly visible from the top of Whistler mountain and attracts many climbers during the summer months when it is accessible.
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Hiking Black Tusk is the crown jewel of climbs for hiking enthusiasts along the South Coast. It requires a high level of strength and stamina, plenty of supplies, and should not be undertaken until you are an experienced hiker. It poses many risks that do not pertain to other popular trails in and around the Sea to Sky corridor. With that being said, it definitely offers a step up for those hikers looking to push themselves and experience one of the truly uniquely hikes British Columbia has to offer. To read about a much easier hike, I wrote about the Chief last week. You can find that post here.
-Black Tusk, Whistler, British Columbia
-Duration 8 hours
-Pain level: Difficult
The drive up to Black Tusk requires you to make your way from Vancouver, along the Sea to Sky highway, through the town of Squamish. Continue to make you way north to Whistler, you will see signage that leads to the gravel parking lot, roughly 45 minutes from Squamish along highway 99.
I recommend starting your trek as early in the morning as possible if you plan to complete the hike in one day, the total road trip distance on the hike is 36km. The hike is mostly undulating trails and switch backs, before you make the final ascent over loose rock and gravel. Many hikers opt to pack in camping gear and stay the night at Garibaldi lake. This is an option in the summer months, as camp sites are available, but for this article we will use the day hike as a reference.
Leaving the Rubble Creek parking lot you will begin your hike on a very well maintain trail that loops its way through a very dense forest and long the edge of the perimeter hills that lead up to Garibaldi Lake. The trail moves between some very sharp climbs and a more moderate path emerges rough 1.5 hours into the hike. Once you have reached the top of the plateau, you will see the meadow surrounding Garibaldi Lake in front of you and the trail is mostly flat for the next hour of the journey.
The meadow in late June, or early July is simply stunning. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the first climbers out in the morning, the calm tranquility and absolute silence is truly breath taking. As you make you way around the lake the path will begin to steadily climb once again and the eerie, Mordor-esque image of Black Tusk appears. Once you have reached the end of the trail, you will come to the start of what looks like a never-ending slope of asphalt. Definitely ensure you have plenty of water at this point, because from here on out the hike becomes very dusty, and depending on the time of day, with no trees or foliage the sun can become very hot.
The ascent up the loose rock and gravel will be the most energy zapping part of the climb.
The horizon feels like it never gets closer and an hour can easily elapse with little notice. Once you have made you way to the top of the gravel, you will have a very narrow pathway that leaves to the “saddle” position of the mountain. What lie ahead is definitely not for the faint of heart and many climbers prefer to simply take a photo and call it a day when they reach this ledge.
To carry on, you will be required to first navigate a 4-foot-wide ledge that connects to the base of the peak, look to the left and back towards the basin leading to the meadow and the valley, as looking to the right reveals a 1500-foot sheer drop, and not something you want to actively think about. When you have successfully navigated the ledge, you will be virtually flat against the rock face, the next section of the climb requires you to find one of of the three chimneys, or shafts in the rock.
The chimney that requires the least effort, is also the furthest to get to. It is the one facing back towards Whistler mountain and will take a bit of effort getting to. Once facing the chimney, you will need to get vertical, positioning you hands and legs in an X, use your core strength to make your way up the chimney.
Word of advice: if you are climbing this area with a group, space out accordingly, there will be falling rocks as you make your way up the shaft and it can be potentially hazardous; use caution. At the top of the chimney, you will have to traverse a second narrow ledge as you make you way to the peak. Take note of how you came up, since they are multiple chimneys, you don’t want to make a mistake and pick an incorrect path on the descent.
Once at the peak, simply enjoy. The view is magnificent, you will have a full 360 degree view of the coastal mountain range, and Howe Sound. Looking north you will be able to see both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains below you. If you’re lucky, you may get to witness a seaplane taking off from one of the lakes around Whistler, flying almost beneath you in the valley. Truly awe inspiring.
The return trip will again take your final ounces of what little energy you have left. But it offers many spectacular photo opportunities of Garibaldi lake and the surrounding mountain vistas. Black Tusk is definitely worth the effort and time as it encompasses many of the stunning qualities that hiking in and around Vancouver entail. I highly recommend early July, and again with all hiking into back country areas, come prepared with a Camelbak, energy bars, small sandwich, proper footwear, and medical supplies, as weather conditions can turn suddenly. Otherwise enjoy, what to me, is really the pinnacle of climbs located along the Sea to Sky corridor!