Gentian Peak

November 8, 2020


Garibaldi Provincial Park, BC

Being one of the minor summits in the vicinity of Garibaldi Lake overshadowed by the iconic Black Tusk, the mighty Castle Towers and the Insta-hotspot Panorama Ridge, Gentian Peak is rather unattractive in its own. The summit does offer some of the finest views in the area but the long approach either via Rubble Creek or Helm Creek and the required glacier travel means it’s not really a hiker’s summit. The travel on Helm Glacier can be traded off by either plodding up and over Panorama Ridge or the undulating “Gentian Ridge”, but such would add considerable amount of distance and elevation gain. I had come to this area quite a few times including tagging the grand prize – Castle Towers as a single day push back in 2015, but never ended up bothering to venture up Gentian Peak, nor Panorama Ridge. I wanted to do these two summits as a day-trip and ideally in shoulder season when the bigger objectives are “out” for the season. The fresh snow could help the scenery but I also wanted the lake to be not frozen.

Winnie had hiked to the viewpoint on Panorama Ridge in the past but never actually made the true summit of Panorama Ridge, nor Gentian Peak for that matter, so she didn’t mind to join me on this slog. The conditions for this past weekend was icy and cold. We had several ideas to toss around and in the end we opted for the option that involved the least amount of driving and thinking. We picked the Helm Creek approach because to combine both peaks into one trip this would be the shorter option. We estimated the day to be around 12 hours (though it ended up being much shorter), so agreed to meet at 4:30 am at Winnie’s home in Vancouver. The drive up the Sea to Sky Corridor was without event and the road to Cheakamus Lake trail-head was in a better shape than I remembered. I’ve only been to that parking lot once when soloing Empetrum Peak and Cinder Cone on snowshoes in November 2015, and remembered a shit ton amount of pot-holes. It’s apparent that this road does see regular maintenance.

Gentian Peak and Panorama Ridge via Helm Creek. GPX DL

At the parking lot we bumped into a group of four and one of which ended up recognizing Winnie out. I’m starting to get used to be recognized out in the recent years but for Winnie this was probably the first time. For gears we decided to carry snowshoes and aluminum crampons but instead of carrying mountaineering boots while wearing trail-runners I opted to just wear a pair of heavy duty hiking boots. This turned out to be a bit of poor decision as the slopes on Gentian Peak was steep and icy that I would feel more comfortable wearing the Trango Towers with the step-in crampons, but oh well.. Winnie’s very strong on the trails so I wanted to travel as light as possible so that I wouldn’t fall too far behind. Even with the lighter gears I still ended up falling behind on the switchbacks up Helm Creek drainage. We made to a nice viewpoint under the morning sunshine past Helm Campground in exactly 2 hours. I took over the lead for the next while, bailing the trail into the flat drainage heading for the toe of Helm Glacier. The absence of tracks and the requirement of route-finding did help slowing down our pace.

Winnie on the trail just about to cross Cheakamus River

The well-constructed hiker’s bridge to cross Cheakamus River

The boring trail that brought us into Helm Meadows

At least we got some nice view of The Black Tusk

Cinder Cone with fresh snow reminded me the Atacama Desert for some reasons

Another view of The Black Tusk

Winnie on the confusing terrain heading for the toe of Helm Glacier

There was some up-and-downs, micro-terrains and boulder hopping to get onto Helm Glacier and with the shallow snow coverage it wasn’t obvious where exactly to aim for. We went for the climber’s right side and had to deal with a steep drop to access the glacier. Once onto the glacier we decided to strap the snowshoes on even though they weren’t really needed. The snow was firm enough that foot penetration would be zero and in fact, we would need crampons had we not been using the snowshoes. We thought about bypassing the glacier by aiming for the col between Panorama Ridge and Gentian Peak but we figured the ascent of this glacier would be more aesthetic and also more fun. We found quite a few partially hidden crevasses as well as a large mine field near the top of the glacier, so contrary to some other documentations this glacier does hold some hazards. The condition was firm enough for us that falling into a crevasse, especially while wearing snowshoes would be very minimal. Upon reaching the top of Helm Glacier we traversed between several large crevasses and aimed for a notch on the NE Ridge. The wind and coldness picked up considerably forcing us to keep moving at a considerable pace without much of stopping.

