Hiking Panorama Ridge
Hi friends! Gather round please, I’d love to tell you the story about the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.
As we all know, I am as near to perfection as any human can be. A portrait of beauty, grace, intelligence and athleticism, It may surprise you to find that I do in fact have flaws. One such flaw is that I tend to have a bit of an “eyes bigger than my stomach” philosophy for a lot of things I do. I can definitely be overambitious and I have a hard time really grasping how much work will go into a thing I want to do, caught up with how exciting the prospect of doing that thing may be. When it comes to taking on challenges, I have the blind confidence of a white man. I am simply convinced I can do almost anything I decide I want to, and I am wrong almost all of the time. I would tell you I’m working on this and trying to get better, but as this story will show you, I am not doing well.
Enter Panorama Ridge. Located in Garibaldi Provincial Park about an hour and a half north of Vancouver, Panorama Ridge is a strenuous, 18-mile (30km) hike with an absurdly beautiful payoff — see file photo below and explanation of use of file photo even further below. Like a toddler in a toy store, I saw, and I wanted. I read countless reviews of the hike and eschewed all notes of caution, including countless commenters expressing the “seemingly endless number of switchbacks” (true) and that the hike was “long and painful” (also true). In spite of this, nearly every review stated the pain was worth the payoff. Assuming we could complete the actual hiking part just fine, I put it on our list. I like beautiful things, and I am one of those ~terrible millennials~ who will do almost anything for the gram. It was a done deal.
As I am a moron who has never hiked before, I discussed the hike briefly with my beautiful and perfect former roommate Carolynn. Care is literally all of the things I jokingly described myself as at the beginning of this post — a portrait of beauty, grace, intelligence and athleticism. I don’t think there’s a single person on this planet I am more obsessed with, including myself. She is outdoorsy as all hell and has climbed like, every mountain in New Hampshire and probably 8000 others not in NH. She scales rock faces like it’s nothing and on the side she’s an engineer and also going to nursing school. I am in awe of her daily and it is a true crime against humanity that we don’t live in the same place anymore. She gave me very helpful pointers, like packing lots of light layers so we don’t fall into a cycle of sweating and freezing and get hypothermia and die, and downloading the google map of the trail so we could use it offline. I wished so much she could’ve come with, but after seeing our performance on the trail yesterday, I am wholly confident if she were there I’d have just cried the whole way while she sprinted up and then made her carry me down the mountain.
Committing to the hike, we bought boots and socks and camelbaks and trekking poles and all that fun stuff. After talking to my coworker Duggan, who hikes the grand canyon every year, we confirmed the trekking poles would be a huge play — no amount of pride was gonna stop me from making this hike as easy as possible. They were an absolute lifesaver and I’d recommend them to anyone foolish enough to kid themselves into thinking they can hike something they definitely can’t (and regular hikers too).
We got to Squamish Thursday evening. I’d originally planned to spend the night in downtown Vancouver, checking out Capilano suspension bridge park, exploring the city, and grabbing dinner. As is the refrain of any road trip at this point — we were too tired and decided not to. (Well the suspension bridge park was closed by the time we got there, otherwise we’d have gone, but my point stands.) We stayed in and spent the night prepping for the hike, which is to say Dylan got to sleep and I stayed up until 2am trying to figure out how to fight a bear if I needed to.
We woke up bright and early to a grey, cloudy day. Thursday was gorgeous, today is gorgeous, yesterday morning was dreary. I checked the weather and determined that it wasn’t going to rain and the clouds would clear up within a few hours, so knowing how much we committed and how this was our only opportunity for this hike, we decided to take the risk with the weather and head out to the trail. I’d read that there’s been pretty consistent issues with break-ins at the Rubble Creek parking lot, where the trailhead is, so we cleared all valuables out of the car and left this note in the window — a strategy which I read had actually prevented 2 out of 15 cars from being broken into in one instance a bit back #canadians #sorry #politenessworks. Knowing we wouldn’t be staying overnight I figured we’d be good anyway, but needing this car to get the like 4000 miles back home, I wasn’t about to take any risks.
And so, around 8am, we started the hike. As literally everyone has said, the first 6km (3.7mi) is truly endless. They were not kidding. It‘s about 3000 feet of vertical gain and is just switchback after switchback of steep ass hell. It’s absolutely grueling. I lift regularly #doyouevenlift but my cardio health flat out sucks. This was hard. It was so so hard. We had to stop a lot. All told, this first portion took about 1.5-2 hours and had us crying by the time we reached the first fork in the trail, where you decide to either do the 3km hike to Garibaldi Lake or take the 1.5km hike to Taylor Meadows, which eventually leads to Panorama Ridge. Dyl and I were so beat at this point that we considered just going to the lake, but after stuffing our faces with Clif bars and jerky we decided to stay the course and head to the ridge.
By this point in the trail, some snow was on the ground and it was flurrying around us pretty consistently. We traveled the next portion through the woods until we reached the meadow, which was a much needed fairly level spot in the trail. The meadow was open, with sparse trees and what looked like at one point were wildflowers. At this time in the season, it was empty and grey, covered in snow with few if any signs of life. We were told that at this point it was possible to see black tusk, but the cloud cover was so significant we couldn’t see anything. We trudged on.
