The Helm Creek-Rubble Creek Traverse is a 27-kilometer hike that climbs almost 900 meters up the Helm Creek Basin and then descends over 1,200 metres down to the Rubble Creek Trailhead while circling around from the northeast to the southwest slopes of the Black Tusk in Garabaldi Provincial Park.
While this is a fantastic day hike, it can also be done over two days. With a stay at one of the Helm Creek, Garibaldi Lake, or Taylor Meadows campgrounds, a longer itinerary might allow for a hike up Panorama Ridge, Black Tusk, or one of several others in the area. It’s also possible to hike up and down from either side, but the traverse is great if you are able to figure out transportation from the other trailhead because the trails have distinctly different character and scenery. There are no loop options around here, so the shuttle option is the best bet if you can’t bear to walk the same trail both ways. The route is also well known to trail runners in the region, and the record time during the annual Rubble Creek Classic race was an incredible 1:50:51, set by by Edward McCarthy in 2012. Expect the hike to take at least four times as long, and be aware that the trail’s upper portions are often covered with snow into July.
Beginning from the Cheakamus Lake Trailhead you’ll walk 1.5 kilometers through beautiful old-growth forest without any significant elevation gain before taking a right turn down toward the river on the Helm Creek Trail. If you have enough time, Cheakamus Lake is 1.5 kilometers further up the mostly flat trail, and it is a beautiful spot to visit. After crossing a bridge over the Cheakamus River (which is still marked on some maps as a cable-car crossing) the Helm Creek Trail climbs about for about 6 kilometers on switchbacks through more old-growth forest up to the campground. The majority of the trail's elevation gain happens early on in this section, and it gradually levels off as it nears Helm Creek Campground. While the Rubble Creek Trail is often very busy, this northern portion of the trail is generally very quiet, and the campground is small but not usually busy. There are nine tent platforms, vault toilets, and a bear-proof food storage system located in subalpine meadows just where the trees start to thin out and the majestic Black Tusk comes into view.
The trees become more and more sparse and the Black Tusk looms larger and larger as you continue along the trail. The route flattens out for a while, and soon you’ll feel like you’re on the moon as you find yourself crossing large fields of volcanic rock in an area known as the Cinder Flats, just between the Black Tusk and a peak called Cinder Cone. After passing Helm Lake on the left you’ll cross a creek and then climb up a short pitch to the turnoff for the Panorama Ridge Trail. It’s worth taking a detour down to Black Tusk Lake just a few meters below, as it’s a beautiful spot for lunch or a cold swim before beginning your descent, particularly if you don’t plan on heading down via Garibaldi Lake.
From the Panorama Ridge Trail junction it’s 1.5 kilometers to the Black Tusk turnoff and then another half-kilometer to another intersection. It's all downhill from here, and while the more direct route is via Taylor Meadows to the right, the the left route is much more scenic and only about 2 kilometers longer. You'll reach Garibaldi Lake after 2 kilometers, and here you'll find a large campground with 50 sites, toilets, food storage, four cooking shelters, several picnic tables, great swimming and amazing views. Its only downfall is that it is often extremely busy, especially considering the minimum 9-kilometer trek to get up here. The campground will fill up every weekend during summer and some weekdays as well. One kilometer further down the trail from Garibaldi Lake is Lesser Garibaldi Lake, and then 500 meters beyond that you'll come to Barrier Lake. Watch for a turnoff to the left that leads to a lookout point soon after passing Barrier Lake. This is known as The Barrier, where a river of lava from a nearby eruption came up against a massive glacier, resulting in the formation of a 455-meter wall of rock that acts as a dam, preventing the three lakes from draining into the valley below. The last 6 kilometers of the trail are uneventful as the trail descends switchback after switchback through old-growth forest down to the Rubble Creek Trailhead.