Winnie leading us down towards the toe of Helm Glacier

Our first unobstructed view of Panorama Ridge, albeit from an unusual angle

Winnie hopping across a creek on slippery boulders

Looking back towards Cinder Cone

Just another frozen tarn in this area.

The toe of Helm Glacier looked very broken

The first open crevasse we saw on Helm Glacier

Winnie leading the way onto the meat of the glacier

I took over the lead here as Winnie’s taking a jacket off

Winnie plodding up the typical monotonous terrain

The open hole was bottomless…

Winnie plodding up the upper Helm Glacier with Gentian Peak behind

Another photo of Winnie snowshoeing up in front of Gentian Peak

Looking down the whole stretch of Helm Glacier.

Looking back towards Panorama Ridge and The Black Tusk

The crevasse fields on the upper end of Helm Glacier

Winnie seemed like having lots of fun so far…

Me posing in front of the crevasses. Photo by Winnie M.

Another photo of the glacier crevasse field…

Upon hitting that notch we took the snowshoes off and started scrambling but soon came to a dead end. I wasn’t feeling comfortable soloing the steep ridge especially in this strong wind and also didn’t want to put the aluminum crampons in test on the rocky and icy east-facing slopes, so made a decision to strap the crampons on and climb the snow on the west side. This brought us to a short step of steep traverse (50 degrees ish) with considerable exposure. Without the mountaineering boots I didn’t feel comfortable climbing that neither, so made the call to backtrack losing 100 m elevation down to the glacier and ascend the north face instead. The face looked steep from afar but actually turned out to be very easy. The summit was then shortly reached.

We made to the notch on the NE Ridge now

Me scrambling the NE Ridge but soon turned around. Photo by Winnie M.

After a while this was Winnie slogging up the north slopes

Partial Summit Panorama from Gentian Peak. Click to view large size.

Partial Summit Panorama from Gentian Peak. Click to view large size.

Castle Towers Mountain

Mt. Garibaldi massif behind Guard Mountain and Sentinel Bay

This is rather just part of the complicated north ridge extension of Castle Towers

The Ashlu-Elaho Divide behind the flattop of Panorama Ridge

The Sphinx and Sphinx Glacier

Guard Mountain and Deception Peak

Empetrum Peak and Cinder Cone in the very foreground

Just an obligatory shot of The Black Tusk from the summit

Ipsoot Mountain looms behind the horn of Helm Peak

Overlord Mountain and Cheakamus Mountain on Fitzsimmons Range

A zoomed-in view of Castle Towers Mountain

Me on the summit of Gentian Peak

Me on the summit of Gentian Peak with Castle Towers behind

Is this kind of photos the Insta trend nowadays?!

For the whole climb we had been carrying everything including snowshoes so we could just do a traverse by descending the SE Ridge. This would be the shortest option to access Gentian/Panorama col but also involved some steepish snow that I felt a bit sketchy wearing my loose hiking boots and aluminum crampons. I made several large detours to avoid the most exposed patches of the icy snow slopes and did manage to make it work. Lower down we were forced to get onto the glacier again and down-climb a steep roll. Once dropping to the low point we didn’t waste time but carrying on towards Panorama Ridge.

Winnie descending a steeper slopes on the SE Ridge

Winnie with Garibaldi Lake behind

This is that steeper roll that forced us to hop back onto the glacier

Panorama Ridge ahead – our second objective

A review shot of Helm Glacier.

Looking back at Gentian Peak

A frozen tarn at the low saddle between Panorama Ridge and Gentian Peak