Camping crowds at our receeding glaciers 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY KARL RICKER - RUBBLE RIDDLE The twin lobes of the Overlord Glacier receded at very different rates this summer, but averaged out to almost eight metres of ice loss.
  • Photo by Karl Ricker
  • RUBBLE RIDDLE The twin lobes of the Overlord Glacier receded at very different rates this summer, but averaged out to almost eight metres of ice loss.

The annual surveys of Overlord and Wedgemount Glaciers were full of surprises.

On Aug. 31 I hiked the Musical Bumps to Singing Pass and then up the trail to Russet Lake. There was no usual residual snowpack at the high point, which provides a view down to the lake. There were ducks on it, dippers, and a sandpiper on its shoreline. As the afternoon crept on, overnight backpackers arrived and the last of the daytrippers departed. At nightfall 19 tents surrounded the hut!

The following morning the descent to the bilobed glacier snout revealed another tent; Erik Mauer, a Whistler Blackcomb employee opted to avoid the crowds by camping there. He was conscripted to help measure the distance to each of the two snouts from the baseline.

To the terminus nearest the cabin, which is coated with a hefty layer of rock debris — surprise, only 1.5 metres of recession from last year's position.

It had an advance of 1.9 metres the previous year. Was this realistic in view of the warm and sunny summer, and with Fitzsimmons Creek flowing full tilt?

The other snout gave us the answer. There is no debris on it and the ice is fully-exposed. It had receded 14.8 metres!

The debris on the snout of greatest interest is providing an efficient solar shield. So how do we handle the dichotomy? My solution is (–)1.5 + (–)14.3 divided by two yields my pronouncement: (–) 7.9 metres for Overlord Glacier.

Returning to Russet Lake, two thirds of the tents were gone, and I followed completing the 15-kilometre hike back to Lot 4.

On Sept. 7 and 8 it was now Wedgemount Glacier's turn to be measured.

Over 20 cars were already in the parking lot on our Saturday morning arrival, with a parade of about 50 day trippers already on the trail. The crossing of Wedgemount Creek in an in-bank, overflowing state, gave us our first hint of what to expect from the glacier. However, our arrival at the hut above Wedgemount Lake still brought a gasp.

All campsites around it were fully tented — two by surveyors from the British Columbia Institute of Technology who have resumed their own work on the glacier, and the rest by UBC university students under the auspices of a glacier ice safety school provided by the Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC).

So far, only two tents were set up at the lakeside campground near the glacier, as we passed by in early afternoon to begin our measurements.

The stream outflow from the glacier was copious, making for an arduous crossing. Ascending the rubble thereafter to the cairn marking glacier edge for 2012 brought another surprise — ice had collapsed into an enlarging pond — so the survey had to be projected to the other side of the outflowing creek.

So, with a baseline projected to the northeast from the cairn, the offset to the glacier edge measured out to (–)18.7 metres of recession from last year — above the long-term average, but at least it was not up to the staggering (–)28.6 metres of the year before.

Hiking back to the hut and on to the exceptionally well-built trail between lakeside and hut-side campgrounds, it was noted that the outhouse for the former had been dismantled, and according to some of the VOC gang now with us, it had been de-commissioned by park rangers on Friday, Sept. 6.

Back at the hut, more overnight back-packers began to parade through. They would have to use the lakeside campsites (10 had been vacant) and then hike back to the hut to use toilet facilities.

The lakeside area was filled to capacity before darkness and tents began to appear elsewhere. Sunday morning dawned clear and warm. I counted 30 tents!!

Apparently, the upper Joffre Lake campground at Matier Glacier had a similar swarm on the previous weekend.

That was not the end of it. Descending the Wedgemount trail on Sunday morning there were 51 day trippers met on their way up, and a totally filled car park at trailhead — an unbelievable 44 vehicles. Our stewards of Garibaldi Park had better wake up; the Wedgemount Trail is an erosional mess, and now we have a campground without an outhouse!


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