This post follows on from our beautiful hike to Elfin Lakes in BC, Canada. We arrived at the lakes quite early, and after looking at my map, and chatting to other hikers, we decided we should try to hike up to the Gargoyles on Diamond Head. From down at the Elfin Lakes campground, this looks like a huge climb, and not really something you should attempt in addition to the 22 km hike to the lakes. At the same time, it was a glorious, sunny day and after we’d eaten lunch, we still had bundles of energy, so an extra 350 m elevation sounded pretty doable.
I am soooo glad we decided to make the extra effort! Seriously! We were treated to an interesting walk with plenty of alpine flowers and gorgeous views the whole way up to the Gargoyles. Then, once we were up there, the views were spectacular!
The Gargoyles trail map
The Gargoyles – the basics
Distance: 27 km (or an extra 5 km return from Elfin Lakes)
Elevation gain: 905 m (or 350 m from Elfin Lakes)
Highest Point: 1820 m
Time: 8-9 hours total (It took us a little less than 1.5 hours from Elfin Lakes to the Gargoyles, then an hour back to the lake)
What to bring:
Walking boots. Hiking poles. Plenty of water and food. The 10 essentials.
There is a campground and toilets at Elfin Lakes, but nothing from there to the Gargoyles.
How hard is it?
If you do this as a day hike it is a total of It’s 27 km. That makes it quite a long, hard day. However, it’d be more like an intermediate hike if you camp at Elfin Lakes. The Gargoyles are only a short extra hike from the Elfin Lakes campground. Parts of this trail were quite steep and dangerous, especially near the top. The views make it totally worth it though!
We used the Garibaldi Park Map 102 from Clark Geomatics
Elfin Lakes to the Gargoyles
If you’d like to read about the first half of our walk to Elfin Lakes, have a peek at my post about the Elfin Lake trail.
From the lakes, you lose a bit of elevation as you walk down into a valley. Then, follow signs for the “saddle trail” to reach the Gargoyles. The trail is quite worn away and deep near the start, as it has been washed away. But you can’t walk at the edges, because that would trample heather, this means although it’s not steep, it is a little hard work!
If you do this walk, please don’t trample the heather! Once it’s destroyed, it won’t grow back for yeeeears. It is hardy in the snow, but doesn’t have much resilience against hiking boots!
You can probably guess from the beautiful blue skies in my photos, but this was a very warm day in July! It’s not often that I wish for clouds when I’m on a mountain, but these clouds were perfect! They were high-up, lucky clouds! They were high enough that they didn’t obscure our views at all, and one large fluffy cloud hovered in front of the sun in just the right spot to give us shade as we hiked up to the saddle. We were all so grateful to that cloud!
My photos might be a little less bright, but we were all less sweaty!
Gorgeous Alpine flowers
As well as all the flowering heather bushes, there were some incredibly pretty flowers on our hike up to the saddle. I have no idea what these are, but they decorated the trail beautifully! There were plenty of bumble bees that seemed to appreciate them too!
Edit: I’ve since learned they are alpine lupines.
The saddle we were aiming for is a ridge between the Gargoyles and Mount Columnar. Mount Columnar was really interesting. Although the mountain seems to be crumbling with huge piles of eroded rocks, the rocks themselves are always long and thin like mini columns! Each column is made from basalt, and probably used to be vertical. You can easily see how these columns have been turned to an angle to make it easier for snow and water to erode them into this giant rock-pile!
I liked the way trail angels have piled up a marker from these basalt rocks to help show us the way! This really helped us stay on the right path!
Up to the Saddle
Once you’ve been around the edge of the column-shaped rocks and crossed a bubbling stream, it’s time for the slog up to the saddle! I still had fun on this section (I mean, whenever you want, you can turn around and see amazing views!) My legs were a little tired from our hike to Elk Mountain a couple of days earlier, so I was a bit slow!
I find when my legs are a little tired, the best way to get myself up a mountain is to count. I’ll count 50 steps, then have stop to see the view/take a drink. Then I’ll take another 50 steps. When the path is easy, I’ll count more before stopping, when it’s really hard, I might have a mini break after 25-30 steps.
The Saddle and views of Mount Atwell
The incline was a little less steep near the top, so I could zoom to catch up with Marc and see this gorgeous view of Mount Atwell.
This is SUCH a good view! You can even see Mount Garibaldi peeking (peaking!? hehe) out to the right of the image.
The saddle below the Gargoyles still has a band of snow, but it was wide and safe for jumping photos! We all stopped for water and to catch our breath! We then had to decide if we should continue up the last super-steep ridge to the Gargoyles.
Up to the Gargoyles
How could we possibly resist when the high-point was within eyesight!? Of course in the end, we decided to keep going! The final little ridge up to the Gargoyles was soooo steep! This was almost the hardest part of the day!
We made it!!
Shannon, Marc and joined a couple of other groups of hikers on the teeny summit of the Gargoyles. It was a little scary up there as there was very little space to sit down, and there were steep cliffs in all directions! Still, it’s good place to stop for a snack, even if jumping photos are unsafe!
We were treated to some spectacular views into Garibaldi Provincial Park, as well as back down to Elfin Lakes!
However the best view was over to Mount Atwell and Mount Garibaldi! I love the swirly patterns of ice left as the snow melts. It’s also pretty cool to see Lava Lake down below. The name didn’t really suit it at this time of year as it was mostly ice!
Why is this ridge known as the Gargoyles?
There are some really cool geological formations up on this ridge. So, the name gargoyles actually refers to multiple pinnacles on this ridge, (like the spikes in the photo above) rather than any single peak. I can see why some of them look a little monster-like! Marc pointed out that whoever named them, should probably have called them the grotesques rather than gargoyles, as they don’t have a water spout!
Anyway, we wanted to reach the highest point, so we continued along the ridge for an extra couple of bumps. The views into Garibaldi Provincial park were pretty impressive!!
I took this panorama back at the first ridge.Can you see why I loved every second of being up here!?
We stayed at the top for about 45 minutes as it was just such a nice place to explore and view the world! But, eventually we had to head back down to the saddle. This is where things got a bit tricky! Everything always feels so much steeper on the way down! You can’t just slide on your bum, as there are so many slippy-sliding rocks!
Once, we’d made it back down to the saddle, and admired the views one more time, we still had quite a long way to go!
Sliding down the saddle trail
Although most of the trail was far easier than the final ridge down from (or up to) the Gargoyles, it was still pretty steep. The soil is not very well held together, so we all slipped and slid our way down the mountain. I discovered that I make far more noise (whoops!) when I slip than either Marc or Shannon.
Elfin Lakes Campground
Despite the difficulties of the trail, we made it back to Elfin lakes in about an hour, so we got to have another peek at the idyllic camp ground with those amazing views! It still looks quite empty, but we met quite a few hikers heading up, so I think it might be full by the time the sun has set.
Swimming in Elfin Lakes
I should have brought my swimsuit!! The large lake was refreshing and cold, but it was pretty warm compared to other glacial lakes (like Watersprite Lake), where your toes go numb as soon as they touch the water!! I was hiking in a skirt, so I could hitch it up and wade in as far as my thighs. It felt sooo nice! Next time, I will have to swim!
This is where my camera died (noooo!!) It was still under warranty, but John Lewis says they won’t honor the warranty because I’m only able to take my camera out of the UK for 30 days in a year. They won’t help now I live in Canada. *sigh*.
Anyway, you can get a good idea about the return journey, by looking at my post about Elfin Lakes, but imagine this in the opposite direction!
I hope you liked this amazing walk! Please feel free to pin it!