March 20 2020
Garibaldi Lake is one of the most popular hikes during Summer along the Sea to Sky Highway south of Whistler in British Columbia, Canada. During winter the lake freezes over and snow falls to give a create a platform so you can walk out onto the lake and experience the views. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before heading out....
Frozen lakes are dangerous and you risk falling through. I did enough analysis prior to heading out to ensure I was comfortable and I could already see trails where people had gone out already. At this time of year, the snow has not begun to melt even 800 metres lower in altitude. So, it was safe to conclude the lake was still safe to walk on, but I still did tests to make sure. The layer of snow on a thick layer of ice was still very tall and there was no risk of falling through. As the days warm up, this status can change rapidly.
In winter, access is a little more limited because Rubble Creek road up to the trail head off the Sea to Sky highway is unplowed in winter. You should always check the trail status with the national park authorities before heading on your day trip: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/garibaldi/
On this page you will notice, "Parking for access to the Rubble Creek trailhead: Please note that parking for Garibaldi Lake and Taylor Meadows – Rubble Creek – is not permitted outside the park, along the bottom section of Daisy Lake Road, due to plowing operations, and the remainder of the road is not plowed. Parking for access to the Rubble Creek trailhead is not available at this time."
Unfortunately, BC Parks has not received funding that could allow them to plow the road. While the park is open, you can't park and visit it, so it's an unfortunate situation for outdoor enthusiasts.
This winter anyone who tried to park along the highway has been towed, but thanks to the hard work of the UBC outdoor varsity club and volunteers, they dug out 10-15 car park spaces at the bottom of the iced over rubble creek road two weekends ago. Finally, I could head out and enjoy the lake!
You have to hike 2km up the unplowed road to the trail head so the return trip adds 4km to the typical summer Garibaldi trail lake hike. And it's a bit harder work too with the snow.
When I went in mid-March 2020 it was icy from the bottom of rubble creek road up until halfway up the climb then it became softer pack snow. The trail was dug in fine .. I could get to the lake without snowshoes but crampons were mandatory from the very bottom because of the icy snow. If you didn't have them you'd be slowed down dramatically and would turn a 6 hour hike into a 12-hour sufferfest. The trail is sometimes narrow and falls away on the edge to a steep slope, so I wouldn't take the risk without appropriate footwear.
Once at the lake you really need snowshoes or skis to head out onto the lake. I was postholing between shin, knee and hip deep sometimes; however, I had appropriate footwear to allow me to do this. I had winter pants, with waterproof alpine running shoes, with gaiters and space in the shoe where I put hand warmers above my toes to keep my feet warm. Occasionally there are some harder patches of compressed snow on the lake but mostly you are breaking through the crust on every step. While the sun was out and I didn't even need gloves, without this kit setup my feet would have been very very cold given I spent almost 10 hours up in the snow filming and capturing photos. With my feet beneath the snowpack most of the time I would run the risk of frostbrite in the toes. If you wear snowshoes or skis this would be less of a problem - but I love to run and spend all the daylight enjoying the location!
If you plan to get out there - stay safe and factor in extra time to make the hike in the snow, bring crampons, layers you can strip on and off, sunglasses for the snow glare, two lights in case you run out of sunlight (always have a back up too), sunscreen (you will burn if its sunny from the snow reflection and altitude) and the ten essentials, otherwise don't take the risk. The hike is quite safe overall if you prepare properly.
Check out some photos of the day below: