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Black Tusk is the extraordinarily iconic and appropriately named mountain that can be seen from almost everywhere in Whistler. The massive black spire of crumbling rock juts out of the earth in an incredibly distinct way that appears like an enormous black tusk plunging out of the ground. Whether you spot it in the distance from the top of Whistler Mountain or from dozens of vantage points along the Sea to Sky Highway, its unmistakable appearance is breathtaking. Whether you see it from the highway or from closer vantage points such as Taylor Meadows, Helm Creek, Panorama Ridge or Garibaldi Lake, all views make climbing to the top look impossible. In fact, Black Tusk seems to look more impossible to climb the closer you get to it. Even when you are close enough to touch its vertical, black and crumbling sides, you wonder in amazement how anyone can ever reach the top.
About 170,000 years ago renewed volcanic activity in what is now Garibaldi Park produced a lava dome within a cinder-rich volcanic cone itself over a million years old. Cinder-rich simply means that the cone formed out of explosive volcanic action and hardened, to some extent, in the air and therefore filled with air pockets and evidently light and weak in structure. This lava dome which was to become Black Tusk, hardened inside this more easily eroded cinder cone, so in the past 170,000 years the outer cinder cone has crumbled away to reveal the lava dome within. The Black Tusk itself is extremely crumbly as well as can be seen when you near it. It looks as if erupting out of a uniformly sloping mountain of jagged, black boulders.
Black Tusk is within the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt also called the Canadian Cascade Arc. This volcanic belt contains mostly dormant volcanoes, though also includes the much alive and infamous Mount St. Helens in Washington State, in the US. Mount Garibaldi from which Garibaldi Provincial Park gets its name was an active volcano as recently as 9300 years ago. Also in the area but well north of Black Tusk near Pemberton, Mount Meager had multiple eruptions ending only recently, that is 2350 years ago according to recent studies. Meager now has become known in the region for its alarmingly frequent mudslides that terrorize the Meager Creek Hot Springs below and the town of Pemberton further down the valley. The last mudslide occurred just a couple years ago and was one of the largest in recorded Canadian history. Pemberton was partly evacuated as a result.
The Garibaldi Volcanic Belt that encompasses Black Tusk is a result of the subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate under the North American Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone along the British Columbia coast. This fault zone is over a thousand kilometres long and moves at just a centimetre per year, producing large earthquakes on average every 500 years. Black Tusk is accessible from three different trailheads, all accessible via old access roads. From the nearby microwave tower(also visible from the Sea to Sky Highway), from the Garibaldi Park, Cheakamus Lake trailhead, and from the Garibaldi Park, Rubble Creek trailhead. Of the three routes, only the Cheakamus Lake trailhead and the Rubble Creek trailhead are officially used for access to Black Tusk. These two have large and free parking lots equipped with an outhouse at each as well as big map and information boards. Along both trails you will find good signs indicating where to hike as well as kilometre markings. Most hikers use the more direct and popular Rubble Creek trailhead.
The microwave tower access road takes you very close to Black Tusk, and has a fairly good gravel 4x4 road to it, however is blocked several kilometres away by a vehicle gate. This is potentially a good way to hike to Black Tusk, however this annoying gate makes what should be a short hike, a long and tedious one. Also, there are of course no signs indicating where to go once you reach the microwave tower. This route is currently being considered to be opened to allow vehicles to park at or near the microwave tower, however, little progress has been made so far. Occasionally you will find this gate open, however driving past this point may get you in trouble.
The Cheakamus Lake trailhead route to get to Black Tusk is a good option as it is quiet, serene and takes you over the beautiful Cheakamus River via suspension bridge and through the wonderfully remote Helm Creek campground. It is, however, quite long at over 15 kilometres each way to the summit of Black Tusk and part of this route is unmarked, requires some route-finding, and a wet crossing of Helm Creek. It is a good option if you are keen on avoiding crowds as the beautiful Helm Creek campground has only about a dozen tent platforms and more often than not, are mostly deserted. Helm Creek is also the gateway to quite a few other great hikes. A quick look at a map indicates several accessible mountains close by as well as the elusive Corrie Lake.
The Rubble Creek trailhead is, for most hikers, the best trailhead option for Black Tusk. It is easy to find, clearly marked and the most direct route. The Cheakamus Lake trailhead is a bit longer and you have to leave the marked trail to ascend to Black Tusk. Though this unmarked route is straightforward and surprisingly easy, as it is unmarked it requires a bit of guesswork that may be intimidating. The Cheakamus trailhead route also lacks one other wonderful attribute that the Rubble Creek route has, a pit-stop at Garibaldi Lake. This less than 30 minute detour(one way) allows for a spectacular place to cool off in an always frigid, glacier fed lake!