After the meadows, we passed the appropriately named outhouse junction. We continued to follow the trail to the ridge, bringing us through another hilly section where the trail became increasingly muddy, a bit more narrow, and covered in snow and ice. Dyl’s boot took a little bit of a KO here. This section takes you back in the trees and past a stunning vantage point of Garibaldi Lake. It’s incredibly hard to see a peek of that view and not want to make it all the way to the top for the real deal.
When the forest clears, you head into a valley overlooking Mimulus Lake and Black Tusk Lake. The trail here is just footprints in the snow, but it’s a mild downhill in a wide open, desolate space which is pretty welcome after the condition of the trail before. About 12 total km (7.5km) in you reach the final fork in the trail, taking you either left to Helm Creek or right to the final summit of Panorama Ridge. At this fork was actually the first time we saw other people on the trail at all — a small group camping by the ridge — which was kind of wild, but we wound up seeing more solo hikers and small groups from then on.
If you’ve ever seen a mountain and been like, damn, I wonder what the terrain is like up there, and I know many people have that thought, lemme give ya a little insight. It’s rocks. It’s rocks and snow and ice. Man is dumb for possessing the hubris to believe we are meant to climb mountains. Nothing is meant to exist up there. We saw a pair of ravens circling overhead as we went for the final ascent, and I truly couldn’t think of anything more symbolic of our experience here. It was desolate nothingness thousands of feet in the air, and y’all know me well enough to know how much I love (am petrified by) desolate nothingness.
The final 3km (1.8mi) to the summit is a true nightmare town. The clouds were heavy, the snow was packed and slick, and footholds in rocks were basically all you have to stay upright. There’s hill after hill you traverse over thinking “there’s no way this isn’t the top,” while an impossibly high peak looms in front of you. There is no sign of Garibaldi lake. You literally can’t let yourself believe that peak is the thing you have to climb up (it is), but you continue on. It was at this point I felt like I truly understood why so many people on clearly doomed expeditions to Everest die because they don’t want to turn back so close to the summit. (Yes I think this characterization is appropriately dramatic thank you.) I knew we couldn’t see anything in the clouds. I knew it was pointless! But we’d been scrambling and hiking for nearly five hours at this point. I couldn’t think of anywhere in the world I’d want to have been less than where I was. But I couldn’t just turn around.
We reached the top, coming around from behind to what was supposed to reveal itself as the most stunning views of mountains, glaciers, and Garibaldi lake. We approached the edge, and there was an *edge*. We saw clouds. Lots and lots of clouds. I could’ve cried, but I was suddenly hit with the sheer terror of the reality of how high up and how isolated we were. We stayed at the top long enough for Dyl to eat a clif bar. Every second was an eternity. I cannot believe people camp here. I know the weather was a colossal factor, and it’s typically nowhere near as snow-covered or bleak, but I felt like every step I took was so precarious and every movement so dangerous. I could not get down fast enough.
FORTUNATELY, scrambling down a mountain is just as scary as climbing up one. It was at least much quicker. We kept the pace pretty fast, not needing to take anywhere near as many breaks as on the way up. We stopped once just before Taylor Meadows campground to clear rocks out of our shoes and take our backpacks off, but until the final switchbacks, that was about all we held up for. We came across a deer in the meadow, which was all the wildlife we saw on the entire hike. I will save my bear-fighting skills for another day.
We (I) lost steam at the beginning of the final 6km of switchbacks. Surprisingly, I wasn’t really overwhelmingly tired for the majority of the hike up until that point to be honest. But by then, the mental struggle to keep going when I just wanted to be at home really kicked in as my body started to give out.
I knew while going down wouldn’t be quite as brutal as it was to go up, it’d be hell on the knees and after 15 miles of hiking, it was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I tried to subscribe to two general principles when it came to resting: 1. every time I sit down it gets 5 times harder to stand up and 2. the longer I rest, the longer I am in this freaking forest. I tried, but I failed. I had to rest nearly every turn. I was ready to curl into a ball between the rocks and live there. I counted each switchback on our way down but they seemed to multiply as we went. Every corner we turned I hallucinated a parking lot and was devastated when we didn’t reach it. Every single person we saw at the peak passed us on the way down. I was fully devoid of energy, emotion, brain cells. And then we made it out.
I said multiple times on the trail how great it’s gonna be when our brains are so traumatized from the hike that we black out how truly difficult it was and recommend others do it. Maybe even do it again.
My brain is almost there now. Writing all this feels SO dramatic. All told, it was a difficult hike but nowhere near impossible. We’re just not hikers! We’re not in anywhere near ~peak physical condition~ for a hike this challenging. I live in a city and I work 2 blocks from my apartment. The farthest I ever walk is when I get impatient waiting for an uber after a show at Soundcheck and jog the mile home. It’s patently absurd to think that this was something I could handle, let alone be good at. I am so so dumb. We did it, and I’m immensely proud of that, but I can’t honestly say it felt worth it.
The biggest thing about it is that we just didn’t get the payoff at any point along the way. There was no beautiful, sprawling meadow. There was no stunning vista of mountains and lakes. Not having that adrenaline rush, the satisfaction of that payoff, made this hike such a downer. It was gorgeous, clear and sunny when we finally cleared the trees and made it to the parking lot. If I had had any energy left in my body, I’d have cried at how hard we worked only to be shafted out of the view by just a few hours.
Today, my feet hurt. My muscles aren’t really that sore, which is surprising but not that surprising (like i said #doyouevenlift). I think my brain is still recovering from the energy loss. I’m really happy we did the hike. I wish so badly we could’ve had better weather for it, but I’m really happy we did it.