The Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia (FMCBC) is a province-wide organization dedicated to protecting and maintaining access to BC’s backcountry. Since 1972, we have represented the interests of outdoor clubs from every corner of the province and have provided a united voice on issues related to non-motorized backcountry recreation.
Our membership is comprised of a diverse group of more than five thousand non-motorized back-country recreation users, including hikers, rock climbers, mountaineers, mountain bikers, trail runners, kayakers, back-country skiers and snowshoers. Many of our clubs build and maintain trails used by the public. We are committed proponents of the “Leave No Trace” and “Right to Roam” principles.
We are writing about the lack of winter access to the Rubble Creek trailhead in Garibaldi Provincial Park due to the “no parking/tow away” signs installed earlier this year. As a result, there are now only two winter access points to the Park, namely Elfin Lake/Diamond Head and Singing Pass, both of which have their own access limitations.
In January 2018, the FMCBC identified several areas in the Sea-to-Sky corridor which are difficult for non-motorized back-country users to access. This included the Rubble Creek access road and parking lot for Garibaldi Lake because only a very small area was plowed, providing minimal parking off Highway 99. At that time, we recommended plowing the access road and parking area to facilitate winter access to Garibaldi Lake and the surrounding terrain. In April 2018, BC Parks advised they would undertake further investigation into the cost of winter maintenance of the roads and facilities at Rubble Creek. There was no change in the following winter seasons.
In mid-February 2020, “no parking/tow away” signs were installed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure along various sections of Highway 99, including the lower Rubble Creek access road, with the result that the public lost winter access to Garibaldi Lake and the surrounding terrain. After the no-parking signs were installed, BC Parks offered refunds to anyone who had made camping reservations because without parking this part of the park was effectively closed. This is a tremendous loss to the non-motorized winter back-country recreation community. The Rubble Creek road and trail have been used to access Garibaldi Lake for more than 50 years.
Besides the traditional and popular Garibaldi Neve Traverse, other exceptional winter terrain accessed by the Rubble Creek trail are: Black Tusk, Garibaldi Lake, Mt Price, Sphinx Bay, Burton Hut (constructed in 1969 by the Varsity Outdoor Club) and surrounding peaks – Guard Mountain, Deception Peak, The Sphinx, The Bookworms, Mt. Carr and Castle Towers.
With the growing interest in winter back-country recreation (snowshoeing, hiking and ski touring) and the huge urban populations in the Lower Mainland and Sea-to-Sky communities, we simply cannot afford to lose access to Rubble Creek. Why?
Garibaldi Provincial Park is the one predictable place where the public will not encounter snowmobiles or helicopters, with the exception of the Spearhead Range in the Park. The trail to Garibaldi Lake has lower levels of avalanche hazard than most other trails in the region and closing this access point may push people into areas where the hazards are greater.
Further, the two remaining access points have serious access issues. While the popular Diamond Head/Elfin Lake trail, near Squamish, is plowed by the park facility operator to provide access to a different area of Garibaldi Provincial Park, this access road and parking area are already over-capacity most weekends. Singing Pass also has its challenges, with limited parking for park visitors in Whistler. Anticipated back-country pass restrictions imposed by Whistler/Blackcomb this winter due to COVID-19 will also limit access to the Park.
People are very frustrated and disheartened by the continual loss of non-motorized, back-country recreation opportunities in the Sea-to-Sky corridor. During COVID-19, when people are desperate to get outside to stay mentally and physically healthy, winter access and parking need to be expanded. With recreationists avoiding ride-sharing, the pressures on the limited winter recreation parking available in the Sea-to-Sky corridor will only intensify.
BC Parks’ policy of not plowing access roads to provincial parks and parking lots has to be revisited, particularly in the Sea-to-Sky corridor. The road maintenance contractor, Miller Capilano, that plows Highway 99 passes the Rubble Creek site regularly and already plows a limited part of the Rubble Creek access road.
Why could they not plow more of the access road and a parking area as a secondary priority? We understand the quote to plow the Rubble Creek access road and parking lot is about $12,000-$18,000/year.
Finally, vehicles parked on the Rubble Creek access road are being towed, which is an extremely dangerous measure. If someone comes off the trail cold and fatigued to find their vehicle gone, it is not the same as a person getting their vehicle towed from a no-parking zone in the city. There is no easy way to get assistance.
Surely, winter parking can be re-established in Rubble Creek for winter back-country users.
Barry J. Janyk is the Executive Director of Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia.