The Black Tusk (True Summit)

July 16, 2018


Garibaldi Provincial Park, BC

Towering above the tourists-chocked Garibaldi Lake The Black Tusk is an icon of Sea to Sky Corridor that everybody knows. This ancient volcanic plug is visible and very recognizable from almost every direction and the standard route is nothing but a “class 3” scramble according to most sources including Matt Gunn’s Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia. However, what most sources fail to mention is that the “class 3” scramble route only leads to the false summit. The true summit, although within a stone’s throw away and only a couple meters taller, is separated by a vertical gap that requires one rappel to get into along with 4th – low 5th class climbing on some of the loosest rocks that everybody’s ever encountered anywhere on earth. The true summit is seldom climbed and is considered as “suicidal” by the ascensionists. There’s only one (sort of) detailed account on the internet but the pictures are lacking. Apparently this is fairly often climbed in the 80s and 90s according to the summit register placed in 1973 but those are likely done by blue collar workers who do not give a shit to the online beta-sharing thing. To us the modern peak-baggers the status of the true summit remains mysterious. Is it really that bad? There’s only one way to know.

I had been fascinated by the true summit of Black Tusk ever since I’ve heard about its stories and especially since I’ve moved back to the coastal British Columbia in the fall of 2015. It seemed like I could have tried a solo ascent given how shitty the rocks are but ideally I wanted to have a partner both capable and willing to deal with loose rocks as much as I do. I had never truely thought about an ascent until a couple days ago when Matt Lemke wanted to do a day-trip somewhere in Sea to Sky Corridor. Matt’s moving to Squamish for his summer job and was keen to climb something before the “real life” kicks in. My plan for this Monday was simply resting at home but after flipping through my memories of the potential objectives I immediately threw out the true summit of Black Tusk. Matt’s keen on pretty much anything that’s seldom climbed so the decision was easy. The approach is flat enough that wouldn’t burn too much energy out of me neither. For the climbing gears we would bring two ropes along with some pitons and nuts and 20 meters of cords in case we had to wrap around the whole summit pinnacle or do something fancy like that. Apparently the rappels involve building “cairn anchors” resembling the canyoneering techniques. Sounds fun, uhh…

The Black Tusk standard route.

To beat the horrible Vancouver’s morning traffics I decided to drive north on Sunday evening and sleep in Matt’s van in Squamish. After killing some time in the Howe Sound Brew we drove out to a secret parking lot and slept. The night’s very toasty that I got probably only a couple hour’s mediocre sleep. The alarm went off at 5 am and it’s time to get going. The hike up Garibaldi Lake trail onto Taylor Meadows has nothing worth documenting. The plod was very mundane and boring. Wide-reaching views didn’t start to show up until we were high up on the Black Tusk’s Viewpoint trail, and much better once we got above the official end of trail at 14-km into the plod. There were a couple large patches of snow and despite the 30-degree temperature there’s no post-holing whatsoever.

Emerging out of the woods after a long plod

Me hiking up the Taylor Meadows trail. Photo by Matt L.

Some big faces start to show up…

Matt higher up on the Black Tusk Viewpoint trail

Ascending towards the official trail end. Note the patchy snow

Matt higher up on the talus field

We followed climber’s path heading up towards the base of the tusk on loose scree and then traversed underneath its south face to look for that “3rd class” chimney. I had previously never been up this far on the tusk so we went too far left and backtracked. The chimney started with a couple solid 3rd class moves but the angle eases off higher up. There’s a long stretch of “class 2” terrain followed by some “class 1” walk on rubble to the false summit. Another solo scrambler had made there a couple minutes earlier celebrating his success. To us this was just the start of the real game. There’s no existing anchor to rappel off the false summit so we descended 10 m down west and found a pile of bivy corral. There are some larger blocks like basketball sized nearby. We wrapped a quadruple-length sling around one block and buried it under a shit ton pile of rubble behind the bivy corral. Rapping off this “cairn anchor” needs big balls… I had won a provincial 2nd place in a high school physics competition so I trusted my intuition in science.

At the base of The Black Tusk, looking up.

