A couple weeks ago I enjoyed a fantastic overnight trip to Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park just outside of Squamish, BC. A lot of hikers will only spend a night at the lake, or do the trail as a long day hike. I chose to spend two nights camping at the lakes which meant I had a whole day to explore trails further into the backcountry. The main hike on my list for the Garibaldi Park backcountry was the Opal Cone trail.
I ventured out on the trail around 9 am after a lovely night at Elfin Lake campground. I had familiarised myself with the trail before heading out and knew that I’d be dropping down down down into a low river valley and then climbing up up up to the summit of Opal Cone. I also knew it was going to be a hot day. I slathered on some sunscreen, loaded a couple litres of water into my bag, and made sure I had my Sawyer squeeze filter.
The first couple of kilometres involved a gradual downhill slope through the forest on the side of Gargoyle Mountain. The slope beside me got steeper, and the so did the trail grade. About that time I also started getting views of the glacier-carved valley that I had to cross.
The original trail used to stay on the west side of the river for a bit before crossing a little ways upstream. Unfortunately that section was eroded away many years back. The new trail drops a couple hundred feet to the river via staircase. I was already begrudging the climb up those in the heat of the afternoon. The crossing is on a permanent bridge at a narrow spot in the valley. The bridge crossing is the lowest point on the trail at 4200 feet.
The trail started its gradual climb through new trees and large boulders. The slope above me had obviously seen some significant erosion since the glacier receded. One great part of being on the east side of the river was the incredible view of Mount Garibaldi.
The trail climbed alongside the river for about a kilometre and then switchbacked across the slope before passing through a small notch in the lateral moraine. I couldn’t help but feel very small among the massive landscape.
At the top of the moraine I deviated from the original trail. I’d been told about an easy scramble up the west side of Opal Cone. I followed the moraine north until it joined up to the Cone. Then it was a simple stair-step scramble up a notch to the more rounded slope of the mountain top. I continued along the barren, rocky slope to gain the north-western summit of Opal Cone.
The view took my breath away. I was standing at 5700 feet, under the shadow of Mount Garibaldi,and overlooking the Garibaldi Névé, a massive ice field. I was also reminded that I was standing on an ancient volcano. According to my map, the volcano “quietly erupted” about 10,000 years ago, spewing dacitic lava that flowed 20 km (12 miles).
The trail circuited the upper ridge of the Opal Cone. There was still lots of snow within the cone but thankfully the ridge was mostly clear. The views continued to be incredible as I circled around to the east and then the south. Beyond these trails is the true wilderness of British Columbia – thousands of miles of mountains.
The descent involved a bit of route finding through the boulders and scree. Eventually I met up with the proper trail at the top end of another lateral moraine. This time I had great views east to Pyramid Mountain and the Mamquam Icefield. The flowers along the top of the moraine were in full bloom.
At this point I met up with a large group of young women. They’d been staying at the campground and had ventured out on the trail. It was early afternoon by this point and one of the girls had a nosebleed. They asked for advice and I told them that the trail became more of a route and they might not want to take anyone having nosebleeds any higher. I guess some of them had never been into the mountains before!
I took my time on the return journey. It was hot and I was tired. Thankfully I had the excuse of stopping to take more pictures. I got back to the campground about 6 hours after I’d left.
I was simply ecstatic about completing the trail. Although it was a relatively short trail (12 km/7.5 miles) it took me through forest, across a raging river, up a glacier-carved valley and onto the summit of an ancient volcano. To say nothing of the incredible views around nearly every corner!
Consider extending your visit to Elfin Lakes and adding this trail to your itinerary. It’s challenging, unique and incredibly rewarding!