This is looking north across the east face, towards Bishop’s Mitre

The climber’s path continues along the base

We found the correct chimney. Matt sending

Me scrambling up the 3rd class terrain

At the false summit looking towards the true summit of Black Tusk

Garibaldi Lake with Mt. Garibaldi behind – the classic tusk’s view

Mt. Garibaldi with the “unclimbable” The Table in front

The peak at center is The Sphinx – I ski’d it a couple years ago

The rappel would be near-vertical and appears to be longer than 15-meter, but because we would climb back up this way it made sense to leave the 30m rope behind as a single-strand. I led the way down with no problem and then we scrambled a short but very loose 4th class step to get into an easy gully heading up to the base of the true summit. There’s absolutely nowhere to build an anchor at the notch but the terrain forms a natural belay stand. I was in position to lead the true summit climb so I just went for it. Other than one micro-nut for show I had nowhere to place any piece of the gears we brought. The climbing never seemed to get harder than “class 4” but loose indeed. I had however climbed worse rocks on a couple worst 11,000ers in the Rockies so this is doable if one has the head space for it. Matt came up easily and we had some leisure time on the summit flipping through the old register.

Me rapping into the notch. Photo by Matt L.

Another view of the true summit, from a different angle

Matt rappelling off that single strand into the notch

Then we scrambled up a short, but very loose 4th class step

Matt belaying me from the notch

Me leading the true summit. Photo by Matt L.

Matt climbing up the last few meters. It’s not that steep, literally

Summit Panorama from The Black Tusk. Click to view large size.

Looking straight down the north face into Bishop’s Mitre

A northern skyline view towards Whistlers and Pemby onward

Rugged peaks on Fitzsimmons Range

The massive Castle Towers Mountain is one of the best around here

East face of Mt. Tantalus – it’s been calling my name for years…

Daniel W. and Dana on the false summit with Garibaldi behind

Me on the summit of The Black Tusk

Matt and I on the true summit of Black Tusk. Photo by Daniel Wright

This is the summit register, placed in 1973…

The 60-m rope was just long enough for us to do a single rappel off the summit into the notch without the need to do any down-climbing. The summit anchor is literally a “choss bollard”. We didn’t even bother to test anything out of it because there’s really no other option other than wrapping the whole summit pinnacle in a single cord, although the summit area seems too large for that… A shit ton of rocks got sent down while rappelling even at a snail’s pace. Meanwhile I started to jug back up the single strand rope. I thought we had to pretty much climb up the rope but the rocks actually have a lot of texture on them and is fairly solid. I used a micro-traxion pulley to belay myself and was able to climb the whole pitch. The climbing has lots of holds and felt like 5.4-5.5 ish but very much vertical. Once topping out on the false summit I belayed Matt up and then the deal’s done. Down-scrambling the chimney was fun and we got to pass at least 15 scramblers on their way up, near the base of Black Tusk.

Me rapping off the true summit. Photo by Matt L.

Matt rapping back into the notch

Me climbing vertical rocks back towards the false summit.

Back to false summit, looking down towards Panorama Ridge

Hiking down the climber’s path on the upper summit plateau area

Descending into the gully

Down-scrambling the 3rd class chimney

Me having lots of fun. Photo by Matt L.

Passing a huge group of scramblers at the base.

Traversing the base of Black Tusk

This is the yet unclimbed Bishop’s Mitre…

We past the scramblers and continued plunging snow down into the bowl. This time we got lots of snow in our shoes (we only used trail-runners for the trip) but on a hot day we didn’t mind such. The 14-km hike-out was very boring but somewhat entertaining given the hundreds of folks puffing their way up…

Taking advantage of a couple snow fields

Down onto Black Tusk Meadows

Plodding, plodding and plodding…..

Me plodding back across Taylor Meadows. Photo by Matt L.

A review shot of The Black Tusk

Plodding into the woods now. Still having a couple hours to go…

The mystery is now resolved and we now finally have a detailed online trip report of this beast. Was it as bad as I thought it’d be? Not even close… The rocks are loose as hell but not the worst I’ve climbed on. The climb wasn’t nearly as exposed as some people made it sound neither. This would be just a small section of a pitch on Mt. Alberta and not much fancier than that. The climbing back up to the false summit is actually the technical crux but you would do that with a top rope belay anyway. The conclusion – it’s doable if you have high tolerance with these type of terrain. A decent Rockies climber can handle it, no problem, although rappelling off cairn anchors do take some courage.